ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Scott Broker

On Caracas, and Driving
Through There One Last Time

by Scott Broker

My mother first tells me to play dead on a beach near Caracas. I am crying, or have worried her by crawling off toward the surf while she napped, and she is leaning close so the words make an impression. “Play dead,” she says.

Or maybe we are in La Palma, Panama. I am crying, or have accidentally scratched her face with a poorly-cut fingernail, and she is leaning over and saying, “Play dead” with a voice stripped of inflection. Who knows if I register the command; I am not yet walking, let alone converting her intonation, gesture, and language into a singular message. Who knows if we are even in La Palma, Panama.

We might be in Ventura, California, or Sausalito, or maybe even Florence, which is up north in Oregon. This is the first year of my life: a listless drift up the Americas, nights spent on beaches or near beaches, my mother calling me barnacle baby for the way that I cling to her. In photo albums, we are sunburnt, occasionally smiling, and wrapped in the arms of various men and women. When I see them—often tattooed, muscled, and beaming—I wonder if my mother told them she loved them, that she would choose this beach over any other for the rest of her life, that they could be a new family: the mother, the seafarer, the barnacle baby. How often did they say I love you, too? And how frequently was I in the room while they made love?

I am crying. I am worrying my mother. I am scratching her face with a nail that she herself cut poorly. I am soiling my diaper, reminding her of my father, waking up too early, or interrupting her sandy and salted sex with tears. I am too small, too needy, too vulnerable in a world that spins with so much flying shrapnel.

She is saying, Play dead, barnacle baby. You’re clinging too hard right now. I need a minute, or ten, to let myself believe that I don’t need to be here for you.

My mother is a good person. She commands me to play dead with love. I know that it begins somewhere in her coastal movement, though, because her mind turns on her when it is too warm, too loud, or too crowded. In the first year, I am crying, the beaches are pulsing with sunlight, and the locals are flocking around her, wrapping their arms around her shoulders and asking for pictures. She is saying “Play dead” to me at least once, but possibly more. It might be a weekly plea, a daily one.

I do not resent her for this.

By the time we settle in West Seattle, I know the command and I know it well. When I am seven, she is dating Richie and telling me to play dead whenever they want a night out and can’t find a sitter.

“He can just play dead,” she says, pulling Richie toward the door. “He’s king of the house. Right, honey? Now go play dead.”

My mother tucks against Richie’s neck whenever he laughs. He laughs, now, and she moves her way in, glancing at me beneath narrowed lids.

“A night in is just as fun,” he says, throwing himself against the denim couch. “Be revived!” he shouts to me. I am standing in the corner, goggles still strapped to my forehead from our afternoon at the pool.

“Yes, yes,” my mother says, jumping over the couch and standing on its cushions. “Let the boy live!” she yells, lifting her arms from her sides and up toward the ceiling. Her voice is tuned to an unfamiliar pitch and she rubs her hand against her neck when she settles beside Richie. “Welcome back to the land of the living.”

My body sways above stationed feet. I am not sure if I should be laughing, playing dead despite Richie’s resurrection, or doing something else entirely.

“It’s bedtime,” my mother says, pointing a skinny finger at me.

The two tuck me in together and then have sex in the living room. My mother pounds her fists against the couch. When Richie shushes her, she pretends to restrain gasps and moans but manages to let them escape like unwieldy phantoms. She is doing this for me, casting her shouts like small rocks. She knows that there are multiple ways to break down a door, to let me know that I do not have the power to take away her life.

“Come on, Sarah,” Richie whispers.

“Why is everything always about him?” she says, locking herself in the bathroom while he speaks from the other side of the door.

We are here for years. Richie moves in. The denim couch is replaced by a leather one, which stays cooler in the summer. My mother buys a sunhat, then cries when Richie makes a joke about Seattle’s weather. We cover the refrigerator with drawings I’ve done in art class. Richie says I have potential and frames one of them for my 8th birthday. We spend weekends sitting on the beach. The way that the sound is divided up by land makes for relatively calm water. My mother says she loves this. Other times she says she hates this.

When Richie leaves her, my mother sleeps in my room for almost six months. She says that she can’t sleep without hearing someone else’s breath, that Richie stained her walls grey with his smoking and his bad energy. I am in the 5th grade. I lie still every night while she cries or wraps her arms around my stomach, asking what she would possibly do without me, without my love. For those months, I don’t have friends over and don’t ask to stay elsewhere. I want to be simple and non-burdening. I lie still. I play dead.

Then, it’s April. My mother is drinking tequila in the kitchen with Sally, who she has been sleeping with most nights of the week. Sally works at Swedish Medical Center, which is near the university where my mother is an administrative assistant. Though she is an RN, Sally says that the patients have been depressing her lately. A new job might be on the horizon. Sally does not shush my mother when they have sex in the living room, shower, or bedroom.

“You’ve got a special sort of lady here,” she says, handing me a bowl of cowboy chili.

My mother moves behind me and hugs my head. “He already knows that,” she says, kissing the top of my head. “And I’ve got a special sort of boy.”

During dinner, my mother tells Sally that we haven’t eaten anything but Hamburger Helper since Richie left. This chili reminds her of home, of California, of times that were better than then. My mother is lying, of course—she has made her way through two cookbooks with skill and innovation—but I assume that this is one of her soft lies.

When they are drunk, later, Sally says, “Fuck that Richie guy.”

My mother stands, meeting their foreheads above the coffee table. “Yeah, fuck him.”

I am supposed to be scooping us bowls of ice cream but am unable to move. When my arm relaxes, the bowl drops from my hand.

“What are you doing?” my mother yells, running into the kitchen and kneeling beside the bits of porcelain. “Out of the kitchen,” she says. “Out, out, out.”

“I can clean it.”

“Just go to your room. I don’t want to see you right now.”

I lie still. I try to sleep. My mother and Sally have sex in the kitchen. Sally yells, “Fuck that Richie guy” again. It is late. My mother bursts into my room and pulls the framed drawing from my wall. (Tomorrow, I will find it cast off into the backyard, the drawings from the refrigerator pressed down in the trash and covered in ground beef. My mother will say, “I’m sorry, baby. He had to go, though. He’s been dragging us down all year. Now get me some soda at the store. My stomach is in shambles.”) The drawing is of a shark swimming toward a pair of unsuspecting legs. Around both, scrawls of blue.

Spring passes damply. I try playing soccer in the yard but it is too sodden, soaking my shoes and socks. I go to the beach, chasing the ball across the pebbled expanse, but the sand kicks up and clings to my body. I try to shake it from my pants until my face is overwhelmed by heat, made red and tearful. A girl who lives down the street comes over and asks why I am crying. I tell her that I don’t know. I don’t. These days, I am surprised by what makes me cry. Sand, sandwiches wrapped in newspaper scraps, movie nights with my mother. It does not help that the sky is a mess of grey, unbroken by sunlight for weeks at a time. Sally says that there is a correlation between sun deprivation and emergencies in the hospital. I think of this often.

Sally is gone by summer. My mother says we’re better off without her, that she was fattening us up with all of her carb-heavy meals. She doesn’t sleep in my room, doesn’t say she’d be nowhere without me or my love. We are swimming in Lake Washington daily, even though there are rumors of sewage runoff and long-dead bodies recently surfaced. My mother says that swimming reminds her of Venezuela, Panama, or California, depending on the day. When she starts a conversation with the lifeguard—a younger black man with yellow sunglasses and perfect teeth—she shoos me off with a hand. I go to our towel and imagine starting my own conversation with someone on this beach. I could tell my mother to shoo, too. I could tell her that it’s about time that she play dead.

My life is not replete, but then it isn’t destitute either. I play soccer. I play basketball. I have friends who I call best friends. I know my way around Seattle’s downtown, am able to go there alone if I am willing to ferry over in the morning so I’m back before dark. In class, I get good grades. I like to read, but not as much as some of the other students. I don’t have a bike or an Xbox but I do have a skateboard and a PS2. My mother trusts me. My mother cries at my 6th grade graduation because she is proud. I am not embarrassed by this. Other parents are crying, too.

My mother is quiet for a few years. She does not date, does not sit in the living room crying or suggesting that we just up and leave, visit all of the national parks or make a reverse trip down the coast. At meals, she asks about my days and then nods. If I ask about hers, she keeps nodding. I spend more time with my friends because her quiet makes me anxious. My mother is not usually so resigned. She likes to shout and sing and dance when certain songs come on our radio. On weekends, now, she stays in bed most of the day. Occasionally, I catch her in there during the week, too, having skipped out on work.

“Did you work today?” I ask.

“Can you get me some soda?”

In the summer before high school, she begins to stand more often.

“I miss being young,” she says, putting her hands on her hips and scowling at me. “You’ve got a lot of luck right now. You can sneak out, drink, smoke pot, and no one will bat an eye because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Do you realize how good you’ve got it?”

She begins to sneak out, to drink and smoke pot as though there were anyone trying to prevent it. One night, someone knocks on the door at 2 AM. When I open it, a bearded man has my mother caught in his arms as though he has just saved her from some catastrophe.

“You know this lady?” he asks. “This your mom?”

I let him into the house, showing him where he can put her down.

“What happened?”

“She was dancing on the pool table down at Frank’s,” the man says, running his hands through his beard. “Fell off, but should be fine. It took her half an hour to tell me your address. Didn’t even say that she had a kid here.”

My mother stretches her limbs outward and blinks slowly at both of us. “Oh, sweetie,” she says, “I just wanted some fun. You know how I’ve been missing fun. You have all the luck.”

The man looks at me with a face that bleeds apology. He will go to his friends later and say that this lady took 30 minutes to remember her own home, that she forgot that she even had a kid there at all. I want to break the expression from his face. He gives a weak smile and then turns toward the door. “I’m sorry,” he says.

When he gets down to the driveway and into his car, I almost chase after him. I want to tell him about my mother’s soft lies. Didn’t he know that someone could say something and mean something else? Wasn’t he aware that she could say that she was childless and still have me here? That you could be contradictory without being a hypocrite?

My mother sleeps on the couch. I sleep on the floor beside her. In the morning, she helps me register for my 9th grade classes and asks if I’d like to take a drive down the coast.

We no longer cling together like we used to. I know that the barnacle baby is the one she wants to leave behind, the one that she likes to pretend never came at all. I lay low, driving only when she wants me to drive. She sings loud, dons a cowboy hat that she picked up in Redding, and tells me about how each place we go has changed over the last 14 years. She tries not to bring up Richie or Sally but their words still emerge, drifting through the car before pulling out the open windows. The other lovers hang around, too, joining in the backseat and telling stories through my mother’s mouth, stories that try to push me away or bring me in.

I am no longer crying. I do not need my mother like I once did. She still worries about me but is less strained by her own concern. She does not mind that I wander Little Italy while she sits at the wharf, nor is she bothered when I come back. In motels, we speak during commercial breaks and when the light is switched off but we aren’t yet sleeping.

When we reach Ventura, my mother sprawls out on the beach and says she wishes we had more time. “Imagine if we could make it all the way to Caracas. You could see the place that you were born.” She grabs handfuls of sand and lets it loose across her forehead. “Imagine how strange it would be, you seeing where your whole life began.”

I am wrapped around myself, trying to keep the evening’s cool from infiltrating my light jacket. She wants me to speak, to indicate that my life has been worth her journey from there to here. I say nothing, though, watching the sunlight spread like broken yolk across the riptide. We do not need to reach Caracas to ask ourselves these questions.

My mother yawns and then grabs my hand. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here. You know that, right? You know that I wouldn’t give you up for the world? You’re my best friend—the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Seagulls sweep across the sky. People build bonfires and uncork wine bottles just north of us. I take my shoes off and pour the accumulated sand from them. Had it been so long since we’d last been here? Was this not the same sand reshaped? the same water stirred?

“I know,” I say, even though I don’t. My mother means it and she doesn’t. She is telling a soft lie to keep from breaking our hearts.

I lie back, shading my eyes against the sun. My mother starts to speak but doesn’t. Then she lets my hand drop back into the sand.

“I’m going to dip my feet,” she says, standing and running toward the water. She could stay out there for hours, kicking at the waves and letting her legs go numb against the Pacific. She could wander toward the others and tell them that she had been here once, childless and happy. They might be laughing, drinking, glancing occasionally to where I am. My mother might confess my presence, or she might keep me tucked away, if only through sunset. Play dead, barnacle baby. This is my life without you.

But then she will come back. We will go to the boardwalk for fried pickles and ice cream. She will say she’s forgotten so much and nothing, too. The garbage in the sand, the color of the sunset. When we pass by other people, we will both imagine how we could vanish ourselves to them, to one another. It will be a twilight reverie, a daydream both feared and desired. When we return to the car, tired and together, we will be reminded that there is more than one way to say I love you. Night will come quickly—a wave that fails to break, spilling outward instead—and we will drive north again.


About the Author:
Scott Broker is a writer originally from Colorado living now in Seattle, WA. His work has appeared or is soon forthcoming in Sonora Review, Entropy, American Chordata, Barrelhouse Blog, and Driftwood Press, among others. He holds a BA in English and Philosophy from Seattle University, where he edited the annual journal, Fragments. He can be found at http://www.scottjbroker.com

About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Max Oliver Delsohn

Blessed in His Deed

Nonfiction by Max Oliver Delsohn

PART I

I am sitting in the bath when I receive my name. With palms upturned I raise and lower my hips, up and down, letting the water move over me in waves. I mouth it to myself, a silent chant. Max. Max.

This feels better than the lazy derivatives of Emma I thought I’d have to use when I was younger. I’d secretly post poems online as the mysterious and potentially British Edward Foxworthy, until Twilight ruined the name for all of us. After that, I tried Emmet, only to discover later that he is also a character in Twilight. I decided a name that invokes images of Mormon vampires is not going to aid me in living my truth.

Still, somehow, it struck me. Max, a name to stretch from boy to girl. A name for someone in a suit, in a dress, with body hair or a clean shave, with boobs, with a beard, with a vagina that feels more like a dick. A label to defend against all labels. Max.

After some time I get out of the bath and look at myself in the mirror. My body is delicate. I’ve been an A cup since seventh grade, I’ve broken each wrist twice, and I have never successfully completed more than one push-up. To make up for my tiny stature, I have a thick mass of curly brown hair at least twice the size of my head. I drench it in detangler as water drips down my back. I take all of it in, my angular face, my curves, my dark body hair. I regard it with a vague affection, a distant curiosity.

My roommates aren’t home, so I walk naked across the living room and through my bedroom door, slipping under the covers and opening my laptop. With no underwear to fumble with, all I have to do is type ‘porn hub gay’ into the search bar and I am good to go. As an old favorite involving a gardener with a leafblower loads on screen, I reach my hand under the covers. My mind is blank except for Max, repeating steadily and reaching everywhere. It is a meditation. Max. Max.

The gardener has only just turned on his leaf blower when I notice I have three missed calls from my youngest sister, Maddie. She’s calling to say my grandmother has died. The service is in two weeks.


PART II

The only time to tell them was the funeral. Two weeks later I am on a plane home with my other sister, Hannah, discussing strategies for how to break the new name to my parents. I would be in California for three days-- getting in on Monday afternoon, and leaving Thursday morning. Hannah and I agree I should tell them both on Wednesday, the day after the service, once everyone has had a night to process.

 “Mom wants to ride those four-person bikes in Santa Barbara,” Hannah tells me. “Do something as a family.”

“Yeah…” I mutter back, unfolding my tray table so I can rest my face in my hands. I think of our traditional Santa Barbara daycation, the surrey bike’s slow meander on the concrete track along the beach, shouting at each other to pull our respective weight, in pursuit of the tiny ice cream shop at the far end of the dock. I imagine my mother stuttering as she calls out for her daughter Emma, only to remember, Max. I cringe.

 “Do you think she’s gonna freak out?” I ask half-heartedly.

Hannah thinks before she answers. “No. No, I don’t think she’s gonna freak out. It’s not like you’re going full FTM.”

“But I MIGHT go full FTM.”

“Don’t bring that up now,” Hannah warns, with a seriously alarmed look.

“I know,” I sigh. “I wouldn’t,”

“You may need to explain it for a while, like. She isn’t going to get it.”

“I don’t need her to get it,” I tell Hannah as I fold my tray table back up and press myself moodily back into my chair. “I just need her to know.”


PART III

My father picks Hannah and I up from the airport. He fills us in on the death of my grandma, the state of my mother. It was sudden. My grandmother died in the hospital after a seemingly-successful surgery, as my mother raced down the interstate as soon as the doctor called to report the complications. She was one hour into the three hour drive when the doctor called again.

We’ve been warned to expect anything between a chaste sadness and total hysteria, so my sister and I step cautiouslyinto the kitchen of our childhood home. My mother sits at the table, composed, but wobbles as she rises to greet us, her face stained with tears, the skin around her eyes dark with exhaustion. We hug stiffly, our custom. The brim of my baseball cap nearly collides with her forehead, but I weave just in time.

“How’s it going?” I ask tentatively, softening my tone.

“Okay, you know? Okay,” my mother says. She smiles at me, eyes wet.

My father excuses himself to pick up Maddie from school, as Hannah and I settle in around the table. The first time in over a year. The ghost of how I used to move, the rise and fall of our voices together, it scares me. Is this my body? How did I do this before?

My mother begins listing all confirmed attendees to the funeral. My mother is one of eight children. She names her cousins, my cousins, the children of my cousins. I recognize almost none of them. My mother is thrilled they’re all making a point to be there.

“Joyce and Sheryl are flying in,” she continues, eyeing me expectantly. In an attempt to placate her lesbian daughter, my mother used to temper unintended expressions of disgust towards my sexuality with the quick name-dropping of two delightful older lesbians she grew up with, friends of my grandmother named Joyce and Sheryl. My mother always made a point to tell me how my grandmother ‘never had a problem’ with Joyce and Sheryl, and she didn’t, either.

“Oh, cool. I’ve never met Joyce and Sheryl,” I remind her, trying not to engage.

“Sheryl’s a sweetheart. And you’ll love Joyce-- Oh, shoot, I mean Josh. Josh and Sheryl. Right.”

My eyes narrow as Hannah’s widen.

“Joyce is Josh now,” my mother says simply. I look over at Hannah, who is laughing.

“Well THAT’S ironic,” Hannah blurts out, before immediately throwing her hand over her mouth.

“What are you talking about?” my mother asks. It’s the voice that she uses when someone’s about to be grounded. Neither of us respond. I scratch the back of my neck even though there is no itch.

“What, are you changing your name now, too?”

She stares at me, incredulous. “Thanks Hannah,” I mutter.

“I am so, so sorry dude.”

I did not actually come out as a lesbian to my mother. Instead, I was caught violently kissing my best friend in ninth grade. We were surrounded by textbooks and tried to plead studying, but the door was shut and the lights were off and dry-humping isn’t subtle. So, any conversation of this kind had never happened before. My scalp feels hot beneath the hat. Beneath it, I can feel my hair bunching. Is this a woman’s hair?

“I was going to tell you after the funeral…” I start, but am abruptly cut off.

“I support you,” she responds immediately, leaning in on her elbows like a teenage girl, listening for a secret. “So what’s the name?”

“What?”

“You do what makes you happy. Now tell me what’s the name!”

“Max…” the name falls out of my mouth, limp and ugly. “I just want to be called Max.”

“I support you, Max,” my mother says, eyes wet again. She seems… sincere. I glance over at Hannah, who shrugs.

“Now we HAVE to go shopping for the funeral,” my mother says, apparently satisfied with my twenty second explanation for abandoning the name she gave me at birth. “A simple black dress should be fine.”


PART IV

Once Maddie gets home we all pile into the car, my mother, sisters and I, on our way to Pegasus, a clothing store in a strip mall just five minutes from our house. It is one small room of suburban pre-teen chic, with cheap dangling jewelry on a revolving rack, amidst neat stacks of overpriced skinny jeans and flowing sheer blouses. We could be in my 7th grade crush’s closet. I furrow my eyebrows and attempt to focus on the task at hand. Hannah and Maddie are in their element, darting in different directions, grabbing several dresses at once off the shelves.

Though aggressively grossed out by them as a child, I grew to appreciate dresses in my adult life. I wore them on dates, to college parties, the occasional foray into the mystical, confusing world of femininity. Sometimes, the dresses felt like a costume, and I was just a drag queen with a deeply unfair advantage. Other times, I felt pretty, and I felt like me.

And then, for no specific reason at all, I quit shaving my legs. I started exclusively wearing boxy shirts, and bought myself a binder; the countless Victoria’s Secret thongs I had accumulated over the years were replaced by novelty boxers I purchased in bulk over the Internet. Whether my feminine side was authentic or a two-decade long, private joke, the sparkle had faded.     

Regardless, the point was I had worn dresses before, and I had liked it.

Right?

I locate the Pegasus sale section and grab the blandest black dress I can find. Shuffling off to a changing room, I throw the thing over my body without removing my jeans. I’ve stopped wearing bras, too, so I stare at myself in the dress and try to imagine what it will look like once I squeeze into that old push-up bra buried deep in the garage.         

As far as dresses go, this one is modest, this should be manageable, this would have been acceptable funeral attire a year ago. But now I cannot recognize my reflection. I can’t tell if my skin is burning. I cannot shake the nausea, the thought that I am fundamentally mismatched, a collection of all the wrong clothes and body parts.

Maddie peeks in to look at the dress. “It looks so good, Emma.”

“Does that work?” I hear my mother yell from the opposite side of Pegasus.

I look myself over once again, and swallow hard. “Tell her this will work,” I whisper back to Maddie.

On the car ride home, I briefly explain to Maddie that I’m now going by Max. ‘So are you a boy?’ No. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m genderfluid. ‘What is genderfluid?” It’s supposed to be everything, boy and girl. It’s both and neither at once.

“I don’t think that’s a thing,” Maddie decides.

"Emma? I mean Max?" my mom interrupts as she checks her rearview mirror. She is wearing her sunglasses, so I cannot see her eyes.

"Will you shave your legs tomorrow?"

Nobody speaks. My mother clears her throat. Then, after a moment, “It’s what grandma would have wanted.”


PART V

As my father and I approach the massive Spanish Renaissance style church towering above the thick morning fog, the goosebumps on my bare limbs rise. I stare down at my cold and furry knees. I had agreed to the dress, but couldn’t erase all the hard work I had done for the past six months growing some legitimate leg hair. I try not to think about the gawking from my devoutly Catholic extended family. For the first time since I was 11, I wish that I were blonde.

I slide myself into the mass of people gathering outside the church entrance, hoping to avoid as many relatives as I can. My aunt Lily and her husband, Greg, an aging one-hit-wonder from the seventies, spot me from across the foyer and rush over to me with a box of yellow flowers. “Hi Emma,” they both say hastily with a quick hug. Lily puts one hand on my shoulder and pushes the box towards me with the other. “Give these to guests when they come in, sweetie.”

I am handing out daffodils to some teenaged cousins when my mom whirls by, beaming as if a celebrity has just walked into the funeral. My first thought is Josh and Sheryl. I feel myself blushing.

“Harry’s going to perform Amazing Grace after the Eucharist,” my mom tells me, then lightly jogs towards another aunt looking lost on her way to the bathroom. I don’t get a chance to ask if Josh and Sheryl have arrived, or if musical performances are typical of funerals-- and in that moment, I realize, I’ve never been to a funeral before. This is the first person I’ve truly known to have died.

My grandmother and I were not close. The peak of our relationship came in the form of an impromptu wine-drinking contest on Christmas Eve last year. It was my grandmother’s idea, so of course I accepted, only to learn later my mother had secretly been serving her non-alcoholic wine since 2011. Needless to say, I lost that drinking contest.

Aside from that, my time with my grandmother was made up of passing hellos and goodbyes, small talk at family gathering, and the occasional command for me to ‘brush my damn hair once in awhile.’ I couldn’t call her a mentor, but my grandmother was honest, blunt in the disarming, good-natured sort of way. I wanted to be like that, too. And that was something.

The door to the church finally opens. The organ begins to play as I follow my mother down the aisle. Eyes are on us and with each step something wooden inside is hacked up and splintering. An enlarged photograph of my grandmother’s face just a few years before she died sits in a large frame on the church stage. Some people in the pews turn to look as we walk by, but I recognize none as Josh and Sheryl, and I hate myself for looking, I hate all of us for looking. We stop to file into our pew, in the center of everyone, and suddenly I am crying, willing myself anywhere else and out of this dress, out of clothes and names and history. I try to redirect my thoughts to my grandmother, to mourning, but there is only shame, and then rage, a deafening rage at myself and at my mother and at the whole concept of a funeral, the way it mocks the specificity of pain.

And then I am really crying, sobs loud and unapologetic. My skin is burning and my dress is wrong and my body is wrong and they’re all making me selfish, this solemn audience, and in front of all these people it’s the only thing I can feel. No one expects this from me, and I sense more relatives ogling, fascinated with the depth of my grief. Aunt Lily pats me on the back when I sit down, but I keep crying throughout the ceremony, all the way until Greg finally gets up on stage to perform his rendition of the classic, Amazing Grace.

It is at this point I am getting myself together, and maybe about to laugh, when I notice my mother has made her way next to me in the pew, has rearranged with my sisters so she can hold my hand. Before pulling away from a long, stiff hug, my mother squeezes my arm and whispers, “I know, I know. I miss her, too.”


PART VI

On the first anniversary of my grandmother’s death I call my mother. She is driving home from the cemetery to meet with my father and Maddiefor breakfast. Her voice is slow and sad, but somehow peaceful, still full of love. Our conversation is brief, cordial and kind. She doesn’t stutter when she says my name. She hasn’t stuttered in months.

A year later, too, in the mirror.  My hair’s gone. That glorious dragging of soft, dead weight. I loved it for being beautiful, to her, to her, toyou. I loved it because my mother and her mother told me to brush it out, to press my curls flat, but I refused. It was my first, sweet rebellion, with so little at stake.

Hair grows other places now. Legs, arms, and it’s still growing. The only skin I ever shave is my face, expectant with each new needle in my thigh, wondering how my body will interpret the testosterone this week. I regard each change with a vague affection, a distant curiosity.

Boy, girl, boy, girl. These lenses wash over me with each new mirror. Photographs, store windows, still water. Remember, imagine, remember... Emma, Max, Max.

And each time, the compulsion returns, desperate for meaning, for knowing: Is there truth in this body? Truth in this fat distribution, in this tone of voice, in this name? I come in the tradition of women, and I leave--

I leave.


About the Author:
Max Oliver Delsohn is a transgender writer living in Seattle, Washington. He has been published in Fragments Literary Magazine and has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Seattle University. He currently works at Hugo House, a Seattle non-profit for writers.

About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Remi Recchia

Your Dress Like Kerosene

I gave you the wrong directions
to my house,
my mouth.
I lay on the floor in the dark,
silencing the shutters.
Your headlights killed my
hydrangeas, melting
in the night,
and left my driveway to its peace.

The moon shuddered slowly
on its way to Zion,
sprouting tightropes from its roots
down to my chimney,
filling the soot with silver roses.
I laughed and my tongue
turned sour.
I laughed and my jaw unhinged,
became a beak,
became a hook.
It scooped up dried blood oaths
from your skin,
your lost corduroy pockets.

 

Strands of Hair, Tempest

I looked for feet I could breathe in
while you said you were running
on empty like your grandfather’s
lost car stuck on the road
outside of my left kitchen window.

I forgot to feed the birds,
I forgot to check the mail,

[there’s just nothing there]

I remembered to call you,
but didn’t. 

Your suitcase packed itself
slowly, a defunct assembly line
bruising oranges and swallowing
hairclips.
Two door springs caught your perfume,
smoked, on the way out.

I hid your spare key on top of the roof
to tempt the moon back in for dinner.
She stood me up,
I sat down and wrote my own newspapers,
the print died under florescence,
the paper burned,
I laid down on the floor,
a yellow chalk outline.


About the Author:
Remi Recchia is an emerging poet concerned with the moon, authenticity, and breaking the rules. He has been published in The Birds We Piled Loosely, The Blotter, The Laureate, and The Poems That Ate Our Ears and has a forthcoming piece in Glass: A Journal of Poetry. He will begin his MFA in Creative Writing Program at Bowling Green State University in Fall 2016.

About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Taneum Bambrick

Biological Control Task 


Jim & I were taking lunch, sharing a crumpled
bag of goldfish below the dam
when we met Bill & Mike. 

They rolled down a window, pulled up
next to our truck & strained
their necks—looking over me
—to introduce themselves to Jim. 

They have the same face when I remember them. 
Two guns propped between seats, 
smell from the old engine. 

Tarp over a load in the bed. 
What’ve you got? Jim asked. 

They stepped out, undid a rope. 
Something soft hit
dirt on the opposite side of the truck. 

You might not wanna look. Bill glanced at me, 
slid the tarp off. The mound there
was grey & white at first I thought
dirty laundry. 

At least eighty seagulls just dead, 
ropes of blood at the chests. Shot so
their shoulders folded apart
like wet book covers. 

To protect salmon. 

Doesn’t make sense, but it’s not bad
getting paid to hunt. 


Mike motioned to a trash bag on the pile. 
Show them our girl. 

Bill drew it down, ripped the knot, lifted
an adult heron with a hole blown
out the chest. 

He held both webbed feet. 
You could look through her body. 

We found her in the road. Hit
by a hatchery cannon. 


The bird seemed frozen, 
wrongly intact—gold eyes cranked
open, neck coiled tight over her slaty back. 

When I cried it made them comfortable like I could be
a daughter, wife or something they knew how to see. 
Hands on my back. 

What’s the matter, Mike asked. Didn’t you care
about the gulls or were they too ugly?


About the Author:
Taneum Bambrick is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Arizona where she received the Academy of American Poets Prize. She recently interned at Copper Canyon Press, and currently serves as an Associate Editor for Narrative Magazine. Her work appears in The Nashville Review, New Delta Review, and Cloud Rodeo. She writes poems and essays on her experiences working around the reservoirs of two massive dams.

About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Andrew McKernan

Halloween. Trick --

Nate put a blow pop in my pocket.   I wasn’t looking.   Picture
the little piece of gum crystallized in its center, so pure, untouched
at least for months.    Tight.   Failed attempts to get the wrapper
off. He grimaces when I bite.   Says his bruises are from soccer.

More than our bodies between us, more girth and heft.   He was.  Barely
fit, ego to match. Some guys know what they want.    Sleep later.   Or rest
legs on shoulders, scruff patterns against my body.   The beginning
such a careful time.   Score the cardboard first.   It folds cleaner.

 

Let Us Race to be the First to Discover Flaws in One Another

Our romantic comedies stretch through 15-second YouTube
commercials -- excuse me, sponsored content -- and I
have Actors Guild membership from starring
in so many. Here is my quick draw: not his voice, or his
face, or the small tuft of fat around his waist. Faster.
Not passivity, or alacrity, his unironic way of saying
“bitch,” his racist posters of the Chief. Veto. Not this one’s
lack of love, not those protestations of affection, not his
texts too much, texts too little (texts misusing your).
Not broken English. Not replies with rote answers
not hours of ellipsis over careful texts ending
in a verbiose “ha ha.” Nein. It only hurts when you think
Maybe this time. Just like Liza Minnelli. Maybe he’ll
e special. Maybe he’ll prove you have a soul. Maybe


About the Author:
Andrew McKernan holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire, where he was fiction editor of the literary journal, Barnstorm. His poetry and prose have appeared in Ninth Letter, Blunderbuss, Juked, Gabby, and other journals. He lives in Chicago and wants to be your friend; find him on Twitter @andrewmckernan.

About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Robin Wyatt Dunn

Anne Sippi

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

The Anne Sippi clinic is in El Sereno in east Los Angeles, a quiet middle class neighborhood, where crazy people can come to live.

Crazy is not the PC term, of course, but still appropriate, even more if we were Japanese, in their reverence for broken things. Crazy comes from Old Norse ‘to shatter,’ after all.

The Japanese put gold at the broken places; and so it is in Los Angeles, our golden sunlight the balm still sought by so many thousands year after year, a pyramid scheme and a hustle but still also a genuine shelter, from the world.

I have the only single room, because I am not staying long. Every day the other residents stop by to tell me that they have been looking at the room, and will soon get it.

Thompson observes in Fear and Loathing that 1970 or so was the high water mark in the social and drugs revolution, where the tide broke, leaving us detritus on the beach. Los Angeles serves a similar fate, this bastion of the American Dream sublimed into our lust for fame and madness, but tempered by the Spanish culture of the city, excluded for long enough by a racist America that its values have nothing much to do with Hollywood and its empire and so are immune to its diseases.

This is why Anne Sippi is a strong place, nestled in what some would term “a bad area” but which is just a family neighborhood, with a quiet corner store that doesn’t mind serving the crazies, come down for their cigarettes.

Unlike so many nuthouses in America, Anne Sippi has open doors:  you can wander off whenever you feel like it. Get drunk, get high, come back, sober up, as you like. Though most of the residents stay on the grounds talking to themselves.

Like so many medical establishments, mental health was hit hard by the Reagan era and the following drive to get rich from medicine. So, one of the ways you can tell whether the quality of the care you will receive in a nuthouse is how run-down the place looks. If it looks bad, it’s a good place. If it looks polished, it will be a living hell.

Anne Sippi doesn’t look bad, just tired. Which is okay: we’re tired here.

I talk with the psychotherapist once a week there, and unlike other shrinks, whose chief concerns in my experience are either to a) sell more drugs or b) convince you that you’re sick, he only wants to listen, and to encourage me to get well, however I am able. A man with common sense, like Bernie Sanders, tragic because the personality type now seems so alien in the American landscape.

We line up quietly at night for our medicines but no one chases us down; no one, as I have seen happen elsewhere, is ejected to be homeless when they refuse to swallow.

Our doors are not locked.

I have had my car returned and am able to drive it on the freeways of Los Angeles, looking for work. I listen to the radio.

Most are “hard luck” cases, taken in here because no one else would have them. People too stubborn to quit, too much their own thing, too weird, too obstreperous, too loud, too creative, too ugly, old and poor, too happy, too jokey, too young, too everything, now rounded up in our few dozen bodies, and deposited with quiet ceremony to live as we like.

Most too are “lifers,” on disability, unlikely to live independently some would say, but many of them remain ambitious in that way, slowly winding their way through the corridors of the system, remaining interested in their treatment—that crucial ingredient which can only happen when you are free to choose your own health.

Force is anathema to healing.

This American legacy, of force, hovers over everything we do. I am glad there are still some places to escape it.

In many ways Anne Sippi epitomizes my experience of Los Angeles; the only city I have ever visited which withholds judgment.

Los Angeles is not sure about it yet. Not sure about you yet. You may be okay.

Yes, you will do crazy things. Run down the street naked if you like. I have. We are not surprised. Sometimes people do funny things. Los Angeles is prepared.

The heat too is crucial in the psychology of Los Angeles;  often too hot to think, we can sit silently in meditation. There is no need to be angry; we can seek stillness in whatever form most pleases us:  Buddhist meditation, beer and weed, a walk in the park, barbeques in the public parks, overflowing with bodies, calm and contained, mad inside, with some knowledge I am unable to capture.

Of course it is a sad place in a number of ways; these are hard luck cases. It is not easy to be hard luck. We can not blame each other for demanding why these afflictions came; we can only wait for the shouting to quiet, for them to come around to a state of mind where they can find their own answers.

Medicine is poorly understood. It is not chemical. It is social. It makes more sense to me than ever that “witch doctors” sang to the sick, especially the mad.

A song says: you are here, and so am I. This is a story I am telling you. I hope it makes you feel better.


About the Author:
Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in Los Angeles.

About the Series:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Douglas Ray

The Art Teacher

After Robert Bliss’s Boy at the Barn (1964)

Robert Bliss painted Boston
Brahmin boys, his students

at Deerfield, each destined
for halls of plenty and power.

I’m sure he asked permission
to capture the lines of each

boy’s bare chest, the shadows
cast by hipbones on the tips

of their tight swim trunks.
Here he has a boy, posed

in plain trunks nowhere
near water, beside a barn,

and I feel like I have broken
into a private moment—no,

an intimate one charged
with desire, with sex or

at least the idea of sex, each
stalk of goldenrod fully bloomed.

The boy’s legs are spread
and his arms behind his back:

no resistance, complete trust
for his teacher to preserve

each part of his becoming
on canvas. His face is turned

away, and we can’t see
into his eyes, a sign, perhaps,

that he is unreal or just off-
limits; the source of desire

but beyond its limit.  I wonder
if Bliss ever forgot a boy’s name

or if, at graduation, when each
blue-blood’s name was called

he pictured them posed, learning
to be adored and to be beautiful?


About the Author:
Douglas Ray is author of He Will Laugh, a collection of poems, and editor of The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. A graduate of the M.F.A. program at The University of Mississippi, he teaches at Western Reserve Academy, a boarding school in Hudson, OH. sdouglasray.wordpress.com

About the Series:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Chip Livingston

A Faster Scalpel

A house will bend, but pride holds me closed.
He was the forearm of our transferred dark,

morose flesh one loomed to adventure.
My complexion kicked till it widened.

I watched him watch his women, watch me.
I watched the explosion turn chaos

and the figure he played of you, you
carried through the collapsed family,

a bed dressed plump, and gracious
the faster scalpel. Señor noticed it was you,

me, noise, people, their rumors of a sky
to keep close, to see hope in an anesthetic

mother who thought that wood a friend’s
casket, mom who pulled gossip away

to some pressed dark locked parlor.
I plowed toward his bedroom, his want

told around the tender you pet
as bereavement, as rebellion full.

His will took the eyes of life. They stayed
peeled to the constant broke of abandoned

mornings. To death, Mother, he will save me
and flinch me loose from the bones of anatomy.

Everyone talking conquests, Quiet,
make something of your torture.

 

Questions for a Debut Novelist with Whom You May Have Fallen in Love While Preparing for the Interview

  1. Your book has an effective first-person plural narration; can you talk a little bit about you and I as a “we”?
  2. Did you feel that hug between the clauses?
  3. Are you a verb man or a noun man?
  4. A Brick or a Skipper?
  5. You write about the origins of your characters’ desires; what are some of your own fantasies and can you attribute them to certain triggers or expectations?
  6. Are the animals’ appetites in your writing a metaphor for your own hunger?
  7. When was the last time you fed?
  8. Your book is about how people handle and mishandle each other; I wondered if you would speak of how you wish to be handled.
  9. I’ve seen the tattoos on your forearms in previous interviews; do you have any tattoos on your torso?
  10. Do you mind raising your shirt a little higher?
  11. “You can say something truer in fiction by mythologizing it,” I quote. Care to co-develop a creation story?
  12. It’s hard to escape that you’re writing about mixed-race identity; do you have any Creek Indian in you?
  13. Do you want some?
  14. Will you share a personal experience with me in which the animal isn’t tamped down but set free?
  15. Do you kiss with your eyes closed? No. Don’t tell me.

 

Piss & Vinegar

(after Tim Dlugos)

Cut                                                                         Uncut

Top                                                                         Bottom

West Village                                                           Lower East Side

Rome                                                                      Paris

Cigarettes                                                               Crystal Meth

Yoga                                                                        Push-ups

P.C.                                                                           P.A.

Snowboard                                                              Skateboard

Rapture Salad                                                          Milanesa

Piss                                                                           Pits

Blue                                                                          Brown

Brown                                                                       Black

Black                                                                         Con Leche

Distracted                                                                 Distracted

Devotchka                                                                 Babasonicos

Forty                                                                          Twenty-eight

Banana                                                                       Salvation

Calvin                                                                         Lupo

Paper wallets                                                             Clay dolls

Tim Dlugos                                                                Julio Cortázar

Ft. Walton Beach                                                       Montevideo

Americano                                                                 Yerba Mate

Goat                                                                           Goat

Malbec                                                                       Malbec

Pot                                                                              Pot

Speedo                                                                      Speed


About the Author:
Chip Livingston is the author of the story/essay collection NAMING CEREMONY (Lethe Press, 2014) and the poetry collections CROW-BLUE, CROW-BLACK (NYQ Books, 2012) and MUSEUM OF FALSE STARTS (Gival Press, 2010). His novel OWLS DON’T HAVE TO MEAN DEATH will be published by Lethe Press in 2017. Chip’s writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, South Dakota Review, Cincinnati Review and on the Poetry Foundation’s and Academy of American Poets’ websites. Chip is on the faculty at the low-res MFA programs at Institute of American Indian Arts and at Regis University. Visit www.chiplivingston.com.

About the Series:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Barbara Ruth

An Absence of Grace

Nonfiction

In Constantine, Michigan, where I grew up in the fifties, there were the families who gave turkeys at Thanksgiving and the families who received them. Because my family gave turkeys, I thought we were rich. In a parallel but converging reality, there were white people and black people, but, other than us, no Jews or brown people of any kind, in this village of 360. Because we weren’t black, I figured we were white.

I had other way to tell whether someone was rich or poor: the poor kids wore ragged clothes and had to take Special Education. The rich kids did not. I remember my horror when my name was called for Special Ed when I was in first grade, to correct my lisp. My classmates snickered. I complained to my parents, my father spoke to the principal, and I was returned to my regular classroom. Which proved that I wasn’t poor; my parents could make things happen. 

Some of my friends’ fathers were doctors and lawyers, as opposed to a school teacher like mine. But I perceived us all as equally rich. Chrissy’s swimming pool, Virginia’s horse, Laura’s fancy winter coat: I thought I was denied all of these because my parents didn’t like me as much as my friends’ parents liked them.

My friend Grace was poor. At her house there were no rugs on the floors and the furniture had cigarette burns. When we were there I made it a point not to look around so I wouldn’t embarrass her. Mostly I invited her to my house. It was easier.

After her first visit I waited nervously to see what my mother would say about Grace. I’d never had a close friend who was poor before. Mom didn’t allow me to play at some kids’ houses. And some she didn’t allow me to play with at all. Would Grace be one?

My five year old brother spoke first, after Grace left. “How come that girl talks so funny?”

“She has a southern accent,” Mom explained.

“She’s from Kentucky,” I announced.

“What’s Kentucky?”

“It’s a state” I said. “We drove there once. You were too little to remember, but I do.”

I could see he wanted to argue but couldn’t think of a response. He turned to my mother. “Is that how come she has such dumb clothes?”

“Grace’s clothes are not dumb!” I nearly yelled, embarrassed by my memory of her patched blouse and the obviously let out hem on her jumper.

“Grace seems very polite and her clothes are neat and clean,” Mom said. “That’s the important thing.”

“And she can sing good, too,” I added, sticking out my tongue at Bob when Mom turned back to the stove.

Grace and I were in fifth grade the year she moved to Constantine. Fifth graders all get Tonettes--rudimentary recorders--which we studied as an introduction to instrumental music. My father, the band director, came into our classroom for an hour a day and taught us how to play them.

We were all excited when he passed out the Tonettes. For six weeks we learned fingerings and embouchures, rhythm and notation. I of course had an edge because I had been taught to read music when I was Bobby’s age, and had already fooled around with the band instruments Dad brought home over the years.

For most of the kids, any instruments were new. While they puzzled over the mysterious language of musical notation, Grace caught on quickly. She drew staves with treble and bass clefs, half notes, quarter notes, rests.

“Did you learn this at your other school, Grace?” Dad asked. Everyone knew when a new family moved into Constantine.

She flushed, her cheeks bright in contrast with her azure eyes and black hair. “No sir.” Nobody called teachers ‘sir’. “We never had Tonettes at my old school.”

“Did somebody teach you music?” Dad persisted.

“Well, we listened to the radio and sang along.”

Dad looked puzzled. “Good work, Grace,” he finally said.

I warmed with pride and excitement. Maybe Grace would turn out to be a child prodigy.

At recess I told her, “I love to listen to the radio, too. I pull my portable radio off my nightstand and under the covers so only I can hear when I’m in bed. Late at night I can get jazz and blues stations from Chicago and sometimes Atlanta. What kind of music do you listen to?”

“We only have but one radio, in the kitchen. Whoever wants to listen sits at the table.”

The air between us turned sticky with tension, or maybe just my confusion. I seemed to have made a mistake but what was it? Breaking the awkward silence I asked, “What do you listen to?”

She shrugged. “Gospel music on Sunday. Back home we listened to Grand Ole Opry every night   but we can’t get it here.”

I had only heard of Grand Ole Opry from people who made fun of it - mostly my family. “That’s too bad,” I told her.

At the end of the six week Tonette class, everyone my father picked would receive a letter from him inviting them to join the band and assigning an instrument. We all wondered excitedly what we would end up with. You didn’t have to stay with the instrument Dad gave you to be in the band, but if you asked for something different, he would probably tease you about it until you graduated or dropped out of band.

Of course my friends would all get their band letters, even Chrissy, who never managed a decent sound out of her Tonette. It wasn’t because she was my friend; Chrissy would be asked to join because she was rich. And Lois, the one black girl in my class, would be asked even though she wasn’t rich. We all knew Lois was better on Tonettes than any of us. But even if she wasn’t, my father would invite her, expect her, to join the band because her family were all excellent musicians.

There were rules for who were assigned which instrument: only girls played flutes and only boys played tubas. It would be really embarrassing if you were assigned the tuba and you were a girl. Clarinets went mostly to girls, trombones, trumpets and saxophones mostly to boys.

The boys who couldn’t learn to read music but were rich got assigned drums. And the girls who were bad, i.e. sexual, did too. This was clearly my father’s construct; where he got it don’t know. But because “drummer girl” functioned as a self-fulfilling prophecy, or maybe because my father could intuit the girls most likely to get caught, over half the young women who played drums in the High School bands my father taught wound up pregnant. My father’s prurient disapproval of drummer girls weighted the air of both our household and the band room.

Of course I wanted to play the drums. How could I not? I had crushes on most of the drummer girls and eventually became friends with one who taught me how to hold the sticks and paradiddle.

But in fifth grade I was trying to be friends with Grace. I was sitting next to her when, right before the dismissal, the teacher passed out our post-Tonette letters of acceptance and assignment.

I jumped up as the bell rang, eager to compare letters with my friends. Chrissy and Laura both had “flute” written on their letters. No surprise there.

My friend Maryann was chosen to play French Horn, a great honor. The best musicians got assigned French Horn, or maybe clarinet, with the understanding that in a year or so they would move on to bassoon or oboe. Lois and I were both assigned “clarinet” but I knew hers meant she’d be promoted on to a double reed, while mine just meant clarinet.

I ran to Grace, who was hanging back, keeping to herself.

“What instrument did you get, Grace?”

“I didn’t get no letter.”

I couldn’t look at her. “There must be some mistake,” I said, but I knew it wasn’t true. My father didn’t make mistakes like that.

At dinner that night, I asked him why Grace hadn’t been invited to join the band. “She’s one of the best Tonette students,” I said indignantly. “She should have been chosen.”

He answered me in a calm voice. “Her family wouldn’t be able to afford an instrument,” he said. “It would be cruel to get her hopes up.”

“But what about Lois? Her family is poor but she got asked to join.”

“That’s because Lois, as well as being good in music, is a Negro. Colored people understand that music is important. Her parents will scrape together every penny they can to buy Lois an instrument, just like they have for the rest of their kids, and I’ll get them a special deal with the music store.”

“Can’t you get Grace a special deal, too?” I asked, working hard to keep my voice pleasant, so I wouldn’t be sent from the table. Conversations like this one were always on the edge.

“Even if I did at first, eventually she’d have to stop because her family wouldn’t be able to pay for her musical training. Lois will be able to go to music camp and maybe even to Julliard, on scholarships. But there aren’t any scholarships for underprivileged white girls from the South. That’s why it would be cruel to invite Grace to start.”

“But she’s so good,” I said, tears stinging my eyes. “She’s better than Chrissy and Laura. She’s better than me, better than MaryAnn. The only person who’s better than Grace is Lois.”

“Barb,” my mother warned, “watch your tone of voice. You know Daddy’s always been fair. Don’t you have something more pleasant to talk about at dinner?”

“That’s okay, Mom,” he said, lifting his bottle of Schlitz. “We’re almost done with this discussion.” He bent his head toward mine, his eyes commanding me to hold his gaze. “I know Grace is good. But that’s not what’s important.”

And that’s how Grace and I stopped being friends. After the band letters I never could figure out what to say to her.

Laura, Chrissy, me, even MaryAnn - none of us turned out to be very good on our instruments. We all quit, eventually.

In seventh grade our family moved. I kept in touch with Lois throughout high school. She was offered a bassoon scholarship to Juilliard but went to Michigan State instead, close to where my family lived. By that time she had joined CORE and was recruiting students to go South for desegregation and voters registration. Freedom Summer. The last time I saw her was in 1965 when I was home from college. I had joined SDS by then and invited Lois to my parents’ house for dinner. She was militant and beautiful and so self-possessed. She brought along her roommate, the first black Jew I ever met, and the three of us spent dinner talking about the Movement, ignoring my father’s sarcasm and my mother’s attempts to change the subject. Lois and Adisa shared an intensity, a passionate connection, that may have been attributable solely to revolutionary fervor. The three of us sang freedom songs as my father drove them back to the dorm.

And Grace? Her family moved back to Kentucky before the end of the fifth grade school year. We didn’t write. The next Thanksgiving a new family was living in their house and we brought the turkey to them.


About the Author:
Barbara Ruth writes at the convergence of magic and grit, Potowatomee and Jewish, fat and yogi, disabled and neurodivergent. She has performed her original work with Mother Tongue and Wry Crips Disabled Women’s Readers’ Theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area, taught in California Poets In the Schools in San Diego, co-conspired with DYKETACTICS! in Philadelphia and blogged at NeuroQueer. She writes biomythography in poetry and prose, and has been working on a novel since before writing was invented. She is 70 and lives in San Jose, CA. She is also a published photographer.

About All Accounts & Mixture:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. Taken from Gertrude Stein’s poem “Rooms,” our series title appears in the line: “Cadences, real cadences, real cadences and a quiet color. Careful and curved, cake and sober, all accounts and mixture, a guess at anything is righteous, should there be a call there would be a voice.”

ALL ACCOUNTS & MIXTURE: Kathleen Balma

The Fountain of Relative Age

You dip in, become who you are.

A fun-loving fitness coach finally resembles
the twelve-year-old boy he emits.
His cannonballs punctuate bold yippees.

A third grade belle in terrycloth wrap, flush
with spelling bee medals, emerges a ripe twenty-two.
The neighborhood sociopath truncates
to toddler. He steps out of his blue
uniform and wails, confused. Responsibilities,

rights and roles reassigned
according to each new body, the world adjusts!

Except for those who don’t change, who swim for hours
unaffected. These get out, dry off, scarf down
their tuna salad sandwich halves, their Gala apple slices,
wondering why everyone took off.
 

Singularity

Job was a good man, not a wise one.
So says Maimonides, Spanish Jew and philosopher.
Job was a pussy. So say the marines. Hoo-ah.
Job was a covert narcissist
who saw his first wife and children
as interchangeable with the new set,
and really only wanted to be admired. So says pop
psychology. Job was a loyal subject.
So says God, an overt narcissist.
Like father, like son. Or should we say, the apple
doesn't fall far. Har har. Job was so
accustomed to a life of privilege
that when the biblical shit hit the satanic fan,
he asked, "Why me?" instead of questioning
his luck when times were easy. Job was a long-sufferer,
but not for life. So said every one of his slaves.
Job was a bit of a drama queen. So says a Greek chorus
of drag queens, who would know. Sashay. 
Job was lucky to be a son of Jehovah
instead of a daughter of Troy. So say
Cassandra and Briseis. Job was a snooze fest.
So say my students. Job was a cooperative learner
who did wonderfully in math and music this year
(Numbers, Psalms), but didn’t reach his potential
in science, and is too often on Cloud Nine. So said
his third grade teacher. Job was a farmer,
outstanding in his field. So said Job's obituary.
Job was neither good nor evil, but a complex amalgam
of positive and negative personality traits
that emerged or not, depending on circumstances.
So say the social sciences. Job was his DNA.
Even his mullet was predetermined.
So say the Minnesota twin studies.
Job was a good provider, but not a good lover,
and he never took me to Paris, though I begged.
So said both of his wives. Job was never
an eye for an eye kind of guy.
So say the theologians. Job was better than
his author—better, too, than this one. So say I.


About the Author:
Kathleen Balma is a Fulbright Scholar and Pushcart Prize winner from the Ohio River Valley of Illinois. She is a 2015 finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize and a 2016 Tennessee Williams Scholar at Sewanee Writers' Conference. Her poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, Fugue, Hotel Amerika, The Journal, Mid-American Review, PMS: poemmemoirstory, Puerto del Sol, Rattle, storySouth, and other magazines. She lives in New Orleans.

About All Accounts & Mixture:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. Taken from Gertrude Stein’s poem “Rooms,” our series title appears in the line: “Cadences, real cadences, real cadences and a quiet color. Careful and curved, cake and sober, all accounts and mixture, a guess at anything is righteous, should there be a call there would be a voice.”

All Accounts and Mixture 2016

SUBMIT HERE!

CutBank is excited to announce that All Accounts and Mixture: A Celebration of LGBTQ Writers and Artists will be back again for the third summer.

Taken from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, and the poem “Rooms,” our series title appears in the line: “Cadences, real cadences, real cadences and a quiet color. Careful and curved, cake and sober, all accounts and mixture, a guess at anything is righteous, should there be a call there would be a voice.”

We're excited to make this an annual web feature. Submissions open May 18th and run through June 19th. Poetry, prose, visual art, reviews and interviews will all be considered, so get your work ready. You can find some of the past years' outstanding contributions here. We can't wait to see what you have for us.

Submission Guidelines:

We welcome all breeds of creative hybrid and collaboration. For this series, we seek work from writers who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. We believe the term “queer” connotes flexibility--we will not police your identity.

That said, our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream, and we ask that contributors respectfully acknowledge this objective. Submitted content need not be LGBTQ-specific. Work must be previously unpublished. We will accept simultaneous submissions with timely notification. Allies are encouraged to contribute reviews of poetry and prose by queer authors from books contemporary to historic. We are also seeking provocative interviews with queer writers and artists.

Poetry:

Please submit up to 7 poems.

Prose:

Please submit up to 5,000 words of prose, fiction or creative nonfiction.

Visual Art:

Please submit up to 10 pieces of visual art. Please submit your work in JPEG format with at least a 300 dpi. Feel free to also link to your portfolio online if there are multiple pieces for consideration.

 

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Max McDonough

Crabwise

 

The derelict box trap in the brackish creek

behind his grandparents’ campground RV,

padded with slime-reeds and a thick dark

stinking mud, was fun to

 

poke with a stick

from the footbridge above. Having been kicked

from home for the weekend, and don’t

come back, why—

 

he could hardly recall now that the trap’s cull ring

had released a chewed up

croaker into free-float

procession on the water’s leafed surface. So he kept

 

prodding, teased out a small green crab,

half-rotted, nipped at

by whatever else in there

had been living until it starved too, bait

 

for the next, kept going like that, more food

for the crab hatchlings

swarming the cage somehow this early

in spring, a milk-plume of teeth, feasting, tiny

 

enough he’d mistaken them

for water bugs until just then, and thought: brushed chitin

where the pincers will be,

eventually. He put down

 

his stick. Little aliens, lovesick—

            cast off, stricken atavistic

with growing—their charged tender

larval hearts molting.

 

 

Listen, Love

 

I never asked for yard work or its sadnesses,

August days filling green plastic barrels to the brim

 

with weed stalks, roots, unlucky worms. Weekends,

I coiled bare fingers around the furred blades stubborn

 

to survive. I had my stubbornness, too. My skin thinly

peeling, hours and hours I filled the barrels anyway, dragged them

 

wheel-less and scraping on the sidewalk, because my father told me to,

half a mile through powerlines scrub to the dump site.

 

My mother slept all day or shopped endlessly online

for dolls. At night, the foyer’s tall curio glowed, glass shelves

 

stuffed with her curated faces. Sometimes she’d sit in front,

stare up at them like limbed stars.

 

Each day returned to me unharmed. Each day

some morning thing came, beating its wings. My father who stayed

 

long on the riding mower for peace, I still hear him calling me

away from that house, to the backyard or needy lawn, his voice

 

straining, half-muffled by sliding door glass or an open screen.

Even now everything in me is lifting to follow it.

 

Male Pattern

 

Early fade, it has come to this, in the spring

of my twenty-second year, scrounging

through the insufficient sink light,

scrounging in the fresh, unwanted space

for an explanation

among the fallen stalks,

the mutinous

loosening, then gone. Outside, the night

magnolias have bloomed late

but white beneath starlight, & the dark

green leathery leaves are unerringly

dark, thick

as pauldrons, hexing

silver pebbles from their polish

& flinging them at the window, soundless,

so turning from the mirror, from my own

reversed face:

the hallucination of moths,

electric & mute, in the night somehow

still darkening.

 

*

 

Down, in the under-threading

of nucleotides, twisting

down from my mother’s father,

 

down in his pattern that is also

my pattern, there

he is, still

living, no hair, a box of cigars

tucked under his arm as he slips

 

out the garage, into the oil-

black air not yet

ruptured by police sirens, officers

 

knocking, pushing

open the unlocked door—

his wife in the kitchen only

 

just before, releases

her telephone cord

from around my mother’s neck.

 

*

 

Call once & hang up, then call again—he told

his mistresses. But my mother kept

receipts from his work pants

stored in a shoebox beneath her bed…

 

When she unfolded them crinkling

apart like the wings of dead insects

for her mother to see, proof—

& the disbelieving room

 

turned on its side, angry, then blue

light in the window glass—

 

does violence live in the genes?

 

Their story is telling itself

in the dormant voice

of a seed,

 

muffled behind husk, there, between

my ears,

 

my ears

ringing and ringing.

 

*

The years between

constrict. At dinner, my mother, testifying.

She’s the casual refugee, history-

 

keeper runaway

now laundry-queen, changing

loads between coating batches of raw chicken

 

with Shake ’N Bake, sipping

always on a glass of wine, swirling the ice.

At night, her erratic machines

 

sputter on fabric softener

satiny as moon, toxic soups of bleach, detergent,

routine, TV. She sets the glass

 

down again,

the hot iron fuming, her face lit

blue with dramatic crime movies, actors

 

she recognizes from other shows, other roles, faces

back-lit by a cathode,

shifting, troubled, familiar as her own.

 

*

 

In the half-image of the bathroom window,

my hair was white

dandelion fluff.

 

At the tip of each feathery strand,

the bulbous face

of a family member—some I didn’t

know I had remembered

until then, & they were all arguing

with each other, in the unintelligible language

of anger—snarling, nipping

with smokers’ teeth, threatening over

& over to sink the first

crumbling bite.

 

& beyond that reflected me,

the dark yard

of the anxiety I seemed to stand in—all of it—

erupted in gust,

 

the magnolia, the grass, the loose dirt

weighing the grass down to root, the little

dumb moths

the color of wishfulness, tumbling—

 

& one by one—mother, grandfather—then

in clumps, the seed stalks

of my family,  

my hair—whipped off

spiraling with diminishing screams away,

 

away from my newly bald & shining scalp.

 

------------------------------------------------------

Max McDonough grew up outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey, but escaped to Virginia at the age of sixteen. When night expeditions to the local Walmart parking lot there became too perilous an ordeal, he matriculated to the University of Virginia, where he dodged a pre-medical education and pursued a degree in English instead. He is an MFA candidate at Vanderbilt University, and has work appearing or forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Columbia Poetry Review, RHINO, and others.

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Dominique Salas

Please, (With)Hold Me
 
This mattress is just
a thin(skinned) dummy
for the bitter
-sweet slick lacuna
of a womb’n; and yes,
I say womb’n in spite
of the fact that not
every womb’n will burgeon
a baby—she is
a biochemical potent
ial; and yes, I say womb’n
because not
every womb’n
who burgeons a baby
will keep the baby; and yes, import
antly, because not
every womb’n
who burgeons a baby
and keeps the baby
should call her
self a mother; and yes, finally
because I am
self-infatuated: I do not need
a mother. But I do
want to be
swaddled complete
with neoteric-new lungs—
seal unbroken—white
fluorescence unseen, a
doctor-man’s smack   
against my bottom
rewound. I am
only honest. [†]

---------------------------
[†] Just sayin’

 

A Girl Crush


Eeek, whatever to do
about the torque feral
between our hearts 
among other things? I 

told my mother & she saw
the calculations she 
redrew while re
fencing the argument be
tween the cellophane pages
of the old & new

testaments. I gave it true
to you. I said, this isn’t
only an experiment 
in elation borne of spec
ulation. But my mother,
she sat me on the bed
and told me that the 
experiment had been
tabulated. The normativity
in her wavers, split out of her
& hovers & it’s bottom
lip trembles, confused, but eggs
her on the shoulder blades. It is 
what it is, is what 

she says. Boys
will be boys. Play with your
sugar crumb toys. & my 
brother, too young to help,
does. He says, I never want
to suck on little boys—


St. Raphael School: With God All Things Are Possible


When we bound and gaggl’d up in
to social groups, I fell in love with
the discord of lady shackles: the ooo-
la-la so-subtle scent of perfume’d 
tampons wafting up from be
tween our thighs. Maybe
I miss that, the slow grind 
of time measured by the cool 
pollute of your words in my 
direction, shut in wide-
ruled school paper, folded 
again & again so I could pick up 
the work in unfolding you
r note before glutting up the doodlegrin 
slipped in & then at the end, slowly, 
rupturing my mouth radical-wide 
to gulp up the the itty bitty poison-winks
that dotted your ‘i’s: bones fashioning
the skulls. You’d want the pink
slip when you turned in work to Sister 
Rosa like that, playing witless,
playing like girls us girls could fit between
the serif’d lines of scripture forever, playing 
like our hands were cold during 
recess, whisper-growling, K.I.T. Don’t 
ever change.


playing right


the way i shout into
the fluorescence 
technicolor slurs of my
being does not effect
them: their lives & the serif’d 
bills in circulation,
cuffing certain neighbor
hoods; but they have a right,
they say, to voice that they are
confused; they say, oh,
can you please punctuate 
your body into tighter fabrics;
we need to see the silhouette
of your lot in life & could you, you
know, take this bottle of sun
screen & splat yourself white

before going into day
light. actually don’t
take walks with the sun
out, or late at night either, if you don’t have 
to & i am curtsies and shivers,

usually, but now, i am willing
to say, i’ve stopped bathing
in milk, hoping to whittle
into Cleopatra— no 
not the real one, 
the white lady one with a creamy 
disposition & and a nodding body.


Sonata in Jabón de Sangre


Since you’ve left, I get rest-
less near the cusp 

of the morning. An “eclipse

of sense” is what my therapist
eureka’d at me during the end

of our first session, me describing

what I do: I try to make myself 
wake up at night,

with my eyes closed, to grab on

to your far-away and pixelated
dream-face. Pretend 

it is happening now. Later, I decide

I am going to write 
the sonata 

we wrote together, 

in my dream. In it you whispered,
Ya vez, loca!  So I named it 

Llaves Locas. You would have 
hated it. But I keep your face,

on the inside of my dream-gauzed eye

lids, while I climb
down the stairs, saddle up 

to the piano, sit on bench, and reach

into the shallow wash basin full
of soap sediment and water. Dirty

is how the new rag feels as I plunge

it into the basin, wring it over my feet,
and scrub until the water flickers

and expands with red from 

my soles. Now, I can stand 
on the white and black 

enameled slabs, focusing 

the toes of my feet on 
the keys. 

 

Adolescent on the Way to Water


Whittling soft bark, thumbing the grooves gently, 
the transient caught me peeking from the car; 

As if to pluck me with his knife, he 

waved over while my father idled 
in the gas station’s. Hiking up my skirt 

I shimmied out 

of the car to him and sat down so naturally, legs crossed, 
in the ice machine’s shade. He stood & looked 

down at me. In the sun, the knife he used 

to scratch his beard glinted back and forth my face. Dizzily,
I waited for him to say anything. And when he did,

it went something like this: You look like you know what you could do

with a knife and some wood if I gave you the chance. Girl,  I’d pop out
each one of your teeth and make a new drama of constellations 

that’ll spread out our story longer than it will take the sun to die

— or maybe it went something more
 like I’d appreciate it if you’d take me 

to Alamogordo, little ma’am. 
Regardless of the exact positioning,

it was then I wondered:
Did he know I thought about feeling him 

on me, everywhere: on the pads of my 
fingertips, cliff of my nose, edged-lining 

of each toe, and in the silkened, scalloped 
world between my legs while 

my father’s keys hung heavy, 
ready in the slot of the ignition. 

--------------------------------------------------

Dominique Salas is an MFA candidate and instructor at New Mexico State University. She has recently appeared in riverSedge, Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag, and The Blue Lake Review. 

All Accounts and Mixture: Four Poems by D. Gilson

American Music


It all begins with Elvis.
Or rather, the thing stolen.
It all begins in a cotton field
150 years ago with six million
black folk. Swing low, sweet
chariot, coming forth to carry.
Wait a minute. Look at that
white man shaking his hips
like it ain't no little thing.

At fifteen I do not speak
Spanish but listen every day
to Christina Aguilera’s
Mi Reflejo, butchering
Ven conmigo, ven conmigo, baby.
At twenty I fancy myself
a connoisseur, telling
the hot English professor I want
so badly to love me — 
All the other undergrads go on
and on about The Beatles,
but my deepest held conviction
is that Pet Sounds is the finest
pop album ever made.

Fuck me. In their twenties my brothers
love AC/DC and Black Sabbath
as my sister and I listen
to Billy Joel’s Storm Night,
especially its lead single
“We Didn’t Start The Fire,”
the song years later my freshman
civics teacher will have me
rewrite as a poem. Write your history,
she said to my impossible fifteen
year-old-self, the one with a (mostly
irrational) fear of school shootings
and adoration of Britney Spears
(jealous for her relationship
with Justin Timberlake). Or rather,
it all begins with my mother,
June Carter, a crackled twang
and strict household prohibition.
It all begins with my father, Johnny,
the poor farmer’s child, a whiskey
bottle in the third drawer
of his tool bench. It all begins
with them humming together —
We got married in a fever, hotter
than a pepper sprout, We've been talkin'
‘bout Jackson, ever since the fire
went out
— even though we only drove
to Sears and Wal-Mart, maybe.
Or at best, a town or two over.
But never to the places the radio buzzed
on about. Not Jackson. Not Nashville.
Not the Austin City Limits. We never
fell into a New York state of mind.


Sister Mary Chainsaw


This always happens. I give her
a poem. I say, Sister Mary Chainsaw,
here is a poem. What do you think
of it?
She powers up her Craftsman
42cc Chainsaw with its 18” blade
and two-year limited warranty, the tool
she always carries beneath her black robe.
The poem was about my brother,
how he failed me like my boyfriend
fails me. How they both like fishing,
an activity full of vivid language
and apt metaphor. I read the poem
aloud and Sister rolls her eyes.
She says, Goddamnit, son, ripping
the poem right out of my hands
and revving up a cloud of kerosene
exhaust. She hands the poem back
and it is just one line, reconfigured:

I love fucking,
            sometimes.

Sexual History


At seventeen, I let a man blow me
in the steam room at the Pat Jones
YMCA. For a year I buy OraQuick! 

(home HIV test, $49.99) with every paycheck.
from The Gap. At nineteen, I quit The Gap.
Buy blow for the skinny boy I'm fucking

and keep my mother's wedding ring
next to the bible in my nightstand.
At twenty my boyfriend calls me

Doubting Thomas. Traces my skin
with a red Bic pen and highlights
passages from Acts of the Apostles.

At thirteen, my father plays Johnny
Cash's "Boy Named Sue" in his blue
Dodge Dakota pickup. At twenty-nine

a condom breaks. On the retrovirals
every nightmare's the same: me dead
and lain out on a sawdusty bar, "Ring

of Fire" on the jukebox (and my dad
eating unsalted peanuts). At twenty-five
I headache from poppers. At thirty

I am celibate. At twenty-four, -six,
and -two, I masturbate. I am fifteen
again: retrograde in Ralph Lauren

Sport and never getting laid. At thirty-two,
I smell it on a boy riding the subway.
At twenty-seven piss play is child's play

and at sixteen I pray: Lord, let me have
some fun. At twenty-nine my doctor asks
for my sexual history so I open my palm:
                         the lord answers prayer.

Liner Notes

At seven, the first album I buy: Amy Grant’s Heart in Motion.
It was 1991, heaven on earth, five weeks of allowance saved
for an endless loop of “Baby, Baby” in my sister’s Geo Tracker.

Rumors fired about Amy’s affair with Vince Gill. She was hot shit
& the Church livid with Amy the smoldering pop star, Magdalene
in crushed wine velvet & gold chains. This was pop glam: the best-

selling Christian album of all time gone main stream. Of the album,
Wikipedia says, Another song with an overtly Christian themes
was "You're Not Alone" which referenced a greater power despite

edgy features like whipcracks and a screaming guitar solo. I was seven
in my sister’s Geo Tracker, every heart beat & taken with the notion
to love these women with the sweetest of devotion. OMG, Jason says,

my mother had ALL the Amy Grant tapes. Practically a breeding ground
for homosexuals with ambiguous religious beliefs.
Yes, it was 1991
& I was seven, in heaven watching my sister tease her hair in the rearview

mirror as her boyfriend Terry got us Diet Cokes at the Sonic Drive-In.
It was 1991. The Catholic hospital told Uncle Dennis, We do not treat
the disease of sin
, so our parents drove to Houston & picked him up.

Which is why I was in Missouri (heaven) with my sister listening to Amy
Grant in the Geo Tracker: Jesus hated whores & homos, but we loved
them. I was seven & baby, I realize there’s just no getting over.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

D. Gilson is the author of I Will Say This Exactly One Time: Essays (Sibling Rivalry, 2015); Crush (Punctum Books, 2014), with Will Stockton; Brit Lit (Sibling Rivalry, 2013); and Catch & Release (2012), winner of the Robin Becker Prize. He is a PhD candidate in American literature & cultural studies at The George Washington University, and his work has appeared in PANK, The Indiana Review, and The Rumpus, and as a notable essay in Best American Essays. 

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Gail Hanlon

SHE LOVES YOU

She hadn’t finished her dream,
so I finished it for her.
I wanted it to be lucid.
So that she could move there
as she couldn’t otherwise.
I wanted to give it to her
as a gift, so I worked
all night on it. I made
her able to fly.

 

PUSH-PULL SUMMER

In the silence, small planes
purr along the coast

dragging banners of DARLING
over Shelter Island.

Clear decisions, Clare says, squinting
at a landscape of tiny red figures.

She bows over her laptop with a stack
of index cards full of sloppy Japanese.

Where’s the heat? Jamaal asks. He knows
the answer. In the repetition, he mutters.

His cherry-haired boyfriend sleeps with his ear
against a long cafe table, remembering a kiss.

His wet glass making the second figure 8 I have seen
today. Another infinity. The first was a blue 

rubber band twisted at Sunset Beach
where my sister pointed out a double rainbow

over the ocean. What’s it mean?! she asks
the Ethiopian driver standing next

to a long black car. What’s it mean?!
He shrugs. He could be

ferrying the dead. No,
he says. No secret.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Gail Hanlon’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, New Letters, Thrush, Cincinnati Review, Verse Daily, and Best American Poetry, among other journals and anthologies. She has a recent review in Tarpaulin Sky, published a chapbook, SIFT (Finishing Line), and was a finalist for the Iowa Review Award (2013). 

All Accounts and Mixture: "Corrections for My Erroneous Police Report" by Laurel Fantauzzo

Corrections for My Erroneous Police Report

 

OFFENSE: Traffic Stop 7
DATE: Apr 7 2001 3:13pm
LOCATION: Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks, CA 2
REPORT BY: Sherriff’s Deputy [name redacted] 1

Driver was contacted on a traffic stop under suspicion of underage driving. 8

SUSPECT: FANTAUZZO, LAUREL 
AGE: N/A 5
DESCRIPTION: MALE 4, SHORT DARK HAIR 3, HISPANIC 6
______________________________________________________________________________

1. The officer stared at me the way I could never stare at him. I was too frightened to look at his face, as if he were an animal that might mistake my eye contact as threatening.

2. It was a sunny day. We were on a street where immigrant families shared tiny condominiums. Rich girls at my Catholic school laughed at the Mexican condo kids, whose parents rode bikes to landscaping and nanny and cleaning jobs. My Filipina mother had bought me the battered, gray, used Lincoln Towncar I was driving.

3. I had my hair cut short because it was too thick and unruly when it descended to my shoulders. I hated blow dryers and flatirons, which, like makeup, seemed designed to steal sleep from women in the mornings. My hair that day was like a black helmet, tamped down with men’s styling gel from the 99-cent store. 

4. At first it felt like a special gift, this boy part of me in my girl body. When I was ten, three boys on a camping trip introduced me to the word tomboy, included me in all their tent-building and fire-starting, and presented me with a pair of boxer shorts as a kind of initiation gift. I preferred the flatness of boys’ shoes, the functionality of their pants pockets, the clean lines of their shirts. Boys’ attire made it easy for them to move, to run if they needed to. But I was no good at running, no good at sports. Coaches grimaced when I twice joined their teams in the boys’ baseball league. I wet my pants once playing right field. Tomboy was an incomplete term for me, as was girl, as was boy. Most of the time I felt there was no word for me. The day of my traffic stop I was wearing my uniform to my all-girls Catholic school, the pants-and-polo-shirt option, which the principal would ban in a few years, requiring every student to wear skirts and blouses. 

5. I was seventeen. Old enough to be in love. Which I was, with my friend Julia, who sat behind me in history class and would forgive me for my crush on her in two years.

6. My mother always left books about the Philippines on my bed. I read about World War Two, a dictatorship, and a handsome, dead young man, Jose Rizal. I absorbed scenes of defiance within agony, like a teenager refusing to dig his own grave for Japanese military police, and, in getting shot, winning his argument. I wanted to be part of that legacy. So when Californians tried to decipher my dark hair and eyes, I’d say “I’m half Filipina!” Whenever I tried to remind my classmates I was Filipina, they would interrupt me. “You’re white, Laurel. You’re white.” A scolding incantation. But when I wandered the aisles of 99-cent stores and tiny groceries, the workers would call to me. “Hola, ¿qué ’stá buscando?” It felt as if they were inviting me in. So I’d answer them in their language.

7. I’d encountered the police before, but my white father was always the one who dealt with them. When I was ten, the neighbor boys and I pelted an SUV with Nerf balls. We left no damage, but the driver called 911. My father spoke to the visiting officers in reasonable, collaborative tones, apologizing on my behalf. They left without filing a report. I felt relieved, protected. Three years later, my mother slapped my brother. In response, my father wrestled my mother to the floor. So she called 911. My father murmured to the police officersabout my mother’s behavior. He thanked them for visiting. The officers pulled my mother aside, asked her if my father had a gun in the house, then told her she could be cited for child abuse. She turned her eyes down, refusing to look at the officers’ faces.

8. I carried the weight of several selves as I measured what was permitted or prohibited in the spaces I traveled. My girl side, my boy side, my Filipina side, my white American side, my mother’s side, my father’s side, my side that wanted no part in sides. I felt suspended in my silence, waiting for the officer to decide what I was and what I had done. 

The officer finally spoke without apology, as if the error and offense had been mine alone. “You look very young.” 

Then he handed me my license and let me go. 

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

Alcatraz, Mars

They call us a citadel
in a blueless bay—

singular, like 
a snowglobe’s stark

figurine: grottos washed 
white as moons’  winter 

stomachs, something 
chiseled out of rib.

 

What they dreamed up 
again, in that old Roman 

way: the ruined cake 
of the Coliseum 

reborn, forever
in the bulwark’s grip.

 

The air here wants 
to close us in. O riprap 

memory, you are heavy
with salt.  I can’t breathe 

in this birdless bay.
When it comes to cruelty,

they are always wrong—
the old and new 

masters, the same keys 
cluttering the ring. Hear

the men and women kept 
in waxing, separate hives. 


On my pillow, I leave
a soap-carved likeness 

of my face,
locks of my own 

clipped hair. 
With a fork and spoon

I slit the roof. 
My leaving shadow

is blue-black, ragged 
as the folds of a wing.

 

Fearing, again, the swiftness
of my body,

the guard fires 
from his crow’s nest—

each shot useless, 
muted as  a feather

would be, in this air—

 


tell him I married a wave, 
broke through

each cloud ceiling. Gasped 
as I hoped 

for heaven’s thin, 
something blue 

above the ladder. This gunmetal 
smell on my hands.

 

Lolita’s Mars Rover Ballad

So this dune buggy trip
leaves me all rotten
inside. I’m sick of learning
landforms: dried-up lakebeds,

sore in their salts, all my wants
under haze and burned-up rubber.
Between winks of sleep, I see
canyons in split pastels

(my half-eaten jawbreakers),
pink clouds drifting above, bored
as a flock of sheep. I’ve re-counted
my bottle caps, pressed my lips

to glossy magazines. I taught myself
how to peel bananas with my feet.
So what? It’s a free country. I think.
But all time is stuck. I’m twelve

now and forever. I turn and turn and turn
but there’s nowhere else to go.

O Wow. More desert. Motels
crop up like mushrooms,
then poof. Long-legged,
neon signs erase themselves

behind the ugly dust devils.
Dress me up as another Dorothy,
braids, I guess, and dirty blue
gingham. Trade my **** again

for something made of candy.
A frontier ought to be exciting
things: cities made of windows,
secret red rock caves. Right now

I want more records. To get
myself a dog. Own a hothouse
where the sugarcane sways
like a bunch of girls dancing to the radio.

-------------------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers is the author of CHORD BOX (University of Arkansas Press, 2013), finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.  Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, The Missouri Review, FIELD, Crazyhorse, Washington Square Review, Guernica, and many others.  A 2012-2014 Kenyon Review fellow in poetry, she now lives in New Orleans, where she teaches at Tulane University.

 

All Accounts and Mixture: "50/50 Poly-Cotton Blend" by Kilby Allen

50/50 Poly-Cotton Blend

 

Sepia afternoon light filters through the display window, igniting dust motes,

illuminating the display windows full of secondhand hernia trusses on Flatbush. It’s a

little after five, and herds of homebound workers climb up out of the station, flooding the

sidewalks, an incoming tide.

 

“We closing in twenty minutes,” the West Indian woman behind the thrift store

cash register announces to the almost empty room, never looking up from her word

search. I flip through the shirts, feeling for that particular crush of poly-cotton softness, a

perfectly cured tshirt. One worn thin and drapey after two hundred spins in the dryer.

 

When you left, I lost half my wardrobe, an added bonus of gay girl break ups. Our

same-size jeans and shirts and sweaters, separated. Suddenly our shared studio closet was

all mine, four feet by two feet and cavernous. But you’ve been gone for three months.

Ninety-two days, and your toothbrush is still in the Happy Secretary’s Day coffee mug

next to the sink.

 

The shirts are organized chromatically, and I have searched through red, orange,

and yellow. Squarely in the middle of green, my fingertips graze shoulder after shoulder,

slide the wire hangers down the rack. So many shirts: all too scratchy, too new, too big,

and then, a prickle like static electricity when I feel a familiar weave--a tri-blend

crewneck, heathered green. I pull the shirt off the rack and the world lists like a ship. I

lean into the embrace of a one-armed mannequin. I know this shirt. 4-H Entomology

Camp 1995 printed in yellow letters across the chest. Impossible. Someone else in the

city went to the same summer camp, twelve hundred miles from here, fifteen years ago.

 

But there, on the tag, are my initials in my mother’s faded magic marker.

 

I let you wear the shirt the first time you slept over. You stole it. Even when you

moved in, mingled your clothes with mine, you kept it to yourself. And now here it is,

orphaned and smelling like old sheets, inexplicably found. Home again, home again,

wherever that is.

 

“Three fifty,” the cashier says. She doesn’t look at me, just holds out her left hand

for the bills as she circles a word in her puzzle, something long and diagonal. I pay for

my shirt and imagine you carelessly throwing it into the donation bin—good riddance.

 

The last time I saw you, two weeks ago, you were in the cereal aisle of the

market—our corner market, certainly inconvenient to the place you now call home. It

was just after seven and the crowd was so thick it was like swimming. I saw you with her,

the rugby player, your hand on the small of her back. Seeing you like that, I felt naked,

even in three shirts, a sweater, and my raincoat. I got what I needed and stood in line,

wanting to get away before you saw me. But then as I was standing there, you walked by,

so close I could touch you. I could feel the charged particles between us, but you didn’t

notice. Was I even standing there?

 

When I get to the apartment I will scour the place, I promise myself, sweep the

rest of you into the dustpan. I flick on the buzzing bathroom fluorescent and interrupt our

toothbrushes, still guiltily intertwined. I pick up yours, let it hover over the wastebasket,

then put it in my mouth, dry bristles rough against my tongue

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kilby Allen recently received her PhD from Florida State and is currently in the process of moving to the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in Nashville Review, Drunken Boat, Day One, and elsewhere. 

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Patrick Kindig

Superman

Your action figure body
could break glass. You took 
all the wrong things

from comic books: titanium
abs, an ass like two polished
asteroids. The impossible way

your back ripples
against itself. Plastic
-haired boy, teach me

compensation, how
to winnow myself into
a pearl. Teach me

about your jaw and 
the smooth sockets
of your groin. When

you raise your arms above
your head, your hipbone slips 
into the world. What comes next

seems obvious: we tilt 
our bodies forward 
and take flight.

 

Sea Urchin

Today I feel like I’m swimming
in blood. The world, after all, is usually 

colder than the body. Maybe this is why 
I love the winter thaw, the pear trees’

cum-smell, the air like a handful
of stomach muscle. The only edible part

of the sea urchin is its underbelly, 
you know. Let me tell you: the next boy I see

with his arms above his head 
won’t have time to count my teeth.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Patrick Kindig is a dual MFA/PhD candidate at Indiana University, where he writes poems and studies 20th century American literature. His micro-chapbook, Dry Spell, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press in late 2015, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in the minnesota review, Fugue, BLOOM, Court Green, and elsewhere.

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by J.R. Toriseva

Visitation Pyre

No need to bore a hole,
set up a candle and peer through

Only minnows—
No need to dig in snow banks

for words, for worms.
Somewhere else this pond

would be ocean
and I would be cloud

The ice is that way, a shard
pushed into my center

Dark pond and I this far inland,
have only ourselves, each the other;

to remind ourselves where we are in
there, other than here.

This pond, frozen, has me
And I have chosen it,

for my lover, for my necklace, for my hand.
Dream the clamped podium.

Tear the collage of victims.
This pond my tarot card,

my altar, my ammunition. This pond my singing bowl,
sequestered from me, cornered by triple rows

of barbed wire, triple lines of corn, the intestines
of a silent fight looped around

the post. This pond across the property
line, a reverie, in a double time of rage.

The one who taught me that war is a strange sort
of laughter that can come at you years later in a corn crib,

who taught me how to place the stick perpendicular
to stop the wolf jaw from snapping down; who taught me to cut boughs

on place them on my back, to circle the pond, not walk straight across the ice
to prevent the wolves from attacking from behind at night,

for the first time his white china cup is cold. He’s not slapping black flies,
or whittling at the long dining table. My limburger eating, gray wolf quick

grandfather lies supine as if floating. Is it him? I’ve only seen him in motion,
watching orioles and song sparrows, sugar cube between his teeth, sucking

coffee, full of bracted honeysuckle and yarrow. Now, on the stretched water
surface of the pond, the blurred weave of the wool

shirt the polished sarsaparilla skin pulled tight over cheek bones away
from lips, his whole body larger in death, than life. The water buoying up the brown

shoulders, the leanness of his size. Reaching out to touch him,
I smile as his last words enter my palm. He sheds his skin, his scratchy shirt.

He rises, mist moving off the pond, a dragonfly splitting
its carcass. He rises where I can watch him. Eye on wing,

rough humming in the ear, the constant smooth, smooth, smoothing
of his palms available to me now. Here in the water is the chair where he sat.

Now only smooth wood. Is that you? Wearing your wool scratchy long johns?
Where are your rag weed pulling hands, your quack grass pulling thumbs?

Where are your straight lines of two-speared corn? Your high climbing
pole beans? Oh, here it is. Right here. I see my toes. It is. It is me.

 

Exodus: Amend 

Spring was here, then plunged: 

1. I know this road by heart 
2. even on a night broken brighter than day due to moon

3. Minnows 
4. my foot on iced gravel 

5. sound ricocheting across the crystal folds of fields 
6. 3. I came to listen to the water—foam 

7. the wind the rain came in on 
8. the wind on the frozen drum of the pond 

9. The form of the pond 
10. changes. Not in my mind 

11. But in front of my eyes 
12. My ice and slush expand 

13. to include arrival of bird, 
14. To the awakening of the fish 

15. To the invoice of cat tails. 
16. My mind holds all the cards 

17. My pictures of January holding 
18. the pond in white from the fierce 

19. sleep of February to the yawns 
20. of March. April’s shredding, the 

21. surface of the pond is unraveling 
22. It is cracking into a puzzle. Bordered 

23. by mud. The howl of the 
24. center, framed by dead grass
 

Unknown Things About Rain

Fresh from the gravel parking lot ritual in town, I brought death to the pond.
Slowly, holding the funereal cake. I left the white dissolving on the bank.

There is a window in my pond, the right pane shattered,
the glass shot through my de-iced voice, my knees mud-high in chore boots.

The cows come slowly forward, lowering
their heads to draw snow slush, nudging the cake to get to

the water streaming up their broad nostrils.
These walking mud puddles

sides matted with spring, the groaning of
the lilac crocus emerging, heads up

through the snow—much too early
and then turning translucent in the freeze

with their broad noses
they nudge in Spring,

with their wide hooves,
they skirmish through the pasture.

Wide enough for me to follow
winging oats, rolling ragweed, spreading rye

for bedding. Feeding the grey squirrels, lowering the light
Layering the darkness, adding to the roundness of the land. Death, now crumbs.

 

Water Mechanics

Here I am osprey and eagle
Here I am ladywalker and pikebug
Here I am amplified, a sound wave touching the far grass
Water, heal the split in my eye.

Let me be the water
away from the steel sink,
away from the certain mail box,
far from the rows of leeks.

Outlawed from the radish
this is the subway stop;
this is how I get home
where the mica shines.

Through the chalk and the small crushed
bones of squirrels
and snail shells;
this line cuts through the clay.

Leaving the gemmed skulls
and the footprints of foxes,
left unscarred by the plagues, the famine or the flu,
this is the stop

that signals my return home
this loop of water, a handgrip that my fingers have
sleeping out the cold
reached for, but never touched.

 

Case of Water

Memory skates below the surface
transport here, there, beyond & back. Aquifer.
Years forward. Years spilled. States of matter.

Hint of remembered. Far beyond the Ramblas in Barcelona,
she laughs the frontier and I step to
the round smooth pond of her face

her eyes, fish jumping, her mouth
the water lily, her nose a minnow
hooking round the bend, to look, to see,

where she smiles, I swim. Adherence. From the bottom
of the pond I looked up and saw an upside down
cathedral in Madrid. I saw the Alhambra

inside out. This fountain was fourteen paintings
from the Prado, a light bulb waiting to be screwed
in at the 14th step of a stone staircase on 21st calle,

this pond a faucet in the Call; periphery drawn by
others and ice. The boundary visible only to despair. This pond
glides underneath me everywhere. Meniscus. This pond calls me home

-------------------------------------------------------------

Awarded a waiter scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Mary Merritt Henry Prize in Poetry from Mills College, J.R. Toriseva has taught for Mills College, California Poets in the Schools, San Francisco WritersCorps, and Literary Arts of Portland, Oregon. 
'Strip Uno' was published in Close Calls: New Lesbian Fiction, Susan Fox Rogers, Editor, St. Martin's Press. 'Encyclopedia of Grass' was selected for Best Canadian Poetry in English.