City Scriptum

The City College of San Francisco Literary Magazine

Number 8

Published by The English Department
Edited by the students of English 14A-14B
H. Brown Miller, Instructor


Editorial Staff

Michelle Addey, Don Anderson, Teresa Conway, Kevin Craft, Tracey Faulkner, Magin Griffith, Katherine Hijar, Fred Horton, Douglas Isidro, Susan Jones, Lucy Lam, Miranda Lee, Katharine Quintana, Hieu Tran, Chris Turner, John Warner


Contents

Chop Suey--Family Argument Chinese Style, Gordon Mo
Gonna Get Me an Education, Jerry Ollison
Assassin, Jennifer Larson
To Autumn, Joseph Young
Spring, Raymond Wong
First Kiss, Diane Young
Conserver of Smiles, Natalie Henry-Berry
Strawberry Face, Miranda Lee
For John Keats, Joseph Young
Singing: The Impossibly Simple Art, John Warner
Miss Emily, Katharine Quintana
You Need Not Wings, Hieu Tran
The Enemy Within, Douglas Isidro
Our Ride: A Brief Family Portrait, Robert McAndrews
As My Eyes Close, Kevin Craft
Kaleidoscope, Gina Brososky
Don't Remember, Hieu Tran
Blue, Miranda Lee
The First Time I Saw Him, Angela Wotton
The Plate, Leonard Sanazaro

Contents of this issue copyright 1996 by City College of San Francisco;
each author retains all future publication rights for his or her work.


Chop Suey
Family Argument, Chinese Style

Low Mun-kung was lying flat on his back, drenched with sweat at the bottom of the stairwell. The honed edge of the cleaver, barely a half inch above his jugular vein, was poised to set off a gusher of blood. Old Low's left hand was gripped tightly on the handle of the cleaver as he fought for his life. "Gau mehng, help! Ho lihn ngoh, mercy, Precious Peony. Don't kill me! I won't ever gamble again," he implored.

"Precious, my foot. Gwai-ah, demon-talk, lies. Johm tauh, saat tauh, chop off your head, slash off your head!" Precious Peony screamed vehemently as she raised the cleaver for the coup de grace.

At that moment, Precious Peony's younger sister, Precious Lily, flew down the stairs and managed to restrain her sister's forearm. "Don't, Precious Peony! Don't kill Mun-kung. Remember the children," she said.

Their five children were huddled like frightened kittens on the upper landing of the stairwell. They clung to one another and watched with disbelieving eyes. With one swift chop, they could become wards of the state with a mother serving time in Camarillo State Pen for the murder of their father. "Don't, ma!" they cried in unison. "Please, pop, don't gamble anymore."

"Listen to the children, the children. Listen to reason. I swear I won't gamble again," Mun-kung said. The veins in his temples were bulging from the strain of the battle. The combined efforts of his sister-in-law and himself were barely enough to maintain a stalemate with the furious Precious Peony.

Precious Peony spat out the words, "So you are calling me crazy, huh? You cursed thing. You deserve to die, you pig!"

Like a Greek chorus, the children and Precious Lily entreated, "Don't, don't kill him. He will change. We promise you."

Precious Peony then began a dirge, a lamentation from the Chinese Opera Dream of the Red Chamber. It was both an aria of grief and a song of vengeance. She sang all the parts: first in falsetto; then in contralto. As the dirge reverberated from the bottom of the stairwell, Low Mun-kung, chin quavering and heart pounding, was prepared to meet his Maker. The last twenty hours flashed before his eyes. He was not a habitual gambler; he only gambled two to three times a year. In fact, the last time he gambled was more than a year ago. He had just finished repaying daaih goh, elder brother, the money he had borrowed for the last gambling debts. When he went to work this morning, gambling was the last thing on his mind. But Old Chin, the co-worker at the poultry store, had won $1000 at the gambling den the previous night. Imagine that, $1000, it was equivalent to five months salary; Chin was a lousy gambler at that. When he waved the $100 bills in front of Old Low's eyes, Old Low was smitten by Lady Luck.

But Old Low had two problems as a gambler: his luck was always bad, and he didn't know when to stop. Indeed, he didn't know when to hold them or when to fold them. He lost the entire month's salary that night.

Old Low was remorseful when he returned home at two in the morning. When he opened the door, he heard his wife singing the call to arms of General Guan Kung from the opera Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He cautiously climbed the stairs to their third story flat. Precious Peony began to wail uncontrollably when she saw him. As Old Low approached his wife, she lunged for his neck and choked him. They wrestled; he broke loose and ran into the dining room through the pantry and into the kitchen. She gave chase and reached into the pantry drawer for the cleaver. Old Low's eyes widened with fear; he sprinted in the hall and back into the dining room. The chase lasted for several circuits. He was lengthening the distance between them when she abruptly reversed her direction. They almost collided, but Old Low made a pirouette worthy of Rudolf Nureyev and ran away as the cleaver just missed dismembering his right ear.

He raced down the stairs with abandon; Precious Peony was breathing down his neck. She caught up to him at the bottom of the stairwell. She leaped onto his back, and they collapsed on the floor, the place where the now-resigned Low Mun-kung thought he would die. For the Chinese, to die as a soldier, one is honored; to die in an accident, one is mourned; but to be killed by one's wife, one is ridiculed for millennia. Oh, what shame for the Low clan! Low Mun-kung made one last appeal: "Ho lihn ngoh, have pity on me! Mercy, mercy. Please, Precious Peony."

"Have you ever had mercy on me with your gambling? Sei yeah, cursed thing. Where is the money for rent, for food? Now we have to crawl back to daaih goh, elder brother's house and humble ourselves again before him and plead for another loan. Oh, the shame of it all," Precious Peony said.

She momentarily lifted her left hand from Mun-kung's neck to wipe away her tears. Old Low quickly took advantage of that brief relaxation of pressure to push Precious Peony off of him. He bolted for the door and ran into the street. The cleaver whizzed past his ear and clanged, clanged, clanged harmlessly onto the cable car tracks. Just by the width of a cat's whisker did Low Mun-kung avoid being hacked to pieces and turned into Chop Suey.

- Gordon Mo


Gonna Get Me an Education

I wish I had nothing to do
But read, write, and work arithmetic.
I am gonna get me an education!
Just you wait and see.
I am gonna go to a big university,
Gonna get me a master's degree,
In business and psychology.
I am gonna get me an education!
Just you wait and see.

I am gonna improve my curriculum.
My vocabulary will be an enormous one,
And if I'm looked down on because of sin,
I can cleanse my heart within.
I won't be looked down on because I'm dumb.
I am gonna get me an education!

If I am discriminated because of pigment,
I want you to know it was God who colored me.
He made me in his likeness,
And to this we must all agree.
His best ebony he put in me.
I am gonna get me an education!
Just you wait and see.

Then I know I'll be accepted through validity,
For that great equality.
Now I know that I've found the key.
And that, my son,
Is in an education!

- Jerry Ollison


Assassin

Jorash hesitated, strung tight on the brink of indecision. His fingers twitched ever so slightly, caressing the smooth oak bow held taut beneath his steady hands, a bow that had followed him through wars, through countries, through crises, through years. He was the best, both its master and its slave, and standing there, alone in the darkness, he realized just how much weighed on this one shot. Always it was the same. He held the power of life and death in his fingers and the responsibility of its implementations on his soul. Maybe this would be the last time. After all, hadn't he done enough, seen enough...killed enough? If he stopped now, maybe, just maybe, he could learn another way. He'd lived his revenge for thirty years, every second of every day, breathing it, thinking it, tasting it. He had become revenge itself and lost the person beneath long ago.

But there were some things that you couldn't change, things better left alone. Like the arrows he let fly with such deathly precision, his choices had been made and the consequences released on their own unerring course the day he'd killed the first of his enemies. He'd watched the last of his family's murderers pour out their life's blood on the cold ground years past, but like the learning and honing of his deadly skills, the act of killing, the very way of life he'd adopted, had become a habit.

And once learned, there was no forgetting, no going back. You didn't forget how to kill. You didn't forget that final look in your victims' eyes as they realized that they were going to die. And you damn sure didn't forget the pain inside that each one of those deaths caused you. Maybe you learned to ignore it, to smother it with work, with exhaustion, with innumerable vices. Maybe you even learned to live with it by making yourself so cold, so hardened, so cut off from your own feelings that it didn't rub your soul raw every waking moment of your entire life. But there was absolutely no way, no way you were ever going to forget.

He rested the bow lightly against his jaw, the smooth grain of the oak cool against his heated skin. It sang to his thoughts and he felt its desire matched by his own. It held no moral dilemmas, no compunctions of what it was about. It had one task, one purpose. It rested sure in the knowledge that, once released, its work was well done, and done well. So deceptively simple. Beautiful. A worthy foe. He loved it and hated it with all the passion in his soul. He'd mastered it like a lady of breeding, and could release its promise with a touch. And he'd become a slave to its demanding hunger. Now he felt that restless energy, that need for release, and it was nearly as great as his own.

With haunted eyes, he raised his sight to mark the target before him. A king to some, an enemy to others. Insignificant so far as he was concerned. Merely another shot, another body falling beneath a black shaft flecked with the colors of death. He never stayed to watch. He knew what death looked like, saw it every day in the mirror. If the bow beneath his fingers was his mistress, Death was his true master. And he obeyed. He watched with death's eyes as the figure below him seemed to move in slow motion, a being out of time, never sensing that its life was measured in heartbeats rather years.

One breath. The air seemed to freeze about Jorash's perceptions, dimming his vision until all he saw was the shimmering haze of the target below. Blood sang through his veins and throbbed behind his temples: heat, cold, an immeasurable lengthening of his awareness until all his senses sharpened to a razor's edge. The power he held threatened to overwhelm him, washing over him in ever-growing waves of urgency. It always came upon him like this, the blood-lust in those final seconds, washing away his compassion and reason until the killer remained. But it was enough.

He sensed rather than felt the moment when his fingers gave way to the inevitable. A single twitch and he released the death of a king, the fall of an empire, the beginning of a war, and the destruction of a family. He watched with detachment as events unfolded around him, overwhelmed with the rush of the pent-up hunger within himself. And, as always, he never saw the end. Except in his haunted dreams. He strung the bow over his shoulder, a reflex action, and turned away. For now he could close his eyes, try to escape. Put it all behind him. But he would be back, his Master informed him in no uncertain terms. He was the best after all. And he had no choice but to obey.

- Jennifer Larson


To Autumn

Just after she goes to sleep, when her breathing falls and
deepens, I watch her lying, a sickle shape beneath the blanket.
I watch her, the rising of her breasts, and smell ripe apples
in the sun. I look into her eyes, and though they are closed,
I see the silver twilight and hear the freshening breeze. I
see the cup beneath her nose and taste the warm clouds of air
passing over the meadow. Below, in her belly, I sense the latent
life, and the pumpkins, yellow or orange, are fed by the green
vine. And listening, just beneath her breath, I hear the rushing
of the swallows as they take to the air in the early evening.

- Joseph Young


Spring

He struggled out of the shell, giving it
A cracked-leather dry surface.
Green and lean on the soil,
His body swirled in the air,
Right upward
Towards the sun. Each minute
Unveiled its new yellow tops,
Bits of white
Like beans and sand
Strewn along each arm and thigh.
It was the millionth transformation
Which was wished to come.
The stars had mocked him,
Quivering like a little insect
Trapped in a spider web.
A brainless hard nut ran away
Overnight
Discovered itself becoming a plant.
When the time had come, the skin
Burst open and cracked.
No pain or pulling,
Yanking or bumping.
He erupted his rice into the breeze,
White, silvery
Light and wavy.
He heard the shouting of farmers,
Delighted
That he had brought harvest, joy
To the people who once gave him
His life.

- Raymond Wong


First Kiss

I was first kissed in autumn just after I turned fifteen. It was the season of the Santa Anas. Usually the smog from the L.A. basin hugged the mountains in a sickening haze as deep as clinical depression. But when the strong hot desert winds blew, we were freed to see the mountains, our sanctuary unimpaired by the effects of mankind's obvious industry. So very tall and alarmingly close was this earth's crust, turned up into peaks cresting the sky and listing in the wonder-blue heavens. It was the manic season when the Santa Anas arrived.

The Santa Ana winds wove enchantment into the late Indian summer. It was an interlude uncommon in the dung of mundane matters. In that everyday way, the kids in my neighborhood engaged in empty exchanges of pretended passion. I refrained from the pattern of random, easy experimentation. Already, I was labeled the "shyest girl in town." That didn't matter much to me. It was just one more definition need had created. I defined myself in my own terms. I had already learned I did not need to compromise. What I would have, I would have according to my own disorderly priorities.

Having a boyfriend wasn't much of a priority. It didn't seem like much of a possibility anyway, given my obvious eccentricities of dress and expression. So walking down the street one Santa Ana afternoon, I didn't take much notice when Alan Romdall fell into step with me.

Alan was older by a couple of years. He was tall and thin with hair just how I liked it--nonexistent; I guess you would call him a skinhead by today's standards. He had blue eyes, and maybe he was somewhat good looking with that crooked grin of his. When he smiled at me that afternoon, he was definitely cute. We walked a little ways and he stopped.

When he stopped, I think he grabbed my arm or maybe even my shoulder. "Hey, wait up," he said. I was startled, and "Huh?" was all I could manage. "Listen, I wanna talk to you. C'mon over here, O.K.?"

"Yeah, O.K.," I said, even though I was hesitant. He led. I followed, and we sat down under an old tree. I could sense tension. It was uncomfortable, so I fiddled with a branch, "What now?" I thought.

Alan was thinking, too, and after considerable delay, he faced me. "Look," he began, "it's like this--I want you to have this, uh--" From his pocket came a ring. It was gold, heavy, and old looking. "Wha--" was all I could say before he interrupted. "I want you to be my girlfriend; this ring is for you." I was not prepared for this request. It came from nowhere I'd ever been, but I was flattered. I felt a rush of flushed pleasure. It touched me, this moment of guy-girlness. Before I answered, he pressed the ring into my hand and closed my fingers around it. "Take it," was whispered close to my ear.

Maybe he was just too close, because I jumped upright and stood for a long mute moment. Alan stood now, too. I had to ask, "Why do you want me to have this ring?" My questions tumbled out, almost tripping the tongue that pronounced them.

Even as I spoke, he stared at me steadfastly and said so simply, "I like you; you have a great sense of humor." When I heard that, I fell for him. I was certain that he was someone who saw me for who I actually was.

I didn't say how I felt right then because Alan had taken my hand, and we started to walk down the street again. I clutched the ring in my hand where he had placed it.

I was more aware of the ring, still clenched in my hand, than the direction we walked or the growing lateness of the day. After a short while, I turned to him and said, "I gotta go; it'll be dinner time soon, an', my mom--"

"It's all right. Go on home," he said. He gave me a slight hug and continued, "I'll see ya tomorrow, after school, O.K.?" With that, he winked and strolled off down the street.

I went the other way towards home, feeling like there was a bowling ball rolling over and over in my mind. As I got close to home, I slipped the ring into my pocket. No need to borrow trouble with this new development.

I maintained edgy normalcy, tense, in secrecy, for I had decided that, in this instance, silence might be more golden than this ring. But at night, in my room, I took the ring out and examined it closely. Fourteen karats and much too big for my finger it was, so I took yarn and wrapped it round and round till the ring was snug on my finger. Then I examined it further, this heavy band wrapped round and round with my hopes as well. Trying it on first my right and then my left hand, I pretended it meant forever. I believed it meant love. And when my fantasies had spun themselves exhausted in my mind, I put the ring on another piece of yarn and placed it around my neck inside my pajamas. With the ring secreted in that manner, I fell to sleep's images.

I awoke with a sense of excitement. I felt to see if the ring was still there. When I was reassured by its solid weight, I hurried to get ready for school. It was a morning beyond beautiful. The clarity of the air transcended the sweet freshness which follows each rain. It seemed a prefect day, shimmering with radiance and my expectations. The very atmosphere had a quality which caused the sun's light to reflect brilliantly on every surface. Yet, I was preoccupied walking to school. The ring on my right finger added a weight of maturity to my sense of self. I felt the authenticity of its implication throughout my school day.

I ran most of the way home from school. Alan was waiting for me. When he saw me, he whisked me off to his house. He led me around to the side yard, out of sight from the street.

In that secluded spot I knew what would transpire. I was filled with wildness, raw as the hot desert wind. Bold and uninhibited, my generational urges surged into a conscious state.

Desire mixed with apprehension, and I became timid. Expectancy strained my nervous edges, and all I could do was talk in a frenzied manner. I talked about my day, the day and the way the ring felt. I talked so much, but nothing could fill up the silence coming from Alan. He talked interrupted, "I'm gonna kiss you now." That shut me up! I felt like running away. I wasn't ready for this, but--swoop--he was holding me and our lips collided. I didn't know what to do or what to expect. He asked me if his mouth tasted of cigarettes. I couldn't say. I didn't know what to feel or even what I was feeling. The sense of being so intimate overwhelmed my perceptions. We were interrupted by my brother calling me in to dinner.

I broke away and ran blindly towards home. I was so caught up in what had just happened that I ran straight into a garbage can. The edge of the can was jagged and stuck out from the body of the can. I hit it full force and the sharp edge cut long and deep into my leg. The hasty gash was all my mom saw when I entered the house. I explained the mishap and doctored myself in the bathroom. It was a ragged, deep wound and it hurt like hell, but I was glad it was there because it prevented my parents from seeing Alan's ring. I was not sure how things would go if my parents knew I had a boyfriend, but there were indications this would not be considered great news. So I put up with the tedium of dinner and made excuses, past homework, so I could go to my room. And I stayed there the rest of the evening thinking about the impressions that lips can make.

Those impressions lasted until the following afternoon when Alan asked for his ring back. I was in real shock now. I didn't even ask him why--I just gave it to him and hastened away. Home was no solace, but it was a place to, so I went there.

It was business as usual that night at dinner, or so I thought. But my older brother kept eyeing me in a strange manner. It was weird, but I was too unhappy to think much about it. "What happened to Alan?" he asked with a smirk. I looked at him in disbelief: bad had just gotten worse. "Yeah, what happened to yer boyfriend?" he continued. Now the dinner table was silent; everyone focused their attention on me. Before I could respond he laughed and said too loudly, "You were a five dollar bet." I was inflamed; I knew this was bad.

"What do you mean?" I demanded.

"Yeah, we all bet five dollars he couldn't kiss; he won big time. He got thirty-five dollars on that one!" As my brother said this, he was laughing really hard, as if it was the best joke ever.

And while he laughed, the weight of his words brought me to despair's door. And despair I did. I held out for something special, something meaningful, and in the end it played out like betrayal.

- Diane Young

Diane Young was awarded the Burt Miller Memorial Scholarship for Spring 1995, partially on the merit of her story "First Kiss."


Conserver of Smiles

I was undoubtedly born with this stern-looking face that has always been asked to smile. As a child, just sitting on the front porch listening to music, or heading to the corner store for penny candy, some person, usually admiring me for one reason or another, would say, "Smile."

I was not mad nor sad, just kind of being me. I did not keep a constant smile in place for all the world to see, even though I was just as happy as any other child.

During my childhood many things delighted me, like the Big Dipper Roller Coaster on the boardwalk at the beach, a game of kickball with neighborhood pals, or a funny episode of Tom and Jerry cartoons. I would surely smile and laugh at these with every inch of my mouth.

At my Grandmother's home last summer, looking through old photographs of ancestors, I saw pictures of great uncles and aunts who were surely posing for the picture taken, but without a single trace of delight. By seeing these old photos, I have learned that my rare need to smile is surely an inheritance. While I am generally feeling great and in a happy state of mind, it is still not my smile time.

Now in my midlife this solemn look has become some sort of a defense mechanism. In crowds I am never bothered by people because I am perceived to be angry when actually I am usually enjoying myself.

Only the bravest of souls will attempt to penetrate my unfriendly-looking barrier, and when they do, they find that I am just as nice as the next girl, whose face is always bubbly with invitation.

I have now learned to live with this unfriendly look of disconcert. Those who know me well are aware that the way I look is not at all the way I act. My interior thoughts are like those of most humans, happy when there is happiness and sad when there is sadness. But my exterior remains the same until there is one of those special moments to make me smile.

- Natalie Henry-Berry


Strawberry Face

Oh strawberry face
With your well-pressed place
Do you still fear
Empty and hollow?

Has the grayness cleared
With your head held here
Or have the worms
Already swallowed?

- Miranda Lee


For John Keats

This meadow buzzes with gnats and flies
Supine in the zenith of the narcotic sun,
But all these lindens and all the love
Is only the swelling of darkness undone.

- Joseph Young


Singing:
The Impossibly Simple Art

It's taken me a good ten years of studying voice to realize how simple and easy singing is. With this revelation, and a fair amount of practice, I hope to get it right--before too long.

Now, you may be wondering why something so simple has taken me so long to figure out. Well, the fact, is it is simple--if you're a baby, or a lion, or a puppy, but for a bright, educated, mature adult, such as myself, it is the most difficult simplicity I've ever tried to master.

I say singing is simple because it requires breathing and little else. And is there anything more simple and natural than breathing? No, if you're a baby, a lion, or a puppy. However, without proper breathing and breath control, the best singing cannot be attained; the voice is a wind instrument, and without plenty of air being pushed through it, it won't sound too good.

I finally realized, after a number of years (and obscene amounts of money) that my voice teacher wasn't teaching me anything on the order of advanced calculus, but was helping me to unlearn the bad breathing habits I'd been practicing ever since my mother first told me to stop crying when I was three years old. Very few of us breathe correctly, and you can even go as far as to say singers are professional breathers.

If you can learn to breathe correctly and naturally, singing will be a snap. It`s only taken me ten years. So if you begin now, you'll be on your way to becoming a fine and successful singer.

I would like to pass on some tips to get you started. You may want to begin by sitting or standing straight, for this helps keep the breath mechanism open and connected and puts the proper muscles in position to support the air. Besides, if you're going to spend so much time and money learning to sing, you may as well look good doing it.

Breathing uses the entire body apparatus, so when you breathe, breathe slowly, expanding the entire area below the rib cage. You're not breathing into the stomach but rather expanding the muscles so that air can reach the deepest part of the lungs. This will feel strange and unnatural. Only after the diaphragm and intercostal muscles are strengthened will this begin to feel more comfortable. Practice will be required, quite possibly for many years, but don't feel discouraged; the time will go by very quickly. We have to remember that most of us fall back into bad breathing habits and that the discipline of practice will eventually get us in the habit of proper breathing.

Once you've learned how to breathe again, we can move on to the more technical aspects of singing. This isn't as bad as it sounds. These, too, are something very simple--even more simple than breathing, and the number of years it took me to master them was considerably fewer than the years it took me learning to breathe.

If the torso is the breathing apparatus, the head is the resonance chamber. The throat, the mouth, and the sinus cavities are the parts of this chamber. This is where the tone starts from.

Relaxing the face, particularly the jaw, is the key to producing a pleasant tone. This seemingly simple task can be more difficult than you may realize, considering the stressful world we live in. Yoga, vitamin B12, meditation--or medication, Prozac, for example--are all recommended as an adjunct to voice lessons. These will not only relax the jaw but will relieve you of some of the anxiety associated with the expense of these lessons.

While working on keeping your jaw relaxed, you can practice placement of tone. Singers often speak of "singing from the mask." This is a visualization of the area behind the nose and eyes. You can begin practicing this type of placement by putting the sound at the rear of the upper palate, in the area known as the soft palate. We can find this by producing the "ng" sound (as in "singing"), which is voiced at the soft palate. Doing this will put the tone right where it belongs, and, with lots of practice. . . . Well, you get the drift.

Good, pure vowel sounds are also important to good singing. Without proper vowels, we can lose our breath support and placement. A good exercise you can use would be to sing the word "hung," adding vowels, e.g., hungee, hungaa, hungoo; this puts the tone in its proper place while practicing your vowels.

Correct breathing, proper placement, and producing good, pure vowel sounds are the most basic steps of vocal technique. They are the absolute minimum required to produce the type of disciplined singing necessary for a career in vocal music performance.

Of course, I say it's simple. And thinking of it, intellectually, it is. But changing a lifetime of bad habits can be extremely challenging and daunting. So just practice. Practice, practice, practice. And the illumination of simplicity will one day shine on you.

- John Warner


Miss Emily

Miss Emily, oh, Miss Emily,
Your Triumphs may inspire--
All your words and phrases
Make the fireplace take fire.

Oh, Miss Dickinson,
You laid your heart bare,
And among the rest of us
There's no one to compare.

Miss Emily, oh, Miss Emily,
Your soul is wasted not--
Will always be remembered
For all your careful thought.

Oh, Miss Dickinson,
Your views of Nature be
So unlike us commoners,
You teach us how to see.

Miss Emily, oh, Miss Emily,
Your Life in hiding True
But stirs our minds to wonder--
Doors tight--so no one knew.

Oh, Miss Dickinson,
Your lessons find us Whole,
Teach us Forever--
Awake our sleeping Soul.

- Katherine Quintana


You Need Not Wings

If you do truly wish for flight,
To hang by wings and touch each star
That brightly slips through grasps of night,
Then look for wings not here but far.

Since I have neither means nor mind
To forge the plumes to take you high,
I, as the fool, shall try to find
A way to bring to you the sky.

- Hieu Tran


The Enemy Within

"Truly, is this the land of liberty?" I ask myself. Growing up in the deep South was difficult for a nine-year-old Asian kid. In my hometown, most people were white, and although many of them were hospitable, there were some that I could not conceive of as being part of the human race.

Coming home from elementary school one day, I passed by a rally for Vietnam veterans, when suddenly a man who looked shabby, dressed in army fatigues and holding in his hands an American flag, stepped in front of me and said, "Hey chink, you and your country suck!"

At nine years of age I did not know much, but I did know that what spewed out of his mouth was pure, undiluted hatred and ignorance. As I walked away, a tear rolled from my eye, caused by the pain and sorrow that pierced like a jagged arrow.

I knew that the person who had said this to me didn't realize that I was an American, a Japanese American, yet a full-blooded American no less than he was. Nor did he realize that my father had contributed his sweat, blood, and spirit, as well as his family, to this country. My father, who represented all that was American, gave twenty-three years of his life to the United States Navy and had fought side-by-side with other American troops in Vietnam. My father was an all-American hero to me and to my family but to no one else.

At the time, I just wanted to make that bastard feel the pain that was imbedded in my father's yearning soul and the horror my mother had endured when she witnessed the atomic devastation of the beloved city of her origin--the sweet honeysuckle countryside of Hiroshima prefecture.

I came home that day weeping enormously from the experience with that man. As I stood there in our meager home, watching my mother and father from a distance as they went about their daily chores, I knew they deserved a better life than the one this world spat out and gave them--all broken promised and shattered dreams.

My parents deserved what was still beyond humanity's ability to give them. Although they did not have much, my love for them was boundless. They had done so much for me. Damn it, if only there was some way to make the sun shine on their faces again. If only....

I can remember Mom working so hard at her job, slaving so tirelessly, trying to obey the rules of American society, but all she got in return were derogatory statements like "Jap" and "slant eyes." "How is that supposed to make her feel?" I wondered. It must have made her feel as if she were two inches tall and made of nothingness. I felt her die a thousand deaths every time an ignorant fool killed her with racist remarks.

This, among various other reasons, pointed my anger against white people. In my eyes, "whites" were eternal enemies, nothing more. I carried this hatred throughout my adolescent years, and when I reached adulthood, I joined many radical Asian groups. Our job was to destroy the white race, which for us was the same as the Klu Klux Klan. But my life was about to change in an eye blink. The bitterness I had for white people would suddenly leave my being.

I was on a bus packed with people, minding my own business, when all of a sudden an elderly Black woman called me a "Chinaman." I could not believe a Black woman had said this to me. The countenance on my face changed, and I was unable to utter a word. It was as if that ghoulish spirit of the past that had torn my soul apart had come to haunt me once again.

When I stepped off the bus, I thought seriously about what had happened to me. I had once thought that all white people and only white people were racist, but my view was proven wrong on that bus. I found out that it doesn't matter what color a person is--racism comes in many shades. I should have realized this a long time before, but I was blinded by my own ignorance, an ignorance that had evolved into something vile.

If only I had listened to my brother Donny. Before he was brutally murdered, he told me never to hate anyone just because of skin color. Now I know the truth; it took me a long time to realize that the enemy I was fighting could also be within me.

- Douglas Isidro


Our Ride: A Brief Family Portrait

The subway car, blackened with age, heaved itself through the damp, hot tunnel, screeching, roaring, and shuddering as its speed varied. Those rides always made me cry. The crowded, stale air and noise, relentlessly pressed my six-year-old's feelings into an agitated fear. Because of the dirt, I was never allowed to clamber to my knees and grip the windowsill for a glimpse at the fragments of the world that would sometimes flicker by. The local, city-bound train was of a prewar variety, caked with soot and grime of countless commutes.

Mother was elegant, sitting on the edge of the by now antique wicker seat in her soft wool suit, pale green and in the style of Jackie Kennedy, and it fit her well. She'd saved long for the outfit and worked on herself, sometimes for hours it seemed, pressing it and grooming herself and me before putting it on for these excursions, her neatly bound auburn hair shined beneath its pillbox. She held my hand as I cried from the din and heat. In her other hand was a small, thin scrapbook filled with three pictures and letters from the boy who oddly looked like her.

She placed a photo, apparently her favorite, one of the boy with a kitten on his shoulder, back into the book as we finally got off the train.

I felt relief as the bright hot day eclipsed the gloom of the tunnels as we climbed the steel steps and headed toward the dwarfing columns of the courthouse and its surrounding steps. Mother tightened her grip on my small hand as we joined the stream of stern-faced people lined up at one of the mahogany revolving doors that would sweep us inside.

People stood everywhere or else rushed all different ways, all looking serious or some even angry. There were many policemen, boots, badges and holsters, all shining. There seemed to be too many tall men in too many black suits carrying too many black briefcases. Mother half-dragged me by my elbow up one immense staircase that half-circled the granite main hall to our now familiar courtroom.

In this room, we'd invariably wait, often till lunch, then back from lunch and beyond. Mother would read and reread the letters from her scrapbook or just finger-trace the pictures of the boy that looked like her. I'd draw or color or just stare at the walls.

The room was heavy with the dark wood of its furniture and walls, its wide banister gleaming. The sun shone through tall multi-paned windows. All around me were the hushed or whispered tones of adult language that I mostly didn't get: talk of divorce, of custody, of separation, of dissolution. Talk, it seemed to me, of pain, sadness, and grief.

Suddenly, Mother shoved the letter from the boy who looked like her back into its book and stood after her name was called. She stood before the towering desk from which the judge's voice boomed, her manicured fingers rested lightly on the thick railing.

I couldn't see Mother's face, but as the judge spoke, her strong posture seemed to almost frown, as though his sentences, one by one, took something from inside her.

Previously, there'd always be an agreement on an upcoming date, and sometimes someone would say the name of an aunt or cousin and they'd be there in the court the next time. This, the judge said, would be our last visit. Today a decision was to be made.

The adult language continued, the judge's voice thick but without emotion. Words seemed to blow at Mother like a storm's wind; each gust causing her to tighten her grip on the rail before her as she swayed.

As the judge gaveled for his next bluster, Mother turned my way, looking defeated. She limped back to our seats, dangling the scrapbook at her side. A photo of the boy that looked like her edged out one corner; a Cub Scout salute became a one handed dive to the marble floor.

Later, exiting that huge hall, I saw that the slouch that Mother had had developed into more of a lean, her hand on my shoulder, her head angled, wet eyes towards the floor. A deep stammer echoed from her chest. As we stepped down into the tunnels that took us home, it was clear that her elegance had gone, her neat suit stained and wrinkled, the toll of her loss of that day, the darkening below her grey eyes becoming a stream down one cheek and plastering a few loose hairs in eyeliner and tear.

The ride home, the noise, the crowd, the stifling air, had no effect on me as they had no place in Mother's tears. She needed me there, my small hands holding and as comforting as a child's can be, or a son's.

Over the last many years, the boy who looks like her would come into conversations punctuated by tears, by sadness, and finally by comfort.

Mother almost died last year, but she and God weren't ready to meet. He took most of her. He left her heart, her hand, her eyes. It sometimes scares me how I miss the melody of her voice. Still, I can hear that melody when she touches me with her hand or her eyes.

I often fear, too, that I have lost my voice when I speak to her and can only hope that she finds the melody in my eyes--and in my heart.

- Robert McAndrews


As My Eyes Close

Into an inward existence I travel
Where the fears of the subconscious unravel
In a surreal land where truth is God
Unpredictable scape where none is odd

As my eyes close

The mind permeates the shallow existence of sight
Images so true, it infects mind with fright
Far be it for me to observe the truth in reality
Save the time at night when third eye starts to see

As my eyes close

My material habitat has gone away
In subconscious revelations my mind does play
As I beautifully exist from one story to the next
A glorious feeling when mind is at rest

As my eyes close

Sight not come from eyes but from mind
An outside observer would fancy you blind
But inside, a wealth of self for you to find
Engaged in close encounters of the infinite kind

As my eyes close

Now ordained with sleep blessed with blissful slumber
Permeating energy as mind begins to wonder
I truly obtain peace when slowly I doze
Communion with God as my eyes close

- Kevin Craft


Kaleidoscope

I rock quietly, tightly hugging my stuffed "potbelly" teddy bear while peering at Dad's old possessions through his favorite dented kaleidoscope. Don Quixote stands unwavering, proud, and honest, with his impierceable shield. He blindly fights the windmill. As I fade in and out of daydreams I am carried to the warm cocoon of my childhood when I felt as brave . . .

Me and dad walk slowly, drinking in the fall air. We share the glow of the sun and our love as our footsteps crackle in time with one another. Dad tightly clutches the leash, dragged forward while Teddy strains. Dad unhooks the leash, showing his mismatched socks under his black polyester pants. His turquoise shirt strains at his potbelly and his horned-rimmed glasses slide down his nose. Teddy runs maniacally around and around the perimeter of the field. The only sound permeating the air is the dull thud of the ball hitting the gloves and the periodic groans from Dad, as if his hand is breaking from the strength of my throws. Teddy's white paws are a blur, and his sleek tan coat blends in with the ground. The circumference that separates encloses. Suddenly, head pushed forward, front legs clipping the back ones, he gallops straight toward me. Paralyzed, eyes bulging, red hair flaming, my heart pounds, sweat drips, and I drop my glove. One false move will flatten me. I glance toward Dad and he smiles. Teddy's 110-pound body comes barreling at me. I stand proudly, head held high and firmly hold my ground. Just inches away, he swerves to the right and continues without slowing. I take a deep breath, lock eyes with Dad, and we embrace the moment.

The kaleidoscope shifts focus to the carefully carved abacus that counts away the time with unsynchronized rhythm, then slides to the old worn books. History decorating the walls. They lean, holding each other up, interdependent, interwoven biographies, poetry, and children's books.

The circle turns and spotlights another memory. Dad rocks his cracked, black rocking chair, eyes closed, gradually falling asleep as he listens to blaring Berlitz Hebrew. Dad snores so loud that he wakes himself up with a start. He swivels his head around to see what woke him and sheepishly grins as he realizes it was himself. He mumbles a few words of Hebrew with the tape and falls back to sleep.

Gina rocks her little red rocking chair across from him, reading, and gradually falls asleep. She dreams and she jumps awake. She glances around to see what woke her and laughs when she realizes it was herself. Dad opens one eye, winks at her and goes back to "resting" his eyes. Periodically, Dad wakes up, snaps his fingers to some unknown tune, blows a smacking kiss and calls out "Sweetie Pie" to Gina. He must have done this ten or twenty times today. She is embarrassed but awkwardly blows kisses back.

Suddenly, Teddy Bear pushes open the double doors that separate them. He whips his tail around as books and glasses crash down. She feels pulled by the blustering whirlwind, the strewn objects and Dad's orderly book collection placed at the far wall. She feels split between the two worlds and searches for a place to fit in. She finds herself crossing over to the middle and sits balanced in her bright red rocking chair. It feels just right! Everything has changed.

As the circle is almost completed, I rest my eyes, mumbling Hebrew and rocking my old red rocking chair. I am starkly aware of my shift to peace. No longer am I blindly colliding into my obstacles. I am content to let Don Quixote conquer the windmill. I sit without panic and let the abacus count the time. I gain knowledge as an observer rather than a doer. The kaleidoscope is uncontrollable, ever-changing, full of surprises. You can never guess the effect of each subtle and great movement. It always surprises the orchestra.

Click.

- Gina Brozosky


Don't Remember

Don't forget that we've already shared goodbyes,
To never know our days of yonder.
Little memories like smolder may arise
To irk the closing eyes to ponder.
Know that dreams deceive, and even fool the wise,
But from the truth they help us wander.

Do recall that we've agreed to feign the past
As how we'd muse a lush December.
If you wish to keep our memory to last,
A futile, final, fading ember,
Don't forget that since our truth has never passed,
Our truthful days you can't remember.

- Hieu Tran


Blue

Drops of blue
Slide down into
This stream of mine
And share your hue

Show the true
Nuggeted view
Shine with pure brine
In joy and rue

Wave the smooth
Stones of the dew
Welcome the fine
Particles new

- Miranda Lee


The First Time I Saw Him

The first time I saw him, he came walking out of a bar, pushing the door open like it was a swinging shutter door of a saloon. I imagined him just having downed a shot of whiskey, slamming the shot glass hard on the worn wooden counter of the bar and pushing himself off of his elbows to stride out the door to meet whatever lay in wait for him.

He looked lean and strong like a cowboy misplaced in time as he walked over and saddled his motorcycle up. He roared off on his machine, and I could almost see the clouds of dust, kicked up by his horse's hooves, swirl up into the air behind him as he galloped off and disappeared.

I knew that he hadn't seen me, and later, when chance blew him into my life like a tornado from his home state of Kentucky, I still never told him. I liked that feeling of watching him that night as though I were invisible, my own secret glimpse of him allowing me to make up stories of him being from another time.

He was one-quarter Indian from his father's side. That, and being from Kentucky, were the two things he stood up for with a fierce pride. He hated the misconceptions people on the west coast seemed to have of his home state; nothing would get his blood fired up faster than an over-used, hick-related Kentucky joke, especially if he had had some whiskey. He said that whiskey made Indians crazy because their bodies couldn't process the alcohol, that it went straight to their heads. So it was with him, Damon.

That's when he'd tell me stories of how, being part Indian, he and his cousins would drink lots of whiskey and get wild. Get crazy and wreak havoc. Stories of police chases, barroom brawls, nights spent in jail. I could see him, too, racing down some back road, his cousins urging him on as they all leaned forward, staring at the path in the dark cut by the headlights and the eerie mingling of muted blues against the trees from the police car chasing them. Taking another drink because it felt good, they liked the feeling of fear and excitement intermingled as one.

He left those days behind in Kentucky when he moved to California. He said he could have stayed there and died or left and try to make things work for him away from old habits. But you can't change what's in your blood.

I could see that wildness in him, though, saw it that first night he came out of the bar. It was like I could look in his eyes sometimes and see the path that traveled straight down through his body, aching to expand and bust out red hot. He'd get disgusted sometimes with himself for letting the mellowness of California take hold of him, lying apathetic over him like a blanket, and that's when he'd tell me those stories of his old days, as though he could recapture those reckless feelings again. But he never could. His eyes would shine as he talked about his home and his family, and he would just end up feeling sad and missing everyone and everything that was a part of him.

He told me a lot about his grandfather. How he would drive his Harley right up his front steps and into his living room. How he would challenge Damon to foot races across an open field. His grandfather, in his sixties, and racing his grandson barefoot in the grass and beating him every time. He'd tell me about spending his Saturdays growing up, working on his grandparents' farm, proud when he was told he'd done a good job. The big meals his grandmother would cook for everyone working on those days. She running around worried that her boys weren't getting enough mashed potatoes or her green beans.

He told me about growing up in Kentucky. Of how he and his cousins would go frog hunting in the night. They'd walk through the woods near his house when the sky was its blackest, penetrating the woods so that the only light would be from the hazy beams of their flashlights, jumping crazily around their sneakered feet as it attempted to guide them over fallen trees and the undergrowth carpeting the floor of the woods down to the pond.

They would go there in July when the nights were hot and all the stars in the world seemed to gather together over those woods and that pond and Damon and his cousins. They'd get to the pond and whisper to each other and try to be quiet as they took off their shorts and sneakers, feeling the grass that had willingly released the sun's heat of the day to the darkness of the night reach up between their toes, cool and soft, tickling the bottoms of their sweaty feet. He said that the trees of those woods were so tall and thick that the humidity built up during the day would be trapped in there, lying dormant in the black air so that when they'd emerge from the woods into the clearing by the pond the air felt fresh and cool on their skin.

Before stepping into the water they would set the cooler down and take some beers out to drink to make room for the frogs they hoped to catch. The sound of crickets would be strong, intermingled with the occasional croaking of frogs. I could see him stepping into the pond as he told me the story. Feel the silt layering the pond's bottom brush through my toes like velvet and swirl around in the warm water above my feet. Feel the water drown the heat of the day, cool the sunburn on my body. They would step slowly deeper into the pond, not wanting to disturb those creatures they came to get.

The silence and the waiting would excite them, each one wanting to better the other by being the first to seduce a frog to swim to the surface with the golden beam of their flashlights in the murky water. Two eyes appearing, unblinking, shining demonic as they caught and radiated from the light, and wham! Down would come the sticks that had been hovering in the air above, gripped tightly by sure hands. Catch of the night. That's the part I didn't like. Seeing Damon and his cousins standing in the once-still water, beating a frog with their sticks, making sharp slap-slapping noises against the water. As though they had disrupted the peacefulness of those woods and the pond that they loved making their midnight treks to.

He said more than a few times that he'd be a happy man if he could just ride motorcycles, drink whiskey and listen to music. And then he'd look at me, the right side of his mouth pulling back slowly into a half-smile and add, "And get some love from my Mama." Mama. That's what he called me. Ever since the beginning of us. Ever since the first night we met, and I gave him a ride in my car, as he said goodbye to me, he'd put his hand on my back. I swear I could feel the tips of his fingers touch the nape of my neck and his palm at the end of my spine. Maybe he thought of the name for me at that moment, although I don't remember when or how it got started, only that it seemed that he had called me that from the first time I had met him, as though we had been introduced to each other as "This is Damon," and "This is Mama." It just flowed smooth and natural from him and it made me smile each time I heard him speak it. It got so that after a while, he'd call me by my real name now and again, and it would feel wrong, as if we were two strangers or that I was a child who had done something wrong.

Once when we were lying together warm and close he looked into me and pierced me by saying he loved me. I took those words, born from the feelings that caused them to be spoken, and swallowed them like a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. I could feel the meaning of those words flow like something sweet and smooth into my heart, each beat filling it more and more until I thought my soul ready to take flight. Such feelings I had never experienced before.

We fantasized abut taking road trips together, of dropping everything and taking off to someplace hot where we could feel the sand warm our bodies and relax at night with soft breezes. He talked of moving, moving on, I thought, and I would cling to those moments of happiness with him, when I wanted that feeling at that moment to last forever and ever, but yet I knew I could never have it all. Sometimes he'd ask me if I would want to move to Austin or Chicago or Hawaii with him and I'd just smile back at him and wish too.

One morning we awoke and there lay something between us that I tried to push away, but it remained, getting larger and more confusing and scarier. I could see it in his eyes, too. Distance. He didn't really say much, just that he "had a lot on his mind," and I waited, thinking of who he was and who he wanted to be, and I realized the possibility of having to let him go. Let him move on to his freedom. He reminded me of a caged animal that is hungry to be released and have his freedom to explore, and I thought if I let Damon go, then I'd be letting my fear go, too, fear of not being with him, this man who shone in my heart like the full moon that steadily comes through my window and still shines on me now lying in my bed.

Hemingway once wrote, "...if you have ever really loved her happy and untragic, she loves you always; no matter whom she loves nor where she goes she loves you more." So I gave him what I saw fading in his eyes and know to be true what Hemingway also believed.

- Angela Wotton


The Plate

In the memory of Burt Miller,
City College of San Francisco

Belonging to a dead teacher, mentor,
came to me by way of a friend.

Made by a student for him, in gratitude.

Earthenware, Adam & Eve
beneath the Tree of Knowledge.

Hand-wheeled, two-toned brown,
lighter & darker, the scene appears permanent,
drawn under a thin layer of glassy water.

Early Minoan, small-groined,
triangular, his profiled head turned arch
& wide-eyed, hair rising,
right arm lowered,

holding himself back,

left arm crooked at the elbow,
hand spread reaching to halter.

The Serpent, wound,
jagged-toothed, three times about the Tree
spreading its leaves & rich fruit above them,

faces her,
its lips puckered to kiss,
skinny forked tongue shot
out.

Her brown-dot nipples,
brown round belly heavy
over spread thighs,

right hand dropped
behind her
raising a stone,

left arm cocked, hand spread
to slap--

Long-haired & wild,

she is beaked & hard &
ready to strike.

- Leonard Sanazaro