In the Beginning...
. . . the first online edition of the Portland Metrozine — an online literary journal that showcases the creative work of writers, artists, and deep thinkers in our community.
Originally a print publication called Poor Joe’s Guide, this historic "metrozine" was launched during the economic and social upheaval of the early 1990s to promote positive and constructive voices within the greater Portland metropolitan area. Debuting in 1991, the print publication was designed, developed, published, and distributed by a tightly-knit community of artists and writers. Because of its ever-evolving literary content, original artwork, and positive community vision, the Guide rapidly evolved into the literary journal, Portland Metrozine.
Now in 2019, original publisher, Joseph Corrado, and editor, Basha Krasnoff, have returned to the helm to resume the Metrozine’s mission as an online literary journal. In keeping with its legacy and with renewed vigor, the Metrozine eagerly anticipates the future with hope and continues to champion development and cooperation within the creative community with deep respect for expression through diverse lenses.
Beginning with the Spring 2019 issue, the Metrozine welcomes submissions in all literary genres and invites the avant-garde, the experimental, and the arcane in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. We also welcome submissions of visual artwork, including drawings, photographs, and facsimiles of paintings. Portland Metrozine exists to inspire, encourage and broadcast creative artists.
Please help to create a community of intrepid, insightful, and innovative artists and deep thinkers by sharing your vision, your voice, and your point of view!
By Shavaun Scott
Annie was my mother’s older sister, and she read fortunes for a living. She could divine meaning from cards spread across a kitchen table top to determine whether a husband was prone to infidelity. She read tea leaves to predict if a firstborn child would be a boy or girl. Annie would advise you to improve your luck by putting a bay leaf in your pillowcase when you slept or attract a lover by drinking tea made from ginger. When a mourning dove cooed three times in a row Annie would say it was certain that somebody close to you was going to die.
Annie saw patterns everywhere and she knew how things were connected.
She had short, curly copper-colored hair and ever-present gold hoop earrings that she never took off. When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, she wore bold floral-patterned dresses she called shifts that hugged her ample curves and made me think of Hawaii. Her lipstick was always ravishing red.
Annie drove a blue Mustang, which I believe she wrecked and replaced at least twice during my elementary school years.
She taught me to dance the hula, barefoot on the grass in the backyard and convinced me there really was a man who lived on the moon with his wife.
“I’m a counselor, honey, I’ve always had a gift.” Annie explained when I asked her how she earned money. “See that actress on Days of Our Lives -- I read cards for her and her friends in Hollywood. I have a whole list of clients I help; they’ve come back to me for years.”
Annie gave love life advice to soap opera stars from patterns she could discern by reading a deck of tarot cards in formations she’d been trained to interpret by an old Roma man she’d met at the Eagles Lodge where she’d been cocktail waitressing.
She made twenty bucks every time she gave a reading.
|“In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.” – William S. Burroughs|
Jane was my pious aunt, married to my father’s alcoholic brother. He had a reputation as a misanthropic drunk, but Jane was known as a woman of God. She was a tall blonde, rail thin and straight-backed with a small tight smile that never revealed her teeth. Her lipstick was such a pale pink you could barely see it. She wore crisp white blouses that she pressed with her iron.
Jane drove a long beige station wagon with plenty of room in the back for kids and groceries. She never broke the speed limit. She was a stay-at-home mom who believed that the man was the head of the household and the breadwinner. She took care of everything else.
Jane had two daughters, one named Sarah who was my age and the younger, Hannah, who was sick all the time and whiney as a stray cat. Hannah was diagnosed with ulcers from “nervous problems” when she was seven, and always got attention by saying some part of her body hurt. Often, we saw her trip and fall on purpose and then wail for her mom as if it had been an accident. She was four years younger and Sarah always tried to ditch her because she tattled so much. “Get lost cry baby” Sarah would say.
Since Sarah and I were best friends as kids I spent a lot of time at their place while growing up. Sarah loved dogs and bikes and climbing trees, same as me.
I always went to church with Jane and the girls. On Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings too. God, and the rituals surrounding him, was the center of the home – which naturally excluded my uncle since he was unsaved and therefore destined to hell. As were my parents, and all the rest of our relatives, according to Jane. Even those who professed to be Christians – like my mother -- clearly weren’t living a Christ-centered life which meant they weren’t legitimately saved. My mother wasn’t a church-goer and she didn’t try to lead others to the Lord, which was one of the most important signs of a real Christian. Either you were a real Christian and lived every moment as an ambassador for Christ, or you belonged to Satan; there were no gray areas when it came to heaven or hell.
It was unsettling to find out my mother and father belonged to Satan. I wasn’t sure what to do about that, other than pray.
My Uncle Dan worked long hours as a truck driver, just like my father, but he drank so much beer every night he passed out drunk on the couch when he got home. He didn’t have any use for most people, especially kids, and we knew to stay out of his way or risk a whipping. “Children are to be seen, not heard,” Uncle Dan stated at the dinner table, forming his words around a cigarette in the corner of his mouth without removing it to talk. He never smiled and his eyes were dark and mean.
Most of our family members were going to hell. We prayed for them all at least six times a day. And I’d pray in the middle of the night, when I woke up with from bad dreams about Armageddon, the anti-Christ, and the mark of the beast. The devil was everywhere, I could feel him sometimes, like a moth landing on my hair.
Insomnia was a problem. There was so much praying to do, and I was never sure I was getting it right. I put my whole heart into praying; I could feel my entire chest tighten up as I lay in bed at night, trying to make sure God heard me.
|“Pray without ceasing” – 1st Thessalonians 5:1-2|
Beliefs are complicated and have everything to do with how our lives turn out; as children we don’t know we have any choice in the matter.
I realize now that the reasons for our perceptions and behaviors are often mysterious, hidden even from ourselves. We do not all experience the world in the same way.
Robert Sapolsky, Stanford professor of neuroscience and author of the book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst puts it this way:
|A behavior has just occurred. Why did it happen? Your first category of explanation is going to be a neurobiological one. What went on in that person’s brain a second before the behavior happened? What sight, sound, or smell in the previous second to minutes triggered the nervous system to produce that behavior? What hormones acted hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual was to the sensory stimuli that triggered the nervous system to produce the behavior? What features of the environment in the prior weeks to years changed the structure and function of that person’s brain and thus changed how it responded to those hormones and environmental stimuli? Then you go further back to the childhood of the individual, their fetal environment, then their genetic makeup. And then you increase the view to encompass factors larger than that one individual—how has culture shaped the behavior of people living in that individual’s group? What ecological factors helped shape that culture?|
Understanding the interaction of these all these variables is the heart of Sapolsky’s work. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems on the surface. People do things for reasons even they don’t understand, and sometimes our own thoughts and behaviors work against us.
Annie made me think of a bright monarch butterfly with ADD. She didn’t spend much time in one spot. Her laugh was a little too loud and her voice could set your teeth on edge. My dad complained about her over-talking, and how she always let the screen door slam. In addition to the card reading and tea leaves Annie could discern meaning from examining the lines in the palms of your hands. This fascinated me as a kid, and I was forever trying to have her show me the meaning of things that she could somehow see but I could not. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t see what Annie did.
She got me a Ouija board for my ninth birthday but if I was honest, I had to admit my fingers moved the cursor where I wanted it to go. When I played it with Annie it always told me nice things like I’d marry a handsome man with money someday.
Annie owned every book the psychic Edgar Cayce had ever written and fancied herself a medium, but Grandma told her to stop talking about dead people in polite company.
She loved Las Vegas and had several lucky numbers that seemed to show up in patterns that were significant in ways only she understood. At one point she began altering the spelling of her name in order to improve her luck. Anna, Annis, Annie, Anna Mae, Ann-with-an-e. Adding one or two letters could change the course of everything.
I have no doubt that Annie’s beliefs were sincere even if her predictive accuracy wasn’t high; Her belief that she was helping people gave her a deep sense of purpose, and her perception of metaphysical powers reduced anxiety by providing an illusion of control.
|“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist|
Sapolsky also lectures on how biological and cultural factors play out in our religious expression. He explains that in the 1970s a mild genetic version of schizophrenia was identified, common in close relatives of schizophrenics. It’s a quirky personality type now identified as schizotypal personality disorder, characterized by somewhat loose associations, difficulties fitting in socially, and magical thinking.
|Someone who believes in strange things, mental telepathy, UFOs, and concrete interpretations of the spiritual. In traditional non-western societies these would be the shamans, witch doctors, medicine men and women. They make a living from being magical.|
Jane’s worldview came strictly from the Bible. All the sins were clearly and conveniently identified, and they included most normal human behaviors including having things like emotions. Jane was talented at not feeling emotions herself. She never cried or raised her voice, and never once spoke a curse word. Jane was even-tempered and didn’t smile too big or laugh out loud. Even though my uncle was drunk and passed out whenever he wasn’t at work, she kept to her steadfast routine and never seemed to be bothered by him. Her home was comforting in an odd way; it was predictable. I always knew what we would have for lunch (tuna sandwiches and coke), and that we’d pray before we put a bite of food in our mouths. The house would be immaculate, and the laundry done. Jane kept to schedules, only left the house for church and the grocery store, and she held the kids to their chores. Things were lined up straight. Just don’t make noise and do what she says.
Any time there was a problem Jane would offer one reliable solution: prayer. She told us that life would turn out just fine if we kept to God’s path. She stayed busy doing God’s will and that saved her from worrying.
|“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not into thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy path.” – Proverbs 3:5|
Sapolsky also discusses obsessive-compulsive disorder, which also exists on a spectrum from mild to severe. He emphasizes that what appears strange or crazy in one setting can make one successful in another. My Aunt Jane was revered within her church community, and was considered a role model, but her religious obsessions kept her from noticing serious problems that were manifesting in her own family.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder. It’s a pathological attempt to impose structure, predictability, and control in a world where everything is pathologically provoking a sense of unease, uncertainty, and anxiety. In OCD the person never escapes. What’s striking with OCD is there’s no insight. The person never says ‘help – there’s something wrong with me. I feel this need to wash my hands six hours a day.’ Instead they say ‘I can never get clean. I’m so dirty. Everything I do makes me dirty.’ There’s no insight.
In a secular context, there’s a tremendous advantage to a mild version of OCD. It works to get you into a place like Stanford, which is regimented and disciplined.
Have a six-hour compulsion to wash your hands each day in the secular context of OCD, it destroys your life. You cannot function in society, you are peripheralized, you are mentally ill. Get it in the right context of religion and it is protected, it is honored, and you are rewarded. When people are pulling off these rituals in a religious setting it is not to make the anxiety go away, it is to share it. It’s to share it over time and space with a larger community, to give the nameless dread a name
Jane and Annie were my role models as a child, and I naturally began handling my emotions with their templates.
I went door to door with the church youth group and witnessed for the Lord, explaining to neighbors how they could be born again. I handed out little booklets about the three easy steps to salvation. I was a soldier for Christ in a cataclysmic battle for good against evil, but I had no idea what to do with my life after high school. Jane told me to listen for God’s voice. There would be a sign. Annie had promised a good-looking man with money.
I met my first husband at Jane’s church on a Saturday night; Saturday was when they had Christian rock bands. I was 15. He was 25 and rode a Harley Davidson, with jet black hair halfway down his back. He had the best hair, like heavy black silk. He’d been a biker, and a drug dealer, but was now born again and serving the Lord.
I think it was love at first sight, but I really can’t remember. We prayed together. And studied the Bible. He knew how things all tied together, the signs, the symbols, the meanings. God had a plan for us, and he knew what it was. We were meant to be together and start a family right away, since we were living in the end times and the rapture could happen at any moment. We would be whisked away to heaven in the blink of an eye, while Armageddon took place on Earth. Jesus was coming soon, and we had to hurry.
This felt exciting, important, and dangerous.
I loved it when he picked me up at high school on his motorcycle. “Yes, that big guy is my boyfriend.” The school boy jocks stopped bothering me.
When I turned 16, we got married. A month after the wedding I learned I was ten weeks pregnant. I finished high school early but skipped grad night at Disneyland. My belly was as big as a Volkswagen bug, and my husband would have looked like somebody’s dad. My friends went to parties, and off to college while I went to La Leche League and prayer meetings with women two decades older than me. I had three kids in six years. I breastfed each one for a year.
|“Train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” – Titus 2:4-5|
Annie was in her mid-60s when she started losing weight. I lived hours away and had my hands full raising three babies; I hadn’t spoken to her in six years. I called my father once a month for news. “She’s not right in the head” my dad said, “It’s depressing to watch. I can’t stand to visit her. She needs a real doctor, but she won’t listen to anyone.”
She treated her symptoms with vitamins and herbs from the health food store and lots of natural juices. She had sessions with a faith healer from her Edgar Cayce fellowship. She kept her focus positive and practiced visualizations. Certain foods had to be eaten only on specific days of the week. She counted out cards on the tabletop.
By the time she was taken to an emergency room after passing out in K-Mart, the cancer had metastasized to Stage IV. It was the first time she’d allowed herself to think of the word “cancer”, though she admitted she’d had the lump in her breast for a long time. Maybe years.
Annie had read about clinics in Mexico that were curing cancer ‘naturally’ with laetrile, which was illegal in the United States and deemed quackery. Tijuana was only a three-hour drive. She drove off in her blue Mustang and checked in to a clinic.
My father mailed me a Polaroid photo of her weeks later, taken in a hotel room somewhere in Mexico shortly before she died. It had come in a plain white envelope with no note. She was pale as an egg and her lips were white. I wouldn’t have recognized her if we’d passed on the street. The sparkle in her eyes had faded but she still wore gold hoop earrings.
She died in Tijuana at age 66, under circumstances that will always remain mysterious.
|“Keep the pineal gland open and you will always be young.” – Edgar Cayce|
I drove a beige Volkswagen Squareback with baby seats in the back to college where I studied patterns of human behavior and how not to fuck up your kids. There were always rumpled toddler clothes and boxes of crackers on the floor of the car. It took me ten years to get a degree in Psychology. I was 26, and gears began clicking into place in my head; my thinking went in all sorts of new directions. I saw choices I’d never seen before. After twelve months of therapy I filed for divorce.
My first job was working as a counselor in a residential treatment home for people with Schizophrenia. The clients had hallucinations and delusions; they felt like family. I helped them figure out the patterns of their symptoms and worked to develop a system of mental checks and balances, so they’d stay out of the hospital. The job felt so natural I was surprised I got paid for it. I took graduate classes at night for two years to become a psychotherapist.
My ex-husband fought for custody of the kids. He prayed aloud with the children, clasping hands with them in Burger King, and told them repeatedly I was going to hell. I eventually won sole custody after the court ordered a psychological evaluation. It took three years.
I was licensed as a psychotherapist at age 29 and bought a used black Miata. I worked in a battered women’s shelter and a rape crisis center. I felt old before I turned 30, but I loved to work with teenagers from uncommon backgrounds who had trouble finding their way. I knew it was possible to rebuild a life after losses, mistakes, and disaster. I believed anybody could do it over time with intention and a plan. I was convinced that psychotherapy could save the world.
I had lost touch with Jane, Sarah, and Hannah after my marriage when I moved hundreds of miles away. The family splintered after my mother died of brain cancer when I was 17, shortly after my first baby was born. My father and Uncle Dan had a bitter falling out over a business venture and ended up suing each other; they never spoke again. Dan and Jane moved their family to Texas. The only connective fiber among us had been my mother, and when she died any bonds that had existed in the family withered.
Sarah found me in 2016 after we’d both submitted DNA by mail to 23&Me. We were lined up on the genetic relatives list right next to each other, sharing 15% of our DNA. She told me she’d thought about me often over the past 40 years but had no idea what had become of me. We became friends on Facebook.
She lived in rural Texas and worked as a caregiver in a residential home for the elderly. Her mother Jane had suffered a stroke a decade earlier and now lived bedridden in the Alzheimer’s residence where Sarah worked.
Sarah and I spoke once on the phone, but I didn’t recognize her voice. It had transformed into the deep rasp of a heavy smoker with a southern accent she had not acquired growing up in California. It was entirely alien.
We exchanged small gifts through the mail, echoes of our girlhoods. Sarah sent me a hand-carved owl figurine. I sent her a silver crescent moon necklace to match the one I wore.
Sarah lived with her father who despite a life of alcoholism was still alive but doing poorly in hospice care.
Her third husband, the mean one who drank, was in prison. She was desperate for money and had no car.
Her dream was to buy an abandoned hotel in a small Texas town that was rumored to be haunted. She wanted to open a bed and breakfast for tourists who wanted to stay overnight with ghosts, and she thought she’d finally make decent money. She was bitterly disappointed when she couldn’t qualify for a mortgage due to her poor credit history.
|“You should breathe deeply and chant, 'Money will easily and effortlessly flow into my life' as often as you can every day. Things will start to change after a month. If you believe you will be financially secure, then you are opening yourself up to change." – Louise Hay|
I’ve been in private practice for 30 years and love helping people connect the dots. I have a nose for psychosis, and for sniffing out abuse. I’m optimistic about the human potential for growth, but clear on the difference between positive thinking and magical thinking. There are rules that govern the physical and mental world, yet our brains often play tricks on us. Humans are quick to see causality among unrelated events and to adopt maladaptive ways of thinking in order to reduce the anxiety that comes from living in a world where bad things happen randomly.
Our own best judgment can lead us to ruin. I’ve learned to watch my mind closely and question first impulses.
I choose my beliefs carefully and with intention, and bristle at fundamentalists and new-age gurus. I love science and the magic of the laws of nature. Within those parameters I’ve found the reliability we were all seeking. I’ve been known to occasionally burn incense and white candles at night – a conscious nod to magical thinking -- but haven’t set foot in a religious meeting since my divorce decades ago.
I’m close to my three adult kids; they were just here for Thanksgiving. We live with a shard of sorrow in our hearts for the one of them that struggles with schizophrenia. She was diagnosed at 19, and her life has been harder than any of us can imagine. I am never completely free of grief.
Sarah and I eventually unfollowed one another on Facebook. She kept posting conspiracy videos about chemtrails, and photos she’d taken of cloud formations in the Texas sky as proof of “something ominous going on.”
I’d respond to her posts with a link to a science article about cirrus clouds and aircraft contrails, which she didn’t appreciate. I posted on her Facebook wall “Stop sharing nonsense. It causes harm. People don’t know how to tell what’s true.”
It felt mean, but I couldn’t help myself.
I was surprised to learn that her younger sister Hannah had also become a therapist. Helping people find patterns may be in our genes, and in the right context, that’s a good thing. Sarah said she and Hannah had gone their separate ways many years ago. It’s my guess that Hannah grew up, went to college, and gave up magical thinking. Apparently, she’s also learned it’s okay to let family go their own way.
The ability to understand patterns can make you good at your job. Scientists, physicians, engineers, and therapists all work with pattern recognition. And adherence to a disciplined structure -- with reasonable flexibility – is how humans create monuments inspired by grand visions.
Context is everything.
Sapolsky stresses that variations in our neurobiology whether from obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizotypal thinking, can be adaptive in one setting, but stigmatizing in another. Schizotypal thinking parallels the magical thinking found in extreme religious theology; Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can parallel excessive religious rituals. The key point is that the exact same behaviors that can destroy your life in one context, can make you honored and powerful in another.
Sarah recently sent me an email about Jane. Sarah said she was mad at God, because Jane has spent the last ten years since her stroke unable to walk or speak a complete sentence. “All she does is cry and sleep; she cries constantly if she’s awake. It’s not right that she suffers like this. She was a godly woman. I’m having a hard time understanding God’s plan.”
I wrote back and said how sorry I was, because Jane had meant a lot to me when we were children. “She was a good woman. But don’t blame God for any of this. It’s our beliefs that were faulty.”
She didn’t write me again. All we share now are ancient childhood memories; our worldviews and beliefs are oppositional. I’ve made hundreds of conscious decisions to let go of what I learned as a child in order to be sane, and I let go of attachments to some people too.
I’m no longer troubled by insomnia or nightmares. I’m at peace with all I cannot know or control. Occasionally I sense a benign echo from the past and linger with a softer childhood memory, something having nothing to do with heaven or hell or prayer. Sometimes I dance barefoot in the grass at night and think of Annie when she was young as I smile at the man in the moon and his wife.
By Jamie Owens
One of our Idaho neighbors, Crazy Indian, would come in and we would wake up with her noise while she was in the fridge rummaging for beer. In the winter when the beer was left on the porch, Cosmo and I may not know she was visiting until most of a six-pack was gone. Our cabin was small and we slept upstairs. She would stoke the fire so we could wake up warm which was really nice of her. I’d cook breakfast while she would spin stories about being a corpsman in the US Navy. It was not a happy time for her being in the service, but there were still plenty of things to laugh about.
When she got out on a medical discharge she moved to Idaho with friends and married a guy from Florida, whose name was Gator. They built a home at the top of the hill at the end of the community road. When she headed to town for the day, that’s when she would pop by early; can’t go to town without checking if we needed anything. Some food in our bellies, discussions about the weather and a doobie rolled for the long road to town and she was off. We wouldn’t see her again for days, later popping in to share town stories and bringing replacement beer. It’s a good thing we didn’t have an income for whiskey, or nobody would have made it anywhere.
That fall Gator shot a bear that had been raiding his garden all summer. He figured it would be the best bear meat ever, being corn-fed and all. He was tortured over this, not so much about killing an animal, mostly about the possibility of getting caught without the proper papers. Could be a big fine. Shit. He had already been in some trouble with the county.
Gator’s pal that traveled with him to Idaho a few years before, became a county deputy sheriff and then turned Gator in for pot possession. That event happened before we moved to Idaho, but it was explained to me how it all went down, probably while I was sharing a joint with Gator. Legally it went like this: you can’t be a friend and act like a friend and be in your friend’s home acting like a real friend and then find the Mary Jane stash in the cookie jar while you were helping yourself, all friend like, to a treat while you were there acting like a friend. You can’t get all Deputy Sheriff and bust your friend, who really isn’t your friend anymore.
The prosecutor knew this bust was the largest gray area that the county had ever seen and decided to back away. Drug rules and penalties were pretty harsh back then. Part of the allure besides the obvious fun of getting high, was the outlaw part. And of course, as long as there are really stupid law enforcement guys around, it is so much fun making them look like fools! Hell, they meet you more than half way most of the time. But things got serious when the cocaine came in and the sweet grass moving across the northern border was from guys carrying guns. The skies in Idaho filled with helicopters looking for us big criminals who just wanted to get a “leetle” loaded and go work in the garden and raise our families.
|Stories would pour out of him with a little beer, a little weed and a campfire; some of them were probably true.|
Stumping powder is what we needed Gator said at our campfire one night. He had done a lot of interesting things in his 47 years and a while back decided his best move would be to leave Florida and settle in the North Idaho woods to make his last stand against everything. Stories would pour out of him with a little beer, a little weed and a campfire; some of them were probably true. Cosmo was still against doing anything with the tree stump, but I wanted it out. It was in the middle of my fenced garden. The dead root system so extensive I couldn’t plant anything near it. It shredded hoses and harbored an elite group of squirrels, moles, voles and chipmunks, voracious eaters all. We had been talking about this damn stump for some time, cooking up crazy ideas to be rid of it. We laughed about blowing it up; wrapping up that idea in the haze of dope smoke. How serious can we be? The stump was a holdover from the thick cedar forests that covered Idaho since dinosaurs ruled the earth. During the last century, mountains were logged and we were left with the remnants. If the living cedar trees had still been there, we wouldn’t have been able to afford our 20 acres. So on our property we had second and hell, probably third growth forest, not worth anything in timber money. Perfect for homesteaders, who want to grow veggies, raise kids and be left alone.
After Cosmo left for an oil field work trip in Wyoming, somehow a late night conversation with Gator and Crazy Indian about the stump problem was restarted and rolled into our foraging trip to Coeur ‘d Alene. Cosmo maintained it was a terrible idea to blow up a tree trunk, or use any of the other previous schemes we came up with, but the garden was mine, he was not around, so I made the decision. Yes, he was my husband and I loved him and all, but I really wanted this stump gone.
But in order to get stumping powder we needed to get to the Federal Government Farm Building office in Coeur ‘d Alene; register and look responsible while signing papers. We had no idea what we were getting into, so we made a day of it. It was late spring and the wild asparagus was up along railroad tracks, it was a good time for picking. I had heard about a new health food store that was larger than the one we had in our closest town. Our planned trip day turned out to be sunny, so we brought food for a picnic. Perfect.
We made the mistake of driving to the Federal Government Farm Bureau office first. Oh yeah there was paperwork and forms in triplicate, just like we expected. But, we were caught unawares when Gator was asked to draw a picture of the stump with the root system and precise measurements, while I penciled in the completed plot lines of my 20 acres including property lines, out buildings, power lines (none), water lines, driveways, easements and slopes. Crazy Indian had to leave the lobby, being way too antsy for this government bullshit; a holdover from her Navy years.
It was surprising to us how serious these government guys were. Us, not so much. We were there for hours and we hadn’t eaten breakfast before we left. We had skipped the normal beer with breakfast at my house in order to get on the road as quickly as we could, get the blasting materials and start having fun in the big city of Coeur d’ Alene. Instead we were there for hours watching these old guys go back and forth between large record books, file cabinets, typewriters, and making calls. The facsimile machine didn’t exist yet. Finally, they let us know that they didn’t have stumping powder but based on our drawings they could sell us TNT. That’s right, explosive trinitrotoluene...47 sticks of dynamite. I signed papers and paid the cash. They gave us warning hazmat placards for the car. What?
Yes, we were required to post one in each side window and the rear window of the car for everyone and the police to see. For safety. I had just signed the paper agreeing to do this. Shit. No way are we going to drive around in this beat up old Mercury Comet with ‘hey look at me’ signs in our car windows.
|There we stood, gazing into the trunk of the car at the beer cooler right next to the full box ‘o blasts. It was a sight.|
We considered our options, discussing them in the parking lot. One of the things I had to do was to fill out our exact route home with the TNT. It had been a total lie of course, but now I had signed a paper stating under penalty of the law I would go home that one way, driving straight home with no deviation. Shit. We had plans! So, we put up the placards, drove to the end of the parking lot where they couldn’t see us, took ‘em down and popped open three bottles of beer from the cooler. There we stood, gazing into the trunk of the car at the beer cooler right next to the full box ‘o blasts. It was a sight.
We can be careful. Honest.
If we had been followed, surely in today’s state of mind with all of this terrorist crap, one would guess we were out to blow up the tracks. But no, we were just looking for some free wild food and some much needed time in the sun. We made it home by dark, jabbering the whole way home about how cool it was to have 47 sticks of : and no one to tell us what to do with it. Even Cosmo was gone.
|We only needed 43 but we had 47. Gift from the old guys at the Farm Bureau?|
Cosmo would be home in a few weeks so we needed to get this project going, wait for the right windless day, inform all the neighbors and plan a party. We couldn’t wait to set it up. Surprisingly, Gator’s impromptu sketch made on the fly at the Farm Bureau office was accurate. With another neighbor’s help and plans discussed around the campfire, Gator had the placement of sticks scribbled on paper. We only needed 43 but we had 47. Gift from the old guys at the Farm Bureau?
The perfect day arrived; finally, time for the dynamite versus the stump. Gator showed up while it was still early morning dark, eager for the start and everyone else drifted in the rest of morning. He dug holes and chambers around the stump roots, scaring off all the critters and stuffed them all with the TNT sticks, except for four. Those four I stored under Cosmo’s wood shop, figuring their safety was assured there. Gator spent hours determining where the sticks needed to be placed, digging holes and conferring with neighbors about depth. It was complicated as only Gator could make it. I had nothing to do with it. I was busy cooking beans and rolling joints.
The neighbors came and the smoke was passed around along with the beers. It would be the event of the Spring. It was time to get started. Oh wait. Jeff, my closest neighbor downhill from me decided he needed to leave right at that moment to nail plywood on his windows ‘just in case’. I was surprised, as his home was close by for ‘living in the woods’ standards, but he was 600 feet away from the garden. My home was located up a significant incline, but less than 400 feet from the stump in the garden. Doubts were being voiced by neighbors, along with the most important question for me, “Should I nail plywood to the windows of my home?”
I asked, “Gator, do I need to put up some wood because broken windows would complicate things with all the bears around.” He thought for a moment, “Well, maybe that would be prudent. We can delay this until tomorrow if you like.” “Tomorrow? Are you kidding me?” I wasn’t leaving TNT in the ground longer than necessary; someone could get hurt. Probably me. “We are all here, let’s scrounge up some wood.” Cosmo would kill me if this went down badly. Gator reminded me, “He is going to kill you and be angry at me anyway; but think of future campfire stories.” Right then, I was just thinking of keeping the peace and staying alive.
|With a flair of someone on stage, Gator connected the wires on the car battery together, but nothing seemed to happen.|
We set up tables, placed coolers and had snacks set out and with our chair-backs propped up against the house, we had front row seats to our very own ‘Big Bang’. It was quiet, we all looked gleefully at each other. With a flair of someone on stage, Gator connected the wires on the car battery together, but nothing seemed to happen. We had time to look at each other and wonder if the blasting caps were connected properly and actually working.
Then the loudest WHUMP I have ever heard was followed by the ground shaking and the glass in my French doors rattling. We all stood up as if our bodies all decided at the same time that something was not right. Scrambling in what seemed like slow motion and realizing that large objects were flying right at us like missiles, we ran in all directions to duck behind my house.
Rocks, dirt clods and of course cedar pieces of every size and shape were flying along trajectories that pelted my house, our party materials and everything else in every direction. My ears rang. I had to pee. The earth dust made it hard to see and breathe as we poked our heads out to see if it was safe; another crash sounding nearby pushed us back. As we snickered and waited for quiet, Crazy Indian took my hand as we headed down the hill to see what we did. We had to go single file to dodge the rocks and dirt clumps that littered my garden path. At the very least I was hoping I would not be digging up large pieces of stump still in the ground.
“How can you be sure that all of that damn stuff blew up Gator?” I voiced out loud. “Because I am feeling a little doubtful right now, I hear things still dropping out of the sky. How do I know that the first piece of wood that headed out into the stratospheres after being ignited isn’t currently now heading straight back to earth towards me?”
No one said anything as we entered through the garden gate, which was hanging by only one hinge and was pelted with holes; the cross pieces that were left were dirt covered and scratched. We all approached cautiously as if another bomb would go off anytime. The huge crater that was made by the blast looked like the beginning of a trip to China. Instead of a place that I could plant potatoes, I had the start of a swimming pool. Later we found a piece of the stump 30 feet up in Birch tree that was 100 feet beyond the house.
|Instead of a place that I could plant potatoes, I had the start of a swimming pool.|
When Cosmo arrived home six weeks later from the Wyoming work trip, he brought home 239 bottle rockets, so we were on the same wavelength, just a bit different in scale is all. Most of the fireworks banned in other states were still legal in Wyoming. He bought them in a parking lot fireworks stand at the Save-Mart in Rawlins. Every two weeks Cosmo and his work buddies trekked to Rawlins for provisions and they happened to hit town at the right time, right before Independence Day. Cosmo came home with money, fireworks and rabbit furs.
Nothing says FREEDOM like blowing shit up.
|Paintings: Abstract Expression|
By Peggy Collins
Garden 1, Winner of the Art in the Embassies competition, the painting was exhibited in the home of the American Ambassador in Doha, Qatar for 1 ½ years.
Magic in the Mountain, one of Peggy’s favorite paintings, is currently exhibited in a private collection.
By Nastashia Minto
Am I becoming Harriet Tubman?
Going back and re-wiring my people and their mental state.
Leading them to freedom and truth in this physical place.
Am I becoming Coretta Scott King?
Standing with my people who have a dream.
Desiring to be judged solely on my characteristics instead of the color of my being.
Am I becoming Maya Angelou?
A phenomenal woman phenomenally.
Writing empowering words that will be read and heard through generations far beyond me.
Am I becoming Oprah Winfrey?
A woman they didn’t want on the TV screen.
Now has her own network, a black entrepreneur queen.
Am I becoming Michelle Obama?
The first black “First Lady” that holds a law degree to be written down in history.
Becoming the representation that our people of color need to see.
We are becoming the women they never thought we would be. I am becoming the woman they never thought I would be.
I was raised in an environment that was meant to devour me.
I was filled with hate - statistically who would have thought I would survive to see 28. I mean from the crack cocaine
in my genes it seems as if I should have been another statistic, an alcoholic, drug abuser, unsuccessful, fully addicted.
But I begin to break chains-twenty-five years old—neuroplasticity—making new connections in my brain.
I begin to retrain and refrain from the things that were keeping me further away from me.
I mean can’t you see.
Can’t you see the road blocks, and detours that were keeping me away from my destiny.
I am destined, you see to be something great.
Because I refuse to allow this society to give me a pre-determined death date.
I purposefully pulled at the roots that engulf me. The same ones that suffocate, but also love me.
The same ones that tell me to speak, but also hush me.
I am so grateful for the women who paved paths and went before me.
They have endured many hardships, but they never gave up on the vision of what they could be.
So I put myself in new environments so that I could see.
No, I mean, so that I can be the best version of myself I am becoming!
In the Dark
By Lisa Todd
First, there is darkness. Then, cold. The air here is thin and cold, sharp in the nose and throat. It’s quiet here, eerily so. Footsteps sound loud in the dark air, announcing the presence of people in the deep part of the night. Here in this place, the dark and cold night is the domain of scurrying, stalking, creeping creatures. The ones whose vision is disturbingly good in the dark. They can see who has entered their domain on this cold night. They see, but are not surprised. Humans do such strange things.
The car crunches up the road, scattering gravel from its tires. As it rounds a bend in the road stars suddenly twinkle in the sky, visible through an opening in the trees. Headlights flash along tree trunks: almost a strobe effect as they flick across each tree lining the road. It winds along, climbing steadily through the trees. In the black, star-sprinkled night, distance and depth perception are illusions. The car appears to be driving around curves and switchbacks with no destination in mind, only moving through the dark down the headlight-illuminated tunnel.
Then, a sudden sense of openness. Sleepy passengers grunt softly and stir in their seatbelts, subtly aware of the downshift in the car’s throttle. As the engine slows, eyes open, conversations begin.
“Hey, man, time to wake up. We’re there.”
“You’re on my jacket, move a bit.”
“Anyone see my other boot?”
As the car slides to a stop in a parking space, the rustles and talking by the passengers increases only in quantity, not volume. The clear and cold dark presses down on the car and its inhabitants, muffling their intrusion into this thinly cold and deeply dark domain. The stars seem brighter and closer than usual.
Suddenly the engine stops. Silence envelopes the car’s passengers, as if weighed down by the dark. They peer out of the windows. Shapes loom out of the dark, menacing dark images in a dark world. But not wholly dark after all. On the corner of a square black shape, a light intrudes into the night.
|Shapes loom out of the dark, menacing dark images in a dark world.|
The cold air bit noses and fingertips as people climbed out of the car. Stretching and yawning, they stumble to the car’s trunk and pull clothing and equipment out of its depths.
"Is that my coat, or yours?"
"That’s mine. The green one is yours."
"One crampon only. Is there another one in there? Found it, thanks."
"Did we put all the ropes in the trunk?"
"No, they’re on the luggage rack. We’ll get them down in a sec."
Their words are muffled and low, as if the dark pressed down on the people and subdued them. As if the dark surroundings objected to their intrusion into the dark world. Camouflaged by the darkness, pairs of eyes watched at a distance. So far, the eyes only watched – gathering clues about the intruders. They can wait, those eyes. They’re patient.
Warm parkas are zipped. Lengths of rope and knife-sharp crampons are tied to the outside of backpacks. The backpacks were filled with the gear needed by these people whose plan today was to scale the mountain in front of them: a black hulk in the dark world.
One person detached themselves from the group and made for the brightly lit corner. Groping along the wall, the person opens a door and steps inside the building. A smaller and dimmer light catches their eye and the person makes for the little alcove where the light shines. A small table stands under the light with an array of pens, forms and envelopes stacked neatly on the table's surface. Taking a pen, the person quickly fills out the form then slides it into an envelope. Looking around, they see a slot in the wall above the table and slides their envelope into the slot where it falls somewhere on the other side.
Moving back outside, the person sees that the rest of the group of people are shouldering backpacks and taking a few experimental steps. Straps are readjusted one last time before everyone makes their way to the person who had completed the form. The leader, Joel, stood quietly for a moment, surveying the group. Fifteen in all with experience ranging from novice to expert, the group and leader silently watched each other waiting for guidance.
"So. A bit early, yeah?" The leader spoke loudly enough to be heard, but not too loudly. The dark still pressed down on everyone. People chuckled, looking at each other and grinning wryly.
"We all know the plan for today: head up to the Hogsback, and summit the mountain. Most of the trip up will just be a simple walk; I chose this route because some of you haven't climbed before and I wanted your first experience to be a good one. Even though this is the first climb for some of you, all of you are familiar with hiking. Remember to place your feet carefully. Go at the same pace as the person in front of you. The sun won't warm the snow for a few hours yet, so be aware that the snow will have an icy crust. In other words, walk carefully."
|So far, the eyes only watched – gathering clues about the intruders. They can wait, those eyes. They’re patient.|
The leader surveyed the group one last time before turning to make his way across the empty parking lot. Invisible in the dark but known to Joel was a cut in the stone wall at the mountain side of the parking lot. Stairs led up through the cut, connecting to a path nearby. There wasn’t much snow here except in grey patches against the deep dark.
As he looked over his group, Joel mentally calculated yet again the abilities of each person. Of the group of fifteen climbers, nine had summited a mountain at least once. Four were experienced backcountry hikers. Joel wasn’t worried about them, even though they’d not climbed a mountain. Their experience in long-distance hikes would serve them well today. He worried most about Longo and Raz: friends who had joined the climbing group on a dare. Rank novices, neither had never climbed a mountain even though both were physically active. Well. Either Longo and Raz would handle today’s climb with little or no stress, or they’d have a tough day. Joel had assigned two of his long-time climbing partners to keep an eye on the two young men. Sighing to himself, Joel turned and headed off to the cut in the stone wall. Fifteen fellow climbers fanned out behind him, walking quietly as if the dark and cold had somehow censored their speech.
Behind them, unnoticed, the light on the corner of the building slowly faded and went out. One by one, the climbers switched on their head lamps.
The climbers went up the steps and onto the path above the parking lot. It meandered across an expanse of dusty volcanic dirt and rocks until finally crossing the Pacific Crest Trail and continuing northward up the mountain. Overhead, stars cast faint shadows of the climbers as they walked along the path, over remnants of old volcanic eruptions.
The eyes moved at the same pace as the climbers yet at a distance. They weren’t concerned with being noticed by the group.
This part of the climb is more of a slog across patches of sandy volcanic soil interspersed with crusty and dirt-flecked patches of snow. Everyone walked quietly, watching their feet move one in front of the other. Part of their brains complained bitterly about being rudely awakened at far too early an hour, forced to be awake and focused before enough caffeine was moving through their systems.
|The eyes moved at the same pace as the climbers yet at a distance. They weren’t concerned with being noticed by the group.|
After walking for about an hour, Joel called a halt. “Ok, first stop.” Joel stepped off the path as he spoke and waited for everyone to gather in front of him. “Help yourselves to a quick drink of water.” He moved among the group to check on each climber. He stopped in front of a pair of teenagers who were leaning against each other. “’Brina, Efraim, how are you doing so far?” The young woman eyed Joel, weighing the consequences of voicing her opinion versus being diplomatic. Mornings weren’t her strong suit on the best of days. Joel smiled knowingly at his daughter. “I know, this is way too early.” She glared at him but before she could say anything, her companion handed her a water bottle. Efraim grinned at Joel, sharing the mutual sympathy of morning people coping with a grumpy night owl.
“Questions? Comments? Problems?” Joel asked the group at large.
“Is it me, or is it getting darker?” This from Charlotte, who preferred to be called “Charlie”, one of the experienced climbers. As if on cue, people automatically looked skyward. The stars had been bright in the cold and clear sky when they had arrived in the parking lot. Now the sky was a flat black, as if a low cloud cover had snuck up without anyone’s notice.
“I think it’s just cloud cover, Charlie, but let’s keep an eye as we go,” suggested Ethan, another of the experienced climbers. Joel cast a final look at the sky and frowned but said nothing. Turning north again, he stepped back on the path and walked off. As he moved away from the group, Charlie realized Joel’s headlamp was dimmer than it should be. Odd. Almost as if the night were growing darker.
The eyes still watched from a distance. For them, the deepening darkness didn’t matter.
Step. Pause. Step. Pause. Repeat. Had they been walking forever? Had it been dark forever? No one was sure any longer. The darkness was unrelenting, refusing to relinquish its hold on the landscape. They continued into the dark: always slanting upwards just a bit, enough for internal gyroscopes to point out that the body wasn't walking on level ground.
Crunch. Each footstep crashed through the skin of ice layered over the snow. A little rock might be dislodged during the step, tumbling downhill for a little way before coming to rest against another rock. Up here above tree line, there were no trees or shrubs to break a rock's fall.
No one spoke unless they had to. The constant, heavy dark had stolen their words. Instead, the group followed each other's footsteps with dogged determination. Watching carefully for the next foot placement and carefully fitting their feet into each footprint, the group toiled along, ever upwards. At least they thought they were heading uphill. Their gyroscopes couldn't be wrong. Could they?
"Let's stop for a moment," said Joel. "Time to reconnoiter." He stood where he'd stopped on the path. Everyone stopped as well, not moving from the path. The dark pressed on the group's eyes, preventing them from seeing their way up or down the mountain. Joel refrained from sharing his concerns with the group. In all of his previous climbs, he hadn't ever experienced such a dark night. It was as if the dark night were a living thing, pressing on his eyes and preventing him from seeing anything but his immediate surroundings. Joel could feel the darkness: heavy, cold, and humid. He thought there was an ominous feel to the dark air.
Water bottles and snacks were silently pulled from backpacks and shared around. The darkness seemed to have stolen their words. Even Joel declined to reconnoiter, as promised. He stood silently observing the group, watching each person carefully. Bottles and wrappers were silently stowed away. Backpacks shouldered again, everyone watched as Joel turned and walked off into the darkness. Crunch. Step. Crunch. Step.
|The constant, heavy dark had stolen their words.|
Tendrils of cold breeze teased ears and noses as the group walked upwards into the dark. The walkers could hear the breeze whispering across snowfields in a counterpoint to the regular crunching footsteps. A sudden strong and icy gust blew in among the walkers, startling them. Instinctively, a few of the group looked skyward as if expecting to see gathering storm clouds. Longo stopped suddenly and squinted at the sky.
“Hey, don't stop like that,” said Raz.
“Sorry. It's just. I don't know. I thought I saw storm clouds.” Longo peered into the flat darkness.
“How can you see anything? It's pitch black everywhere,” said Raz.
“But I thought I saw clouds piling up, like a thunderhead,” Longo said, pointing upwards.
Raz glanced nervously at the sky, but it remained the same flat black it had been since the car pulled into the parking lot. “What did you see?” he asked. Not questioning but encouraging Longo to tell him more in the hopes of getting a better idea of what he had seen.
“I told you, I saw clouds. Rolling up sort of like the way pasta water rolls and boils in a pot. But the next time I looked I couldn't see anything,” said Longo.
“Longo. Raz. I don't want to lose anyone in this dark. Don't stop walking.” Joel had walked closer to the two men while they talked. Pulling a bandana out of a pocket, Joel wiped his streaming nose and stowed it in a pocket once more. “I know the darkness is weird, and I don't like it any more than you do, Joel said. We need to keep going, though.”
“Why, exactly?” Longo asked. “I mean, dawn should have begun a while ago and we ought to be closer than we are to the Hogsback. Instead, we just keep walking uphill in this weird darkness. We can sort of see each other but nothing else - no landscape or mountain. Now there's this wind. I'm fairly sure I saw storm clouds rolling over us but now I can't see anything around us.”
Joel pushed back the cuff of his parka and squinted at his watch. Five a.m. Even if clouds had moved in - and weather in the mountains was always unpredictable - the sky would be growing lighter by now. Instead, an unrelenting blackness smothered the stars. At least when the group had started under clear and starry skies, the star shine provided enough light to cast faint shadows. The darkness had deepened since Joel had begun leading his group up the mountain. He was perplexed and unnerved. How could it still be so dark? Even though they were above timberline, Joel should have been able to see dark shapes of boulders and lighter patches of snow.
|Even if clouds had moved in…the sky would be growing lighter by now. Instead, an unrelenting blackness smothered the stars.|
The wind blew harder. As if a switch had been flipped, blinding snow flew in on the wind. This is just damn weird, he thought. As Joel stood there, the wind blew more and more snow over the huddled group of climbers. Joel couldn’t see the snow on his coat or on the ground, but he could feel it brush his face and catch in his eyelashes. The climber’s headlamps flickered in the snow. But the darkness was so thick, absorbing every particle of light that once the snow landed on the ground it was absorbed into the unrelenting darkness. It’s as if we’re hiking in a cave, Joel thought. He groped his way to the group and found them huddled together.
Hard bits of ice ferried by the wind scraped across cheeks and noses, leaving them raw and cold as the wind began to howl. Mason tugged his parka’s hood closer around his face and hunched his shoulders. Monique huddled closer to Mason. “Cccc-old,” she stammered. “God, me too,” he said and flung his arm around her shoulders. To hell with propriety. He was so cold.
Others clustered around Mason and Monique, eager to share what little body heat was available. “Hold up!” Charlie shouted above the wind. “Make a circle, everyone! Put your backs to the wind and your fronts facing inside the circle. Shortest people on the inside, tallest on the outside. Everyone put your arms around your neighbor’s shoulders or waist.” Arms outstretched, Charlie groped from one person to the next, pushing and cajoling. “Brina! In the center, you’re short.”
“Here.” Efraim grabbed Sabrina’s parka and pulled her in front of him. “Stand there.” She shook with cold and didn’t answer. Fighting a rise of panic, Sabrina leaned against Efraim while putting her arms around Raz and Monique who stood one on either side of her. Pushing everyone into a rough circle, Charlie collided with Joel who came the opposite direction as he too made sure everyone was included in the circle. The wind gusted past him.
“Ok, Charlie, everyone’s in the circle. You stand on one side and I’ll stand on the other, making sure no one leaves. Oh, wait -” Joel ducked into the center of the circle. “Listen up!” he bellowed. “Whatever you do, DON’T leave the circle. Your life depends on it.” He paused for breath. “Every 15 minutes, the people on the inside of the circle will trade places with those on the outside, so we can all take turns.”
No one else spoke. By mutual agreement, everyone shuffled more closely together, blocking as much of the wind as possible. The wind shrieked, flinging more snow at the huddled group. At the allotted time, everyone standing in the center groped their way to the outside of the circle. Groaning, they turned their backs to the wind and hunched as much as possible. The third time the climbers traded places, Charlie shouted for Joel. Feeling his way around the circle until he clutched her waving arm, he wrapped an arm around Charlie’s waist. Putting his mouth to her ear he said, “what’s up?” To be heard over the shrieking wind, Charlie leaned close and spoke into Joel’s ear as well.
|The wind shrieked, flinging more snow at the huddled group.|
“Joel. We can’t keep doing this. The temperature’s dropping and it’s snowing harder. We have to build a snow cave.” Charlie sniffed and wiped her nose on a frozen patch on her sleeve.
Joel nodded, bumping his head against Charlie’s “I know, I’ve been thinking that too. But how can we build a snow cave without losing everyone else at the same time? The wind and snow are hammering us. And the darkness sucks up all light.”
Somewhere nearby, a pair of eyes blinked once, then twice. It’s possible that the wind lessened a tiny amount. Blink. Perhaps the snowfall grew slightly less. Blink. Blink. Maybe the darkness eased a little, too.
“Ok, let’s just pick the four most experienced, and keep everyone else in the circle.” Joel wiped his nose and Charlie nodded. “I’ll get Michael and Leo,” she said. Groping her way around the circle, she bent to speak to Michael and Leo who nodded. They each clasped her hands and struggled through the snow to begin building a shelter. The wind and snow grew less insistent. Joel stamped his feet while he waited. Suddenly, three headlamps appeared in front of him: Michael, Leo and Charlie. “Joel, you should stay with the circle,” Michael said. “The novices are starting to panic; they’d feel better if you stayed with them. Leo, Charlie and me can build the snow cave together. We’ll come get you when it’s finished.”
Joel moved closer to the group and ducked into the center. “Hey everyone, it’s Joel.”
“Joel!” Monique’s panic was clear. “I’m so cold and scared! Where did the others go? What do we do now?” Arms outstretched, she flailed around the group as her panic rose. Joel reached out and grabbed her flailing arms. “Monique! MONIQUE! Listen to me!’ Pinning her arms to her sides, Joel wrapped his arms around her. “Stand still. Breathe in 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Out 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.” He waited while she took a couple of sobbing breaths. “Ok? Can you listen now?” Gulping and sniffing, she nodded against his shoulder. “Good job. So here’s the deal. Michael, Leo and Charlie are building a snow cave for all of us. That way, we can get out of the wind and be protected from the snow and cold. We’ll wait in there for morning.” Or what comes next, he thought grimly. “Just stay in the circle until they tell us the cave is ready, then we’ll crawl inside to get warm.” Joel rubbed Monique’s back to warm her while she clutched his arms. The others shuffled closer to block more wind and snow. They stood there for what felt like an eternity while the snow pelted them and the wind shrieked and groaned.
Efraim jumped suddenly when a hand gripped his shoulder. It was Michael, shaking with cold. Efraim shoved him into the center of the circle so he could warm himself a little. “T-t-t-t-h-h-h-e sh-sh-shsh-elter’s done,” he said as his teeth chattered. Charlie reached a hand into the circle and Monique yelped when Charlie’s hand tugged her sleeve. “Okay, let’s go, the shelter’s ready,” Joel said. “Everyone hold onto each other. Charlie, hold my hand. Lead the way.” Like an ungainly caterpillar, the group bumped their way to the snow cave. Joel was astonished that so much snow had fallen so quickly. It was deep enough to reach his knees now. But how much time had passed, he wondered? Charlie stopped suddenly and jerked Joel to his knees. “In here!” she yelled over the wind. The darkness had lifted just enough that a faint grey lump with a darker grey opening loomed in front of them. One by one the group dropped to their knees, wrestled their pack off, and crawled into the ice cave. When the last one was inside, eyes watching nearby blinked once, twice, a third time. The darkness grew again. Wind shrieked and laughed and snow fell even faster.
|They stood there for what felt like an eternity while the snow pelted them and the wind shrieked and groaned.|
Inside the cave, people spread foam pads, rain covers, emergency blankets on the ledge ringing the cave and clustered together in tight groups. They were still cold, but not as bad now that everyone was out of the storm.
Time ticked slowly. People dozed, stared into the darkness, or spoke softly together in twos and threes. Curled on the ledge near the opening, Joel mentally reviewed each step of the journey that had led to the snow cave. As leader, he thought the trip had been sidetracked. Joel felt wholly responsible. But as he lay on the snow ledge and thought while his companions huddled together nearby, he couldn’t see any flaws. No one had gotten lost. They’d followed a well-used trail, not veering off-course. What had happened, then?
That strange, clinging, deep black darkness. It was creepy and out of the ordinary. And the snow. As he lay in the snow cave, it dawned on Joel that there wasn’t any glimmer of reflection from the walls protecting them from the raging storm. There should have been. But the snow cave was as deeply black as the darkness outside. That realization frightened him and he suddenly reached for his boots. Jamming his feet into them, Joel quickly tied the laces and grabbed his hat and gloves. A hand snaked out from his left and startled him. “Where are you going?” Charlie said in a low voice. “What’s wrong? You jumped up all of a sudden.”
“Just need to step outside. Check the weather.” Joel said softly.
“Not a chance. You know better than that, Joel, “said Charlie. She didn’t let go of his sleeve. “You can’t leave the cave until the storm dies down.”
Irritably, Joel jerked his sleeve out of Charlie’s grasp. “I’m just stepping out to check the weather,” he said. “I won’t let go of the cave wall.” He turned away and moved backpacks away from the door and slipped outside. Charlie watched as Joel replaced the backpacks from the outside. Her eyes filled with fear.
Crouching, Joel stepped outside of the ice cave. A natural leader, his instinct to stay close to his group and protect them warred with this suspicion that something was wrong. Squinting into the inky blackness, he was startled to see several pairs of eyes blinking back at him. The last time he had stepped outside of the ice cave, nothing was visible in the heavy darkness.
Despite his fears, Joel took a couple of cautious steps away from the ice cave and toward the pairs of eyes closest to him. Five steps from the ice cave, he glanced back to make sure he could still see where his group - his responsibility - huddled together under a dome of ice. The cave glowed dimly in the heavy dark. Looking forward again, Joel took a few more tentative steps toward those eyes, both intrigued and apprehensive. Blinking calmly, the eyes watched him.
Joel walked on toward the eyes and away from the ice cave. He felt suspended between eyes and cave, never moving further from the cave or closer to the eyes. The eyes silently urged him closer. After what felt like an eternity, Joel suddenly felt a sharp slap across his face. Eyes watering, he stumbled but caught himself before falling. Reaching up, Joel groped in the darkness hoping to find whatever had smacked him in the face. At eye level he felt a leafy branch. Feeling further along the branch, Joel worked his way to a tree trunk. He leaned against the trunk to catch his breath and rub his forehead which felt scraped from its encounter with the branch. Looking around, Joel checked to make sure he could still see both cave and eyes. With a sickening jolt, Joel realized the cave had vanished into the inky dark. Fighting down a wave of panic, he looked for the glowing pairs of eyes. Those had vanished as well. He was surrounded by the thick, impenetrable dark with only a tree trunk for company.
|Poetry: Haibun Form|
By Mary Ellen Gambutti
Rows of white folding chairs on this August lawn accommodate all that remains of his family and east-coast colleagues. It’s been years since my father and I’ve had an easy connection. Adopted infant daughter of a young military couple with no biological children, there’d be years of sacrifice, duty, transition, separation, all which played their roles in our tenuous relationship, just as the sealed secrecy of my origin.
He sold our New Jersey home in 1975. Our permanent home since 1955, we’d returned between assignments to the comfort of Nana’s world. The home my mother’s parents kept was my foundation. But he moved Mom and my dear Nana to southern California on government assignment when I was twenty-three. I’d remained local, in a troubled marriage with a baby, and my heart ached with his choice to move three-thousand miles away.
It was his heart, in the end. Mom told me not to travel west for his funeral. The ceremony for the retired Air Force officer and Permanent Deacon was held in the affluent parish where he preached and served. She’d see me at Arlington, she said and brought me the booklet and biography he’d penned in anticipation of the inevitable.
I approach my father’s gravesite at forty-eight, and look down the years of our estrangement toward his impossibly high standards, anger, adamance, absences. Against these recollections, I weigh my childhood and adolescent struggles, identity confusion, need for acceptance, my gentle yet rebellious spirit.
The caisson passes and I hold Mom’s hand in mine. Stoic, she knows the duty of an officer’s wife is to remain behind. She knows the sting of separation, resentment, devotion. My own emotion mingles with regret in tears that won’t flow. But when the salute is fired amidst these soldiers fallen by age and infirmity or carried home from foreign fields, I feel pride and humility. In time I’ll see to my mother’s burial by Dad’s side.
the gentle breeze
|Creative Non-Fiction: Vignette|
A Child’s Prayer
By Maggie Jones
The room is dark except for the shaft of light beaming from the hallway directly onto my pillow, giving me just enough light to make out the little booklet my Dad gave me a few weeks ago. I am lying on the top bunk of our bed with my soft, hand-sewn quilt pulled up to my chin. Under the quilt I am wearing the Holly Hobby nighty that my Mom picked up at a garage sale. My body feels cozy under the blanket, but my mind is racing.
I set the booklet on the little shelf my Dad made for me where I keep my special things – seashells from my California Grandma, souvenirs of my birth place, and a jewelry box. I take a bath with the seashells almost every night. I can hold my breath a long time, therefore I am part mermaid. The collection even has a real seahorse that is dried up. He gets a little soft when we are underwater pretending. I wish my Grandma found all of the seashells on the beach, but really she found them in a store. After my bath I carefully dry the seashells and place them back on my special shelf to look at. The trolley car and Golden Gate Bridge magnet are memories lost to me since I was three months old when we moved away from the Bay Area. The jewelry box plays a song that reminds me of a friend who moved away last year. I still cry when I wind it up and listen to the sweet, high-pitched notes.
My Mom and Dad have been passing the baton trying to calm my anxious mind. It’s my Dad’s turn. My little sister is sound asleep in the bunk beneath me, exhaling steadily. She is three years younger than me, and I think I’ve been jealous of her since she stole my Mom’s time. My older sister has her own room next door to us, which I’m a little jealous of too. There is a reason I can’t sleep tonight. I must make sure “He” came into my heart.
My Dad is patient with me. Explaining things much deeper than my seven-year-old mind can go, but I love him even more for taking the time. I know talking about God is the thing he loves to do most. I can tell by the way he is the last one to leave church on Sunday, the rest of us melting with hunger and irritation. I can tell by the way he prays before every meal even at the restaurant with people watching. I can tell by the way his eyes fill up with tears when he tells the waitress about Jesus. I can tell by the way he attends Bible study meetings several times a week right after work and only Mom is there to tuck us in.
“Are you sure it worked?” I ask in a whiny, sleepy voice. Dad reassures me with a memorized scripture about believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth. He ends it with a triumphant “and you will be saved!” I have said the prayer every night for the last two weeks, ever since he gave me the booklet. I have prayed it at least 10 times tonight, both out loud and silently – confessing my sins like the jealousy of my sisters.
“I don’t feel any different. How will I know He is in there?” I ask him. “Faith” he answers. He quotes another scripture about walking by faith, citing the reference as well. My Dad is so smart when it comes to God and the Bible. I like it when he talks to me about God. Not just so I can stay up later or have more of his undivided attention. I want to follow God. I want to be a good girl and love my sisters. I want to make God and my Dad happy.
Suite of Poems
By Guy Farmer
Sharing By Guy Farmer
Those who bear the burden
Of unusual courage,
Who stand in front
Of an advancing tank,
Or speak against the
Wrongs wrought by a
Who don’t follow the
Standard rules set by
Authoritarians who have
No other aim but to
Keep them compliant,
Those are the people who
Recognize the immense
Pressure the machine exerts
On them when they go
Against the grain,
Advancing an unfamiliar
Alternative that scares
Tyrants to the core:
Empathy, sharing, peace.
Never Considered By Guy Farmer
I can’t say that
I ever thought he’d
Be the same as me
But I must admit that
I never considered
The possibility that
He felt nothing inside,
An animated creature
That behaves only
According to its latest
Whim, whatever it desires
At that particular moment,
With no regard for
Anyone who might be
In the vicinity.
Indifferent By Guy Farmer
With every shingle-lifting gust,
The unwelcome wind pummels the
Humble dwelling. Inside, a small,
Elderly woman wonders how she’ll
Pay for the damage, times being
What they are. She shuffles
To the stove and turns on a burner,
Carefully setting the tea kettle on it.
Another series of indifferent blasts
Rattles the walls, nobody calls.
As Expected By Guy Farmer
It doesn’t go as expected,
Not that he had grand ideas
About how things would
Turn out, but it could
Definitely have gone
Better, now dealing with
A disconcerting sense of what
Might have been rather than
What actually resulted and
Must now be assimilated,
There being no other choice.
Plug By Guy Farmer
Willing to do anything,
Imagining Ace's impetuous manner, I swaggered into the terminal's grand Concourse Connector to access Concourse M for departure to Alpha Base on Luna. With all the security scans now behind us, confidence began surging through my new muscles. My imposter performance was working spiffy. Loitering doubts and fears about our ominous mission slipped away like Mount Etude mists. I was suddenly excited by the adventure ahead —trips to Luna and Mars as a rich, infamous, rude, crude Martian mining mogul and Starclass Trader. I strutted with a broad Ace smile through the crowded hall toward the Connector. For the first time, I felt relaxed in his skin.
Next to me, Venna glided with her usual grace and aplomb. Dagg followed us, his Psimon cowl pulled over his head, his giant gray squirrel and miniature Persian leopard at his heels. Ahead of us, streams of travelers and porter bots were scurrying toward the massive, slowly rotating Connector. I spotted a roving reporter from the Etude Examiner meandering through the crowd. The next moment, it swiveled its scanner, turned on its make-way beacon, and began to thread its way across the floor toward me.
An interview with Ace departing for the return to Mars would be a big scoop for the Examiner and my Ace voice told me to have a bit of fun and prank for the media. But I felt queasy about mustering Ace's gruff and crude yet affable way. I needed more practice before letting a reporter snake its cam into my face for close-up shots. I hurried Venna and Dagg forward a few steps so that we could walk next to a janitor bot rolling toward the Connector. I hoped it would block the nosey reporter, which for all I knew, was really an undercover cop sniffing for ambiguous behaviors and the out-of-ordinary.
Then the hall's lights seemed to hesitate and waver. The Connector groaned to a halt. A stasis siren screamed through the cavernous space. “All citizens are to stop at once,” boomed a commanding voice. “Move into a cell. Do not attempt to exit your cell until you are authorized to do so. If you comply, you will not be harmed.”
Overhead, a massive security grid began to slowly descend, its field-effect fencing snapping. “Core Control and Port Vandenberg Security command that you move into a grid cell,” the command voice boomed. “If you comply, you will not be harmed.”
Along with my companions, I moved to the nearest cell marked on the terminal's checkered floor. Children began crying. Somewhere near the edge of the grid, next to the Connector's turnstile entrance, a small group of women screamed "Why?...Why?...Leave us alone." Soon, everyone was herded into the glowing grid, hapless travelers suddenly penned in frustration and fear. My inner Ace voice blurted "This be feckin lizard dappo."
I began to reach for my comm, but checked myself when I remembered the vids of Ace fully immobilized during a stasis drill. "Stand feckin still," I heard him say somewhere in the din, "there be nodes and eyes all over this dig!" In my heavy, ostentatious Starclass Trader garb, I was beginning to sweat and tremble in a very non-Ace way. And even though I was usually unaffected by the standard stasis conditioning, my body now felt like stone. My heart was beating in overdrive and my slow mode control was slipping.
I was trapped. We were all trapped. Our urgent mission to Mars now seemed utterly unimportant. My former fears suddenly confirmed. I calculated that it would be only a few minutes before my true identity was uncovered by the Core, before we would be arrested, tormented exquisitely, and detained indefinitely.
Like my rigid body, my imagination began over-heating too. Phantasms of lurid arrest vids streamed by sparing no graphic details about police detention practices. Under the guise of "news," many vid blurts were just thinly-veiled reminders of state power and warnings about the consequences of crimes like ID fraud. Venna, Dagg, and I would be flagged by the Core as disrupters of the social order, terrorists, or traitors. There would be interrogation halos and machines of torment to drain our brains. We would be sent somewhere for solitary confinement and continuous observation. We would be discarded and reduced to social garbage to rot in a threat dump. No comms. Invisible. Maybe only Earth Core would know if we were still alive.
Who would I be then? A garrulous and crude man who looked like me but did not think like me or act like me? Or would I revert to my original persona but trapped in his alien body with his ID pin embedded forever? Or maybe become a hybrid persona? And how long could I sustain his hateful illusions and keep playing his fool?
The shimmering cell wall transfixed me. I felt like I was beginning to turn to stone. I knew that, left unchecked, the raw fear clawing up from my lizard brain would overwhelm my ability to hold control of my masquerade. Sensing my panic, Venna took my hand and Dagg spoke a very deep org word and clasped me on the shoulder. Then I linked my prodigious memory and vivid imagination in fast mode, and entered a safer and saner time and place—a shimmering fog that coalesced around the leviathan fountain at ApexU.
|Editor’s Desk: Spotlight on…|
Youth Incarceration in the U.S.
By Basha Krasnoff
According to the ACLU, on any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States. Across the country, these rates vary widely. In South Dakota which has the highest rate of youth incarcerations, it’s 493 for every 100,000. In Oregon, 279 youth are incarcerated for every 100,000 people. The lowest rates of under 75 incarcerations per 100,000 are found in smaller states like New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut. There is a wide variation when these numbers are broken down by racial and ethnic groups incarcerated, as well as the age at which the state automatically prosecutes a young person as an adult. But in every state, confining young people – cutting them off from their families, disrupting their educations, and often exposing them to further trauma and violence – harms their development and has lifelong negative consequences.
The Prison Policy Initiative reports that generally speaking, state juvenile justice systems handle cases involving defendants under the age of 18. But, this is not a hard-and-fast rule; every state makes exceptions for younger people to be prosecuted as adults in some situations or for certain offenses. Of the youths currently in juvenile facilities, more than two-thirds (69%) are 16 or older. But, more than 500 confined children are no more than 12 years old.
Black and American Indian youth are overrepresented in juvenile facilities, while white youth are underrepresented. According to the Burns Center for Justice, Fairness, and Equity, these racial disparities are particularly pronounced when it comes to Black boys and American Indian girls. While just 14% of all youth under 18 in the U.S. are Black, 43% of boys and 34% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black. And even excluding youth held in Indian country facilities, American Indians make up 3% of girls and 1.5% of boys in juvenile facilities, despite comprising less than 1% of all youth nationally.
Justice-involved youth are held in a number of different types of facilities. Some facilities look a lot like prisons, some are prisons, and others offer youths more freedom and services. For many youths, “residential placement” in juvenile facilities is virtually indistinguishable from incarceration. Most youth in juvenile facilities experience distinctly carceral conditions in facilities that are locked (89%), large (82%), and long-term (67%).
Two out of every three confined youths are held in the most restrictive facilities — in the juvenile justice system’s versions of jails and prisons, or in actual adult jails and prisons. Nearly 1 in 10 are incarcerated in adult jails and prisons, where they face greater safety risks and fewer age-appropriate services are available to them. There are at least 30,714 held in the three types of juvenile facilities that are best described as correctional facilities: (1) detention centers, (2) long-term secure facilities, and (3) reception/diagnostic centers. And 99.7% of all youth in these three types of correctional facilities are “restricted by locked doors, gates, or fences” rather than staff-secured, and 60% are in large facilities designed for more than 50 youths.
According to the National Juvenile Defender Center in D.C., the terms used in the juvenile justice system differ from those used in adult courts, but while they have distinct meanings and describe different processes, in many cases they can be thought of in parallel to each other. In the juvenile system, youth have “adjudicatory hearings” instead of “trials”; they are “adjudicated” rather than “convicted,” and found “delinquent” instead of “guilty.” Youth are given “dispositions” instead of “sentences,” and are “committed” instead of “incarcerated.” While adults and youth in adult jails and prisons are considered either “unconvicted” (or pretrial) or “convicted,” the status of youth in juvenile facilities is either “detained” or “committed.” This distinction is particularly important for this report: “detained” youth are held in juvenile facilities before their juvenile or criminal court hearings, or before decisions have been made about appropriate sanctions or placement. Committed youth have been adjudicated (convicted) and a decision has been made to transfer legal responsibility over them to the state for the period of their disposition (sentence).
To be sure, many justice-involved youths are found guilty of serious offenses and could conceivably pose a risk in the community. But a disturbing number of youths held in juvenile facilities are not even serving a sentence. More than 9,000 youths in juvenile facilities — or 1 in 5 — haven’t even been found guilty or delinquent, and are locked up awaiting trial (that is, a hearing). Another 6,500 are detained awaiting disposition (sentencing) or placement. Most detained youths are held in detention centers, but nearly 900 youths are locked in long-term secure facilities — essentially prisons — without even having been committed. Of those, only a third are accused of violent offenses.
When adults are arrested for an offense committed while a juvenile, the court venue and the overall procedural path the case takes will depend on the severity of the alleged crime, age at the time of the alleged crime, and current age.
|Creative Non-Fiction: Vignette|
Slice of Life...
When Normal Becomes Extraordinary
By Prisoner # 220.127.116.11.7
Without any warning, I was pulled from jail today. It's hard to explain, but today was a surreal experience. There was a great deal of panic when I was unsure of what was going on. The female officer transporting me eased my fears by supporting my assumption that they were taking me to get an eye exam. They shackled me and brought me to a police cruiser. I got in with a funny feeling. After three years of being incarcerated, it was my first time ever being in the back of a police car. The engine roared to life and settled to a healthy purr that brought a smile to my face. I was in a car. A real car. Never in my life have I ever felt a stronger urge to get behind the wheel.
We made our way outside the gate and the experience was made even more surreal by the officer asking me what kind of music I like. I told him alternative and he flipped to 94.7. There was so much to look at and too little time. The ride reinvigorated me. It lighted the fire inside me and made me remember just how much I fucking LOVE driving.
We reached the clinic and another smile crept across my face as we had trouble finding a place to park. Stepping out of the cruiser into a world with no fences, no razor wire, was dreamlike. I walked in a trance through the fresh air to the front doors. Entering was really something special. On this Tuesday morning, the waiting room was filled with blue haired men and women who all turned their surprised, suspicious, and slightly frightened eyes to the young man in shackles with the jet black slicked back hair.
Making it to the counter a red-haired lady tried to disguise her nervous fear with over enthusiasm as she asked for my actual name (not number!) and my date of birth. Afterward, a woman led me, with two officers in tow, through a literal maze of exam rooms. She told us to sit in one, then we were told to sit in another. A woman in her late forties came to do most of the exam while cracking jokes about anything and everything, including the other nurses. She was genuinely at ease and treated me like a human, making fun of me as I struggled to cover one eye with shackled hands.
The experience was absolutely crazy, mostly because of how much I appreciated this incredibly normal situation which most people would've considered completely boring.
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