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V8N1: January - February 2002

 

Austin Downtown
Arts Magazine

January - February 2002
Volume 8 Number 1

 

cover

 



Table of Contents

Austin Downtown Arts Magazine. 1

Audio Blot by William Kier

2

Bass in Yo' Face by Raul R. Salinas. 3

 

Earthly Paradise by Muriel Perkins. 4

First there is Mamma. Her hair rises when hurricanes come, sliding on itself like leaves in hot air, full of light and lightning.

 

An excerpt from a bull-jean novel/in progress by Sharon Bridgforth. 6

 

Fault of Alps by Anna R. Hall 9

 

 

Near Perfect Tools by Valerie Bridgeman Davis. 10

 

Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer 10

It is no stretch of the imagination to think of music as fiction.

 

Reeling by Jodie Keeling. 11

A cluster of people gather at the edge of a room, their necks craned. They are perusing "Loudly Minimal, Quietly Baroque" at the Blue Star in San Antonio.

 

Section Eight by Daniel Davis Clayton. 13 The fire died low in the camp, and the chill air began to reclaim its territory. There usually was to be no communication between the slaves, but on nights where the treasures of Sue and a few choice others there rummaged and laid to waist, there came a relaxation of the rules.

 

Someone is Investing in Terrorism by Thom the World Poet 14

 

Taken by Kelly Stern. 15

At first it's easy. Mixed in with the notes, articles, socks are magazines, journals, even a book. These get tossed on the floor in front of the bookcase. Then the photos -- these too are easy. Not so with the poems. A whole pile of them.

 

Up All Night by Harold McMillan. 15

Although I'm not really that old yet, I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to take care of two aging parents. Being the only child has its benefits, to be sure, but there also comes responsibility with my role. Both of them need me. Plus, makes it harder that they don't live in the same house.

 

We hafta shaft NAFTA by Raul R. Salinas. 17

 

Wild Blue by Christine Hindman. 19

I begin to ascend the hill that rises between me and the tall, puerile male with this amazing ornament of hair, blue hair colored like sunlight through a Tiffany iris, the blue I need. To find the blue in a freshman's choice of hair color is very queer, extraordinary, something I never would have looked for.

 



Audio Blot by William Kier

walking like a ghost and trolling with attuned ears
mind behind, dragging, dragging in noise
it's suppertime, Jack, and where's mine?
dragging in the noise, and where's mine?
hooking a thrush's song amidst a chainsaw
drowned in chainsaw, bus horn, cell phone
nothing biting, but a boot full of bottom
full of a thrush's song, drowned
and where's mine?

the belly wiggles, nibbling on itself
a roadside collection of rusted parts woven in grass
a rot-reddened pole dragging on rot-reddened chain link
growling like a loose bone xylophone
in steady discord

distortion comes like a silken bridge
traverse from song to scream
distortion comes like a silken hole
swim in a pool of glitzy reverberation
and effectively drown out every damned thing



Bass in Yo' Face by Raul R. Salinas

pa' las scattered ashes de
mi camarada, Keith Ferguson

We Remember You, Ese!
in some South Town saloon
beyond soap creek
where Lobos howled
at the moon
while gonzo goons
fakirs in turbans
thunderbird wine/os
drinking native blood
racism floods the stage
rage at joo harpies
harping like so many
culture vultures
pillaging ancestral
music grounds

We Remember You, Ese!
in pink cadillac
cruisin' 6th. St.
East of the Freeway
on the "wrong side" of the wall
calling forth that morpheus
muse in hues of blues
up
'n'
down
alleyways
beyond Chief Bar
sweatin' ol' 14
(or whatever connection man)
to bring de mud/
puddles of poison
black tar
scars and abscesses
mar the bodyscape.

We Remember You, Ese!
exchanging fifties fotos
of pachuco poets
& seventies snapshots
of boss bassist
tocando al revez.
2 cats con tattoos
comparison en calo.

 


Earthly Paradise by Muriel Perkins

First there is Mamma.

Her hair rises when hurricanes come, sliding on itself like leaves in hot air, full of light and lightning. It dazzles, stands straight up, stirs like the banana frond at the window when the bayou is full and the field is flooded for planting. Hers is a fairy-tale gold, not like mine, which is all dusk and midnight.

Mamma loves storm. We never drive north when the big clouds lie green and purple on the belly of the rice fields. Instead we make songs, tell stories, listen to the wind by candlelight. We call the flashlight a battery torch to make it strange. We call it a firebrand, an oil lamp. My brother is a lion. The wind is his roaring. I am the brave warrior, lurking in the jungle of Mamma's arms. Somewhere a Daddy must lurk too, my father the ogre-ghost. But no one can see him when there are stories and wind and the beat of hungry rain.

My mamma's arms are strong enough, and there's green light in the shape of an almond around her -- a mandorla, she will call it later on when she shows me the pictures. She believes me, tells me what she sees around my head too, how it changes from white to blue to gold, and sometimes turns fire red, when I am, she says, passionate. She means when I cry and try to hit her. She lets me hit her, calls it passionate. But only God's saints have halos, she tells me.

Her face is warm from the sun. I kiss her lips, dark as the hibiscus, as the bird of paradise. Mamma, Mamma... Like the green stalk, the rice as it grows, tall and still and flawless like nature itself. I know, however, she is passionate too.

She works the clay, her hands so strong she makes the clay obey her, so gentle the clay weeps to obey her. Her eyes burn gold with love for clay and images, brown when she studies the magic of making things that breathe.

She talks to me in my head when I am in bed in the other room. Through the walls she talks to me, and by reflection of light from the stars and in the voice of the wind in the hibiscus bush, in the great dense voice of the swamp so full of voices which are not hers, not mine, voices of the spirits that live out there. She sings to me when she can't touch me, and I hear her. I've always heard her.

Mamma has a studio, a screened porch at the back of the house, where my Daddy made her a worktable once upon a time, bought her a wheel, rented a kiln. The house gets hot when the kiln fires her elegant Greek pots, her little images of saints and demons and gods or her ravishing, frightening masks. We go to my aunt's house then, or to the house of a grandma who isn't mine, across the river in Texas, where we eat butter beans with corn bread.

When the kiln is not burning, the studio is soft and steady. Outside, the oaks shade us through the screen. Pines are tall above us, sweet and green, like Mamma, cool smell of Mamma among the pines. Twilight falls. She sits at her clay, poking it with little knives. She gives me clay to work and I make saints. I make the Blessed Virgin. I make Mamma. Sometimes she takes off her shirt to work like a man. The sweat pours down her back, every drop a diamond.

I look at her breasts while I make the Virgin Mary, while I make a lion, or a clown who is also a saint. Sometimes I stand up and walk under her arms and lift my mouth to her again. I suck as if there is still milk in her, and this thing happens inside me like milk spraying hard against a little thick knot in me. I want to laugh and pee and hum.

She lets me do this because she is fearless. She doesn't care what people say. We will break with our kin who would make us tell lies. We will live the roaming life, the outlaw, gypsy life. We will never fit in. This is what she tells me, making it sound like the circus, that spectacle I have seen only once, when we went to Baton Rouge.

We will break with the ghost, my father, too. Soon, she says, very soon. Is he dead? I ask her.

Why doesn't he live here? Is he holy? Is he the Holy Ghost?

I press my tongue to her skin, which is smeared with clay, tastes of earth and turnips and clover, of the swamp, and the wood of pines. I suckle her with my arms around her waist. I smell her and she is mine. Wet with sweat and my spit, she is Mamma, Holy Mother of God.

She stands in the rice fields, her feet in the water, her hair like the high Gulf wind. She wears a patchwork shirt, a tank top through which the whole world can see her breasts. She wears beads made of mimosa seeds, which she says are poisonous, and corn grains, which, I know, are not. She speaks to the wind, and to the rain. When she calls storms they come. She brings the tides. She sings to the moon. These are the things I remember.

The whole town shuns her, except for the beautiful man who comes to visit. He has come through danger and ordeals to see my mother, and when at last she lets him, he falls at her feet and buries his head between her legs. He is not my father.

He rolls with her in the grass in the middle of the day and pulls down his jeans. He is crying. Her skirt billows around him like a quilt. He growls like a lion. She has made him mad. She will make many men mad. She needs men. When they see her they have to take down their jeans.

His nakedness moves, moves. It shudders, stops, shudders, stops. He is beautiful, beautiful, this man. It is called fucking. I can't remember how I know. She has made him need to fuck. Am I angry? I can't tell. I feel ecstasy like wicked fingers in my pants. I shut my eyes, lean against a tree.

After, I cry. I don't know if I am happy or sad, if I'm a boy or a girl.

She makes clay masks, Mamma does, which are both boy and girl, or could be either, and little enameled sculptures of creatures doing things to each other. Mamma calls them obscene, and they must be kept under lock and key in the town where we live. They are a series, each so similar you have to look at them together, one at a time, in just the right order. Some have faces, others merely the suggestion of expression somewhere on their bodies: rapture, anger, ecstasy, pain. And you can never tell if they are male or female from what they are doing, nor from the shapes of their bodies.

Could her lovers tell the difference, I wonder, when she opened the painted cabinets? Could he, when he saw them? Her new hero, my next father, after she had fucked him under the oak tree, with his jeans down to his knees and his shirt and shoes still on.

"They are gods," she whispers to him as he blushes. "Not people. Gods, gods."

She has never said this to me; she never had to.

I hear her stories still, listen to her whispers in the fan palms, as I tell tales to placate the rage of hurricanes, as we did long ago when it rained green shadows, and there was only Mamma.

 

[Muriel Perkins grew up in the South, has written fiction since age five and taught English at the University of Oklahoma. She remains in love with New Orleans and Italy, sources of meaning and myth in her life and stories. She honors the writing process, always trusting the ambiguity and surprise inherent in it.]

 



An excerpt from a bull-jean novel/in progress by Sharon Bridgforth

slim figurman
handed a stranger a card what read
figure's flavors. the world's finest.
come gets a taste.
slim like to press them hand writ cards
to folk coming through for the first time.
he be all dressed lik a fancyman
talking so many circles/till don't nobody know what the hell
he talking about.
the new to it/always stand for it
nodd here and there
throw in a word when slim take a breath.
probably is all slim really want after all
somebody to listen
talk for a bit.

anyway

we all know
slim call heself running a ho house
but slim ain't running nothing or nobody.
so the place he call figure's flavors/we calls it betty's.
yessuh/cause slim's sister betty be the one running that jernt.
and what it is is the best blues inn in the country.
first off betty know how to keep a clean room
so the stop overs always be happy/feel rested and cared for
but more important/betty can cook so gotdamngood it make you want to kick your own ass. i trying to watch
see if betty been throwed some powders off in them pots/make
the cooking so much excitement for the tastes.

anyway

chile/blues peoples from states away hauls over to betty's just to be up in there get a taste. don't even charge betty for they musicianships/course na some of them tasting more than good cooking from betty/look like her favorites
be extra fed. but they all of them gets meals and a room/long as they willing to work a set or two.

and do the jernt be packed!
mens womens some that is both some that is neither/be rolling all up and between the sounds/dancing in them rent rooms/and laying up all in betty's home cooking.

anyway

it was a cool night after a hot day.
the peoples was in they finest/fresh pressed and set for whatever betty's was about to bring. it was rib night
the start of the week-end. folk was still eyes bright hearts light pockets packed full of laughter/and on the ready.
that night
was a wo'mn named big bill
what rose up out of betty's room.
big bill had on the finest suit i have seen to this day.
come in with she suit black/hat low/glasses dark/and shoes so shinning make your head hurt. big bill walk through
crowd part/as she make way to the piano in the corner of the room.
big bill long legs reach strong
one leg powerful in front the other/her
unbottoned jacket open close open close
as she walk
pants pull here
here
here/material ripple
across she crotch
which appear packing a large and heavy surprise i glance over to betty/see she seeing too/smiling down where big bill pants pull and ripple large/and
not so suttle in the crotch. betty fanning sheself/still sweat run all around her face.
but i ain't got time be looking at betty/glance back to
big bill taking she jacket off/take she hat off/slowly roll up one crisp sleeve/then the other/loosen she tie/turn her big broad back to the room/sits down/and ever so slightly nod she nappy head. at that the guitar man pull up take a chair next to she. big bill nodd again even more slight/an a big ole powerful sample of wo'mness stroll center the room. sway step smile sway step smile sway sway she went till she got in place standing center inside a moment of stillness. then suddenly/the three of them hit a note all at the same time/aaaaaaawwwwwwhhhhhh
went the sound and i declare some kind of hunger-spirit swept through the room. took everybody's mind in one swoop.
after that
wasn't nothing but bodies feeding the feeling till sunday sunrise just before first workshift. shiiit. we still rest broken from that series of things. big mama sway/singing

i gots geechee lips
i gots geechee hips
i gots a geechee kiss
that'll you'll never forget
but you got to
show me that you want it
show me that you need/so
if you can't show me that you need it
go on/pack your thangs and go.

chile
what a time.

still/something about they sound almost stop my heart.
i knew it weren't the hooch
cause wasn't nothing in my cup but that strong ass coffee betty serve/which could been over work my heart/but i don't think so.
betty don't allow no drinking in she jernt.
not since she lost her first love lushy to the gussle.
naw/lushy ain't dead
thats she yonder holding up the middle of the jernt.
betty lost lushy from she bed when she kicked that drunk ass out one final time. been upset about that ever since. mostly at herself/say she got so caught up loving what lushy could have been/she wouldn't see what lushy really was.

anyway

lushy don't drink no more/betty don't like the smell of the drink/reminding her of the hard times/so we all forced stay in our right minds when we come to betty's. which is a relief really
because usually with the drinking come the looking and the looking bring the knives/cause folk can't just look at they own peoples they gots to always cast a looking at somebody's somebody else/and the knives bring the cussing and the cussing bring the swoll chest and the swoll chest
always...
...interrupt the good time.

but the good time don't never get stopped at betty's no more
so i been happy as a fat cat in a rat shack.
except i sitting with the clear mind
wishing i could recall
where

i knowed big bill from.

 

[Sharon Bridgforth believes that her "work is dedicated to telling African-American wy'mn's stories/honoring Indigenous people/dealing with issues specific to Ancestors, elders, and homosexuals-based on the idea of the transmigration of Souls/using circular storytelling and non-linear verse to chronicle Life." Bridgforth is the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of the bull-jean stories, performance stories published by Redbone Press. Check out her website at www.angelfire.com/ny4/sharonbridgforth/.]



Fault of Alps by Anna R. Hall

Her bones are haunted, she tells me,
by him, by the smell of jasmine -- ?
twisted into her skin like summer,
wrapped around the stems
of bridal bouquets:
prepared -- waiting -- caught.
But she is unacknowledged.

And, talking, she throws wide the drapes of time,
circumstance -
drawn up - without breaking:
a stride, a fingernail, a dream.

I admire her. We walk slowly in grass, wet green to our ankles;
we don't notice
the stains.

I coil into her composure, smoothing my own space under it,
maintain my pace across gravel, asphalt, into leather and steel,
behind a wheel that turns under my palm into wheels, within wheels:
some hypnotizing, narcotic action I swallow

whole, to keep from waking up. Sleep into, shut eyes under,
drink darkness blissful out of like nectar, like a magic:

sometimes blindness is a blessing.

Or so she tells me, and I believe her. We meet friends for coffee
and I am introduced - the lonely. No one minds me, points me out.

I am awkward around words; in the world,
I am a man without grace.

But behind scenes, in safety, I prophesy, I conjure, I swear, I see --
I am king of my own country.

I carry only this cousin to grief: cold feet, and Switzerland,
or myself, neutral to fire.

 

[Anna R. Hall is an Austin-based research analyst/freelance writer. She writes poetry primarily to amuse her cat. Her work has been published in several journals and was awarded UKC's 1996 T.S. Eliot prize for poetry.]

""

 




Near Perfect Tools by Valerie Bridgeman Davis

He was a prophet of sorts
Alienated from the ordinary
Unable to satisfy his neighbor's needs
For normalcy

He often succumbed to
Involuntary memories
That pulled him toward
The reciprocated jealousies
Of his long-time
Lover

He battled his inner uncertainties
With cheap wine and writing poetry,
An exorcist's near-perfect tools

And found that there are some things
That cannot be paid for,
That money is an insult
For certain treasures

He was an obstinate seer,
Draconian in his perseverance
To hold on to himself
While all around him
People let him go

Alienating him from the commonwealth
Which left him with his inner memories
And involuntary uncertainties
As his own personal

canon

[Valerie Bridgeman Davis won the Austin Book Award for her collection, In Search of Warriors, Dark and Strong, and Other Poems. Currently the Vice President of Programs of the Greater Austin Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, she has degrees in Pastoral Care and Theology and Communication.]

 



Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer

Philosophically speaking, all art is fiction. And if fiction can be broadly defined as a creation of the imagination, then art, in all of its forms, can be related, both metaphorically and literally. We often use one art form to explain another, for example. Terms like "phrase," "articulation," "theme" and "voice" apply equally to both music and literature. So it is no stretch of the imagination to think of music as fiction.

We create fiction every day in order to construct and understand our lives. We present ourselves to others (and to ourselves) using the tools of socialization (speech, learned facial expressions, body language, fashion, etc.). In fact, there is a whole body of literature in the field of cognitive psychology dealing with the fictive character of the individual in society. (See, for example, Erik Erikson's The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life). We also edit reality in our minds, a matter of necessity since we can't perceive and comprehend everything at all times. So fiction can be seen as the process of negotiating one's individual place in a world teeming with stimulus and information. We select and shape experiences from the past, through memory; the present, through cognitive and sensory reaction; and the future, through our hopes, fears and dreams. We do it unconsciously for survival and sanity, but when we do it of our own volition and on our own terms it becomes art.

Playing and composing music, I feel an affinity with other art forms. The ideas expressed in the visual arts, literature and drama can inspire me or help me to refine my own musical constructions. For example, I often think about periods of social renaissance, in which artists in various media felt and reflected a shared aesthetic, sensibility or community. The fictions we create through our art, if they resonate with others, become part of a cumulative imagined community. In a renaissance period, inspiration becomes infectious. The muses hang out together, trading recipes.

But I also often connect music with fiction in the particular form of written prose. This has more to do with the form of prose construction than with creativity per se. While music has its own realm, its logic can be understood with terms from literature. I explain music to my students using terms like "grammar" and "vocabulary." In some ways it is just an analogy, because you have to learn the elements of music as they are, within the sonic realm of music. But in other ways, the connections to written and spoken language are very clear. The length of a phrase, its shape, its rhythm, can be analyzed and understood just as we can break down a sentence into its component parts. You can train the ear to listen to a musical phrase critically, just as you can listen to spoken sentences. And one can learn to "hear" the music by reading it on the sheet, just as one learns to read books silently while mentally hearing the words.

One of the clearest connections between language and music is in song. Have you ever read song lyrics without knowing the melody? Usually they sound stilted and dry, if not completely ludicrous and lame. But then you hear them set to the melody, and they suddenly come to life. The best lyrics, of course, work as poetry on their own. But what strikes me is how much the music invests words with emotional impact. There are songs that literally bring tears to your eyes when you hear them. Sometimes this is the residue of sentimental memories, but there is undoubtedly an affective quality emanating from the words and music themselves, regardless of the personal experiences they invoke. This affective quality is a fiction: it is an artistic creation, and yet it has emotional power that is real to us.

And the fact that we know it is fiction, that we can critically examine its construction, makes it no less real.

 



Reeling by Jodie Keeling

A cluster of people gather at the edge of a room, their necks craned. They are perusing "Loudly Minimal, Quietly Baroque" at the Blue Star in San Antonio. What's caught their attention? "Two Corners-Three Walls," a multiple projection installation by Austin filmmaker Luke Savisky.

Eight 16mm film projectors punctuate the floor of Savisky's installation. None have film threaded through them, though they are all on and running. Precisely pitched to different degrees of incline, each projector throws an accurately tilted beam of light, casting a variety of triangles and squares onto the three flat walls and two corners of the room. All of the shapes overlap along a distinct horizon forming a panoramic image from one wall to the next­like a cubist's mountain range with alternating pockets of constant and pulsing light.

From the left, a large elongated triangle stretches across the wall to crescendo at its base in the corner inside two offset, overlapping squares. The vanishing point, a hot spot, created by the intensity of the three overlapping flickering beams of light, recedes deep into and out from the wall. A pulsing triangle pulls off to the right into the base of another square and lands on the right wall inside the tip of another stretched out triangle.

Savisky's installation

Two Corners--Three Walls: an installation to experience

To the eye, it appears as though Savisky has carved out razor-sharp recesses from the walls, so hard and defined are the edges. Revealed within are warm, flickering, luminous rooms-wombs. Over time, the hard-soft contrast of the two entertains a play on perspective. A third dimension gapes in and out from the second. Illusory amorphous shapes take form in the flickering recesses, a result of retinal distress. Colors appear, change. Shapes advance and recede. Caverns of pulsing light, articulated by the ambient music (by Stars of the Lid), beckon with warmth­an antidote to the cold, hard-edged gallery-world we are standing in.

No longer does the light seem to come from the projectors on the floor but from a source deep within the walls. Prisms of light extend outward into the room, as if the world were cracking open at Savisky's portals. I want to enter. I want to walk around in a weightless world...a world with no up, no down, no cold hard ground...to feel the light on my skin, drift deep within the infinite luminosity. Will mortal flesh burn from a moment in Savisky's heaven?

A cluster of people gather at the edge of a room, their necks craned. They are perusing Loudly Minimal, Quietly Baroque at the Blue Star in San Antonio. What's caught their attention? "Two Corners-Three Walls," a multiple projection installation by Austin filmmaker Luke Savisky.

Eight 16mm film projectors punctuate the floor of Savisky's installation. None have film threaded through them, though they are all on and running. Precisely pitched to different degrees of incline, each projector throws an accurately tilted beam of light, casting a variety of triangles and squares onto the three flat walls and two corners of the room. All of the shapes overlap along a distinct horizon forming a panoramic image from one wall to the next­like a cubist's mountain range with alternating pockets of constant and pulsing light.

From the left, a large elongated triangle stretches across the wall to crescendo at its base in the corner inside two offset, overlapping squares. The vanishing point, a hot spot, created by the intensity of the three overlapping flickering beams of light, recedes deep into and out from the wall. A pulsing triangle pulls off to the right into the base of another square and lands on the right wall inside the tip of another stretched out triangle.

To the eye, it appears as though Savisky has carved out razor-sharp recesses from the walls, so hard and defined are the edges. Revealed within are warm, flickering, luminous rooms-wombs. Over time, the hard-soft contrast of the two entertains a play on perspective. A third dimension gapes in and out from the second. Illusory amorphous shapes take form in the flickering recesses, a result of retinal distress. Colors appear, change. Shapes advance and recede. Caverns of pulsing light, articulated by the ambient music (by Stars of the Lid), beckon with warmth­an antidote to the cold, hard-edged gallery-world we are standing in.

No longer does the light seem to come from the projectors on the floor but from a source deep within the walls. Prisms of light extend outward into the room, as if the world were cracking open at Savisky's portals. I want to enter. I want to walk around in a weightless world...a world with no up, no down, no cold hard ground...to feel the light on my skin, drift deep within the infinite luminosity. Will mortal flesh burn from a moment in Savisky's heaven?

 



Section Eight by Daniel Davis Clayton

When Sue returned to the group, she tightly clamped her legs so no one could smell the sperm incubating inside her uterus. He hadn't even let her wash. Jack, her husband, brushed her knee with the back of his hand. This was a far cry from holding her, but he could no longer bring himself to embrace her so soon afterward. He would hold her tonight when he felt the two were no longer being watched.

She had already bore two children who were not his. The first died of botulism. And when the second gurgled up blood instead of saliva, bowels running red, Jack was punished with the removal of his testicles. Maybe now he wouldn't be so quick to kill children if he could no longer bear his own. He sat beside her in impotent silence. They were strange bedfellows, the two. Husband and wife. The unable and the abused. Zeus could do no worse perhaps. He patted her on the knee.

Her name was Sue and his was Jack. Typical names. Jolly negro names. Good nigger names if you'd ask anyone. Most slavers would give a nigger baby a good name like Jack any day of the week. Niggers didn't care what their names were anyway. Hell, half the time they didn't use names. They'd just look at each other and talk. Names were for proper folk. Jack's owner preferred to give an entire family the same name. "If a nigger has a baby," he reasoned, "I just name the baby after the wench or the buck. Keeps things simple. And when I say, 'Come here Jack,' see I got three or four of 'em that come to running. I get things done quick that way."

The fire died low in the camp, and the chill air began to reclaim its territory. There usually was to be no communication between the slaves, but on nights where the treasures of Sue and a few choice others there rummaged and laid to waist, there came a relaxation of the rules. A consolation gift of sorts. On these nights, the captives would share stories of their native shores, tales passed down from their ancestors, and those newly acquired in this foreign world; and Jack would brush his hand against Sue's knee. Tonight would be no different.

The crew was traveling to the new southern region of America that was acquired with the Louisiana Purchase, the war on Native Americans, and other such ventures. Since the invention of the cotton engine or "gin" in 1793 and the boom of the cotton industry itself, the price of negro slaves had skyrocketed. Some states such as Virginia and Maryland, whose own tobacco crops were beginning to fail, became primary slave producing states, shipping bodies into the deep southern areas such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. By 1860, more than 800,000 slaves had been migrated; long harsh migrations sometimes softened with stories of legends and mythos.

One of the slave men, Titus, was from the Jersey territories. His voice grew eerie as he looked at each of the faces half-zombied in the flickering darkness. "Have you heard of the Jersey Devil?" And with that, his wide eyes began the story.

Pippin spoke of the Gods of his homeland and taught short phrases passed down in his native tongue.

Clairece told of her kidnapping from Philadelphia.

Jack chose silence.

The night grew deep as exhaustion began to spread into their consciousness. Several turned to the ground, falling asleep immediately and making the shackles taunt. Slowly a dominoes effect began as one-by-one the audience submitted themselves to the night. No one made mention of the approaching day's travels. Things would be no different tomorrow.

Sue and Jack spooned as best they could. Jack was thankful the slavers hadn't realized the two were husband and wife or just didn't care for the time being. A bittersweet thing. The hand on Sue's knee had become a hand on Sue's waist as Jack kissed her dusty back until she too slept from exhaustion. He always waited for her to sleep before he could release his embrace and allow himself to grow comfortable on the uncaring ground. He would hear the footsteps of his captors cracking twigs back and forth during the night, but no one would disturb his wife as she slept. No one.

The child born of her uterus several months later was sold deep into central Texas. And that child's seeds speckle Austin today. Despite their lack of knowledge concerning the plight of Sue and Jack, they all celebrate Juneteenth in honor. Sue, the survivor. Jack, the would be ancestor.

The slaves shared their stories that night, encircled and chained.

Just as we are doing right now: true or false, the circle no different, our father impotent, our mother a survivor, both choosing silence so their tales go untold.

 



Someone is Investing in Terrorism by Thom the World Poet

Rather than poeticism.
They buy guns and bombs
Rather than songs and poems.
They equip men
In ways of death dealing-without mentioning Life
And all its various reasonings and seasons.

Someone has a vested interest in hate
But it is never too late­to relate­the story of life
How it is various and vagrant, human scented,
fragrant
Delicious and delightful­often insightful
Yet always so enchanting­it leaves no time for
errorism
Just enough to breathe and move and ....sing
To let Life in for its own­and to allow humans
A home in their skin­without fear of sudden endings
Now is the time to invest in poem
again

To let Life live--inhuman skin--without fear or favor or
end.

 



Taken by Kelly Stern

Friday he has a small fit. He goes through the clothes, makes a pile to give away, makes another of books he'll never read again, but saves the sorting of his papers until the end of the day because he knows what that will lead to.

At first it's easy. Mixed in with the notes, articles, socks are magazines, journals, even a book. These get tossed on the floor in front of the bookcase. Then the photos -- these too are easy. They are recent, but he finds a way to avoid looking at each one. He gathers them and slips them into a photo box. Then things get distracting. A credit card bill from two months ago. She was long gone by then, but the balance he's still trying to pay off was charged on their weekend in Vancouver. Then again, they're just numbers, in a file, done.

Not so with the poems. A whole pile of them. At first he thinks just the top one is hers, and it isn't a great one. But as he gingerly lifts the corner of that one, and then the next, he sees that it is, in fact, a pile of ten or twelve and that some of them had been written for him, about him. He had forgotten, had been flattered at the time, of course, touched. But now, the titles alone make his nose twitch, and he needs to breathe deeply before he can read one all the way through. He expects to hear her voice, but instead sees her hair. Then her lips. He remembers their texture, their faint pink, and he touches the page as if to try and sense them there. And as he moves his finger across the type, he feels the letters raise up ever so slightly. At first, he isn't sure, but when his fingertip pauses on the word "longing," he can actually feel the circles of the o and the g's. When he takes his hand off the page, the indent of the letters on his skin takes a half-second to disappear.

He decides he is losing his mind to nostalgia, and shoves the poems under the bed. Drives to Goodwill to dump his bag of undesirables.

But on Sunday, he sneaks a hand under the bed and pulls the pages out, shuffles to a poem he doesn't want to read to the end. He lays his fingers on the white space in the margin and stares at the words without reading them. Waits. Takes a breath and moves one finger. Feels somehow a sense of gravity, of being bonded to the type, as if he can sense her on the underside of the page, touching the same word from beneath. And then his finger crosses over the word "skinless," gets caught on the k, then slips off the s's. He recoils as if from a Ouija board but is drawn back for the same reason. He tests the edges of the word "watch," picks a little at the tip of the t. Then tries to lift it up, and finds that he can. He turns his hand over slowly, palm up, and there is a tiny black t on his fingertip. He presses it with his thumb, and it transfers. Now he can see the backside, and it seems translucent. He brings his thumb closer to his eye and turns the letter slowly, trying to catch its colors in the light.

And suddenly he smells her, looks up quickly. Breathes in deeply, to fill all of his cells with the scent of her. Traces the smell back to the t, brings it closer to his face again. Slowly extends the tip of his tongue to taste the letter, traces the edges gently. Finally takes it into his mouth, reverently, like a communion wafer. Presses it softly against the roof. Lets it dissolve into a hum.

 



Up All Night by Harold McMillan

Although I'm not really that old yet, I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to take care of two aging parents. They don't really seem that old to me, but life's circumstances have necessitated that I stand up and be the strong one in the family. Being the only child has its benefits, to be sure, but there also comes responsibility with my role. Both of them need me. Plus, makes it harder that they don't live in the same house. But, I do what I can to help them along, go back and forth between their houses, try to dole out my love equally to both of them.

I am a student of life. I work on my art. I take care of the parents. And as often as I can, I make time for myself and my friends. To tell you the truth, sometimes I just need some time to do nothing. I need time to play, if you know what I mean.

I love my folks, but these two old fogies make me tired. They always have my days planned out for me. There's no break. I spend two or three days with my crotchety old man, two or three days with mom. "How you doing with your work, son?"

"Have you finished that piece of music you were practicing last week?"

"You know, I don't really know where you're getting all of that rap stuff, but I guess at least you're making the connection between the music and poetry. Just remember that jazz is what I want you to play eventually."

"Son, when are you gonna settle down and dedicate yourself to one instrument?"

And, "What about photography? Don't you ever use that camera we got you for your birthday?" They go on and on, always on my ass about something.

It's not that they don't love me. They do.

It's not that they don't trust that I am learning all I can and being a good student. They do.

It's just that they don't seem to understand that I have my own learning curve. I have to live my life, learn my own lessons, pick my own tunes. They forget that in addition to all of the pressure they put on me about "growing up," I still have to take care of them. Back and forth. Living on their schedules, trying to meet their needs. Trying to reassure them that they are doing OK. Being the strong, normal one.

I'm just a young man trying to live my life and take care of my youngish, but aging parents. I give them a lot of slack, humor them. But they really need to realize that, right now, my job is to study hard, make art, and play as much as I can. I'm still young. I deserve at least that. Right?

They ask so many questions. They have so many expectations. They're just lucky I don't give them an equal amount of shit about their lives. I mean, like I said, I give them all kinds of slack. Never have I asked for a complete explanation of why the two of these old geezers don't just live in the same house. It would make it a helluva lot easier on me. If for no other reason, the wear and tear on my instruments would be less.

I don't know, maybe I'm the selfish one here, but I sometimes just feel like they think it's all about them. I don't have anything better to do than take care of their needs. Deep down inside, I know they are probably doing the best they can. And although I bitch and moan about it, sometimes get mad and tell one of them how much better it is with the other old fart, I love them both.

I love them both, but at one time or another each of them really bothers me. Right now, my old man is on my nerves. Maybe it's because we're so much a like. Maybe it's because he's trying to live his life through me. Maybe it's because he doesn't realize that I have my own artistic voice, and I don't need him always telling me what to write, what to sing, what to play. Half the time when I'm at his house I can't get on the computer, can't play my music on the CD player (that is, if he's not trying to make me listen to some ancient piece of jazz vinyl), can't get the bass out of his hands -- there always seems to be a 32-bar bop progression that I just must learn.

That's why I'm up tonight. That's why I'm often up all night. I need my space to work. I've still got a few hours before the old grouch wakes up.

Right now I'm writing this on his computer. The old idiot loves Macs! After I finish this I'm gonna scramble his hard drive and turn off a bunch of software extensions. He thinks he's so smart. I humor him by calling him Mr. Smart Guy computer worker. The truth of the matter is that he works on his computers so much because I regularly get up before he does (he's lazy, really likes to sleep) and place little bombs in his system folder. Mr. Smart Guy has no idea why his computer keeps crashing. He cusses the machine. I smile to myself. Good job!

The way I get back at Mom is, when she's napping (and she naps a lot!), I take out her favorite old Nikon camera and I drop it, over and over. Then I spit on the lens, while drinking milk or apple juice, smear it. She's old and a bit slow. She has no idea why her camera doesn't work. I love it!

Neither of them have any idea why I like to stay up late. They think I just hate bedtime. I stay up all night to torment them.....speaking of torment, it's almost 7:30am now, and dad's gonna be waking up. I gotta get back in bed. The good thing is, today at school we get to watch Barney videos and make mud cookies!

I tell ya, it's not so bad being 3 years old. You can get away with almost anything...as long as you're as smart and cute as I am.

[Hayes McMillan is actually 3 3/4 years old and is the son of ADA publisher, Harold McMillan, an old fart now over 40. Harold is on vacation but returns to writing "Up All Night" next month.]

 

 



We hafta shaft NAFTA by Raul R. Salinas

Beside maquiladora madness
in hovels
dies la poblacion
mientras profits soar skyward
in classic coca-cola/nizacion
anti-obrero/ anti-gente
those takers not makers
of jobs.
Mobs of politicos map out
vicious vendettas emerge
on the verge of sneaking peeks
into the oval room
reeking of global mono-polios
Medio Ambiente in crisis.

Smokestacks spew
fuming and farting
belching river runs red
dead fish & human
bodies/ banks lined w/ bilge
all incorporados devorados
by that monstruo multinacional
animales transnacionales
create sluch funds flushed
across that Rio Bravo
infecting/ affecting
deep into
Coahuiltecan/ Mexica lands
grandstanding good ol'
yankee doodle boyz
strong-arm twisting politics of no choice
in backrooms, under the table
heavy duty bulldoggin'
green belt & rust belt
turning yellow

strange fellows!
los funcionaros,
jump in & out
of political beds
dead inside this
treaty dishonoring colony
clinton carrot sticks it
hard and soft/ buy & sell
high panics on the hill
squel as a 3 dollar bill
cranks out de velop meant
bank which quickly sank
ranked by the media hype
type of pork-barrel publicity
stunt!

Grunting and groanin'
billy be moanin'
boning up on de facts
fast-talking walk-it-throughs
downsizing the dignity
of la humanidad
held hostage.
pero por seguro
in the southeastern mountains
en un nuevo amanecer
militant mayan
guerrilla bands
are waiting/
patient/ vigilant/
& calm.

 

[Raul Salinas is the voice of poetry and politics, of struggle and song. In the new millennium, in the era of interactive CD-Rom, Raul Salinas leads crews of digital warriors, a new crop literalocos who surf cyberspace with a resilient Chicanismo and an ear to the ground. Raul was born in the streets of San Antonio and raised on the streets of East Austin.

He's blazed through dungeons, carried banners as a cultural worker alongside students and demonstrators, toured the world as an emissary of the native community and all the while heaved stunningly poetic words to the wind. Schooled in streetspeak, jazz and blues, Raul's legendary poetry collection, Un Trip through the Mind Jail y Otras Excursions, has been re-issued by Arte Publico Press and is a Chicano literary classic. Raul has traveled the world as a member of the International Indian Treaty Council on behalf of American Indian Move-ment activist Leonard Peltier.]

 



Wild Blue by Christine Hindman

The blue glints at me from across the quad. Brilliant, iridescent, glittering like light on broken glass. The sight of it hooks the air from my lungs and sends blood in bright red gushes along my arteries, infusing the optical centers of my brain with oxygen to better interpret the image. Can it really be, this coruscating, dazzling blue?

The blue, the blue, the blue. Head up like a gaze hound, I track the blue through a jumble of students meandering the sidewalk on their way to class or a meal, flattening myself out to slip between gaggles of identically dressed girls, skirting around groups of rough-house boys, always keeping my eye on that distant spot of color. I begin to ascend the hill that rises between me and the tall, puerile male with this amazing ornament of hair, blue hair colored like sunlight through a Tiffany iris, the blue I need.

To find the blue in a freshman's choice of hair color is very queer, extraordinary, something I never would have looked for. I accidentally catch the tail of someone's olive-toned shirt with my backpack and jerk away as I grab the sandstone railing and puff up pink granite stairs. Panting, my body slanted uphill, the logical side of my brain curses the affliction that makes me do this, makes me run after this blue boy instead of running to art history to take a test. But the genetic aberration that makes me want this blue is as inescapable as the biology that gave me my mother's short, stout legs. So, I climb.

Now the young man is moving too, heading past a pigeon-painted bronze, strolling with several parchment blondes and dust browns, unaware of his hair or his stalker. At this distance, he reminds me of my brother Mark, the way he used to saunter into the house with his pack of friends as they shoved against each other, laughing with wide smiles. Distracted by a moment's memories, I lose the terrain, tripping on uneven cement, sprawling, jamming my knee into the sidewalk. I roll over, grab my leg. The pain is fire engine red for a few moments, but simmers down to robin's breast with me rubbing my knee and hissing through my teeth.

Getting to my feet, I wave off a concerned bystander and glimpse the blue as it disappears past some oleander bushes at the top of the hill. Despite the jabs of pain in my knee and the complaints of my ribs each time my backpack bounces against my spine, I scale the rest of the slope between us, running to the fountain where he had been moments before -- praying- but I do not see the blue. There are four buildings, four paths around those buildings that lead to streets which branch into an infinite set of possibilities. I turn in a circle of confusion. Which way?

Hughes Hall. It was the general direction he had been heading, so I move quickly down the broad sidewalk past the science building, searching the multicolored crowds like the mother of a lost child. Where is the blue? Why can't I see it?

There. The blue springs into sight. He had stooped for a moment, bent to pick something off the sidewalk. That's why I couldn't see it. Relief rushes through me like a wind. He is waiting at the curb for traffic to ease, so I have only a few seconds to catch the shot before he crosses. I set up right where I am, pulling my camera out of my back pack, pointing the zoom, steadying my shoulder against the building as the eye of the camera searches for, and finds, the blue.

It dazzles me. For a fraction of a moment, I forget to snap the shutter -- an undertone of gold mixed with the blue hair dye must provide that eye drop of aquamarine, just a minute touch of green playing with the blueberry darks and cerulean lights, all perfectly swirled into the blue I need. I force myself into slow, deep breaths as I push the lens to maximum, filling the frame with blue, snapping shot after shot, working the motorized film advance almost continuously, following the brilliant blue hair until the camera begins to rewind. When I take the camera from my face, I can see the blue disappear into a forest green Toyota and speed away.

It's an hour's drive home. Sightseers and construction crews test my patience once I enter the winding road along the shore to my parent's lake house. My parents let me stay here while I'm in school so I can have my freedom, they say, not mentioning now that Mark's gone, they have their freedom, too, if I don't live with them. Whatever. It was hard for me to live at their house anyway, especially after Dad moved Mark's stuff out of his room last year. Guest room. Sure, whatever.

Once I get to the lake house, I toss my backpack on a chair and head straight to my darkroom, formerly known as the downstairs bathroom, without stopping for the Coke my brain has been demanding during the trip home. Plenty of time for caffeine once I have unveiled the blue.

I lock the door and flip on the red light automatically, even though there's little chance I'll be disturbed by even a phone call, and plunge into the developing process, unaware of my surroundings until the chemicals, time and temperature have done their work and fixed the colors to the film. After a thorough rinse, I pull the film from the tank and clip one end to a wire, then soak up water drops from the film with a sponge, sucking liquid from the brownish medium, barely touching the film at all. I should let the film dry now. I know that, and I fight my impatience to witness the results, to see if I really got the blue. In the end, I decide it is more important to have the blue right than to spoil the image.

I hobble upstairs and bandage my wounded knee. I make myself a tuna sandwich, get a Coke from the refrigerator door and try to figure out what excuse I will give for missing my art history test. Will the truth do? Just explain about the affliction, why I had to have the blue. Maybe an art history teacher will understand that.

This affliction -- I am a tetrachromat -- was only a mysterious oddity for me until I entered a study at the university and found out I am a biological freak. Not the kind of freak Mark used to call me when I was fourteen and he was a sophomoric sophomore, but a real one-in-ten-million kind of freak. There is a long, technical explanation of what a tetrachromat is, but here is the simple one: I see colors using four wavelengths where most humans use only three. I can match colors with machine precision, better, depending on the machine.

They thought I was stupid in preschool: Which block is the same as this other block, Lucy? None of them were the same to me because the cardboard squares were cut from different dye lots and were as distinct to me as a circle is from a square. So, I tell the teacher two red squares do not match and she sends notes home to my parents. All because of receptor cones in my eye that vibrate at this extra frequency so I can make four distinctions between colors instead of three like a normal trichromat. A kind of super power, one of the researchers told me. Ha. The most asinine super power I ever heard of.

That's it then. I'll simply tell my art history teacher I am a freak of nature who can see three million different colors where she can see only three-hundred thousand, so naturally I had to skip the test. Right. I read, pace, check my watch. It's been two hours, the absolute minimum. I zip down to the darkroom.

The problem with being a tetrachromatic photographer is that the process is built for trichromat: film, paper, chemicals, filters, everything -- all in three colors. To get the blue, I have to mess around in the developing procedure, combine red and green filters during exposure, vary chemical mixtures and exposure times until this photographic farrago yields to my visual needs. This is when I miss Mark the most. Not because he could help me get the color right; he was as color blind as I am color aware. I miss him because he always supported my passion for photography, something my parents considered a hobby run amok, even after I'd sold two pieces to a local gallery. Mark bought me my first professional- grade camera for graduation and always asked to see my work, even when some of the pieces were likely as distinguishable to him as tomato juice on red construction paper. He would have been glad I found the blue.

After a couple of hours and many misses, I place the latest contact print on the light table and put my eye to the magnifier. This print is as disappointing as the others at first, none of the frames are rendering the color I saw in the quad. Then, in the middle of the page, I see it, the blue. I raise up, rub my eyes, take a slug of Coke and tuck my eye back to the magnifier. It is. It really is the blue. I got it.

I scissor around the photo paper frame, trying to keep my hands from shaking too much, and begin thinking of names. After all, I can't just call it Blue like there is only one. This is the blue of the moment, the one that matters, the particular, precise, exact shade I need. When the rectangle of blue is cut away from the others, I hurry out to the Rainbow Room.

The Rainbow Room is my name for the Quonset hut behind the lake house where my dad keeps his boat, the Model T he drives in the spring, my mom's Tanzanite-colored BMW (the one they were going to give to Mark then tried to give to me) and a few other odds and ends. Inside, glued to the curved, corrugated metal roof, is my rainbow.

It begins in the arc over the front door. To you, I suppose it would look like inch-wide strips of color beginning with deep, ruddy reds, which fade into blood, then fire engine, then vermilion, and then you are in the oranges without really being able to tell exactly where the change took place. To me, there are thousands of tiny blocks of color carefully attached to the curved ceiling, each with a name catalogued in notebooks in my darkroom, names like 1950's Green for the color of my grandfather's sunglasses or Kilowatt Yellow for the color of a burning filament in a clear glass bulb.

There are over 240,000 colored rectangles so far: pictures I have stolen from magazines, paint chips from auto body shops, lipstick samples from makeup manufacturers, anywhere I could find a swatch of color. With the exception of the blues, there are huge gaps in each of the color bands where I haven't accumulated enough colors yet, but I have only been doing this for a couple of years. I figure I have about a million to go.

As I maneuver the scaffolding between rows of white, metal light fixtures, their full spectrum bulbs pointing toward the ceiling, I think of a name for the blue, Blue Yonder, because it was always so far away from me. I steady the scaffolding, then carefully climb to the arch of the roof. There's a spray can of adhesive on the dusty, wooden platform and a tiny breach in the otherwise unbroken band just big enough for the hard won blue. I fish the rectangle from my shirt pocket and hold it out over the edge of the scaffold so I can see Blue Yonder by itself one last time.

The myriad colors shimmering in a rainbow vary by only a few hundredths of a micron in their wavelengths; that's one millionth the width of a human hair, one thousandth of the thickness of a sheet of paper, probably the difference between life and death if you measured it in distance instead of time. My eyes drift from the blue to the ceiling, from the borders of indigo to the beginnings of green. Blue Yonder seems an insignificant tremor in all that curved space. I brush away tears with the back of my hand, then tack the blue into place.

 

[The first story Christine Hindman remembers writing was a story about a blueberry pie -- from the point of view of the blueberry. That was in junior high (30 years ago!) and she has been writing ever since. Her professional writing experience consists of a short but fun stint as the owner/editor of a weekly newspaper in Lenora, Kansas. Now, she is taking classes and creating stories that help her understand the craft of writing, and herself, more fully.]

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