Deenaz P. Coachbuilder Ph.D., is a retired school principal, adjunct professor in special education and consulting speech pathologist. She is a visual artist, writer and environmental advocate. Deenaz’ poetry, essays, and commentaries have been published regionally and internationally. Her books of poetry, Metal Horse and Shadows: A Soul’s Journey and Imperfect Fragments, have been received with critical acclaim. Deenaz is a wife, mother, and adoring grandmother who lives in Riverside California, Seattle Washington, and Mumbai, India.
telephones ringing, and chatter invading my focus.
I watch my husband play with our German shepherd
while we shelter in place. Spared
the process of unemployment,
an underlying condition and loneliness,
I try not to think about the rash decisions
to flatten the curve, the widespread
consequences intended or not.
At the dining table, I tap away on my laptop.
Wind chimes sing, sway a spring tune,
nestlings chirp new life on the front porch,
and the washing machine spins my pajamas
clean for work tomorrow.
Chris Wood is a lease analyst by day, student by night, and writer in between. Chris grew up in Florence, KY just across the river from Cincinnati and now lives in Tennessee with her husband and works for a REIT company. She is currently earning her bachelor’s degree and has poetry published in Conch.es, Poetry Quarterly, Haiku Journal, and Three Line Poetry.
L.B. Sedlacek’s latest poetry books are “The Poet Next Door” (Cyberwit Press), “The Architect of French Fries” (Presa Press), and “Words and Bones” (Finishing Line Press.) Her first short story collection, “Four Thieves of Vinegar & Other Short Stories” was published in February 2020 by Alien Buddha Press. LB’s poems have appeared in numerous journals and zines as “Adelaide Literary Magazine,” “Harbinger Asylum” “Cloudbank,” “Dash Literary Journal,” “Pure Francis,” “The Broad River Review,” “Mastodon Dentist” and others. Her short fiction has been published in such places as “October Hill” and “The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.” She teaches poetry at local elementary and middle schools, publishes a free resource for poets “The Poetry Market Ezine,” and was Poetry Editor for “ESC! Magazine.” LB also enjoys swimming, reading, and playing the ukulele.
In lock-down there is nowhere to hide. You can keep going to the shops, well yes, but when you get there everyone is watching everyone else. Keep your distance! Imagine a spy in lock-down. No freedom to suddenly blend into a crowd, to push through passengers on a platform, hide on the train then walk out into another city, or perhaps onto the train, but–straight out the other side–into those gathered to travel in the opposite direction, go with that flow, or move on out of the station altogether, free at last, the tail having lost your trail.
The children and I have been playing I Spy. One o’clock, on the dot: beans on toast, a cheese sandwich, a piece of savoury pie. To follow: an apple or banana, or a biscuit, if there’s one left. My drink is tea and the children suck juice through straws. We never I Spy our food, or our clothes, or the second floor balcony where we sit. Every lunchtime we sit and eat and we paint the picture out there.
T is for tree. P is for pavement. L is for leaves. R is the road that runs down the side of the square. S is for seeds, scattered over the pavement – the flying kind, little pairs of wings. S is also for the square. P is for parking. B is for bird: where? It was there, you missed it!
I try to weave silent letters into our game.
M is for moorish architecture. P is for politician. There is of course not one in the square, but I was plagued by I is for inconceivable; how the pandemic caught us up and will leave us go.
The children see her, they said she was K: K for key worker; but by the time they’d said that, she was gone.
W is for woman.
W is for window! The square is boarded on three sides by flats with windows. S is for sun reflected in the windows, splashing in their eyes. R is for rubbish, cylindrical bins, stainless steel and placed around the pattern of the square. C (every now and again) is for: Oh there’s a car! R is red car. B is blue. G is for grey.
W is for woman. T is for tall. C is for her coat, heavy for the time ofyear. W is for walk. S is forscarf. Some lunchtimes it’s wrapped around her face.
R is for rain. T is for tree. S is for pavement covered in seeds. The flying kind.
F is for a foggy moorland cottage. A woman in long skirts is huddled proud and punished, her face has a cold look yet glows like a stove. She stays with her husband in the cottage. It is a romantic scene. Romance helps us cope with such bitter weather; there are always hidden hearts in a landscape so barren. Perhaps romance is born from drudgery. A life without letup needs to find some way of being a lighter
Being. Although it is the relation of the husband and wife that is
Bitter – as well as the weather that hangs over the distant crags, swirls in the early morning, unfurls its news of the growl that lives in the mountains.
W! W! W! The children shout, but I’m slow on the uptake. Anyway it’s a false alarm – a repeat I spy. They gaze and munch, always on the lookout.
In freezing weather she pulls her shawl tight. The cover makes it difficult to see her stoicism as shut away she breaths, walks the moorlands, while her husband is working. He attacks her body with his constant work, his inwardness. Cattle get fed – yet in the cottage the woman cooks the food and makes the beds – could he not have put a handful of straw down for her – cleaned the latrine, sloshed a bucket of water against the moorland stones? During medieval times cattle lived inside and helped with warmth. The cottage on the foggy moorland holds onto its hard frost, even though the woman kept a fire burning day and night.
She starts to sketch on stones with flint, sometimes scraps of paper she’d stolen – along with a pencil – from her husband’s table. Then, after the couple move to the city, she becomes a painter, finds herself acquainted with an art dealer who has a voracious passion for her still-life.
Her husband sits and shrugs, still working, knowing in the larger way of things nothing untoward could ever happen to him or to the world in which he lives.
His wife has other ideas.
One morning a lawman calls and serves the husband legal papers.
The woman is therein bound to live a single life, until the courts have ruled. She gazes at her lover from the back of a horse-drawn cab, as if it is forever, goodbye.
C! – C! – I’ve got one. C is for clouds!
Oh yes! There – clouds – visible just, through the canopy of trees and the shelter of the tall buildings.
Pleased to have found a new piece to our picture, we clear the dishes and go inside.
Ian Bishop teaches Philosophy and English in schools and colleges in Kent UK. His work has been published in Orbis, Interpreter’s House, Adelaide Literary magazine.
They didn’t used to. Or rather, they were less chatty. A few homes showcased signs in their windows of rainbow colors or pinks and blues to denote LGBTQA allies. When I was younger, there was a sign with a dog in a detective coat letting children know if they needed help they’d be safe in that particular home. Signs bearing messages like “Hate has no home here” in seven different languages are pinned for a sidewalk passer to view. “We Call Police” signs demonstrate a kind of warning, a visible household dynamic. Every political season, last names show up on yards or in windows to denote favor.
Not all houses talked. Just like not all cars are decorated with bumper stickers of uncouth messages such as DTF or Honk if You’re High. The talky houses and cars were typically people who wanted to flaunt their viewpoints, stage humor.
My mother told me it was unsafe to adorn your house or car with signals, connotations, like posting a sign in the yard that says, “Home of a Bobcat” immediately is an indicator that you have a high school student in your house. Or car stickers of stick figures that aim to mirror the actual number of members in your family are types of clues my parents certainly wouldn’t want known to the public. Who needs to see that information in a world that is already too intertwined and unsafe? But I always enjoyed the things to look at as my homes and cars remained quiet.
Now more than ever, though, I see signs or decorations on houses shouting silent encouragements, like “We’re All in This Together,” or “Smile,” or other directives.
I never thought about houses talking before. Now, they have a lot to say.
But sometimes they don’t talk. Sometimes there is just the adornment of a lopsided rainbow that a parent proudly hung up for pedestrians to see, a piece of art from their child. Or there’s a painting of a flower from an at-home art project flaunting itself in the window. There’s this cliché about how a picture stocks a thousand words but I find the images in the windows more cryptic because they are less political, almost as if to say, “Take me as you will,” or simply, “My child did this.” Something for a walker to view as they leave their home briefly for an errand.
While stuck working from home or staying inside, we’ve transitioned from the political talky houses kind of people to encouraging everyone to post visuals on front lawns and windows. Balloons by the dozen curl along home railings as though yelling that it’s someone’s birthday. Some people have put out of place holiday blow up decorations on the front lawn just for fun. The class of 2020 is united by their urge to stay home yet they still seek the recognition they deserve. More signs are posted for celebratory reasons and recognition as the world locked itself up during a global pandemic, demonstrating how much humans seek attention, normalcy during times of uncertainty, and, in my opinion, perform small acts of kindness as we navigate new territories. My city’s mayor is frequently found peeking out of windows via a life-sized cardboard cutout or her figure printed on paper as if to say, “Don’t be here right now. Stay inside.” A few months ago, seeing her in the windows would have been rather odd. Now, she’s a figure of rules and regulation.
Restaurant windows are the chattiest, begging passersby to order take out. To go beers, to go food, to go cocktails, to go specials, to go courses, to go growlers, to go hand sanitizers. Yes, we’re open.
Restaurant window talk is a more familiar entity. Prior to covid-19, the windows lured you in with open signs or signs of what beer is on draft or the allure of their signature quesadilla pizza or home of the giant bloody mary topped off with a whole chicken. But these days, the signs I see are there as if to say, “Help us or we’re doomed.”
The windows of my apartment are empty. I’ve been thinking about if I should place something there, but my mother’s reserved German roots nag at me. Keep your politics to yourself. Don’t share too much about yourself before getting to know someone. In these times, though, it feels like I should place something for someone to view in a similar fashion of how I smirk when I see a sign of reassurance or applauding medical professionals, much like how cities now pause at 8:00 pm and clap to motivate nurses and doctors. I mull this over, what to place there, because what one posts in their own window, in any kind of time, feels like it says a lot about the self, just like how outfits are an outward flaunt of style.
When I see something deliberately placed on someone’s house, even now when it’s more common, I wonder what’s happening inside the house. Perhaps the someone who posted a “Hate has no home here” sign, meant to encourage immigrants that they are welcomed in a country that so often doesn’t welcome them, is living in a home inhabiting an abusive spousal relationship they cannot very well escape while the world is on hold. Or someone with a “Stay Home” sign visible for outsiders may be someone making up their own rules and not following guidelines. I think I’m using the signs as a distraction for all the horrible ways the world is being affected right now. When I see a sign telling me to smile, which in real life is a command that when spoken aloud to me I find repulsive and sexist, I do smile and don’t put my focus on the unemployment rate, the number of people sick and dying, the domestic abuse facing many victims, violent racism, the lack hope in this world. Rather, I hope the person who posted something reassuring or pleasant is placing it there to make me realize that this too shall pass, is a visible demonstration of the good left in this overly connected and chaotic world.
I find myself remembering and fixating on the rainbow picture painted by someone’s child.
Activism is defined as campaign to create political or social change. A five-year-old distracting himself with art to distract us from unpleasantries can suddenly feel like a moment of activism in a world in which we are adjusting.
What is going on inside the talking houses? And what pulses people to post things on their homes or cars? Perhaps it’s as simple as a small act of activism, to bring recognition to something we’re all traversing, connecting homes and neighbors and strangers, and to realize a message we’ve all heard but often forget: we are not alone.
Sophie Amado graduated with her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago, where she taught undergraduate writing and rhetoric. In 2014, she received a Fulbright grant to Madrid, Spain to teach English to high school students. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Gravel Magazine, and more.
His hands trembled as he reached for a shopping cart. He had avoided life for the past five weeks. Now, wherever he looked there were threats. He saw it in the way people veered to the left or the right. He saw it in their eyes.
Past sliding doors into an open area designed to protect customers from winter blasts and summer bursts. He walked around stacks of bottled water, boxes of mac and cheese, and sugared cereal, then to a second set of doors. Clerks who had once smiled now resembled bank robbers – their faces covered and eyes swerving. One employee pointed to a sign.
Hold out your hands.
A glob of cold gel descended.
Rub your hands together.
Have a good day.
There were new rules: Don’t look but stay alert. Eyes down but see what’s in front or sneaking up behind you. No contact. Avoid the other. Don’t touch. Don’t even let them breathe on you.
Follow the signs. Brightly colored cards with bold print. Words. Sentences. Decals.
Do not move forward until called.
Only two people beyond this point.
The decals on the floor echoed the signs.
More words on signs and decals.
You are required to …
Wait until …
Unspoken rules: Avert. Veer. Dodge. Unmentioned rules he had internalized years earlier. Behaviors so ingrained they seemed autonomic. When a familiar face approaches – Stay alert! Should a friend draw near – Be on guard. If a child runs by – Beware. A sneeze, a touch, a rushed exhalation – A problem. Other folks – all folks really – threats, menaces, oppressors maybe, or just something to fear as if dodging bullets or knife thrusts.
The smell of disinfectant blanketed the produce aisle. Fresh produce on the right, pies and cakes on the left, meat counter farther down across from the bread and just before the frozen seafood, then turn left.
Is the pharmacy open?
Go straight ahead. All the way to the other end and turn left at the milk. Pharmacy at the very end. He walked as if in a fog – cautious, eyes alert, then, at the final moment, mirror the person oncoming and glance away.
Past the cereal and prunes, he sighted the coffee section. He had stocked up on everything except caffeine.
A family of four rounded the corner bunched together. They didn’t stray from one another as in the past, when a husband without the grocery list would mutter items as he wandered to the next aisle while his wife looked at the coffee and their children lagged behind, or ran away to be found later in the candy aisle pleading for some brightly wrapped item.
Walk around the mother, avoid the children, turn head, nod at the father, pretend to look at the coffee pods so his back would be turned when the father passed.
Remain wary of simple touches from those who may have brushed another. He felt intimidated by slight coughs, bullied by breath from strangers. There were asymptomatic carriers everywhere. Cut right, then left as people approached. Zig, then zag. Go straight. Be elusive. Be alert. Recognize pattern. See the gap. Find the hole. Breakaway. Move forward. Stay alert. Repeat.
He approached the pharmacy, refills in hand, ready to repeat words said innumerable times when he needed prescription refilled.
What he saw, he had worked to forget. The pharmacy tech in a blue uniform, name tag prominent, cloth over mouth and nose, voice muffled. His reflection in an acrylic u-shaped barrier – a thirty-inch-high splash guard with a six-inch ledge separating person from person from the threat each carried.
He read the same words as years earlier, when, after months, he was taken from a small room – a tomb really, led through narrow hallway into smaller rooms with concrete walls, and a window with a ledge. He was directed to wait on the opposite side of the window where a man in a blue uniform, insignia and badge prominent, raised his hand and pointed to a sign.
Do not move forward until called.
His hands trembled.
Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.
by Madeleine Simmons
I spent so much time in silence
I’ve almost forgotten talking
the sensation of pushing the air out
through twisted tongues and chipped teeth
I’ve all but forgotten that talking
is just conversations that become
twisted in tongues and chipped through teeth
never really asking, never really answering
Conversations become just
a game of pretend, “How are you doing?”
never really asking, never really answering
I reply with the only answer, “Fine, Thank you for asking.”
Pretend this isn’t a game, “How are you doing?”
they ask because I haven’t gone to school in three weeks
“Thanks for bothering to ask” I answer but still reply “Fine”
how does a second grader explain their depression to others
I hadn’t gone to school in three weeks, they ask
it’s funny because some of them thought I was dead
a second grader never explains their depression to others
no one bothers to ask
It’s funny because some of them thought I was dead
I wished I was when crawled up under my bed
no one bothered to ask
my family always got ready and left for the day
I wished when crawled up under my bed
that when I crawled out they would all be there
My family always got ready and left for the day
alone, I learned how to communicate and understand myself
Madeleine Simmons is currently attending California State University, San Bernadino for her MA in English. She received her AA from RCC and BA from UCR. Her focus of study is in Narrative Medicine, and spoken at conferences on the topic. She is dyslexic and battle with the chronic pain condition, fibromyalgia. She has been a junior faculty member for Inlandia Institute’s “Poetry is Power” for the past 2 years.
I entered an emergency therapy session, lacking all sense of emotional modesty. Instead of articulating recent trauma, I delivered the heaviness of my internal experience between labored sobs. Bearing a sense of taint, a rot inside that I couldn’t contain. Feeling stunted, like I would never measure up. Wandering through a world my soul fled from a long time ago, only pretending to exist in the reality where others live. Combatting the sensation of soul deformity, through perfection of healthy routine. Prying myself out of bed feeling more tired than the night before, each day failing to meet my own expectations. Choking down my own existence, like a piece of badly cooked meat at a polite dinner party. The deeper my dedication, the deeper the stink of defectiveness sprawled. As my inner turmoil raged, I grew more complacent, disengaging from relationships, abandoning my groups and social media accounts, until I was left drowning in the deafening silence of my own hush. I found convalescence in the distraction of drunkenness, only to wake feeling more desolate than the night before. Each dance with booze bolstering my sense of failure and depravity.
Like an unweighted corpse, the thought of my mother’s recent actions rose to the surface. “How do you reach such emotional anguish that you are willing to douse yourself in gasoline and light yourself on fire?,” I asked. My therapist squared eyes with me and in solitude she said, “Through isolation… Just like any other act of suicide.” My breath was swept away. I stuttered to speak. Tears erupted from a space deep within me, as I began to grasp the seriousness of my own state of mind. With the intention of bypassing mental illness and addiction where my mother had firmly planted her feet, I had fastened myself into the same putrid landscape. Painted myself into the psychic cage of suffering and silence that my mother failed to escape. A merry-go-round of trauma, anxiety, depression, and self-deprecation.
I broke my silence that night. Leaving behind the need to fulfill the expectation of emotional monotony, as a measure of grounded-ness and spiritual strength. I leaked the staggering trend of calamity that seemed to plague my existence. I shared the elaborate façade of unshakable indifference that hid the iced over sting of rejection. The fictitious positivity deflecting the darkness of the casualties of a wedding, a job, the faith in a parent, and the life of a child held dear. The loss of trust in myself to be worthy of love, and the loss of trust in others, to accept me as I am. I shared my recognition that by exiling my own vulnerability, I had sacrificed my capacity to exist authentically. I was both validated and devastated, to learn just how many are grappling with the same feelings of abnormality. In my resolve, I was astounded to find myself not in desolation, but quietly sinking just an arm’s length from my neighbor. All I had to do was speak.
Jules Ochoa is an emerging Southern California based writer and visual artist. She relocated to the Inland Empire from Northern California at the age of 18 after aging out of the foster care system. Jules Ochoa is a self- taught artist and began painting in 2015 to express and cope with past trauma. She was selected to participate in the Format Classics 2018 digital showcase and in the Fabrik Hero’s 2019 showcase. In 2017 she began writing about her life experiences as a way to reclaim her voice. She was a ghost writer for an entrepreneur and metaphysical educator and is currently writing a memoir. Her intense childhood experiences have shaped her unique perspective of the world. She uses surrealist imagery and flowery language to birth that sense of being into reality. Through her writing and art, she hopes to shine a light on issues of trauma, mental health, addiction, poverty, female suppression, and racism.
So, we could be driving together to Forest Falls
Sweltering our way to the water songs at the creek
Then jumping, shocked, then invigorated by the cold,
Escaping an impossibly hot summer day in the I.E.
We could be standing in the cool rain at South Fork
Having pulled off the busy highway at the first drops
Laughing when it starts to hail, our clothes getting wet.
From 110 to 69 degrees, just like that. We got away.
We could be irritated by the slow motorcycle up ahead
Frustrated at Onyx Summit, traffic far to slow, impatient
Deciding not to stop at the lake, too many people, this
Awful pandemic. We’d drive farther out, rip our masks off.
We could be racing through deep mud holes, splashing,
Not a care that tomorrow, the underbelly of the car
Will be caked with hard dirt. We’d drive a little reckless,
Knowing we were still in control. We’d have fun.
We would most definitely live at the edge, and be okay,
Taking the tight turns and mudholes in race-car mode
Because neither of us can stand monotony, being bored
We would take such risks on this narrow, steep road.
We could be standing at Old Jim’s grave, add another
Beer can to the pile, we’d explore the ruins of old miners’
Dreams up here, at the meadow, the old cabin now home
To rats and snakes. We’d feel a little spooky, seeing how
Final and how un-erasable this feeling of life and death,
Hovering side by side in Holcomb Valley on a hot day,
Thick smoke from statewide wildfires, realizing there is
No escape from this. We could be together, seeking beauty,
Finding beauty in harsh terrain, painting our world again.
We could watch the sunset, hauntingly orange this eve,
We could be best of friends again, never mind the wildfires
Or heat, or hardship upon tragedy: you should have stayed.
Ruth Nolan is coeditor of Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California (Scarlet Tanager), editor of No Place for a Puritan: the literature of California’s Deserts (Heyday) and author of Ruby Mountain (poetry, Finishing Line.) Her writing has appeared in McSweeneys, Women’s Studies Quarterly, LA Fiction Anthology (Red Hen), Desert Oracle, KCET Los Angeles, News from Native California, Inlandia Literary Journeys and Desert Sun/USA Today. She has writing forthcoming in Boom California and a book of poems, Fire Regime, forthcoming from Moonrise Press in 2020. She is a former wildland firefighter based in the southern California desert and mountains, and now Professor of English at College of the Desert.
“I don’t understand why anyone would want to commit suicide,” my husband said to me.
“That’s because you had an idyllic childhood in Kenya which gave you self-confidence and security and ambition. And joy,” I responded.
“It’s a selfish act,” he proclaimed.
“You don’t know what it’s like to feel that you’re not wanted, you’re not valued, you’re not loved, you don’t matter.”
I attempted to commit suicide twice in my late teens.
When the light of hope is absent in your dark world, when you have no dreams to elevate your spirit, you have no reason to think your life will ever change, death seems like the only way to end the pain of existence.
I grew up in an abusive authoritarian house with my three sisters. We were told ad infinitum that we could do as we pleased after our arranged marriages. But Mum looked neither happy nor liberated.
My father did give us the choice to attend university before getting married. We lived in a social democracy that wouldn’t deny us a higher education simply because my working-class parents couldn’t afford to pay for it, so I took that opportunity. Education in India, my country of birth, was too expensive for most families, and was considered a waste of money on girls.
I certainly had more freedom after marriage than before, but in my in-laws’ house my life was still not my own. I now had to answer to my mother-in-law. I still felt trapped and powerless and deeply unhappy. My life began to change slowly after she suggested I become a teacher and I enrolled in a program led by a strong female professor whose focus was on the education of girls in mathematics and technology. This centering of girls gave me the courage to ask myself what it was that I really wanted. This was easy; I had always wanted my own space in which I could exhale and escape judgement, and feel free. My marriage remained rocky even after I moved into my own house with my husband and daughter. It was only when we moved from England to America that my life changed dramatically for the better.
You already know your life will not be easy. But I want you to know that you are not who you have been told you are. You belong in this world as much as anyone else. Our lived realities are based on social constructs that have been designed to perpetuate the existing power structures, which are entirely manmade. Literally. The world is not created to work for all of us, and it is within this understanding that I have sought meaningful work. I put my energy and time into remaking the world so that it is more equitable.
The world needs you. There is no one else like you. We understand the loneliness and pain of despair and hopelessness. In extending a hand to another, we are also lifted.
Sarita Sidhu is a writer and activist in Southern California, who takes our collective work seriously, and understands the importance of laughter and fun. Instagram: saritaksid