David Stone

Love Lines for Your Valentine

Still need to write your Valentine? Use lines from a local poet.

Someone seeking clarification about another’s romantic intent and who enjoys the use of lowercase letters like e. e. cummings might appreciate a line from Cindy Rinne’s “Another Park Poem.” Inspired by a walk in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, Rinne wrote, “did you try to carve the bark/ leave a heart…” Rinne lives in Redlands. Her next work is titled “Quiet Lantern.”

Courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable might use lines from Cati Porter’s poem “Clearly.” “Look at me/ and tell me that you want me, that you want to heart/ the distance and that you cannot in the object see/ a flaw, and though I am (flawed) I am for you, and/ there is a small tight thought that is wound in me,/ that knowing that you love, a lightning, a lightning/ on the inside: so that you see; so that you know.” Porter lives in Riverside. Her latest book “My Skies of Small Horses” comes out this month.

Seasoned lovers may like to use lines from “Litany” from Claremont poet Lucia Galloway’s latest chapbook “The Garlic Peelers:” “O love, what is your wish?/ We’ve half again as much to say as we have said./ Set down the goblet, and the carmine wine/ sheets down its sides to pool in the bowl./ Let’s drink our words instead of hoarding them.”

Sweethearts who remind you of characters from the The Big Bang Theory should appreciate lines from Marsha Schuh’s “You and Me in Binary.” Appropriately published in the computer textbook Schuh co-wrote with Stanford Rowe, Schuh imagines a world based on four, considers the dominance of the decimal in our world and closes her poem with pondering the numerical effects of becoming a couple: “Then we unlearn it all /learn to speak binary,/ a better way,/ two as opposed to eight or ten,/ the most significant bit,/ the least significant bit/ one-two, on-off, you-we,/ binary.” Schuh resides in Ontario.

Lovers in a more ambiguous relationship may resonate with lines from the Palm Springs poet and writer Ruth Nolan. In her forthcoming book, “Ruby Mountain,” she writes, “shouldn’t I pretend you did it for love/ shouldn’t I believe it was a mistake/ shouldn’t I wonder why not/ shouldn’t I wonder why. . . .”

Those pained may appreciate the words of the title persona in Nikia Chaney’s “Sis Fuss.” The poem “Syllogizing Sis Fuss” closes: “we all hurt. And if we all/ hurt then we all hurt/ each other and the next.” Chaney lives in Rialto.

Jennifer and Chad Sweeney from Redlands are a couple, who are both accomplished poets. Jennifer provides profundity and striking imagery in her book “Salt Memory.” She writes, “As water poured into the heart flows out the palms, so does love return, as thirst, as satiation—the shape the lost ocean has carved onto the salt brick desert.”

With characteristic quirky humor in his book “White Martini for the Apocalypse,” Chad writes, “It was love./ She taught me to drive her bulldozer./ I taught her to forge my signature!”

In earthier lines from his poem “Effects,” first published in Caliban, Chad writes, “The best sex in the world happens during conjugal visits. I’ve gotten myself into prison twice, just to have it. That’s why I’m calling. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Chad Sweeney teaches creative writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

The longing and transformative power of love comes through in the closing lines of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Listen” from her forthcoming collection, “Bird Flying Through the Banquet,” 
“Let your eyes rest/ on my face. Arrest me/ in turn. I will burst/ from the seed/ of myself.” Kronenfeld is professor emerita from UCR.

Ontario poet Tim Hatch gives words to the desire to comfort one’s dearest when he or she is gone: “Scatter my memory where my memories are sweetest. Gulls cry, salt breeze carries me away. When you’re there you can breathe deep, take me inside and remember.”


For a wider array of classic poems to use for Valentine’s Day, search the Poetry Foundation’s website for “Poems for Valentines” or the poets.org site for “love poems.”

Theft by Judy Kronenfeld

I hope there is a special place among the lower circles of hell, perhaps among the serpents and the rivers of blood, for the thief who stole my husband’s suitcase and briefcase from our own driveway at the end of May, as we were getting ready to drive to the airport for a quickly arranged flight to New York where my cousin’s 48-year-old son had just died of a rare bone cancer he had fought with uncommon grace and optimism.

“Where are my suitcase and briefcase?” my usually calm husband exclaimed in near panic, coming back into the house. As if I might have gone outside and taken them in for safe-keeping. I wish. A well-trained New Yorker in origin, who knew how to carry her bookbag and purse in a way to prevent theft or groping on the crowded subway she rode to high school, and whose similar habits avoided the purse-slitting incurred by her companions in a market in Toluca, Mexico, I had always warned my husband not to leave anything on the driveway, even for the few seconds required to go back into the house for forgotten car keys (and yes, those seconds did wind up being distracted minutes). “You were right this time,” he said.

We had to go to New York. So my husband spoke to the police I had called, while trying to repack his pills. And I ran into the bedroom and threw clothes for him, in record minutes, into a small carry-on. We made it to Ontario with a half-hour to spare since I usually err on the side of allowing too much time to get to the airport. And aside from trying to compose a list of everything that was missing, and calling our insurance company, and my sending up a silent thank you to the powers-that-be that it wasn’t my suitcase, which I had not yet taken outside that morning, that had been stolen (in which case repacking in six minutes would have been a pipe dream), we shelved this annoyance in the midst of a tragedy, as we entered the world of a family devastated by the loss of an adult child, and a brother—still far too young—a loss putting material losses into the perspective they deserve.

Still, when we came back home, glad we had been able to offer what little support we could to my cousin’s family, the annoyance felt increasingly annoying. The thief—or someone connected to the thief—had tried to use a check from our account (we had forgotten the checkbook when we made our list) for a considerable sum at a local store, so we had to cancel ours and open a new checking account. And, fearing some private information could have been found among our things, we cancelled our credit cards, but the replacement cards, although the package was listed as delivered by UPS, were nowhere to be found. At that point, a sense of being watched or targeted made me feel almost as uncomfortable in my own house as I had been when a roof rat took up residence inside for almost two weeks the previous summer. It turned out, according to the UPS person who successfully delivered yet another set of replacement cards a few days later, that the previous guy had never even been to our house, but had misdelivered packages all over our neighborhood, even dropping a pile of them on the street. A weird form of small solace?

It has taken several weeks, but we are emerging from the woods, are pretty much finished, we think, with all those calls to banks and creditors, those online morasses when we try to change our information—all of which made me coin a new acronym: NEWTWIST (Nothing Ever Works The Way It’s Supposed To).

I think now of a friend whose insurance company was less cooperative than ours turned out to be, and who gave up her claim; some valuable jewelry was stolen while her house was tented for termites (!), but the insurance people wanted pictures.

I think of what it might feel like to be less middle class, less able to deal with the re-arrangements of our finances, the collection and calculation of receipts for the insurance company, the replacement of essentials lost, or to have no insurance, no recourse, few or no “essentials.”

I think of what it might be like to feel targeted or vulnerable all the time.

Juanita E. Mantz

A Shit Day

.

The day started out bad.  Like bad days always do, it got worse.

Ontario airport was where it started.  Ontario airport is the kind of airport no one wants to go to, in the middle of nowhere in Ontario, California about sixty miles from Los Angeles.

Ontario is known as the apex of the Inland Empire (the IE) which is like being called king turd on turd island.  The IE was where my parents had lived for years and where I grew up.  Growing up, our house was the notorious one where all the screaming and yelling came from, the bright red and blue lights of the police cars signaling our family’s dysfunction for our neighbors.

I had taken the week off from my attorney gig at a large law firm in San Francisco to see my dad who was sick.  My twin sister Jackie picked me up.  We fight sometimes, knock down drag out fights, but Jackie and I are close.  We are so close that we call each other wonder twins.  My mom said we had our own language as kids and that we read each other’s minds.

I decided that the only way to help my dad feel better was to get him some fish.

Some people think of fish and picture broiled sole or freshly grilled Halibut.  In my family, we like Long John’s Silvers.  Their fish is the ultimate in fast food processed crispy deliciousness and their fish basket comes with their deep fried hush puppy potatoes.

Food equals comfort in my family and the more fried the comfort the better.

We hit the Long John Silvers on Mountain in Ontario and picked up the fish.  Jackie and I walked up to my parent’s apartment in Mira Loma greasy bag of fish in hand.  Before I could ring the bell, my mom opened the door with a sullen sounding grunt.  My mom is not mysterious.  She wears her anger on her sleeve like most people wear their hearts.

“What took you so god damn long?” she said as she walked past me.   “Watch your dad.  I need a new cell phone.”   She left with a squeal of her car’s tires without looking back.

And there we were, my twin sister Jackie and I and my dad.  I gave my dad the fish.  He didn’t want to eat it.  He had lost so much weight that he looked like a little bird.  My dad used to be a big guy and now he was bone thin in his white t shirt.  I felt a rock in my chest and couldn’t breathe for a moment when I saw him.

And I made Dad eat the fish.  I admit it, I made him.  I am the oldest twin and Jackie and our younger sister Annie call me the bossy one and I call Jackie the fucked up middle child and Jackie and I call Annie the spoiled baby.

I admit I bossed him into it.  I said, “Dad eat the fish, you’ll feel better”.   He nodded.  My dad took one bite of the fish and started choking.

Jackie and I we looked at each other.   What the fuck are we going to do?  We communicated with looks, not saying anything.   We can read each other minds like I said.

Time stood still for a moment.  And my dad was choking.  It seemed as if he was choking to death and I thought to myself, he’s gonna die from that god damn piece of fish that I made him eat.

With just instinct guiding me, I ran outside and screamed into the air, “Help!, Help me someone!” and then out of nowhere help arrived.

A man came running from the golf course next door and mind you it’s a crappy unkempt 9 hole golf course.  The man had a UCR hat on.  The guy must have been in his sixties but was spry as hell for a senior.  He ran into the house like Superman.  Usually I would have been embarrassed for someone to see my parent’s messy house, but this time I was grateful.

Superman didn’t hesitate and grabbed my father out of the hospice bed and gave him the Heimlech maneuver and the piece of fried fish flew out and hit the wall.

And we all stood still for a moment.  Jackie, myself, my dad and old man Superman.  Superman disappeared before I could say thank you and my dad looked at me with his blue eyes and said with a grunt, “You almost killed me Jenny.”

Jackie and I laughed but I thought I almost killed him.  I did.  And I think that was the moment I realized that my dad was going to die.  I didn’t kill him with the fish but the cancer was going to take him.  It had to.  You don’t get that sick, you’re not on hospice unless you are going to die.  And even Superman can’t fix that.

A couple of hours later, my mom came home and my younger sister Annie came by with her kids Selena and Sophie.  I remember Selena, who was six, hugging my dad goodbye.  “Love you grandpa,” she said.  And Annie held Baby Sophie up to my dad for him to kiss and he nuzzled her fingers and smiled.  My dad was back to himself for a moment.

Annie left and it was me, my mom and Jackie sitting with my dad.  Really it was just me because my mom and Jackie were useless.  Jackie was texting and my mom was in bed reading one of her Harlequin romance novels.  Mom had always loved those stupid dime store romance novels.  Mom had a whole library of them and would let Jackie and I read them when we were in elementary school.  Dad built her bookshelves in the garage to house all of the white paperbacks.  Maybe right now the fantasies were comforting.

The bathing nurse arrived and my dad said he had to use the bathroom and the nurse took him to the bathroom.

Then I heard the bathing nurse scream.  “Help me, Help me!”

My dad died right there on the toilet, his pants around his ankles like fucking Elvis.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out later that a lot of people die on the toilet.  It’s because when you take a shit your blood pressure drops.  And his incompetent Medicare-provided bathing nurse didn’t know CPR.

There would be no angels singing.  There would be no beautiful Hallmark last breath kind of moment.  It would just be him on the toilet.  What a shitty way to die.

The rest was a rush like a Twilight Zone movie on fast forward.  Surreal and real at the same time.

I called 911 screaming, “Please help me, my father.  He’s not breathing.”

My voice didn’t sound like my own.  The paramedics got there in 3 minutes.  I timed it while crying, looking down at my watch hyperventilating outside in the cool Riverside air.

When the paramedics got there, they started CPR.  They didn’t seem hopeful.  After about five minutes, one of the male paramedics asked me, “Should we go on?”

That is when I knew I had to be the one to decide whether to let him go.  Was I going to let him go?  Could I do this?  I didn’t know.  Could I let my dad go? I kept asking myself.  What should I do?

As one paramedic’s fingers thumped into Dad’s chest and the other breathed into his mouth they asked me again, for the second time, “Should we go on?”

Dad looked like a bloated fish lying there.  And my mind flashed back to that fried fish from earlier.  That damn fish basket was haunting me.  I looked back down at my dad.  He wasn’t breathing- they were making him breathe but he wasn’t breathing.

And the paramedic looked at me for a third time and said, “Should we go on?”. I looked at my mom.  And my mom hugged me for the first time in my whole life, except maybe when I was a baby. She must have hugged me when I was a baby, right?
My mom and I moaned into each other’s arms while my twin sister Jackie sat outside against a tree texting.

Jackie was standing against a tree with that vacant house look she gets on her face like she’s not there.  Our dad was dying and she couldn’t help me.  My mom couldn’t help me.  What was I going to do?

“Should we go on?” the paramedics asked me again, for the fourth time.

Thoughts raced through my head.  I don’t fucking know.  I don’t want to do this.  Why do I have to do this?  Is it because I am the oldest? If you want to be technical, I am not  the oldest.  Jackie and I are twins.  I am a thirty-four year old lawyer.  I am also the high school drop-out in my family as my mom reminds me periodically.  My route to USC Law was a detour rather than a straight path after I royally fucked up high school.  This straight A student ditched and dozed her way through her senior year.  You see all that childhood chaos had to go somewhere.  I am like an ABC After School Special, one titled: “How to make it through a crazy childhood intact.”

And where the hell is Annie?  She always gets out of everything.  When Mom would go bat shit crazy when we were little Annie never got hit.  Annie always hid under the bed.  And now she’s not here. Annie was the baby who always got everything she wanted. Annie got the cherry apple bike, us twins got the yellow banana bikes and they called Jackie and I the banana bike twins, she got the white fur coat we got the dark brown fur coats.  Why did Annie get out of it?  Why was I stuck with this burden?  She was the lucky one.

And then one of the paramedics asked me again, for what must have been the fifth time, “Should we go on?”  They were going on.  One female paramedic was breathing into his mouth and the male paramedic was pumping his heart with his hands.  And my dad was just lying there.

And, I just remembered when I was little, Dad driving in his sixteen-wheeler listening to Johnny Cash on the 8 track smoking a Kent cigarette one hand on the wheel, his beer in a green foam sleeve.

I remembered everything.  I remembered going to Vegas with him when I was 22 in a Winnebago that broke down twenty miles from Vegas with him and my mom and Annie.

And we sat in the Winnebago all night until they towed us the next morning.  And I remembered Dad catching on fire from a Tiki torch when he got drunk at a family reunion. I was in my late twenties.

And I thought about the good times and the bad.  All the fighting and the cussing.  All that childhood chaos.  When he got drunk, Mom and him would fight like maniacs.  I grew up in a war zone of sorts, but there were good times.  I blamed him for everything, for all of the chaos and it wasn’t even all his fault.  Dad was a drunk, but Mom was crazy when she got angry.  Dad always said he couldn’t leave because he was afraid Mom would hurt us.  Maybe she would have, maybe she wouldn’t have, but we never found out because he stayed.  Dad was always there, even if he was drunk.  And a drunk dad was better than no dad at all.  Playing cards with us little girls on a Friday night when Mom had to work late at the restaurant.  Taking us to the Pomona Drive In on Saturday nights.  Making us breakfast every Sunday morning.  Pancakes with jelly inside or fried bologna and eggs.  Dad was always there.

The paramedic said the question again, “Should we go on?”

I took a deep breath and let go one word.

“No.”

Juanita E. Mantz (“JEM”) grew up in Ontario, California with her two sisters, manic mother, and alcoholic father. After dropping out of high school at seventeen, Juanita took her GED and waitressed her way through UC Riverside and USC Law. After law school, Juanita worked at large law firms in Houston and San Francisco, but she moved back to the Inland Empire after her father died suddenly and found her bliss as a Deputy Public Defender in Riverside. Her stories have been published in The Acentos Review, East Jasmine Review and XO Jane. She is a four-time participant in VONA’s Summer Writing Workshop and is hard at work on her YA memoir, “My Inland Empire: Hometown Stories”. You can read her Life of JEM blog at http://wwwlifeofjemcom-jemmantz.blogspot.com.

Marsha Schuh

Everything I Need to Know about Men I Learned at Band Camp

.

Sometimes, boys at Arrowbear Music Camp chose a girl they thought was prettiest during the two weeks everyone would be together, and she became the girl of the fortnight.

Sometimes band kids were kind of nerdy, but these eight boys belonged to a club called The Cynics and wore light blue sweatshirts with a capital C, an arrow cutting downward through it.

Sometimes–once–one of them chose me, and he was the best horn player I ever heard, except Dennis Brain, but he was famous; besides, he’d never met me and he was at least 40, ancient.

Sometimes Jack wore dark rimmed glasses like Buddy Holly and when he flipped his long hair out of his eyes, he seemed much older than the 15-year-old boys I knew—maturity, a plus.

Sometimes, he quoted Shakespeare, Kerouac, and Kafka as easily as my father quoted scripture and with a passion for the word I’d never heard from anyone else, including my dad.

Sometimes, he led me to imagine things I’d never thought about—like what it would be like to kiss his lips, and stuff involving tongues.  It was hard to concentrate on notes or counting rests.

Sometimes I forgot the boy back home who had never even tried to kiss me though we spent hours parked in his father’s car, listening to KFWB channel 98, outside my house.

Sometimes, Jack caused me to do things that excited yet frightened me, like sneak out to Happy Gap alone, talking, holding hands, cuddling till midnight.

Once, when we tiptoed back from Happy Gap after curfew, he kissed me in front of the girl’s dorm. I thought it was true love.

Once warm honey ran through my body and my eyes closed, so I didn’t notice the spotlights that came on — caught in front of the whole, entire camp.

Sometimes, I still want to believe like that.

Marsha Schuh earned her MFA in Poetry at California State University, San Bernardino where, until last year, she taught English. Retirement as given her the chance to spend more time with her family and enjoy reading, writing, teaching, traveling, and most recently, long-arm quilting. In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, she believes that life is good.

Marsha’s work has appeared in Pacific Review, Badlands, Sand Canyon Review, Shuf, Inlandia Journal, Carnival, Found Poetry Journal and other publications. She also co-authored a college textbook, Computer Networking, published by Prentice-Hall and finally figured out how to turn the appendix about converting decimal to binary into poetry. Marsha and her husband Dave live in Ontario, California.

For All Those Who Ask, What *is* Inlandia? by Cati Porter

Once again we are approaching that time of year when we give thanks for friends and family, take stock of what we have accomplished, and express appreciation for all those who have made it possible. So, thank you—we are all Inlandia.

A question I get asked regularly is, what is Inlandia? We have now been writing these columns for well over a year, and I don’t think we have ever addressed that directly here. Sure, you can make out who we are by the patchwork of topics covered here; what you see is what Inlandia is and does: many voices, all hailing from Inland Southern California, celebrating the region. But on the heels of what has been a banner week for Inlandia, I thought I would try to explain it in a little more detail.

The Inlandia Institute was established in 2007 as a partnership between the City of Riverside and Heyday, our co-publisher, after the publication of the anthology Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire. The idea was to found a literary and cultural center here in the Inland Empire that focused on the writers and readers of the region. Soon after, Inlandia moved into our own office, incorporating in 2009, and in 2012 Inlandia was granted non-profit status as a 501(c)(3).

Inlandia has five core programs: Children’s Creative Literacy, Adult Literary Professional Development, Publications—both with our co-publisher Heyday as well as a locally-produced independent imprint, Free Public Literary Events, and the Inlandia Literary Laureate. What does this translate to? Just this past year, Inlandia has:

– Served over 2000 children, including at-risk youth through The Women Wonder Writers program of the DA’s office, resulting in a collection of written work and a public reading and discussion; and in programs in Title 1 schools like Fremont Elementary, where we held a book discussion and gave all 200 fifth-graders and sixth-graders a free copy of Gayle Brandeis’ young adult novel, My Life with the Lincolns, thanks to a generous Rotary sponsorship.

– Served over 2400 adults through public outreach events like Celebrate Mount Rubidoux and the Mayor’s Celebration for Arts & Innovation, and by hosting free monthly author events during ArtsWalk at the Riverside Public Library, and writing workshops throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, including a Family Legacy Writing Workshop at the Goeske Senior Center.

– Published: No Easy Way, the story of the integration of Riverside schools, by Arthur L. Littleworth, a chapter integral to Riverside history; Vital Signs by Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, which went on to win an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; and the Orangelandia anthology, which contains the fruit of Riverside’s citrus heritage. And launching this week, a new children’s chapter book, Tia’s Tamale Trouble, by Inlandia author and educator Julianna Maya Cruz.

Inlandia also undertakes special projects from time to time, like “Making Waves in Inlandia,” which chronicles the stories of the women’s environmental movement through oral histories and a very cool interactive component on our website, including a map of all the spaces saved by local environmental activists, and video interviews.

We also have two other interactive features on our website—a map that details the location of every Inland Empire site mentioned in our flagship Inlandia anthology (which, regrettably, is currently out of print—but we are working on a second edition! More about that in a future post). And, just this past week, with the publication of No Easy Way, we launched an interactive timeline, “Time Travel through Riverside’s School Integration History.”

Further, after the first of the year, we will be launching a six-part series of monthly public civic discussion forums featuring esteemed panelists and partner organizations, with the kickoff event at UCR’s Culver Center on January 31, 2015, at 1 pm.

One of the sound bites associated with Inlandia is, “celebrating the region in word, image, and sound.”

Planned projects include a new Adopt-a-School program which will bring literary arts education, taught by professionals in the field, to area schools; a Native American Voices conference at the Dorothy Ramon Center in Banning, featuring and celebrating indigenous peoples; a writing workshop at the Ontario Museum of History and Art celebrating black aviators in February, in honor of Black History Month. Not to mention our usual monthly Arts Walk series at the downtown Riverside Public Library and the free writing workshops held in six different cities throughout the region.

We are supported wholly through the generous donations of our members, supporters, and through grant funding from organizations like the City of Riverside, the Riverside Arts Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and Cal Humanities. But like any arts organization, we are constantly thinking of creative ways we can ensure continued funding while also making it fun for contributors. Last week, we participated in the county-wide Give BIG day of giving, and to all of those who helped us meet our goals, thank you!

We are also currently in the midst of a book fair fundraiser sponsored by Barnes & Noble. If you missed the kickoff event on Saturday November 22, which featured readings by notable locals Larry Eby, Isabel Flores, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Julianna Cruz, and a flurry of contributors to the Orangelandia anthology, know that you can still participate through the end of the week by shopping online or in store (any Barnes & Noble anywhere, as long as you have Inlandia’s code: 11484482), through Black Friday. So if like most people at this time of year you are beginning to think about holiday gifts, give a gift to Inlandia when you shop at Barnes & Noble this Thanksgiving week.

From all of us at Inlandia, we give thanks for you this week, and every week, throughout the year.

Walking Other Paths of Inspiration by Marsha Schuh

If you write, what is it that gives you ideas?

The first question most poets and writers have been asked is: “Where do you get your ideas?”

When I’m asked this, I usually answer by saying either, “ideas are everywhere,” or “I don’t know.”

Neither answer are very helpful, are they? It is a question that novice writers ponder. Even experienced writers sometimes wonder where others find their inspiration. When I listen to powerful writers read their work, the same questions scratch at my brain: “Where did that come from? How did you ever think that up?”

Consider a few possibilities.

Writers often find inspiration while walking. Several of my own poems have grown from my morning walks around Ontario.

Walking also was a favorite pastime of writers, such as: Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and, of course, Henry David Thoreau and William Wordsworth.

Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates and Will Self have praised the benefits of long distance walking. The exercise not only provides ideas, but also has a calming effect while at the same time stimulating the brain – both conducive to good writing. Studies have shown that walking boosts creative inspiration by as much as 60 percent.

The prolific poet Mary Oliver says, “Think for yourself. Trust your own intuition. Another’s mind isn’t walking your journey; you are.”

True, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand what journeys have inspired other writers? What sparks their mysterious ordering of words that are able to stir and inspire us? Each person is a storehouse of feelings, memories and ideas. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to peer into those storehouses?

Realizing this fact, I propose to interview perhaps 10 to 20 poetry and prose artists in the Inland area and combine their insights into a book, one that includes the input of several Inlandia/PoetrIE writers along with my own.

Contributors would discuss some of the things that have triggered their own creativity, perhaps offer a couple of examples from pieces they’ve written and maybe suggest prompts for other people who aspire to write.

As an example, think of Dru Sefton’s piece published on Current.org on May 30 concerning the book edited by poet Robbi Nester: “The Liberal Media Made Me Do It: Poetic Responses to NPR & PBS Stories.” It features the work of 56 poets reacting to segments and programs aired by public stations.

What a great and unexpected source of inspiration!

Elizabeth Kostova, author of novels “The Swan Thieves” and “The Historian,” finds inspiration from William Carlos Williams’ admonition, “No ideas but in things.” She writes a delightful essay on the subject in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and the object she chooses to write about is a set of metal measuring spoons she remembers from her mother’s kitchen. Consider the possibilities in “First Objects.”

Kostova says, “For writing it seems important to me that the objects we grow up with help form our sense of the world.”

Her essay provided me with a possible prompt: Think of a few early objects you remember that were your gateways to life and learning. Write about one of them, recalling the many vivid images it stirs up in you. Allow your mind to follow the flights of fancy it takes you on.

What is it that inspires you? Since the question has been discussed by authors through the ages, one aspect that intrigues me in this project is how contributors will add to the conversation.

When I suggested the topic of inspiration to fellow Inlandia poet David Stone, he had some questions of his own: “Will the writers you interview affirm ideas from the past? Will they find major or fine points of contention/difference with earlier writers? Will they bring in ideas from unexpected fields of study?”

Here is a conversation that has the potential to enrich all of our writing lives.

Based on the number of writing books and “how to” books both online and in bookstores, I believe there would be a considerable market for such a book. What do you think? Would you like to participate?

Would you like to join our conversation? Leave a comment here on the Inlandia Literary Journeys blog.

Inlandia’s Fall Creative Writing Workshops Set to Begin by Cati Porter

The Inlandia Institute’s Fall Creative Writing Workshops are set to begin. Led by professional writers and writing instructors, each workshop is designed to meet the needs of writers working in all genres at all levels. Currently there are six different workshop locations:

Ontario, led by Charlotte Davidson [*Closed: Full]; Riverside, led by Jo Scott-Coe; Corona, led by Matthew Nadelson; Idyllwild, co-led by Myra Dutton and Jean Waggoner; Palm Springs, led by Alaina Bixon; and San Bernardino, led by Andrea Fingerson.

Each workshop series is approximately 10 weeks long, meeting every other week unless specified. Workshops are free and open to the public but registration is required.

Please RSVP to cati.porter@inlandiainstitute.org. Registration forms will be emailed prior to and/or distributed during the first session.

And, while these workshops are free and open to the public, in order to keep them that way, we do ask that you consider an optional but suggested donation of $25 for the entire series. Information about why this is necessary is included in the registration packet.

 

Dates and times vary by location:

Ontario [*Closed: Full]

 

Led by Charlotte Davidson

6 pm – 8 pm

September 10 & 24, October 8, 22, and November 5

 

Ovitt Family Community Library

215 E C St

Ontario, CA 91764

 

Idyllwild

 

Led jointly by Myra Dutton & Jean Waggoner

2 pm – 4 pm

First Friday of every month

 

Idyllwild Public Library

54401 Village Ctr Dr

Idyllwild, CA 92549

 

Corona

 

Led by Matt Nadelson

7 pm – 8:30 pm

September 9, 23, October, 7, 21, and November 18

 

Corona Public Library

650 S Main St

Corona, CA 92882

 

Riverside

 

Led by Jo Scott-Coe

6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

September 25, October 9, 23, November 6, and 20

 

Riverside Public Library

3581 Mission Inn Ave

Riverside, CA 92501

 

Palm Springs

 

Led by Alaina Bixon

2 pm – 4 pm

October 8, 22, November 5, 19, and December 3

 

Smoke Tree Racquet Club

1655 E Palm Canyon Dr

Palm Springs, CA 92264

 

Free parking, accessible from E Palm Canyon or the Citibank lot on the corner of Sunrise/Hwy 111.

 

San Bernardino

 

Led by Andrea Jill Fingerson

3:30 pm – 5:30 pm

September 23, October 7, 21, November 4, and 18

 

Feldheym Library

555 W 6th St

San Bernardino, CA 92410


Alaina Bixon leads writing workshops, including Inlandia’s creative writing workshops in Palm Springs, edits books, and reads for the online journal The Whistling Fire. She is working on an article about women at MIT.

Jo Scott-Coe is the author of Teacher at Point Blank. Her essays can be found in Salon, Memoir, TNB, River Teeth, Hotel Amerika, Fourth Genre, and the Los Angeles Times. Jo is currently an associate professor of English at Riverside City College and the faculty editor of MUSE.

Charlotte Davidson received a Masters in English from Syracuse University followed by an MFA in poetry from UC Irvine. Her first book, Fresh Zebra, appeared in 2012. Charlotte leads Inlandia’s creative writing workshops in Ontario.

Myra Dutton is the author of Healing Ground: A Visionary Union of Earth and Spirit, which was a 2004 Narcissus Book Award finalist and a 2006 selection for “Ten Books We Love” by Inland Empire Magazine.

Andrea Fingerson has taught preschool, reading, and high school English. Currently, she teaches Child Development classes to teen parents. She received her MFA in Fiction from CSUSB. During that time she was a Fiction Editor for Ghost Town and the high school Outreach Coordinator for The Pacific Review. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is currently in the process of editing a young adult novel.

Matthew Nadelson teaches writing at Norco College and leads a creative writing workshop at the Corona Public Library (every other Tuesday from 6 pm to 8 pm) through the Inlandia Institute. He has lived and worked in Riverside County since 1997 (with the exception of a brief stint in San Diego at SDSU, where he earned his MFA in creative writing, from 2002 to 2005). His writing has been featured in more than 20 journals and anthologies, and he was recently featured on the Moon Tide Press website as their “Poet of the Month” for December 2013. His first poetry collection, American Spirit, was published in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press.

Jean Waggoner, a published fine arts reviewer, poet, essayist and story writer, has taught college English and English as a Second Language in Riverside County for the past thirteen years and co-leads the Idyllwild poetry and creative writing workshops for Inlandia Institute. Jean is an advocate for part time faculty equity and co-author of a book on the part-time professor experience, The Freeway Flier & the Life of the Mind.

* Charlotte Davidson’s workshop is now CLOSED due to maximum enrollment; please check back in winter to see if openings are available or join one of our other upcoming workshops that still have seats. San Bernardino and Corona both have openings.

Marsha Schuh

Geometries of Euclid

I

Apparitions float above my early morning walk
and breathe (almost) the earth,
faint allure of blossoms
citrus, magnolia, hints of sage and farm
air yet to smell of fluorocarbons.

It is difficult this morning to imagine the once emptiness
where land poured from the northern mountains
in one huge sheet;
where fertile arroyo of cottonwoods, willows, and sycamores
rattled in the wind;
where travelers met nothing
but sage, jack rabbit, coyote;
where contours of water transformed this desert
into the Gem of the Foothills
and travelers caravanned for cures.

Yet I sense an imagination
thinking in parallel lines,
elements of geometry from Euclid,
colony name from Canada,
and from Australia, parallel rows of Silk Oak
ferny leaves and gold combs like inverted mustaches,
winged seeds furling on the wind, pepper trees
gnarled and ancient even in their youth.

II

As I walk, the dead shuffle along with me
in the half-light of dawn–

The Highlanders, Serrano traders,
neighbors, brothers and rivals
to the People of the Earth who rowed out
to meet Cabrillo in the bay of San Pedro;
Spaniards, bringing smallpox and mission life,
the names of streets and families;
Jedediah Smith, making the first overland journey
along the Old Trails Highway leading hundreds,
thousands who left their imprint on the land;

George Chaffey, greatest of the dreamers,
who changed this barren trapezoid forever.
I wonder at the foresight of the man
who sat in the shade of peach trees
at the mouth of San Antonio Canyon
viewing this wide expanse, envisioning
the seven-mile divided boulevard.

In its center, where I walk today,
Ontario’s first public transportation–
the car, drawn by mules, sports striped awnings,
carries the ghosts of early settlers.
Ladies, wearing wide-brimmed hats, perch inside.
Boys in knickers and older boys in long pants
lean out the windows and cling to railings near the steps.
Dapper conductor mans the tiller, his moustache a perpetual smile.
And on the rear platform, the mules
rewarded for their uphill labor
with return trip down the grade.
The replica reminds me of a story I once heard
about those poor bewildered mules,
who when later sold to farmers, plowed
rapidly the first furrow and waited patiently
for their ride back to start.

Water for every farmer in proportion to his holdings
and by century’s end,
first long-distance telephone line in the world,
first electric light in Southern California,
electric streetlamps one mile apart,
electrified street cars to replace retired mules;
electric room heaters, cooking stoves,
Hotpoint Irons, horseless carriages.
Progress. Industry. Prosperity.

This morning, they hover near me in the fog,
the myriad hard-working men and women:
Chinese workers, who came to “Gold Mountain” seeking fortune,
who were kept from working mines
by threat or force and turned instead to citrus gold;
German and Swiss, European agriculturists,
Filipino, Italian, Japanese farm laborers, nursery owners,
Mexican Traqueros of Santa Fe and Southern Pacific,
gandy dancers, builders of the Pacific Electric red cars,
now ghosts themselves.

III

As I near the “Historic Downtown,”
my own shadows of the fifties haunt me most:
three orange UHaul trailers, twelve
Swedish immigrants from Illinois
who drove the mother road all the way
through Joplin, Missouri; Oklahoma City;
Flagstaff, Arizona; don’t forget Winona;
Barstow to San Bernardino where we sent postcards
from the promised land: Greetings from Ontario, California.
Blocks of small prosperous businesses
Berger’s Restaurant–I still see Mr. Berger,
chef’s hat in hand, taking a break outside his door
with that lady in the red dress who stops
to ask about the missus and their son–
Rexall Drugs, Newton’s stationery,
Fallis’, Gemmel’s, the Granada Theater
where fifty cents still bought a double feature.
On the boulevard, Chevies, Nashes, Oldsmobiles
Fords, Plymouths, Buicks, Studebakers,
and I can’t believe it—an Edsel.

Rambling letters to the frozen folks in Illinois
full of praise for orange trees everywhere,
vineyards, strawberry fields going on forever,
dairy farms, snow on the mountains,
and the beach, only an hour’s drive over the hills,
down highway 39 past Knotts Berry Farm.
On July 4th before the fireworks,
the All-States picnic with its longest table in the world
stretched down the center of our double drive
as we find our spot next to the other transplants from “back east.”

Too soon grandmother, father, uncles, aunts
and mother come to rest in rectangles
set aside in Belleview Memorial Park.

And this Ontario, this Euclid, grew,
grows in the way of Yucca plants,
ghosts in the graveyard, apparitions floating
above the Model City that became
the Pulse of the Inland Empire,
Gateway to Southern California.

And we are transplants, all
who came, who come,
who are yet to come and leave
these ghosts to walk at dawn.

——

Marsha Schuh is an instructor of English composition at California State University, San Bernardino. She holds an MBA with a concentration in Information Technology, an MA in English Composition and an MFA in poetry. Her publications include a coauthored college text, Computer Networking for Prentice Hall and poetry included in Pacific Review, Badlands, Sand Canyon Review, Meat, and other journals. She and her husband Dave are long-time residents of Ontario, CA. She loves to walk early in the morning.

Ontario Creative Writing Workshop Collaborative Poem

Written as an exquisite corpse during the first workshop session, Spring 2012

Authors: Marie Griffiths, Florelei Lueb, Linda Rhodes, Heather Dubois, Bill McConnell, Victoria Waddle; Workshop Leader: Cati Porter

___

 

Sprinklings of an Inside-Out Beach Tea Party

He sat on a sofa in the sand, his saxophone
leaning sadly against his leg. I am walking out

at low tide at Chapin Beach & the breakers
are half a mile away; stepping over clam shells

I can smell the salt air & hear the call of gulls
overhead. The air conditioner couldn’t quite

cool the room, leaving a hint of mugginess,
like the air in the veterinarian’s office the day

I had to give my dog the needle. Shining,
smooth and polished, the titan’s spoon reflects

scribbling patrons in its concave bowl, scooping up
their delicious thoughts. Sitting at the maple

dining table, covered with a fifty-year-old linen
tablecloth, she waited until her grandmother

appeared with the tray holding a silver sugar bowl
full of cubes, silver tongs, pink napkins, a fine

china teapot, and matching cups. Really? It is
another emergency? You mean to tell me that

the contract you signed three months ago
and the other technical studies you’ve had written,

yet again didn’t clue you in to tell me you needed
an air study before the week you need it finished?

The first object I saw when I walked in the room
was the iron backed chair, scroll-worked into

fanciful curlicues. I hear the chinking
of silverware as Sandra scoops up two fistfuls

of spoons and forks out of the sink, and I smile.

____

Background: This was a fun workshop exercise in which I wrote a random selection of words/phrases on the backs of large sheets of paper; each author was asked to use that word/phrase to write a line of poetry. We were seated in the cafe at the Ovitt Family Community Library in Ontario, California. Many of the sounds & images were drawn, either deliberately or subconsciously, from our surroundings.

After everyone had finished writing, I collected the sheets and read them in order around the table, and, strangely, they all fit together, with an implied narrative and surreal setting. While the participants were initially skeptical that an exercise like this could produce something readable, everyone was surprised by the clarity & cohesiveness of the finished product.

— Cati Porter

Victoria Waddle

 

Therapy

 

           The waiting room of the psychiatric clinic was crowded as teens of varying piercings and tattoos awaited a group anger management session. Sharalyn, sitting quietly next to her husband, Mike, noted which teens sat with a parent, and concentrated on their multiple silences, the ways they ignored one another, waiting to be united in conflict.

           Mike was busy with his Blackberry, checking his work email and the score of the Dodger’s spring training game, lamenting aloud the trials of being a fan of losers. If only LA could get a decent owner and be winners again. When this didn’t carry him through the wait for the psychiatrist, he switched to his fantasy baseball league, scratching his graying temple as though some strategy were to be awakened there.

           “See, Sharalyn, if you had gotten an iPhone for your birthday, you could be listening to music right now. This guy is 30 minutes late.” He pointed toward the office door—one of four—with the “Dr. Darmen” nameplate.

           “Maybe he had a psychiatric emergency.” She thought then that she probably should have agreed to the iPhone. But ten months ago, she hadn’t been able to admit that she was afraid she couldn’t learn to use it. Then, it seemed like magic. To think of it now that the device was commonplace was to resign herself to another attachment, weighing her down.

           For Sharalyn, each new piece of electronic gear floated into rare use, flecks of entitlement in her life landing like dandruff, a dry, unhealthy addition. She wanted to brush them away, shake off her snow globe existence, create a clear, clean path.

           “Mrs. Mitty?” the receptionist looked up. “Doctor will see you now.”

           Sharalyn stood. Why do health workers always say “Doctor” like it’s a first name?

           Dr. Darmen was Indian, maybe. Pakistani, maybe. Sharalyn had meet him a month earlier at her first appointment and had wanted to ask about his origins but wondered if he would perceive it as culturally insensitive. She had hoped to keep the conversation going with a few incidents from her youth, the time that her fourth grade teacher grabbed her and pulled her to his crotch and she had flung the can of paintbrushes she’d been holding into his face. She’d never told anyone the story, and thought that was the kind of thing the doctor would want to hear if he were to make sense of her.

           But Sharalyn discovered that going to a psychiatrist wasn’t about therapy. It was about getting drugs. So on that first visit, she had walked away with a prescription for Prozac in the hope of lifting her spirits because she did tell Dr. Darmen that Mike said she was just too hard to be around—a real downer. Now she was here to report on the drug’s success or failure.

           She sat down on the couch across from his weighty desk, scooting toward the edge and clutching the armrest, tracing the pattern of leaves on the navy and emerald upholstery.

           “How do you feel?” the good doctor asked.

           “I’m OK.”

           “Any thoughts to hurt yourself?”

           “What? No—no. You don’t need to worry about me.”

           “Do you feel the way you would like to feel?”

           “Well, I don’t know.”

           “How would you like to feel?”

           “Um. Energetic?”

           “Madam.” That made her smile, this form of address, Dr. Darmen’s own polite vestige from some other life previously lived. “I don’t mean to alarm you, but there is a worm on the sofa, making its way toward you.”

           A worm? She thought, curious. What is a worm doing out of the ground? Here, no less. How can it move on a couch? She edged forward, so that she could turn her head over her shoulder. A chubby little creature, green and fresh as iceberg lettuce, inched along the back cushion to her left. She wouldn’t have called him a worm, but she wasn’t sure whether he was a caterpillar.  He had the inching suction—but no soft, furry pelt, certainly not the black caterpillar of her youth. No potential monarch.

           A moth? She thought of the green becoming brown, the powder dust covering that would allow its night flight toward distant stars or death on a burning electric bulb, as chance had it.

           Fresh as the pale green was, lucid and wet, the poor little creature was still ugly.

           Sharalyn shifted right. “He’s like the very hungry caterpillar,” she motioned at the creature.

           “What is the very hungry caterpillar?”

           “The children’s story? Everybody reads it to their kids. The caterpillar has an amazing appetite and eats a lot of junk food and gets sick. But then he finds a nice leaf, feels better, and takes to his cocoon. Don’t you know it? My son loved it.”

           “I do not know that story.” Dr. Darmen cut in. “How has your sleep been this month?”

           “OK.”

           “How many hours each night?”

           “Four—five?”

           “You have to try to sleep regular hours. Go to bed an hour earlier each night.”

           “All right.”

           “So, no thoughts to hurt yourself?”

           “No.”

           “Are you sure?”

           “Yes.”

           “If you want to increase the medication, we can increase it. If you want to be happy.”

           Dr. Darmen stood up, and for a second Sharalyn was confused, thinking she was being dismissed.

           “Madam,” he came around the desk and stepped toward her, leaning down. “The worm.”

           Just as she turned to observe its progress, the caterpillar leapt—yes leapt, as though to prove that flight was his creature purpose—to her shoulder. She sprung from the couch and yelped, barking her shin on the ebony end table and knocking over the mica-shaded lamp. The caterpillar, having missed his target, plopped onto the seat cushion.

           Dr. Darmen grabbed the cushion and carried it, hot potato style, out of the office, while Sharalyn set the lamp right, thankful that its translucent mineral cover hadn’t broken. She heard the outer door click shut and wondered about whether this had drawn Mike’s attention. When Dr. Darmen returned, she peeked out at Mike, who looked up with a shrug and a ‘What was that about?’ raised eyebrow, and then went back to the Blackberry.

           “Is that your husband with you?”

           “You mean the guy with the crackberry?”

           “I do not know what a crackberry is.”

           “Sorry—it’s just a bad joke. Yes, that’s my husband.”

           When they left the office and headed back to the hybrid Escape, Mike sat in the passenger’s seat. “What else do you have to do?” he asked.

           “Grocery store. We need to drop off your dry cleaning. Just errands.”

           “Can you take me home before you go?”

           “I guess. Don’t you want to pick out some treats for yourself?”

           “You can do it—I’ll eat whatever.”

           “Hey—if you’re bored, why don’t you make a quick visit to your Grandpa Walt? It’s only five miles from the clinic, and I’m sure he’d love the company.”

           “I can’t take the smell of that old folks’ place.”

           “But he’s probably pretty lonely.”

           “You know that old coot doesn’t know what’s real and what’s all in his head. Sad part is, he never did.”

           “Well, people like company.”

           “He doesn’t know who I am anymore. Hate to say it, but he’d be better off kicking the bucket, six months to the century marker or not.”

           “Mike! Maybe he’d just like to hear a friendly voice, even if he doesn’t know whose it is.”

           “Nope, Sharalyn. I’m not going to listen to him hocking up and swallowing loogees. Just drop me in the driveway.”

           When Sharalyn pulled into the concrete drive, and Mike opened his door, the familiar tones of a car alarm greeted them. “We-woo, we-woo, beep, beep, beep, beep, whaaa, whaaa.”

           “That’s weird,” Sharalyn said. “That sounds like a voice.”

           “It’s that damned mockingbird you were so happy to see the other day. That’s all it knows how to sing. So much for the good luck of a pair nesting in our yard. I guess we’re gonna be listening to that all spring.”

           “Oh, I’m sure it’ll learn something else. A mockingbird can be anything, you know.”

           “The term birdbrain didn’t come from nowhere. Don’t hold your breath.” Mike swung the car door shut and jogged toward the house while pulling his keys from his pocket.

           The dry cleaner was in the same strip mall as the grocery store. Sharalyn picked up the week’s groceries, thinking that Mike would like some chips and crackers for watching the week’s many baseball games. On a whim, she grabbed three packages of dough, cylinders that could be popped open to make crescent rolls, cinnamon buns, and biscuits. At one time, she had liked to make bread because when she kneaded the dough, it pushed back, swallowing her fingers with a life of its own. Now, it just felt like a lot of work.

           Pushing her cart back to the car, Sharalyn passed a nail salon. She had been born just a bit before weekly manicures had become necessities rather than self-indulgence. But she thought of Dr. Darmen’s question “Would you like to be happy?” and considered that, yes, maybe she would, and maybe a massage mani/pedi was a start, so she hauled the groceries into the rear of the little SUV and walked back toward the dirt-streaked plate-glass storefront that exclaimed, “Walk-ins welcome!”

           As she entered, four Vietnamese women looked up at her, two from stools where they were applying acrylic nails, their mouths and noses covered with surgical masks. Sharalyn wrinkled her own nose at the acetone smell of the place. The two customers were heavy and white, all the workingwomen pretty and petite. Perhaps a family business, Sharalyn thought, as two of the women appeared to be in their twenties while the others looked to be a generation older, Sharalyn’s contemporaries. Moms and daughters? The younger woman with the UC Berkeley sweatshirt gave a quick smile before turning back to wash the pedicure basin she was leaning over. Sharalyn started to tell her that her glossy, long hair was so pretty. After all an easy compliment like that doesn’t cost a thing. Before she caught the girl’s attention, one of the older women walked to the front counter and spoke.

           “What you like?” she asked Sharalyn.

           “I’m here for a manicure and pedicure, please.”

           “You want wax too?”

           Sharalyn stepped back with the mini panic that always clutched her chest when other people were too familiar.

           “I’m fifty years old,” she laughed in a way that she hoped wouldn’t sound offensive. “I don’t need a perfect bikini line. These days my motto is duck and cover, you know?”

           “You likeitlonglike that?”

           “I’m sorry?”

           The woman pointed at Sharalyn’s lip and spoke slowly. “You like it LONG like that?”

           “Oh. Well, no—I didn’t think I looked like Frieda Kahlo.”

           “What you say?”

           “Oh, nothing. Just a bad joke.”

           “You get rid of that. Nine dollar.”

           “Well, OK. Why not? I’m here, right?”

           Sharalyn imagined a dark room with ‘the sounds of nature’ music, but she was escorted to the chair over the basin that had just been cleaned, and sat under a bright light, as though she had come to the dentist. The woman applied the hot wax strip there, in front of the other customers. “You wait,” she said.

           Voices clicked around her, in tones she couldn’t comprehend. Sharalyn focused on the little boy who walked in with his mother. ‘Sit there,” the mother pointed to a white molded plastic chair near the door before grabbing a bottle of polish from a rack, and making her way to the pedicure station with vibrating back massage. She hit the button and closed her eyes, her arms draped over the armrests, so slack that the bottle of polish seemed poised to slip to the floor.

           If she didn’t keep her eyes on the boy, Sharalyn knew she’d spend the next minutes willing the polish not to fall.

           The boy, his eyes electric with awareness, couldn’t have been more than five.

           He could grow to be anything, the voice in Sharalyn’s head, her own voice, said before her mother’s voice took over. Sharalyn now heard the articulation of a woman who, even before she’d died, was so fused with God that she would have put a nun to shame, was shaming Sharalyn now. Because Sharalyn thought she knew what intrigued the boy, thought she knew what he was going to do and certainly knew that these days, anything with a possible consequence was prohibited. Not for the first time, Sharalyn devotedly wished to be an atheist, someone who, without the consistent presence of that God-human hero mix watching her every move, could experience moments of solitude when no one else was there. A believer never walked alone, true, but she never had privacy either.

           Shame or not, a story was going to spin out, and Sharalyn needed to know how it would end.

           In the front corner of the shop, hidden from the workingwomen by the intervening reception counter with its cash register, was a low shrine with a gold-leaf Buddha meditating in front of a carved wooden altar. He was not the happy, hefty fellow Sharalyn remembered from the neighbor’s garden of her childhood. He was the silent one, the one so heated with longing that snails took pity and cooled his head, their hundred shells tightly packed over his naked scalp. Now luminous under the warmth of the ceiling spotlight that doubled as his halo, he drowsed, unaware of the long-clawed fingers in the framed posters over his head, multi-colored acrylic nails reaching toward him, a moment from snatching him in their rainbow clutch.

           In front of the altar was a raised cake plate full of fake fruit—some golden-red apples, a banana—and real donuts. The donuts were dusty, and Sharalyn’s conscience was uneasy on that account.

           Sharalyn thought of the signs she’d seen on walking trails, a triangle of arrows anchored in each corner by a figure. One arrow shows that the walker must yield to the horseman, but the other two arrows show that the bicyclist must yield to them both. Who should yield here? The disembodied hand, the Buddha, or the boy? Add the ancestors in whose memory the altar was placed here, and directional arrows became useless. Sharalyn’s mother’s voice was silenced for once, now, when a mental traffic cop was needed.

           The boy slithered from his seat and undulated as he moved, a silent, stealth natural. He cupped a cake donut, was a magician in making invisible the chocolate frosting and multi-colored sprinkles until the circle hung from his mouth. The ancestors whose shrine this was and who hadn’t cared enough for the food to eat it themselves made no move on him. The boy didn’t like the donut any better than they had. He bent from the waist, gagging, a dark glob slowly sliding from his wide mouth. As it hit the floor, he followed with a hard retch, a thin stream of vomit, and wailing.

           The cries woke his mother from her mechanical massage trance, and she jumped up, dropping the nail polish, which broke on the floor. She ran to the boy and pulled the remains of the donut from his hand, throwing it back on the cake plate. The woman who had applied Sharalyn’s wax mustache followed her.

           “This boy a brat. Look this mess. Who clean this up?”

           “You make my son sick to his stomach with rotten food that you leave laying around when you know that any kid is going to want a donut? And you want to blame me? What is wrong with you people?” the woman screamed to be heard over the pitch of her son’s wailing.

           “You teach him. What wrong with you?”

           “Listen, bitch, you’re lucky I don’t sue you. I’m going to call the . . .”

           Apparently, the woman wasn’t sure who she was going to call. The police? Sharalyn was embarrassed by her fumbling for words and was about to suggest that she was thinking of the Better Business Bureau, but in a karate kick worthy of a Jackie Chan movie, the mother knocked the cake platter into the counter, only cracking an inch in the corner of the plate glass, but splintering the platter, and just missing the Buddha and his altar. She then flung herself toward the door, holding the boy, who was still wailing, by the hand.

           Sharalyn didn’t think the boy was a brat, only curious, as boys should be.

           Meanwhile, the manicure customers paid and slipped away. The proprietor brought a mop and rolling pail out of the back room, all the while letting fly what Sharalyn thought must be curses in Vietnamese.

           Ten minutes had passed since the proprietor had waxed Sharalyn’s lip, but she remained silent until the woman remembered her and tore the strip away, causing her to yelp for the second time that day.

           “You have soft skin.”

           “Thank you.”

           “No—it bleed. Here, you hold this.” The woman handed a gauze pad to Sharalyn and pointed to her lip. Sharalyn pressed it to her face.

           While she was having her manicure, Sharalyn held the gauze pad by turns in her idle hand. By the time she had her pedicure, the pinpoints of blood had dried.

           “You like flower?”

           “Of course. I love flowers. I had some gladiola bulbs on the east side of my house that came up for ten years, and I never—”

           “You want? Five dollar each, OK?”

           Sharalyn did not want, thought she was too old for that look, but thought, too, of the boy and of his terrible mother, and said, “Um, OK.”

           The woman quickly painted a flower on each of Sharalyn’s big toes.

           Back on the road and waiting at a nearby traffic light, Sharalyn set her elbow on the armrest, her chin in the palm of her hand. “The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone,” she thought to sing, but didn’t. An old oak was growing too close to the street and made an easy specimen for examination. It was burnt hollow through its trunk, but layered branches arched outward, tiny green-gray leaves sprouting skyward.

           “I thought only redwoods could do that,” she spoke, still facing the window. She heard a crack and a sharp pain popped the right side of her head. She reached up to finger the spot and came away with a bloody hand.

           “Shit!” Drive-by shooting? “Oh, my God. Oh no.” Though Sharalyn felt blood in rivulets down her neck, she was not losing consciousness. She even thought to put her car in park and turn on her emergency flashers. The bullet only grazed me, she thought and reached for her cell phone to dial 9-1-1. Cars pulled around her, but no one stopped.

           The fire department paramedics arrived first and then an ambulance. “Are you OK?” a young man in uniform asked. Tall, dark and handsome with the obligatory mustache, Sharalyn had wits enough to notice he could have been the calendar fireman of the month.

           “Someone shot me, but luckily, it just grazed the side of my head.”

           “Ma’am, if someone had shot you, your window would be broken.”

           Sharalyn hadn’t thought of that. “But, you are bleeding pretty good here on the right side of your head. Did you hit it on something?”

           “No. Really. I promise.” The ambulance attendants stood by while, with the help of his partner, the paramedic sat Sharalyn on a pop-up gurney.

           After bandaging the wound, the man told Sharalyn to lie back on the stretcher and they’d get her into the ambulance. “I need my purse, please,” she said, and he leaned over to pull the heavily loaded black hobo sack from the passenger seat.

           “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “What’s this?” He showed Sharalyn a metal disk, just bigger than a silver dollar, with a splatter of blood. “This is your culprit.” He looked over to the back seat and pulled up the rest of the dough cylinder, now popped open and grown over the end of the tube, like that wicked Blob of B-movie fame.

           “Are you telling me that I’ve damn near been done in by the Pillsbury Doughboy?”  Sharalyn sat back up.

           “Yeah, it kinda looks that way.”

           “I’ve had it. I’ve had it today, OK? That’s an urban legend. That’s not real.  That can’t be my life.” Sharalyn knew this bordered on whining, so she added, “If that’s all it is, maybe I can just drive home?”

           The ambulance driver looked over, along with his attendant, at the paramedics. They all joined in the laughter. “This is one for the books,” the driver said, then turned back to Sharalyn.

           “No can do,” said the paramedic. “Sorry but, doughboy or not, that’s a pretty good cut, like I said. You might get a bit too dizzy to drive yourself. Plus, your lip’s bruised. Maybe you’re gonna get a black eye. It sounds weird, but stuff like that can happen from a hard hit.”

           “Ah—no.” Sharalyn touched under her nose to feel the tenderness. “The lip is from something else.”

           “We’ll park your car over to the side of the road. Do you have someone who can come to the hospital and pick you up?”

           Sharalyn waited until she had gotten five stitches in the center of a shaven spot on her head, was bandaged, and filled her prescription for Tylenol with codeine before calling Mike. When he didn’t answer, she tried his cell. When he didn’t answer there, she left a message telling him that the car was on the corner of Brookhaven and Oak Drive, and that she was taking a Taxi home.

           “I’m having a crappy day, and the least you could do is answer the phone!” Sharalyn longed for the era of receivers, hefty realities to be slammed down. ‘Hanging up’ now was just an imperceptible touch of a button, soundless.

          Sharalyn found Mike in front of the TV with his Bose earphones on. In the kitchen behind him, she pulled a leftover low-carb chicken breast lettuce wrap from the fridge, and filled a glass with water from the door. She got the Tylenol from her purse and sat down next to her husband. She pulled the left earmuff away from his ear. “Is this the Lakers?” she asked.

           “It is.”

           “Those shorts look pretty short. Is that Magic Johnson?”

           “Yeah.”

           “What is this?”

           “The 1988 championship game.”

           “Why do you want to watch that?”

           “Nothing else on.”

           “Well, it’s not like you don’t know the outcome.”

           “It’s still a good game. And we won.”

           “We?” Sharalyn said.

           “Did you forget your medication today?”

           “No,” she lied. She had forgotten to take the Prozac, but she knew it wouldn’t have stopped working in one day—well, two days, since she’d forgotten the day before as well. It didn’t matter. She realized she wanted to be angry, and being able to identify her desire made her feel better.

           “Did you talk to the doctor about the dose?”

           “Knock it off—you are the one who is being a pain in the ass here.”

           Mike turned to look at her. “What the hell happened to you?”

           He’s paying attention, Sharalyn thought. She could tell him about the whole, incredible day.

           She didn’t care to. It was something her mother used to say. “I don’t care to.” Could it become her phrase, too?  Could she move through the rooms of their house saying, “I don’t care to talk to you?”

           “Long story,” she said instead, handing him the Tylenol. “I don’t want to talk about it. It’s no big deal, but we have to get the car. Listen to the message on the answering machine.”

           She walked back into the kitchen and stuffed her lettuce wrap down the garbage disposal. “I’m going outside to check for stars.”

           “It’s cold. Why don’t you take some of that codeine and hit the sack. You’ll feel better. You look awful, I swear to God, I wouldn’t lie to you. You’d better take care of yourself.”  Mike had gotten up and was heading toward the phone.

           “I look awful because I feel awful. But I was wondering where Van Gogh got the idea to paint his starry night. Maybe I’ll take a painting class down at the rec center.”

           “I hope you won’t be too disappointed if that doesn’t make you a Van Gogh.”

           “I’ve already given up on being Frida Kahlo.” Sharalyn touched her lip.

           “What?”

           “Nothing, just a bad joke.” Sharalyn went to her room and fumbled through her bottom dresser drawer for her fleece hoodie. She stopped to outline one of the cowboys on the boy’s pajamas, an unworn pair she had kept all these years. The boy had refused to wear them because, he said, no one wears cowboys anymore. She knew even then that they had been a funny thing to keep, a thing without a scent or a memory. But it reminded her that his half-formed opinions had been buoys stretching across her path for five years. Not a brat, she’d always know that, just someone who knew what he’d wanted.

           He could have been anything. And then he was nothing. And so Sharalyn knew that she could not work her will on the world, that the world was having none of it.

           Sharalyn opened the front door and stepped into the cool breeze. There were few stars visible, but they were out there.

           Taking another step into the night, she felt a strand pull across her face. She tried to grasp it, but she couldn’t quite manage. Whether it was a thread blown from some intricately-designed spider web or just her own hair blown out of place was impossible to tell.

           When she was no bigger than the boy in the salon, no bigger than the boy who refused to wear cowboy pajamas, her family had visited her grandfather, who, in his summer cabin in the Pennsylvania Blue Mountains, spent most of the time drunk on the porch. She thought of the spider webs there, which decorated every corner, top and bottom.

           That was the first time she’d met Grandpap, but she immediately fell in love when he’d shown her how to shoot watermelon seeds into an empty pie tin. “Come here,” he motioned to her as she looked for bunnies under the rotting foundation. “I want to teach you a song.” She moved into the circle of his outstretched arm, and it closed on her. “Crooked teeth and crooked nose/That’s the way the nigger grows,” he bellowed.

           Grandpap had laughed and spit tobacco juice into his beer bottle. Sharalyn ran inside to repeat the song for her mother, who narrowed her eyes and said nothing. For a moment, Sharalyn thought her mother was going to spit on her, spitting being something the family seemed to do with accuracy. But her mother decided to ignore her throughout the evening and wouldn’t kiss her goodnight.

           But I could’ve been anything, Sharalyn thought.

           As awful as the old man was, he had also had sober moments during the vacation back East. In his sobriety, he taught her how to cup her hand into a bowl for water, clamp her other hand over it as a lid and then blow into the opening between her bent thumbs, making a trilling noise. “Bird whistle,” he’d said, and she’d left the bunnies to their underground hideout in order to captivate the jays in the trees.

           Sharalyn stepped into the little gravel path through the drought-resistant zeroscape of her front yard, for which she’d given up her gladiolas last year. Bending to the faucet, she turned the spigot, and water and air blasted in alternative bursts, making sounds like quacking ducks. At this, the mockingbird, who was hiding in the old Crape Myrtle on the side of the house, took flight, landing across the street atop the Jetson’s-styled shrub next to the neighbor’s door.

           Cupping the icy water as her grandpap had taught her, Sharalyn blew. When she took a breath, she accidentally sucked back the water. Gagging, she pulled away to see tiny red dots of blood on her upper thumb. She held the cupped hand of water to her lips to wash the blood, then spilled it onto the saguaro cactus, and tried the faucet again. She held her hands to her lips and turned outward toward the street, a Pied Piper in her white glowing bandage with the crimson blot soaking through, her red and blue swollen lip, her jewel-toned peasant top and cropped purple pants. She sent out a call for all with winged creatures to join her in her march, and the mockingbird echoed her quavering warble.

 
_____

Victoria Waddle is an unapologetic reader, a closet writer, and a lover of all things literary. She is also a high school librarian in the Inland Empire and writes teen book reviews for her Colony Library Lady blog at http://colonylibrarylady.com.