Issue 90 — Z. Benavidez, M. Correia, B. Herron, W. Nick Hill, S. Ruescher, C. Schwartz, P. Sutton
The Dog on Sitting Woman Mountain
After crossing airport security at Reagan National, Mateo noticed a bar where a few travelers sat on stools, chatting and laughing. He thought about what he’d been doing most Friday evenings over the last few months. This evening, though, he couldn’t drink because his family hadn’t seen him in the nearly two years since he’d moved to Washington, D.C. for graduate school. Only his mother and cousin Juan knew his drinking had progressed and that he’d been trying to quit. And he wanted to keep it that way. He walked down the terminal and saw more people sitting at tables enjoying drinks, the light from votive candles twinkling off their glasses. He saw a line of people at a pizza place that advertised beer, and he saw another bar beyond the souvenir shops. He got in line for pizza, ordered two slices of cheese and a Diet Coke and took his food to a seat near his gate.
He plugged in his ear buds. Music would get his mind off drinking, this trip home, and the week ahead with his family. It would ease the tension in his stomach that had been growing ever since his mother had called to tell him his grandmother had passed away. He wanted to see his family, to be there with them, but he felt overwhelmed by the drama, the complaining, and the blaming they would bring. When boarding for his flight was announced, he walked to the large panoramic window overlooking the airport tarmac, and called his cousin Manny.
“I need you to get me an eight ball of coke,“ Mateo said quickly.
“I got you,“ Manny said.
“Bring it to the wake, if you can.“ He hung up, got in line, handed the agent his boarding pass, walked down the jet way, and crossed the threshold.
* * *
At Phoenix Sky Harbor, he was among the first passengers to grab his bag from the luggage carousel, which pleased him. Outside it felt cold for March, colder in the desert than it had felt in D.C. He pulled the hood of his navy blue Georgetown sweatshirt over his head and sat in an empty airport wheelchair that lingered on the sidewalk. He checked his phone for the time. This was typical of trips home. Why couldn’t his family just be here waiting for him instead of the other way around? He had just flown across the country to visit them. This trip took money and effort, and it took him away from school, friends, and his life. When his sister pulled up, thirty minutes late, she laughed. “Indian time,“ she said, hugging him then opening the trunk for his suitcase. “You look like a kid. I said to Eddie, is that him or is that a little boy?“ She laughed again. Her name was Juliana but she had always been heavy and happy so everyone called her Jolly. His brother Eduardo got out of the passenger side. He had a long thick black braid running down the length of his back which Mateo noticed when they patted one another around the shoulders, no hug. From the backseat, his nephew rolled down the window, peeked out and waved then rolled the window back up. Jolly wouldn’t stop smiling so he decided not to complain about the wait; he just loaded his suitcase into the trunk and got into the backseat. On the way out of Phoenix, they stopped at an Indian Casino on Interstate 10 for the buffet dinner, but the Pima security guard wouldn’t let them in because of his nephew. “We’re just here to eat,“ Jolly said. “And he’s ten!“ The security guard called Jolly “Ma’am,“ explained the policy again, and directed them to the exit. Mateo could see the bar beyond the glass doors, the drinks sitting on the tops of slot machines, the glasses lit by lights flashing wildly, and servers carrying trays of cocktails and glistening bottles of cold beer. He wished Jolly hadn’t brought her son. “Ma’am!“ Jolly repeated as she drove out of the parking lot. “Fuckin’ Pima. Where does that chief get off calling me ma’am? I ain’t no white lady.“
They ate, eventually, at a Whataburger in the border town to the reservation. They pulled into the drive-thru, and as they waited at the window, Jolly talked about their mother. She’s been busying herself with this and that for the wake and funeral, Jolly said. Then she got into it, the stuff that would help Mateo navigate his way around the landmines of this week’s terrain. “Everybody’s fighting,“ she said. “They can’t agree on anything. It’s happening all over again, like it did when Grandma Ida died, but Mom says everyone will come around. Anyway, we’re not supposed to talk about it.“ She sighed. The food was ready, and a teenaged girl handed the bags to Jolly through the window, thanked them, and told them to have a good night. Jolly parked the car under a lamppost in the empty parking lot. Only the drive-thru was open twenty-four hours, according to a sign glaring on the street in front of them. Jolly handed out the burgers, fries, and drinks, making sure the order was right, then she continued her report. “A nurse said something to Uncle Manuel in the hallway at the hospital after grandma died, and he left angry. Nobody knows what she said, but nobody’s talking to him either. She said something about us, something about the family. We were all crying. We didn’t know there was paperwork to do. Then they couldn’t decide on which coffin to buy, so finally Uncle Ross bought it on his own, because he said he was the only one who really loved grandma.“ It was unbearable, hearing this litany, but Mateo sat there listening, unable to touch his food, wishing he hadn’t come. Living away from home had kept him out of these family dramas, and he had preferred it that way, preferred not getting involved, not being pulled to anyone’s side. “But like I said, we’re not supposed to talk about it,“ Jolly said again. They ate in silence, and when she finished her food, she decided she was ready to drive home. They gassed up the car at a Circle-K down the street then they sped out of town. Suddenly, they were on a two-lane highway cutting through the reservation, under a thick veil of stars that gave the desert a pale glow. Mateo leaned back in his seat, his nephew asleep beside him, and he stared out the window at the black outlines of mountains and saguaro cacti, their arms stretched wide-open, waiting.
* * *
The next evening, in her Jeep Cherokee, his mother drove him and his brothers to the wake in a village that lay at the base of some rocky hills on the way to the Mexican border. It was a long trip and they had to drive over those hills to get there. When Mateo was a boy, the crests and drops of that road would tickle his stomach and he’d giggle. This time his stomach turned and he waited for the road to level onto the flat desert floor. He couldn’t remember ever enjoying this ride. He felt sick but he couldn’t ask his mother to pull over; he wasn’t sure he could ask her anything. He wondered if she resented him. He thought of her many phone calls, her asking him to fly home because his grandmother had only a few days, but when those days turned into weeks, and those weeks turned into months, Mateo thought he had more time.
“I used to love this drive,“ he said, sitting up in the front passenger seat.
His mother stared at the curving road ahead.
“Remember that story about the mountain that looks like an old woman? The one dad used to tell us on the way to Mexico?“ He turned to look at her, but when she said nothing he looked away. “It’s around here, somewhere,“ he said. His father died when Mateo was 18, a drunk driving accident, running off the road and rolling his truck into a ditch. At his father’s funeral so many people reached out to comfort Mateo and his family, but Mateo was never sure if his father’s death was a loss or a blessing. Now, he thought back to those nights when he was a boy, awake in his bedroom, listening to his father shouting, his mother screaming, bottles breaking, the front door slamming, his father getting into his truck and peeling out of the yard.
“Your grandma wanted to see you,“ his mother said, finally. “Didn’t she? Didn’t your grandma ask for Mateo every day?“ she said this looking in the rearview mirror at his brothers sitting in the backseat.
“Yeah,“ Eddie and Diego mumbled.
Mateo put in his ear buds, turned on his music, and closed his eyes. He thought of the story of Sitting Woman Mountain. “She’s weaving a basket with yucca and bear grass,“ his father would say, driving past the mountain. “When she finishes the basket, the world will end. But her dog sleeps beside her and when she gets up to put more wood on the fire, her dog pulls out the strands of bear grass, so she has to start her basket all over again until the fire needs more wood. And the dog pulls out the strands again.“ This goes on and on. When Mateo was a boy he asked his dad if the dog would ever get tired of pulling out the strands of bear grass or if the woman would ever catch the dog; he was scared it meant the world would end someday. Now he smiled at his boyhood self, the one who believed in old Indian stories.
He felt the road flatten and he was relieved, finally. He opened his eyes and watched as the desert spread out before him. On this side of the hills, the desert went on forever, gently colored by yellow shrubs and green creosote bushes. In the distance, he could see the white adobe chapel at the center of the village. He remembered when he was a boy his family would come here to visit his grandparents. His favorite visits were for church feasts when the village grandmothers would bake sweet biscuits and give them out after the church procession of saints. His grandfather would dress in a black Mariachi suit with silver buttons running along his sleeves, and his grandfather would play the violin with a Mariachi band made up of Indian men from the reservation and Mexican men from across the border. Back then the border wasn’t so protected, and people could come and go as they pleased, especially if they had family on both sides like they did. That’s how it worked with Mateo’s grandparents: Juan was Mexican and Amelia was Indian, and early in their lives they would travel back and forth between Mexico and the cotton farms south of Phoenix. Eventually they settled in this village because Amelia had family here.
His mother took a dirt road through the village to the church and parked under a mesquite tree along the fence. From inside the Jeep, she watched as people filed into the church, and Mateo watched her and waited. When everyone had gone inside, she opened her door and got out. Mateo gathered the floral arrangement sitting at his feet and followed. Eddie carried a box of candles and Diego carried a box of black ribbons to pin on peoples’ shirts. They walked quietly into the church, which was crowded with villagers. In front of the altar lay his grandmother’s white coffin, covered with a spray of purple flowers. During Mass, Mateo read something from the Book of Psalms. A cousin from California read something, too, and someone sang the Saint Francis Prayer. The priest said some words about his grandmother, calling her “Our Sister,“ which annoyed Mateo because he felt like the priest didn’t know her well. His mother kept her head up and he and his brothers sat silently beside her. Jolly sat in another pew with her own family, her husband and two boys, which made Mateo feel so alone. He looked at his family and saw Manny, and he wondered if he had brought the eight ball of cocaine; his heart beat rapidly every time he saw Manny reach into his pocket or get up from his pew. Mateo was a few years older than Manny, who was a freshman in college. Manny had a half-brother named Bird, who was full Indian and was a senior in high school.
Following tradition, the wake lasted all night, and before the sun rose the next morning, they packed up all the cars with flowers and candles, put his grandmother’s coffin in the back of a pick-up truck, and drove to a small town off the reservation, southwest of Phoenix, near the cotton fields where his grandparents first lived and where his grandfather was buried. It wasn’t really a town, just acres of cotton fields and a dairy farm that stunk of cow manure, where a small community of migrant workers had once lived. When he was a boy, his mother would sometimes drive through there, and point to where the Mexicans used to live in small shacks that had long since been torn down.
At the cemetery, it felt so cold that people stood wrapped in blankets. Folding chairs were set out for the family and the coffin was placed near the open grave. They would bury her themselves, using ropes to lower the coffin into the grave and shovels to pack in the earth. His mother stood at the back of the crowd along a fence made of wooden posts and barbed wire, Eddie’s arm around her shoulders. His aunts and uncles stood with their own children, and only Uncle Manuel and Uncle Ross sat near the coffin. Mateo didn’t know whether to stand or sit, so he moved back and forth between his cousins and siblings. At one point, his mother called him over and told him to stand by the coffin, to “relieve“ his cousin Juan, named after their grandfather, something Juan often mentioned. Juan had been standing guard during most of the service as people filed past the coffin for one last viewing. Of all Mateo’s cousins, Juan was the closest to him in age and experience. They had graduated from college together, and when Mateo decided to move to Washington for graduate school, Juan had followed and moved in with him. Seeing him standing there reverently brought up something Mateo hadn’t thought about since he’d arrived. When his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer over Christmas, Juan decided to take a leave of absence from school and move home. Mateo had tried to talk him out of it: “She has the rest of the family with her. The best thing you can do for her is to keep doing what you’re doing and make her proud.“ But Juan wouldn’t yield. “It’s what you do for family. Family always comes first. She’s the only grandmother I have. And school will still be here when I get back.“ Mateo pointed out the fact that they had one semester left before graduating, that after a long break at home he might lose momentum and not come back. Juan still wouldn’t listen. Instead, he suggested that Mateo come home with him, but Mateo said he couldn’t, it wouldn’t be fair to his thesis advisor and his committee. After Juan moved back to Arizona, Juan would call Mateo to tell him he was staying overnight in grandma’s hospital room or he was spending the day at her bedside. Mateo hated those phone calls because it made Juan seem like the good grandson, the one who had dropped everything for family. Mateo had gotten drunk the night Juan flew home and he’d called Juan’s mother, Auntie Luz, and told her if Juan ever came back, he couldn’t live with him; he told her he never wanted to see Juan again. She said, “I have to go now, Mateo, you’re making me cry.“ That was the first time anyone in his family had ever told him he’d inflicted pain. And now he didn’t want to approach Juan nor did he want to stand by his grandmother’s coffin, but there was no way out of it—his mother was watching—so he tapped his cousin on the shoulder and nodded to let him know he could step away. From his vantage point, Mateo could see his grandmother. She looked so small, her face gaunt from weeks of not eating. His mother had told him over the phone that his grandmother refused to eat because she didn’t feel hungry, just tired and in pain. Her pain had consumed her. From the coffin he could see his entire family. Mateo couldn’t look at any of them so he looked instead at the faded white crosses in the old dirt cemetery.
After everyone had one last viewing, Uncle Manuel stood up and announced that it was time to lay Amelia to rest. He said this in English for the young people and in Spanish for those family members who had traveled from Mexico. Someone else translated for the old Indian women, who sat huddled together on benches and who began wailing, holding their hands to their mouths with delicate white handkerchiefs. Uncle Manuel turned and leaned into the coffin to face Grandma Amelia. He spoke quietly to her, kissed her forehead, and after a moment of holding her hands, he clicked the coffin lid shut. Mateo moved out of the way as his brothers and cousins gathered around the coffin with ropes which they pulled underneath her coffin, making soft zipping sounds that took Mateo’s thoughts back to his father’s funeral when he had pulled ropes under his father’s coffin to lower him into his grave. He was the oldest of his brothers and his mother depended on him a lot then. The man of the house, she’d called him at the end of that day. Then he’d left for college and after that he went to graduate school on the east coast, far away from the southwest, and as far away from the memory of his father as possible. Now Eddie and Diego were helping lower his grandmother into her grave. Everyone else stood by the stacks of logs, cactus ribs, piles of green creosote branches, and mounds of dirt, all of which would be used to return his grandmother to the earth. After his grandmother’s coffin had been lowered into a plain box, the box was nailed shut, and the men handed logs down to two men that stood in the grave who placed them in such a way that they created a floor over the box then they covered the logs with cactus ribs and then covered the cactus ribs with creosote branches. After that, everyone got in line and, one by one, each took a handful of dirt and tossed it into the grave. Finally, the men swiftly shoveled dirt into the grave, stirring up great clouds of dust that blew over the cemetery, causing everyone to cover their faces and step away. Mateo didn’t move. He stood there, watching the grave mound grow, letting the dust waft over him.
* * *
They had lunch at a nearby community center, and after lunch, most people left. People had to drive as far away as Tucson and Mexico to get home, drives that would be long and tiresome. At lunch, Mateo sat with Manny and Bird and ate beans and chili with tortillas. He preferred sitting with them instead of with his mother because he felt sure she would tell him more stories about the family fighting or she would ask why he didn’t come home sooner, followed by an aching silence that would fill the space between them. He didn’t want to deal with any of that right now. He thought about drinking and using, the relief it would bring, but he felt more relieved when Manny said he didn’t bring the cocaine. How could he think of being wired during all of this? He decided that the experience of the funeral would become connected with the cocaine high and would ruin it for him, forever linking his grandmother’s death with doing a line of coke. No, he couldn’t have that. When Jolly found him at one of the tables, she touched his shoulder.
“We’re leaving,“ she said. “How are you getting home?“
“What do you mean?“ he said.
“My car’s full.“
“What about Mom’s car?“
“Hers is full, too. There’s no room for you.“
It was the last part of Jolly’s answer that bothered him. As large as his family was, with half-siblings on this side and that, teenagers that were aunts and uncles, and cousins, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of all ages, a mixed-race tribe of their own making, there was no room for him.
“You can ride with us,“ Manny said.
“Yeah!“ said Bird with a look in his eye that Mateo could read easily.
“I’ll go with them,“ Mateo told Jolly.
“Let’s go tell Mom,“ she said.
They got up from the table and walked outside to the dirt parking lot, where his mother was sitting in her Jeep, eating a slice of cake over the steering wheel. She took a couple of forkfuls, put the plate on the dashboard, and wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“I’m going with Manny and Bird,“ he said into the window. “I need my bag.“
He went to the rear door and when he came back to tell her he would stay with Manny’s family for the night, she looked at him and said, “Don’t drink.“
“I mean it. You’re doing so good. You look happier and healthier. Don’t drink.“
He smiled and walked away.
* * *
They drank in a Wal-Mart parking lot, Bird handing out bottle after bottle of beer from a case, and Manny skillfully using the metal latch in the truck door to open the bottle caps. It was Sunday afternoon and the parking lot was mostly full, so they stood by the open passenger-side doors of their double-cab pick-up truck, carefully shielding their bottles from passers-by. They talked about school, what Bird would do after high school graduation later that spring. College in Tucson, he said, so he could live with Manny. They’d have fun, Manny said, partying every weekend. Mateo watched the way they smiled and laughed at one another, a kinship he had never shared with his own brothers. He thought of that pat Eddie had given him at the airport; his brother had always been stoic. He shook his head, dug into his pocket for cash, and asked Manny to go inside to buy a fifth of Smirnoff.
“My mom’s still shopping,“ Manny said a few minutes later when he came out. “We got time.“
They drank for half an hour. Mateo asked them to open the vodka because this beer wasn’t doing the trick anymore.
“We always start with the light stuff before we hit the hard stuff,“ Manny said.
“I always start with the hard stuff,“ Mateo said, chest out. “In fact, I only drink the hard stuff.“
“Damn,“ said Bird. “We got a pro in our midst.“
“More like an old-timer,“ Mateo said, and when the boys laughed he felt good and warm inside.
“All right, old-timer, show us how it’s done,“ said Manny.
Mateo lifted the fifth of Smirnoff to his lips and tipped it high, swallowing a fourth of it. The boys shouted and whooped right there in the middle of the Wal-Mart parking lot. They patted him on the back, and he did it again, and he didn’t know when he stopped. He didn’t remember any of the drive to their house on the reservation. All he remembered was Bird waking him up and telling him to get off the truck and go inside.
“You were cutting some serious logs,“ Bird said, laughing.
The next day they drove to Tucson, just the boys this time, to visit Mateo’s friend Ash. Ash’s mother Elsa was a member of the Native American Church, and she always had a teepee pitched in their backyard for prayer meetings. She wasn’t a Plains Indian but she dressed like one. At prayer meetings she would wear a buckskin dress with fringes, moccasins, and beaded hairpins. She knew their songs, too, and she called God the Great Spirit or Grandfather. Ash was named after the ashes left from a fire at one of those prayer meetings. The story goes that Ash’s mother had sprinkled some cedar into the fire to pray for a son, a good, strong, healthy son. Mateo wondered why she didn’t name him Cedar, which would have made more sense, or Prayer. Prayer would have been a good name.
“Hey, wouldn’t Prayer make a good name?“ he said out loud, sitting in the backseat of the truck.
“Bear?“ asked Bird. “Yeah, Bear would make a good name.“
“Prayer!“ Mateo corrected.
“Oh! No, that wouldn’t make a good name,“ Bird said and they laughed.
They laughed a lot on that drive. They laughed when Mateo told them the story of Jolly at the casino and the Pima security guard that had called her “Ma’am.“ They thought about calling her so they could say, “What’s up, Ma’am?“ but Bird didn’t have any minutes on his phone and Manny needed to save his minutes in case of an emergency. Mateo looked for his phone, but he couldn’t find it, and when he finally found it under his seat, the moment had passed. When they got to Tucson, he called Ash to tell him they were in town and were going to eat, and he asked Ash to join them. Ash pulled into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant right as they did; he lived nearby, and he had already started drinking for the day, they could tell from his eyes and the smell of his body when they hugged him.
“Damn Ash, it’s not even eleven o’clock,“ Mateo said.
“We got an early start, too,“ said Manny.
“Start? I never stopped,“ said Ash. “Ayyyy.“
Over chips and salsa, margaritas, cheese enchiladas, chimichangas, and rice and beans, they joked and laughed, but the mood changed when Mateo started talking about having to hitch a ride after the funeral.
“They always pull some shit like that,“ he said. “I don’t know why I even bother coming down here. And they wonder why I spend all my time with you,“ he said this to Ash. “You’re more my brother than Eddie and Diego are.“
“You’re my brother,“ Ash said.
“You’re our brother, too,“ Bird said.
“I’ll drink to that,“ said Manny, and they laughed and took a drink. They were loud but nobody complained because the place was mostly empty on a Monday morning. The waitress brought another round of drinks without being asked, and Ash told her she was his kind of woman.
“Girl, please!“ Manny said and they laughed again.
It went on like that for the rest of the week, drinks at restaurants and bars, pre-gaming at home to get them started and drinking when they got home to help them sleep. At some point, Manny and Bird went home to the reservation because their mother called to ask for the truck. Then Mateo found a cocaine dealer and he showed Ash how to snort lines, which was a mistake because Ash kept asking for more coke after that. They did key bumps in the parking lots of gay bars and inside they drank and talked to men. At a gay bar on Fourth Avenue, Mateo and Ash danced on the patio dance floor, drinks in hand. Surrounded by the rhythm of boys and the pulse of heavy bass, Mateo met a guy and they moved off the floor to the bar so they could talk. He was a Hopi guy named Lenny, and eventually Mateo followed him outside to his car. Mateo let Lenny ease his seat back and lay on top of him. Lenny kissed Mateo and Mateo kissed him back, hard, tasting the rum on his lips, lips that moved, wet and smooth, to Mateo’s neck, his teeth pulling his t-shirt off so he could lick Mateo’s collar bone and bite his chest. Mateo closed his eyes and held this man close, feeling Lenny’s long black hair drape over his face, caressing his cheeks, his ears, and his bare chest. Mateo felt like he was with a real Indian, not a half-breed like he was.
“Want a bump?“ Mateo asked, pushing Lenny onto the driver’s seat.
“What is this, the 1980’s?“
Mateo did a key bump, snorting and rubbing his nose to get it all in.
“What kind of name is Mateo for an Indian?“ Lenny asked, laughing.
“More like mixed up,“ Lenny said.
Mateo put on his shirt and said he’d better go inside to check on Ash. When he found Ash, he told him what Lenny said, and Ash told him to forget about that Hopi guy, the night was young, he’d find someone else, but he didn’t. That was Thursday night, and when they got back to Ash’s apartment, he started to cry about this trip, about his grandmother, and about being forgotten after the funeral. He told the story again, and Ash sat quietly beside him on the couch, and he didn’t stop Mateo when he called his mother at two o’clock in the morning.
“You didn’t even cry at grandma’s funeral,“ Mateo told her. “What kind of daughter doesn’t cry at her own mother’s funeral? And you were all fighting, and nobody was talking to Uncle Manuel. That’s messed up, Mom. That’s messed up.“
“Son, you’re drunk,“ she said. “Call me when you’re not drunk.“
“But why didn’t you cry for grandma?“
“You don’t know my pain,“ she said and hung up.
By the next day, he was out of money. Just in time too, because he was scheduled to fly back to Washington that afternoon. He took a shower, finally, and changed his clothes, putting on the hoody he’d worn on the flight out here. Ash was asleep on the living room floor, having given up his bed for Mateo as a brotherly gesture. He couldn’t remember much of last night; he vaguely remembered calling his mother but he didn’t know what he had said.
“Hey, Ash,“ he said, nudging Ash’s belly with his foot. “Ash! Wake up. You have to take me to Phoenix.“
“OK,“ Ash mumbled and rolled over, burying his face into his arm.
“Ash, did I call my mom last night?“ he asked, and when he didn’t get an answer, he asked again, loudly. “Ash, I said, did I call my mom last night?“
“Shit,“ he said. “What did I say? Ash, what did I say?“
“I don’t know, but you started crying when she hung up on you.“
* * *
He was so wired on the flight that he couldn’t sleep. Whenever a flight attendant walked by he put his head back and closed his eyes. He sat still and thought of his mother and the week he didn’t spend with her. He wondered if she cared at all. Probably not, he tried to convince himself, but he knew better. Hours later, he got off the plane and checked his phone. He had over twenty missed calls, D.C. friends offering condolences or D.C. friends offering cocaine. He didn’t return any of them nor did he bother to listen to his voicemail. He took the metro to Eastern Market and walked to his basement apartment on East Capitol. It was late, the streets were empty, and Hayden’s Liquor wouldn’t be open until noon the next day. On Saturday, he slept in and at noon he called in his order; soon after, Dale, the stock guy, delivered five liters of Smirnoff. He spent the weekend drinking. When he finished his last bottle, he took some pills that had been prescribed for him the last time he had gone to the emergency room to detox. He knew about sweats and seizures, and he kept vigilant, but none of that happened, and he didn’t feel relieved either way. He sat on his bed and stared at his phone a lot, but it didn’t ring, and again he couldn’t decide whether to be grateful or disappointed. He felt nothing, nothing but a widening black space between him and every living thing in the universe. He would close his eyes and see his grandmother in her coffin then his father in his being lowered into their graves. He felt like he had been buried, too, in a grave he had dug himself, trapped inside a box under the earth, unable to get out, his eyes and mouth wide open, blind, and suffocating. He wanted to call his mother, to tell her about this feeling of being crushed under the weight of his regrets, but he couldn’t. On Sunday he slept in again. He had to be back at school the next day, so he knew he needed to stop. He decided this was enough. It was the drunk-dial to his mother that had done it; he had never done that before, called her drunk, as far as he knew, anyway. He had a feeling he had told her off because he was known for cussing people out when he was drunk. He didn’t call any of his friends. Who was there to call? When his phone finally rang, it was Hayden’s, probably wanting him to pay his tab or to offer to deliver more. He put his phone on the nightstand and pushed it away. For the first time he thought about praying, but he didn’t know who or what to pray to, so he prayed to the dog on Sitting Woman Mountain. He asked, if the dog was still up there, could it keep pulling out strands of bear grass from the woman’s basket, so he could have one more day.
# # #
Copyright ©2016 by Zachary Benavidez.
About the Author:
Zachary Benavidez holds an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and an M.A. in English Literature from Georgetown University. He is a former associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Montgomery College in Maryland. And he is a former associate editor and editor-in-chief of the Potomac Review as well as being the former fiction editor of 42 Opus, an online journal. His work has appeared in ArLiJo and Yellow Medicine Review. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his Pomeranian Molly.
Michael Lee Correia
Epigrams of a Poet at 69
Obsession: sweeping my hardwood floors
feels as if I were sweeping away my sins
into the instrumental dustpan face
of the priest’s mouth in confession.
Copyright ©2016 by Michael Lee Correia.
The American Judicial System
The jury decides guilty or not guilty
as if a fearsome cyclops facing or w./his back to the anxious defendant;
as if the alabaster statues of 2 Greeks: man, Lexi of law cradled
woman, minuscule Contemplation of Justice statue held in right hand
statues standing, like guards,
on either side of the U.S. Supreme Court’s steps
Copyright ©2016 by Michael Lee Correia.
About the Author:
Michael Lee Correia has published poetry online and in print form in several journals and magazines, including: The G.W. Review, Magazine Six, Electronic Poetry Center, Private Poetry Line, Barnstorm online, The Sandhill Review, and Poetry Quarterly, among others. He placed as a semi-finalist in the 2011 New Millennium Writings Poetry Contest. He’s also published a researched historical article, about the oldest living slave in Hernando County, FL. “Pioneer Afro-Americans at Chinsegut Hill, During the Jim Crow Era, Hernando County, Florida,” with Tampa Bay Journal, Department of History, USF, Tampa, Florida.
part i...us as we are
i always thought
babies came from dancing
i owned every color of
they called me fire starter
i ran the fastest on our street
i had the biggest afro
i knew all the latest dances
from the whop to the cabbage
i had game at football
my new pumas were hand me
downs but they were still fresh
i saw beat street 6 times
electric boogaloo twice and
i knew every word of my radio
by l.l cool j
i refereed every fight
i went to school with bloods
that stapled cuffs into their
i thought everybody had a
coffee can full of cooking oil
on their stove top
i thought america
was al green slapping us
with his wails under a
velvet love painting
i thought all little girls
wore two tight pony tails
with greasy side burns
i thought everybody
had ashy knees and
played hide and seek
under street lights using
green utility boxes for
i thought i could go to
the olympics for kickball
i just knew everybody ate
pickles with blow pops on
i thought we could all
sing and dance
i just knew everybody
thought isaac hayes looked
like santa claus
my favorite kool-aid
was the red kind
i thought everybody’s
pastor had a perm
i thought all little boys
liked the little light skinned
girl with the good hair
i thought everybody had
a little white boy for a
i thought everybody put
lawries seasoning salt
i thought this was america
Copyright ©2016 by Bennie Herron.
this place is a living body
where the pulse beat is human
prayers are coin tosses a gamble for your own good
a quick score a come up
this place has a metric sun bringing
order to chaos moon to mouth resuscitation
imagine this world slowed down
so you could see the clouds become rain
we come from a place where the world starts over
the dolls have straight hair braided in corn rows
mothers evolve in this space fathers invent new
wheels returning to the essence with swagger and fire
the churches are old the white tee shirt
is crisp and the hustle is american
what we covet connects us it shades us with liquor
store signs and cigarette ashes
the lyrics in this place rhyme they come from brevity
this place is infested with dice games
crying fiction over breaking dawns
the dusk has us by-standing beneath buildings
that bend our thinking
in this place anything is everything
last is a dance step
having is accomplishing
there’s a neo bop in the step of the people
they want what the sun owes them
now and for forever
this place writes poems it starts and finishes
riots it cries beads that dangle from new minds
this place is dogon mythology mud cloths and
this place is retroactive insistent volatile and
whole this place cuts then slices leaves backs
heavy embraces triumph it lets children dream
it is old and young pure to the taste of divinity
this place listens it hears what you are
it’s a mirror a window to the other side
a gateway passed through time and time again
Copyright ©2016 by Bennie Herron.
lil bennie wrote...
Peace is of A Man (for Gil Scott Heron)
at the end is where will meet
at that crossing over, into roads
i will have a filthy poem in my hand
from all the times I fell in the dirt
a mixture of your tears and dirt
will make mud thick and amber
toned our world will see dream
prints in patterns of prayer circles
big and wide like the life of a
giant step it gave the first founders
the world will cry for your muscles
because they use to hold the world up
and give it rotation you gave our world
its overview into its underground
while under it all we saw how another
hero with a mouth made from shattered
prisms could make men cry
from above you cultivated truth like
sedimentary sand shores
the contours all up and down lamented
the revolution out of a glass pipe packed
with autonomy and chronic
some will say it’s a prophet
others will say a poet that will be the
cross road the place where the skin meets
the place where the prophet gives the
world a new language with a helium
tongue canonized by one piece of
one dying fragment one simple
particle a molecule one thrust for some
get down driven by the peoples push to
off the hook we shook this world
off the chain we broke himself
and all along we hid in the pattern
of the stars making poetry out of water
you wrote yourself in and out pain
with a pipe a pen and some fire
your madness was the mosaic for
mans muse and men made nihilism
there purpose we pulled you down
you where imprisoned by the oceans
depth all the worry pulled you in
and still one piece of you escaped
into the world of literature planting
itself across the infields of outcries
man didn’t do it on purpose
they hate themselves as much as
they try to love you
they ain’t no different
man is just as afraid as you are
they are afraid to sit down for fear that they
will never be able to stand up again
and they don’t stand up because they
don’t feel they have anything to stand
for so they float through life every once
and a while touching the earth to see if
it is still there
but you knew it was there all along
you tried to tell us that it wouldn—t
be televised you said it would be real
and in your face
leaving you no room to breath or
swallow but we fell down and hit the
top of the bottom with the ability to
free everyone but ourselves
they say the best slave is the one
that has no idea he’s a slave they say
the best slave is the oblivious one
the one with the fire and has no idea
he carries a flame the one with the
voice but has no idea he has a song
the one with 3 eyes and the ability
to only utilize 2
those 2 eyes are usually clouded by
drama and survival with a one second
distance between the grave and gravity
the world has him in the sleeper hold
and he’s about to tap out he’s in the
cavity trying to be the filling but the
feeling is only nostalgia a remembrance
of roots a dank pull of one mans outcry
the slave a majestic equinox waiting to
turn himself inside out so the world can
see his decades of decay and remorse
you have songs and eyes like music
and vibrations like shango thunder
so why drugs
why do the men we look up to retreat
why do we move so many and stay in
one place our selves I want the warriors
to know they have armor with shooting
something in there armor
our pain is silent but we want screams
and shadows we want hisses and rattles
and soul claps for fear is only fear so we
give it the finger not the middle but the
index because this time we will all be on
point we won’t leave it buried in shell toed
discourse dying dismal and unattended
we will look the needle dead in the eye
and pledge our heart and mind into
this time our oration will not be in the
text of sin instead our syntax will be
an era of saturn rings and corn rows
our eyes will truly see dusk for dusk
and dawn for dawn and we will make
everything in between salt or sugar
this time we won’t be in pieces will
be whole beings with half times
dangling from project partitions
putting death at the back of the
with full thrust and throttle will be
in the drivers seat with a diamond in
the back with a soul roof top holding
a dirty poem dusty from pharaoh sands
and nation building
this time we won’t be alone the
evolution will be live and what you
go through we will all go through
no jive just poems and prosperity
we will swim again with our heads
above the horizon more alive then
ever because will be alive with rain
and dreams in our eyes
will be alive again song and spirit
free will be slaves to freedom hand
bound and shackled to a life yet to
even when the revolution has
yet to come
About the Author:
Bennie Herron’s poetry has appeared various journals and periodicals such as, Kuumba Journal of Poetry and Prose (San Diego State University), Taco Shop Poets Anthology (Calaca Press San Diego), New Writers and Poets(National Journal of Literary Arts), No More Silent Cries Dealing With Domestic violence (Spoken Visions), Vulcan A Literary Disillusion (Journal), and most recently the African Voices Literary Journal (African Voices Communication New York, NY). His first full-length poetry book titled greens, has appeared at Tintavox Independent Press. His work is an attempt to link himself with the world around him, be it physical, mental, or spiritual.
W. Nick Hill
The Continuity of Sport
The game itself had no meaning.
A rubber latex ball bouncing
Upward against the silhouette
Of a fantastical human bird
Adorned with sculpted stone kneepads,
A feathered headdress bizarre
Against the sky, a fervent hawk
With red streaks of macaw,
Wing spanned finger tips,
A shiver in the dusty glow
Between cactus-studded hills,
The spinning globe strikes
Smack on the hip-bound in deer skin
Like a sun arrow, vector shining,
Electrical storm whose calm center
Propels the physics of material
In a ricochet that reverses the player’s
Pirouette so when he lands
The sphere has already crossed the center stone
Into territory reserved only for the day’s
Sacrificial beheading, that cosmic brutality
To the skin of sustaining seasons for posterity,
A parade with clay ocarinas on high walls,
Ribbed sticks, shell whistles, drums;
It’s how you play and what comes
Of the contest that counts, head
Or no head.
Copyright ©2016 by W. Nick Hill.
About the Author:
W. Nick Hill’s latest book is Blue Nocturne. His translations of Mexican Jorge Fernandez Granados’ poetry have appeared in Literal, Mid-American Review, InTranslation, and others. His website: wnickhill.net
Graceland Security Guard
I made out the details through the steamed-up windshield
Of the idling white Dodge company sedan
With the orange plastic housing of the light on the roof
That they’d parked at the curb near the prehistoric phone booth
Across from the gate of Graceland—a harmless old cracker,
With double chin and sideburns, dozing on the job again,
Asleep at the padded wheel, his rent-a-cop cap tipped
Forward on his forehead, a visor shading the reading glasses
He’d perched on his nose, and a pink and orange box
Of donuts on the dashboard, full, I imagined,
Of every kind of pastry, powdered and sugared, sprinkled
And glazed, crullers, chocolates, and Davy Crocketts,
Bismarks, cream horns, ciders, and elegant éclairs,
On the car radio he’d dialed to one of those AM stations
That play those Golden Oldies hits once again for you
The muffled sound of a deejay announcing the records
From the 50s and early 60s, when you were still young,
That he had been spinning, “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On“
By Little Richard, “Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison,
Rockabilly numbers by Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins,
And “Are You Lonesome Tonight” by Elvis Presley himself,
And, visible with a squint, the edge of a weekly tabloid
Spread across his steering wheel, open to an article
About the illegitimate baby of a soap-opera star, maybe,
To a sports-page op-ed protesting the imminent trade
Of an aging St. Louis slugger for a hot LA closer,
Or to a horoscope that says today, more than tomorrow
Or yesterday, would really be an excellent good day
To take a good long look at yourself in the mirror, by golly,
After you shit, shower, and shave like you did in the Navy,
And, while brushing your stained teeth or combing your thin hair,
To congratulate yourself for having come such a long way—
But not so far, apparently, that his mouth couldn’t hang open
In a cinnamon-dusted dream, a jelly-filled nightmare,
Broken, moments later, when the music was over and the penance
Had begun, by the ranting and raving of a talk-show host
Whose voice I thought I recognized from the news those days
Leaking from the window that he’d cracked barely open,
Some born-again Christian evangelist of the times,
Such as Jimmy Swaggart, Leroy Jenkins, or Jim Baker,
Exhorting his listeners to fight against a government,
A dictatorship of liberals, that at this very moment
Is taking away your inalienable American freedom,
Urging them to rise up now, in the name of Jesus Christ,
And bury all the socialists and atheists alive
Before the Devil himself can reign in the White House,
In a Satanic Hilary Clinton Halloween disguise.
Copyright ©2016 by Scott Ruescher.
Behind the Blue Whale
Mic-Mac, Penobscot, or Passamaquoddy—some variation
Of New England Abenaki— he’d been shaken an hour before
From his cot in a row of a dozen other stone-faced men
With nowhere else to go, and had stumbled out yawning
From the aquamarine aluminum trailer they called the Blue Whale
In the black leather vest, black biker’s t-shirt, black leather boots,
And greasy black denim jeans that he had gone to sleep in.
Now down the railroad tracks through the brainy back streets
Of MIT he went, downwind of the law with his scent, hoping
To make it by noon to the trestle over the Charles River
Where he used to drink with those two goofy Guatemalan guys
Who, never having learned to swim, jumped to their deaths
When a chugging train approached one drunken day last fall.
Finding his footing between the parallel rails, he paused
At every eleventh or twelfth tie of creosoted pine
To regain his balance, to measure the beats of some sad song
He was singing to himself, or to swig some more cheap rum—
Or sweet red wine—from a paper bag as brown and wrinkled
As his face and then some, eventually approaching
The remnants of Fort Washington, now a dog-walkers’ park,
From which the Yankee colonists kept the British boats at bay
With loaded iron cannons, back before the ubiquitous
Salt marshes of the Charles River were all filled in.
I spotted him from the parking lot on the other side
Of the chain-link fence that runs along the railroad track
As I made my way home from the river, but thought I’d pause
And let him pass before crossing the tracks on the path
That leads past the park’s sod mounds of reconstructed bunkers
And around the corner to the gridded blocks of my neighborhood.
But he spotted me, too, through the links of the fence on his left,
Froze me in motion with a black-eyed glare, brushed back
His crop of crow-black hair, pivoted to his right, took several steps
Toward a mound of railroad cinders that someone had raked
Into the shade of a blossoming crabapple tree whose white blossoms
Glorified the litter of wine bottles, cigarette butts, discarded clothing,
And soggy monthly girlie mags like a speechwriter’s hyperbole.
Only then, sitting down to rest on a piece of green tarp,
With apparent impunity and with little left to lose, did he pull
A leather pouch of fresh marijuana and a pipe from a pocket
Of his black leather vest, stuff the bowl with the crushed leaves,
And strike a kitchen match on the zipper of his black denim pants,
Draw in a deep toke, and let the blue-gray smoke in twin streams roll
From his flared nostrils like the exhaust of a jet on taking off
From a runway out at Logan for a trip across the ocean.
I just sort of stood there, helpless in my mass-produced shoes,
With my European history, my New World gaze,
And my post-colonial consciousness, in that ripped gap
In the fence that, in a sense, I’ve been filling ever since.
Copyright ©2016 by Scott Ruescher.
About the Author:
Scott Ruescher won the Erika Mumford Prize from New England Poetry Club in both 2013 and 2014 (for poetry about travel and international culture) and the Rebecca Lard Award from Poetry Quarterly in 2015 for a poem set in Memphis. His 2009 chapbook, Sidewalk Tectonics, takes the reader on a road-trip from Lincoln’s birthplace to the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Another chapbook, Perfect Memory, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2015.
Aubade for Champlain
You could have been placid this morning,
like yesterday, smooth, soft,
with tiny frills gathered,
as the wind whispered across
your great expanse.
You could have slept in,
muffled snores erupting
from the north,
or conjectured the next solution
to global warming,
or just bathed as you stirred
into intricate patterns
of paisley swirls,
But the sun peeks
from behind moist clouds,
wisps of lather,
and on a day that has not yet decided what to do with itself,
egged by the wind,
you roar your steady roar,
throw yourself, and throw again,
let spring a force worthy of the heat to come,
something I can fight against
with all my might,
stroke, after stroke.
As I swim, wash over me,
Copyright ©2016 by Carla Schwartz.
The forecast was for winds from the east,
becoming calm in the morning,
and I didn’t understand,
until, like that strong north
that blew in from nowhere
so hard the dishes clattered
from the counter,
you snapped when
I offered to shut the motor
halfway through the docking,
but then, early the next morning,
the ripples settled on the surface,
the boats on the moorings, all askew,
you commended my knot-tying,
my unfettered cleats.
The winds are changeable like that,
steady, and then abruptly
a ninety degree shift,
the whole boat shakes
and the anchor dislodges,
and before you know it
the boat is about to crash into a rock,
like when Diana and I
were on stage for the first time,
Talent Night! at the Rec Center,
the ripples of murmurs from the South
began to counter our song,
to crescendo to a roar from the West,
and drown our shaky singing
the tsunami of my cursing
quaked the audience,
and then, silence,
because at twelve,
it was all I knew to do,
behave as if I could
control the elements.
Copyright ©2016 by Carla Schwartz.
About the Author:
Poems by Carla Schwartz have appeared in Aurorean, Fulcrum, Common Ground, Cactus Heart, Switched-on Gutenberg, Naugatuck River Review, Solstice Magazine, and Ibbetson Street, among others. Her book, Mother, One More Thing (Turning Point) is available on Amazon.com. Her CB99videos YouTube channel has had hundreds of thousands of views. Learn more at carlapoet.com.
My Black Pearl
There is always the night.
Never mind that I chose the practical one:
a man with a job with a future—
marketable and multiply degreed,
from a family with money
and an echelon of antique clocks
ordering each hour forward.
There is always the night.
Never mind his attempts to locate and satisfy
that remote landscape inside me:
a boulder field resonates with hollow aching.
Never mind the ziggurat of accomplishments we call home,
nor the dying happiness I am able to resuscitate
by the end of each day.
There is always the night.
And like a planet collapsing in its own weight,
you still disturb within me
a small, hard husk of love that never flowered.
The more years I clam you up,
the more beautiful, more luminous you become—
my black pearl—
living on the West coast, I hear,
and climbing, always climbing
to reach the precipitous heights
required by everyone you—ve ever loved,
Could you forgive me if you knew
that I, on the East coast,
am deaf now to the wishes of others—
unable to sleep or to marry?
Copyright ©2016 by Pamela Sutton.
Question for the End of the Century
If kisses were atonement for the rain;
If rain could turn to snow and melt again;
If I found you underneath a willow tree;
If a wet, Atlantic snow were cleansing me
And the city air and your weary curls—
Cupped in your hands like jewels;
If wet snow wept upon my skin in fever;
If I still confused love with anger;
If, then, I turned to walk away from you
Toward the cold side of the year away from you;
If I started walking toward the end of the century
Away from you toward the end of this merciless century,
Would you ask me not to leave just once, again,
If kisses atoned for rain?
Copyright ©2016 by Pamela Sutton.
It was a morning just like this
without a scar in the sky.
The hemlocks stood at attention.
Wrens formed notes on a wire.
Each neighbor’s lawn was mown.
Each blade grew in its place.
Morning Glories saluted the sun,
and roses lit up my face.
Each “Stop” sign meant what it said,
and every church wore a spire.
All the dogs were walked and loved.
My thoughts hummed like a choir.
It was a morning just like this
when wings dropped like a sword;
and every door revealed a world
I never knew before.
Copyright ©2016 by Pamela Sutton.
About the Author:
Pamela Sutton’s first book of Poetry, Pocket Gospel, was published in 2012 (Sheep Meadow Press). Her poetry appeared in Scribner’s 25th Anniversary of BAP in 2013; also in BAP 2009 and BAP 2000. The first chapter of her novel, Tamer of Horses, was published by Glimmer Train Press in 2010. She taught Critical Writing at the University of Pennsylvania for many years where her students nominated her for the Charles Ludwig Teacher-of-the-Year Award in 2003.