Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Civil Society Representative from the Marshall Islands, spoke at the UN Climate Change Summit on 23 September 2014. She concluded her speech with a performance of her poem, “Dear Matafele Peinem.”
A short story by Dan McClenaghan
The clothes dryer crapped out, and since Ruth and Ellis couldn’t afford a new one—or the price of a repairman’s visit—they worked out a routine: Ruth would wash the clothes in the evening, and Ellis would take them to work the next morning and run them down to the laundromat located three blocks from the Loma Alta Café, where he worked as a grill cook.
This particular morning, it was a basket of whites. They’d been running low. Ellis’ underwear and socks were seeing a second day on his body, and he didn’t even have a clean white work shirt. He’d gone in wearing a plain t-shirt. But at ten-thirty, when there was a post breakfast/pre-lunch lull, he raced to the laundromat and pulled out the warm whites that he’d put in the dryer on his way into the café. He put on a warm work shirt and left the rest of the load in the basket that he put in the trunk of his car. What he didn’t know was that the dryer he’d chosen had contained, at the time of his loading, a lone red thong, a soft, thin-fabric whisper of an underthing that now clung to the back of his fresh shirt via a persistent charge of static electricity, and while Ellis worked the grill, his back faced the service window.
Johanna clipped a ticket on the order wheel, took a look at Ellis, and motioned her fellow waitress Mona over. “Look what old dumb ass is wearing.”
The girls knew right away what that twisted, crinkled little red slash was, and they knew where Ellis had picked it up. His laundry problems were public knowledge due to the necessity of his quick trips to the laundromat. Their reaction to the thong was to complain to him about customer overloads, to get him out of the kitchen when his grill work waned, so he could help with the refilling of coffees and the busing of tables in the dining room of the Loma Alta Café. Then they’d point out to their customers the thong that clung to his back, so everyone could have a good wink and snicker—until Evelyn Lamuraglia, a friend of Ruth and Ellis Leahy who had come in a for her regular mushroom and provolone cheese omelet—grabbed the old boy by the arm as he passed her with the coffee pot, spun him around and tore the thong free.
The air between the thong and the shirt back of Ellis Leahy sizzled. Visible sparks exploded as the flimsy garment rode the airborne electrical charge by hanging in a horizontal alignment, pointing right at Ellis, fluttering madly like a little flag caught in a stiff wind, as the sugar in the bowl on Evelyn’s table rose up and sailed like a flock of tiny white crystalline birds into a vortex in the airspace between shirt and thong. And from the bald head of big, fat Dan Lampro—the real-estate guy who had set himself up in front of a short stack and a couple of fried eggs on table 9—a light brown toupee sailed like a flying Pomeranian at the charged fabric of Ellis Leahy’s white shirt, just as Evelyn set the thong free. Thong and toupee met mid-air, and the faux hair became ensconced in the red triangle meant to cover, just barely, the mystery woman’s pudendum. The toupee, being bigger than the triangle, was visible around the red perimeter.
This all happened in the blink of an eye, before Ellis could turn to see about the commotion. When he did, he discovered what appeared to be a snapping, crackling, disembodied furry muff inside a tiny bikini bottom, on the attack, airborn, coming right at him. Visions of Stephen King novels and alien invasion movies flashed into Ellis Leahy’s mind, and he envisioned behind the red triangle sharp teeth, like a shark’s, surrounded by the otherwise invisible woman’s opulent pubic hair. He screamed and turned to run, but the toupee-thong combination hit him between the shoulder blades and stuck. He screamed louder, at a higher pitch, and banged his way through the swinging door into the kitchen, as Dan Lampro stabbed a fork into his pancakes and said to his waitress Johanna—crumpled to the floor, laughing—that he was going to need his hair back, and Ellis peeled out of his shirt and threw it to the ground and stomped it.
About Dan McClenaghan
I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.
I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.
Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!
Photo credit: Damien du Toit via a Creative Commons license
It’s on us—all of us—to stop sexual assault.
Learn what you can do and take the pledge to be part of the solution at It’s On Us, a national campaign to end sexual assault.
If you’ve experienced sexual assault, please visit www.notalone.gov for resources.
By Scott Gressitt
Father’s books and records stacked
upon the shelves he built of pine
reach all the way to his fine crown
that tops each column of his dreams.
A shaft of light about the width
of last night’s box of Jujubes
spans out across the oaken floor
that Mr. Jackson waxed last week.
The only black man in our town,
he walks in line, and bows his head,
“Good morning, Mister,” greeting you.
The Waxin’ Jacksons do their thing.
The light is bright, I pass my hand.
A dust ball, tiny, spinning by,
reminds me of the Milky Way
and planets that my father loves
Some nights he takes me in the yard,
we tilt our heads back, turn around.
OK son, there’s Orion’s Belt
and there, the North Star, number one.
He talks of how we are so small.
The universe, which is so vast,
is bigger than we can begin
to fathom from our point of view.
Mother walks into the room.
I look up from my reverie,
pull my hands out from the shaft
of light so bright I scarce can see.
My eyes adjust. Her cotton dress
is crisp with starch and crumbs of toast.
A wave of smell that she pushed in
breaks all around her, fills my nose.
There—bacon, whole wheat, scrambled eggs
I know each smell and something quirts
beneath my tongue and fills my mouth
so full of spit, I swallow hard.
This moment in the bright June day
is burned in me indelibly.
My mother, dead, still walks around
in many of the thoughts I have.
As I get up to break my fast
I see the Atlas of the World.
The biggest book that Father owns,
it stands alone beside Coltrane.
I have walked in places most of the population avoids.
Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain.
I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged.
Milky Way photo credit: John Fowler via a Creative Commons license
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt
T. Jefferson Parker, a New York Times bestselling author lauded for his vivid crime thrillers, has written what he calls his first literary novel, Full Measure (St. Martin’s Press, October 7, 2014). The novel is ostensibly the story of Patrick Norris, a young Marine returned from war in Afghanistan to face the struggle of transitioning to civilian life in his hometown, bucolic Fallbrook, Calif. Norris’ ranching parents and much of the community have just suffered devastating losses to a wildfire. Norris’ older bother Ted, a troubled ne’er-do-well, is entangled in a personal battle to gain recognition for doing something right in an unaccepting world. And the town is disturbed by the ramifications of the hit-and-run death of a 10-year-old Latino.
In keeping with Parker’s writing tradition, Full Measure is rich with mysteries: Will Patrick survive the emotional repercussions of war to find peace and love? Who started the wildfire? Will Patrick’s parents be able to salvage their burned avocado ranch? Who hit and killed the jaywalking child on Mission Road? What is the “big important thing” Ted is determined to accomplish?
But in contrast to Parker’s other books, Full Measure’s antagonists are not craven drug lords or sadistic henchmen fighting gory battles along the U.S.-Mexico border. They are the flaws, the contradictions, the hurdles that the characters confront internally. Even the return to Fallbrook of a racist activist is a relatively benign act, given meaning only when Ted engages him in his secret plan. These internal conflicts lend Full Measure abundant tension; the characters are true; the drama, compelling; the climax, shocking and poignant. But none of this is what the book is really about.
At its heart, Full Measure is about the quest for identity, for self, the desire to be an integral part of something in the place one calls home. Patrick knew who he was and with whom he belonged while he was in Afghanistan, but without the focus of war and the camaraderie of warriors, he flounders from PTSD flashback to flashback, from memory to memory of killed brethren, from his desired future to his father’s expectations. Patrick finds himself lost in what had been the familiar territory of his childhood.
Similarly, his father is desperate to keep his ranch—his identity—alive, to maintain a legacy to be handed off to the next generation and the next.
And then there’s Ted. It is Ted who, despite his psychosis, comes closest to articulating the book’s heartbeat: “I felt damned my whole life. But now my big important thing is half accomplished. I’m almost done. I’ll be remembered for it. And it will make the world better.”
In the course of telling this family’s stories, Parker defines their world, the place they call home, with intimate kindness. Fallbrook is represented in the novel, for the most part, as it is today: a town where eccentrics stand out, unable to blend into an urban throng, where small businesses come and go with the seasons, where social connections are incestuous, where memories of the town’s evacuation during the 2007 wildfires remain fresh. The author peppers the text with mentions of well-known Fallbrook locations, in which the book’s action takes place, and local folks who keep the town on its toes. There’s Las Brisas and Rosa’s and Robertito’s, in perpetual competition for the best tacos. Joe’s Hardware and Happy Jug Liquor and “Vince Ross Village Square.” Café des Artistes and charming host Michael. Los Jilgueros Preserve and Café Primo and the Econo Suites. A local reporter from the “Village View.” That awful intersection on Mission that really needs a traffic light (and final got one after the novel’s completion). Even the Fallbrook Democratic Club receives a nod.
Parker has rendered this ranching and bedroom community with artful craft, incorporating its socio-economic disparity, its survival of the 30-year residency of an internationally notorious racist, and its proximity to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Parker’s Fallbrook is, in his novel and in fact, a community to which wounded warriors struggle to return and thrive, amid diverse people who unite in the face of adversity, whether natural or manmade.
Full Measure is fiction with a true heart, one that beats of the search for self in a town that will be familiar to people across the nation. And there’s one more thing: Full Measure is surely a love letter—from Parker to Fallbrook and those who come home to it.
The public is invited to join T. Jefferson Parker at Writers Read at Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission Road, on Tuesday, September 23, at 6 p.m., for an early launch of Full Measure. The novel will be available for sale ($28.07, including tax) and signing. Parker will also be visiting Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego on Thursday, October 9 at 7p.m., and the Encinitas Library at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 18.
Learn more about Richard Williams, stage name Prince Ea.
Review by Kit-Bacon Gressitt
In my experience, writing doesn’t get easier the more you do it. But there is a growth of confidence, not much, but a nugget, like a pearl, like a tumour. … So I’ve got cancer. I’m writing. – author Jenny Diski, London Review of Books
This was supposed to be a book review. A simple critique of a new novel—In Doubt (Grand Central Publishing, August 26, 2014)—by a nice local author—Drusilla Campbell of San Diego—who writes about painful things with insight and a tender heart—In Doubt, child abuse; When She Came Home, combat-related PTSD; The Good Sister, mental illness.
But how do you stick to a book review when the author’s life has reached an unexpected climax, when she’s busy barfing instead of signing books? Writing about a writer whose sudden stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis swamped her August book launch is … awkward … sorrowful.
So you futz for hours, crafting questions that you hope dance along the edge of intrusive without tripping into it, that artfully blend the literary with the fatal. You email them to Drusilla and then wallow in doubt that the questions are challenging enough, kind enough, interesting enough.
She responds with utmost generosity: “You’ve written six very interesting and challenging questions for which I’m grateful,” however, “I start a new round of chemo today but when I bob up from that (about a week) I’ll get to work on these.”
You worry that you should’ve kept the questions light and fun and easy, but you were too invested in your own writing. And then you don’t hear from her for eight days, and nine and ten, and you know you’re a real shit.
But she writes again, says she’s finishing up her answers, she’ll send them the next day. And she does. And she’s written good things, as good as her books, as good as In Doubt and its characters: the troubled boy and his disturbed mentor; the rape survivor who wants to reach through the boy’s armor, to defend him against his crimes, to help him find himself—and maybe recover herself in the process; the PI on an aching search for his lost daughter; the victim unable to forgive. So many lose ends, so much unresolved, so like life.
Like the author’s life. But, having interviewed her before, you can hear Drusilla chuckle as she writes, “My life is no longer my own with treatments and appointments and all of it swimming around in my chemo-fogged brain.”
A chuckle, followed by something serious, because that’s her pattern. Because she’s been given six months to a year to live. Just because.
“Initially I was completely flattened by the diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, convinced that I would never be able to muster either the determination or the optimism it takes to finish a book. It takes optimism and self-confidence, both of which are in short supply when you have been told you’re going to die. I grieved for the books I would never write.
“However, with the help of my husband, Art Campbell (a gentle, but determined, goader), I’ve come around to thinking it might be possible. A couple of days ago, I took down a book I started writing in May. It’s very different from anything I’ve done before, but it may be that that is just what I need at this time in my life. So I’ve begun slow work on How It Began, despite the possibility that I will never be able to finish it.”
Then Drusilla returns to the writer she’s been for three decades—not the writer bowled over by cancer, not the writer so weak and fuzzy she has to dictate her words to her dear husband, but the writer for whom the most important things are the people she loves and the work she loves. Just the writer.
“I have to ask myself if writing a book like In Doubt means anything in the big picture of my life. Thousands of books are published every year and quickly forgotten. Do mine make any difference? I’ve decided that they do. Each of my books has a single major goal: to increase my own understanding and hopefully the readers’ of what it means to be human. Self-contradictory, deceitful, full of hope and misguided ambitions and petty and perverted, and at the same time about hope and love and courage. I want to climb inside my characters’ psyches and reveal them in ways that will help you see them differently.
“Gradually, I’ve begun to feel that the best way for me to live is to write, maybe it’s the only way to live my last months fully.”
And maybe those cancer cells will go on a zero-population-growth kick, maybe they won’t. Maybe there’ll be a miracle, maybe there won’t. It doesn’t matter.
Because Drusilla Campbell’s got cancer. She’s writing.
by conney d. williams
it is twilight in America. the time of living when it is most difficult for the sincerest of individuals to see injustice—black injustice—clearly. see it’s face, like a plump, soft, out-of-shape neighborhood watchman perpetuating white supremacy. see it in soccer moms who bake rice krispy treats and sit on juries that don’t convict murderers of black boys who are unable to defend themselves. which is impossible to do when you are left in a morgue freezer for several days unidentified although your identification is in your front pocket. even if your death is videotaped by numerous onlookers on a train platform, while those who are trained to assassinate guiltless black males with impunity confess to doing so, but request absolution because they didn’t realize that black males were on the endangered species list. it’s way past winter, Gil; past that perfectly cold season that has the ability to chill the spread of this infection. not even the CDC has a vault that could adequately freeze, maintain, and isolate this uniquely American disease.
black males continue to feel the basic instinct of trying to run for cover, desperately seeking asylum in America. but if such a place truly existed, don’t you think we would have found it by now, after more than five hundred years of running? sadly there is no safety to run to. even though black men know how to run—well—because this has been the easiest thing for us to do. no safe haven. no legislation powerful enough to safety black men from targets tattooed upon our chests, upon our psyches. no, not even the DNA of black babies is safe.
so black men continue to run, but not for our lives. we have come to understand that running for our lives would be the most foolish thing we could do. this is because our lives would have to have infinitely more value if we were going to try and save them. so we cannot run for our lives because what is the value of a black man in America—41 shots, eleven months, a not guilty verdict?
when does the milk carton campaign began for black males? when will anthropologists stop digging up our bones from the cold pavement of states like Flo-Rid-A? truth be told, the black man in America has never had a chance to grow, to flourish. i know what the critics will say, look at how iron has entered into the black man’s soul and what he has accomplished, despite its being hunting season upon black males since we were first transplanted here. look at his successes in music, athletics, and gaze upon the fact that we have a black man in the whitest house in America. every black Moses born into this system of survival has had to be hidden, protected from the sheriff of white supremacy, who, whenever an ebony seedling is born into this world says, “kill it before it grow.”
and this should be the clarion of every black mother across this country: don’t allow another black male to enter into this desperation; black males running daily from what can never be eluded. fear so palpable that it is the garment we dress our little black boys in before we send them off to learn they will never be valued. abort black males before they can become enslaved on 21st century plantation prisons, maimed, genetically altered, exploited, blood-let. because it is twilight in America. the time of living when it is most difficult for the sincerest of individuals to see injustice—black injustice—clearly.
Photo credit: Conney D. Williams 2014
Click here to hear Gil Scott-Heron performing “Winter in America.”
About Conney D. Williams
Conney’s first collection of poetry, Leaves of Spilled Spirit from an Untamed Poet, was published in 2002. His poetry has also been published in various journals and anthologies including Voices from Leimert Park; America: At the End of the Day; and The Drumming Between Us. His newest collection, Blues Red Soul Falsetto, was published in December 2012.
Conney has performed his poetry on television, radio, galleries, universities, grade schools, coffeehouses, and stages around Southern California and across the country, including the Black Arts Festival. He is a talented public speaker with more than thirty years of experience.
Read more about Conney at conneywilliams.com.
Join Writers Read at Fallbrook Library, Tues, Sep. 23, 6 p.m. for a reading and book signing.
By Penny Perry
Daughter, my dying,
leaving when you
were only 16,
turned you wild.
(Yes, in new jeans,
we once planted
a perfect English garden
behind a picket fence.)
Dirt in your fingernails,
ragged straw hat,
waist deep in cattails,
you coax orchids
from desert soil.
When the hawk,
guarding its young,
knocking the hat from
your un-brushed hair,
digging its talons
into curls I once combed
with my fingers,
I would have ducked
as you first did.
But would I have then,
startled, and still shaking,
and saluted the red tail
streaking to the safety
of the wire?
About Penny Perry
A three time Pushcart nominee, twice for poetry and once for fiction, my stories and poems have been widely published in literary magazines. Fiction Daily tagged my short story “Haunting the Alley,” published online in Literary Mama in August 2011.
My first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, was published in 2012 by Garden Oak Press. The collection earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski, and Maria Gillan. I was the fiction editor for Knot Literary Magazine, a Middle Eastern literary journal.
I was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and my movie A Berkeley Christmas aired on PBS. And, I’ve just completed a novel about a school shooting. I write under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.
Photo credit: Peggy Cadigan via a Creative Commons license.
He grew up in an impoverished Memphis neighborhood. He won the honor of introducing the President of the United States at his high school graduation. A year after that, he worked with two Memphis filmmakers to make As I Am. When we read about Chris Dean and saw this important film, we knew we had to share it with you.
I go as one. I go and go.
and then I meet another one
and for a season go as two
until the leaves fall. Back to one
There’s comfort in the walk as one.
I call the shots, I drive the day.
No other tells me what to do
or ever tries to fetter me.
Yet sitting in my hot tub I
alone as usual, dripping wet,
stare at the stars and think of how
your skin might feel just next to me.
It feels so good when you are there.
I can’t forget the slippery joy.
You slip and slide beside me, soft.
You are a girl. I am a boy.
Tonight there is a band of orange
and fiery red off to the west.
The sky is cobalt, earth is black
as I fly out of town alone.
I go as one. I go and go.
At thirty thousand feet I look.
The sun has plunged below the edge.
The night unfolds. The stars begin.
I leave behind my quiet life
and venture north to watch a friend.
He has decided not to go
on living just as one. No more.
He’ll change his program, going forth,
to walk with one more. More than he.
No more just he. He’ll now be two.
And he will let her influence him.
They’ll go, these two. They’ll go and go.
They’ll walk together, two as one.
They’ll share their food, their house, their bed
and learn to listen and to love.
They’ll shine as lovers, show the world
that two are better, better than
they were as solo pilgrims here
who walked alone in solitude.
They’ll think about each other when
they have to make a choice about
the way they spend, the way they live,
the way they move through space, now one.
The one they were before will change.
Though two of them, they’ll now be one.
Two bodies sharing vision and
a plan to live in harmony.
I go as one but join the throng
to celebrate the joy they share
to lift my glass, solute their choice
and lift a prayer that God will lead.
I love these two. I love that they
have found each other on this path.
I love that they will share their love.
They’ll go as one. They’ll go and go.
An amateur writer and rapscallion, I write of my past, a life laden with extraordinary events. I have walked in places most of the population avoids.
Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain. I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged. Enjoy.
Photo credit: Bhaskar Peddhapati via a Creative Commons license.
For Michael Brown/Ezell Ford and many others
By Conney Williams
i don’t understand how to feel anymore. about living as a black man. i don’t know how i’m supposed to live as a black man in america. because even if you obey and surrender (Michael Brown) the probability is that they will still shoot you. they negotiated and arrested the Unabomber; they arrested Timothy McVeigh; the mentally ill young man in Colorado still had his weapons with him and they negotiated with him and arrested him. all of them were “MASS MURDERERS.” over and over again we see the disparity of treatment for Black males. i feel as though we are (Black Males) these rare animals that are hunted until we become extinct. and then this young man was shot nine (9) times. then after he was dead, they handcuffed him. but i am sure that that was protocol. the indignity of it ALL is nauseating and sickening on so many levels. the hard part for me, is that i know that ALL policemen aren’t inherently BAD. but it’s the CULTURE that is perpetuated, by “GOOD” cops not speaking out against what is happening when they know it’s wrong. the st. louis police reported that he had the knife raised, within 4 feet, and attacked the officers. that certainly wasn’t the case in the video. his hands were at his side. i don’t understand how to feel anymore. about living as a black man. i honestly don’t know how i’m supposed to live as a black man in america. should i become a modern day Stepin Fetchit? a caricature of man begging white america to see me as human? am i not entitled to the same air and inalienable rights as they? should i arm myself with the same type of military arsenal and shoot-first mentality because i am afraid for my life every time i leave the almost safe confines of my home? i say almost because, just last year, a police officer pulled his service revolver to shoot me on my own front porch after i had committed no crime, and even after i had voluntarily allowed him to search me for weapons, that i don’t own, and I was wearing no shirt and just pajama bottoms. i don’t understand how to feel anymore. about living as a black man. i honestly don’t know how i’m supposed to live as a black man in america. maybe i am not human. maybe as a black man i am only 3/5ths human. unevolved and deserving to be put down. how do i tell my son that he must stay hidden in brush? don’t show yourself. keep your head down and don’t become overly emotional. how do i tell my son that mass murderers are given more of a benefit of the doubt than he will ever receive in this country? maybe he’ll learn to hate his blackness as much as Michael Jackson did. i grew up in an era when my silence and submission were necessary for survival. that era is still here. i don’t understand how to feel anymore. about living as a black man. i honestly don’t know how i’m supposed to live as a black man in america.
Read more of Conney’s work here.
Image credit: Mike Licht via a Creative Commons license.