When I founded this journal four years ago, I did not have a magic 8 ball to ask whether or not this venture might be successful, how successful, or even whether it would still be here, five years down the road. I still don’t know. But what I do know is this: Thanks to readers like you, contributors like the ones featured in this issue, and our dedicated staff, we are still here. Thank you for that.
As the years have passed, my own role with the Inlandia Institute has grown from merely an Advisory Council member to the Executive Director. I love the people of Inlandia and am proud to call this place home.
A few announcements: Because of my own limited resources (time & otherwise) this journal will now be an annual, rather than quarterly, publication. This is both a fait accompli, in that it has taken me an entire year to get this new issue up, and a necessity, so that going forward we can set reasonable and relatively firm goals for publication. Thanks for your understanding.
Also, when we began this journal, we could not have anticipated that we would be partnering with the local newspaper to form a new a project, Inlandia Literary Journeys. This project includes a weekly column every Tuesday in the Press-Enterprise, an affiliated blog, and a video interview series. The videos are currently on hold as the Press gets settled into its new location, but we are planning on filming more interviews on location this coming year. To see what we’ve been up to, visit: http://localauthors.pe.com
Another thing: The Inlandia Literary Laureate has become an integral program of the Inlandia Institute, and I am thrilled to say that nominations are once again being accepted. To see who qualifies and for a link to the nominations form, go here.
Also, just up this week is a fun interview with me in The Review Review. As these things go, it takes a little while for interviews to go live, and already some of the information is out of date, but it should give you some insight into what we’re doing here.
Congratulations to all of the contributors in this issue, and thank you to everyone for stopping by.
The Bathing Suit
“Like this.” Across the poolhouse murk, hands float
a less-loved Body Glove, manhandle me,
and drift away. I stand between a bloat
of spandex and its riding burn, Kelly
Muirshin (B.F.F.) presiding with her cloak-
and-dagger look. “That’s how it goes, I swear,”
she hoaxes. Still the lacquered eye, the smoke-
and-mirrors eye that really glints (the glare
of sunlight on the pool reflected there),
the eye the face holds candidly, the way
magicians hold productive hats. Some pair
we two girls made—the fingers and the clay,
the hot wind and the wave, the weather and
the vane, the devil and the saint she trained.
Laura King’s childhood memories are backdropped by swimming pools in some of the sunniest places in the Southland, including Riverside, where her parents still live. Her poetry has appeared in 14 by 14, Goblin Fruit, Lucid Rhythms, and the 2013 Dwarf Stars anthology.
the rubbed tooth
(lines composed in honor of Beirut’s “Elephant Gun” video)
Oh dear young man throb on lap dance seat
this hot seat rock back and forth
holding your knees to the sound of the horn’s glare
o release me to my drink
Damocles between her fine stocking needs
release me to shrink among these the ambitious
shriek to what escape
this business this business looped
town my job was
to see and cry among the ones unable to monetize
a self-scrutinized oh what was I don’t
you see something is trying to fight
its way off this page to reach you?
behind the blue: the cobalt the aqua in
digo ribbons dance seductively don’t you
see this poem is clawing out
for you the vertebra makes
a submissive circle is this what you wanted
will suckle my thumb around this
town where the milk winds
down they ring around you halo
aureole a mania
in the crowd skeletal kiss
shroud shroud throng in
thralled how we
rush to greet you.
Michael Cooper is a MFA student at CSUSB who is fascinated by the fragmentation of language. He gigs and does spoken word all over the inland empire. His work plays with diction and polyphony in an attempt to shock us back into a critical awareness of how frail we are. He feels we are at our most beautiful at our point of failure: orchids in the same vase of water.
epic mountain, holy artistry
divine bounty and epiphany
calming beauty and mystery
circling valleys with majesty
stoutly standing, enfolding
exquisite, stately, enduring
a lovely view to bespeak
snow beds on rangy peaks
steeply still, raising spirits
beckoning to holy summits
from eons ago till this day
wanting ones ascend to pray
vital to a world that spins
unbowed by battering winds
alpine, green, hues of gold
dazzling spectacle, ages old
Robert Louis Covington’s professional career was as a writer and manager for the United States Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. After 36 years of government service, including four years with the United States Airforce, he now resides in Fontana, California. As an Active Member of the Inland Empire California Writers Club, he writes poetry and other articles for the club’s monthly magazine and for other publications.
James Ducat is a poet & photographer. Read more of his work in ILJ here.
Love Triangle With The Moon
I wait here patiently for you all the time. Sometimes it feels like I’ll always be here and it certainly feels like you think I will be. You come and go as you please; sometimes calmly and with warmth, sometimes thrashing about and white with anger. You leave little bits of trash strewn about when you come to visit, they’re little reminders that you’ve been here and that you’ll be here again and at least it’s something for me to look at until you return. It’s taken me a while to figure out, but I think there’s a pattern to your visits. I don’t know where you go when you’re gone but lately I can sense when you’re coming back and I realize my exterior has hardened in your absence; maybe I’m just trying not to crumble.
I miss you when you’re gone. Isn’t that such a silly little thing to say? I tried to think of a way to say it that would dress it up a bit. Sometimes when I’m waiting for you and sitting here alone with my thoughts I begin to feel like I don’t have enough depth for you, like you’re going to swallow me whole the next time you come. You’ve been slowly taking pieces of me with you and I worry that one of these days you’ll look at these tiny bits you’ve carried away and wonder what I could possibly have left to give – I want you to know that there is more. But right now I’m tired and I think I’m dehydrated and I can’t think of a better way to say it – so, I miss you when you’re gone.
I’ve seen my reflection in your eyes lately when you visit at night and I can’t say I’ve been pleased. There are lines on my face where there once were none and my body is dull and round where it used to be sharp. I know these things happen naturally over time but I think my being close to you has accelerated the process; still, I cannot seem to move and some days I think nothing short of a natural disaster will rip me from you. I’ve grown used to your comings and goings and it’s all become a comforting sort of white noise, even when you’re at your most violent.
I’ve come to realize that you might not be fully in control of what you’re doing to me, of whether you gently caress my cheek or spit on my face as a greeting. Though it’s true that you are a force to be reckoned with, I don’t think that the source of your power comes from within. I think it comes from her, from her closeness or her distance. From whether she’s hiding or showing her light. Recently I’ve noticed you gazing up at her in adoration, and I suppose I can’t fault you for that.
She is beautiful – glowing, even. I’d be stupid not to acknowledge that fact, though she is completely unaware of my existence and it feels unfair that I should have to. Sometimes I feel like you compare the two of us and see my imperfections in her light; it’s then that you crash into me the hardest, that you take the most of me with you when you leave. Afterwards I’m left here alone to recover, where I’ve always been and maybe where I’ll always be. I wonder if she knows about the effect she has on you, the push and pull her spinning creates; does she know you’re looking?
It’s strange; she’s so far away from us both, yet you’re frothing at the mouth and my face is salty and wet.
Rosemary Donahue was born and raised in Southern California and is currently working on a BA in English at Cal State San Bernardino. She is most interested in personal essays and creative nonfiction, and is inspired by the unseen forces that can both bring people together and make them fall apart.
Wanda and Mildred
Wanda and her mother, Mildred, first came to my yoga studio in downtown Riverside in 2003, perhaps 2002.
The sprawling space sat downstairs in what had been the Aurea Vista Hotel and then a furniture store. We had 1,800 square feet of antique wooden floor, no heating, no air conditioning and west-facing windows that showed the parking lot across the street, pedestrians and the occasional homeless wanderer. In the afternoons and evenings, the space resounded with the sounds of young would-be ballerinas thudding onto the ballet studio floor, which comprised the same boards as my ceiling.
Wanda brought her mother to the slow-paced class, so named to encourage seniors and those with physical problems.
Wanda did tai chi, got acupuncture for neck problems and sought whole health. She had other physical issues she didn’t talk about much. I learned about these when she reassured other students struggling with similar problems, telling them how much yoga had helped her.
Mildred had stiff hips, hamstrings and tight ankles. Mostly, though, she dealt with asthma in class. Any pose that involved lying on the floor left her gasping.
They both stood about 5 feet tall and had boxy builds. They loved great jewelry and getting bargains on stylish eyeglass frames in LA. Wanda had short, dark hair. Mildred had soft, white hair. They loved their family and they constantly extended that family as a way of helping others. When they met someone in need, they literally opened their doors, whether a car door to help someone get around town or, in Wanda’s case, opening her home to a teenager who needed a place where he could just let down his guard.
The first time they came to class, Wanda brought her mother, and yet smiled and detached herself from the outcome. Everyone who brings a friend or loved one to yoga knows that’s all you can do. After that, either the yoga works for someone or it doesn’t. Wanda knew that no amount of pushing would work. She loved yoga and hoped her mother would, too.
Mildred gave me looks I came to know well, a kind of “we’ll see”, her eyebrows flicking upward, accompanied with a shrug of her shoulders and a smile so slight I almost missed it. The poses I teach don’t look particularly hard, but I ask students to question their own inner workings, and that’s where the challenge comes. For someone like Mildred, I hoped to improve her posture enough that her breath might come more easily. It’s no simple thing to change a lifetime of habits. If you’ve spent six or more decades letting your shoulders weigh heavily on you, when a teacher asks you to do something that might release your shoulder blades back on the rib cage, “we’ll see” is normal response.
I thought in those first few classes Mildred had been pretty much dragged there by Wanda. Over time I learned that Mildred couldn’t be dragged anywhere, but she was willing to try, often repeatedly, something that might help make life better. A few weeks after she started, she showed up with her own tiger-stripe patterned mat. Several weeks later, pneumonia kept Wanda from class for several sessions, but Mildred came on her own.
She tried every thing I could think of to get her into some kind of inversion that might help her asthma. I tried many versions of a supported bridge pose. In one, she would come lying flat, knees bent, and lift her hips so I could slide a block under her pelvis. In another approach, she sat on a narrow stack of blankets, folded about 6 inches wide and two feet long. She lay back with the support under her spine and then let her shoulders slide off the blankets until they touched the floor. Every attempt ended with her struggling for breath.
Even the most restful position I knew, what some of my students called “day-at-the-spa” pose, left Mildred breathless unless I built up the support. Called supine bound angle pose, it involves sitting on the floor and then lying back on a narrow stack of two blankets, with the head supported. The knees are folded outward and the soles of the feet rest against each other, with the outer thighs supported. Most students find the gentle chest opening and the hip opening deeply relaxing. She could manage it, but not enjoy it, once she was sitting up at almost 60 degrees instead of the usual 30.
One day Mildred complained about how difficult her outing had been at an outlet mall. Her feet and ankles had hurt so much that she couldn’t walk much. I showed her how to do virasana, hero pose, while sitting in a chair. One leg at a time, she folded first one knee and then the other behind, stretching out the front of the ankle, then the back of the heel. About a month later, she reported that she was back in full shopping form, able to traverse the length of the Cabazon outlet stores.
For some years, we stopped having her try supine poses. Then about 10 years later, she just got herself down on the floor, and lying on her back, lifted her hips up into bridge pose. She would do corpse pose lying flat, although sometimes she spent more time lying on her side.
She had tight hamstrings and getting up and down off the floor was tough. Still, she did it, most days. Some days she didn’t, and I knew that if she could, she would. I would ask her, is this day for getting down on the floor? If not, I would set her up in the resting pose reclined in a chair. One other determining factor was the one-inch long rotator cuff tear that made it hard for her to push up off a chair. Doctors had wanted to repair it surgically. She refused and went to physical therapy. She continued with her yoga. Eventually, she dropped the physical therapy because, she said, she hurt worse afterward.
I watched over the years as she kept trying the poses that challenged her asthma, her hamstrings, her shoulder.
Finally, she could keep her breathing soft and easy while taking part in supine big toe pose, a full series done lying on her back with different positioning of the legs. Her hamstrings never became what anyone else would call flexible, but the standing forward bend that had felt like torture to her hamstrings evolved until she could rest her head on the back of a chair and find some mental quiet. The rotator cuff tear ceased to be an issue as she became able to raise both her arms skyward, where once the injured shoulder prevented her from even raising that arm parallel to the floor. In a version of down dog done seated, with the arms above her head, supported by the wall, she could reach evenly through both arms.
In the last few years, she could do it all.
Throughout the process, Wanda stayed close, protective in the way a mother might be toward an adult child who might not welcome the help. She had the same quiet smile as her mother. When they started attending class, to Mildred’s soft white hair, Wanda’s was a deep brown.
Wanda showed up in class one day with a gray buzz cut. She had gone gray when she was 18 and had decided: Enough hours had been spent dying her hair brown. She looked beautiful with half-inch long hair. She had as many or more health issues as her mother, but I didn’t hear about any except when she needed help modifying a pose, primarily to deal with neck pain.
More often I heard from her when something was going right: “Thanks to you. Thanks to yoga” she would tell me. I always contradicted her: “No. Thanks to you and yoga.”
After a while, Mildred was the one bringing people to my class, some with minimal problems such as a dowager’s hump and tight shoulders, another one with Parkinson’s. She would make sure to tell me when the woman with Parkinson’s was having a particularly bad balance day or if she had fallen and been injured. Mildred would help out with bringing chairs, bolsters or wooden blocks to her friend. Usually, these things were ready to hand because Wanda had brought them over, making it easier for her mother to help her friend.
Once after I had been gone for a couple of weeks, I started a class by saying “next we’ll do” and Mildred filled in the pause with an answer: “jumping jacks!” I learned how she had faced down a substitute teacher when he was teaching the class to jump their feet apart for wide-leg standing poses. After asking his age, she told me, she had said, “Well, you’re 28 and I’m 83, and I’m not jumping.”
I burst out laughing and said, “Good. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?” And I turned it into a lesson for the day: that yoga is done by cultivating discriminative intelligence, according to the Yoga Sutras, the earliest writings on the subject.
Mildred was what I want from all my students: to be a discriminating student of yoga. She questioned, prodded, experimented. She never gave up. She was attending class until just a few months before she died of cancer. She was 86.
At the Riverside National Cemetery, dozens of family, friends and her fellow church members gathered on a day swept clear by Santa Ana winds, mallard ducks and black coots floating on a nearby pond. The minister talked about Mildred’s family and the things she loved to do. I was surprised to learn she had been a teacher. I had known only that she had been knowledgeable about gems. She had left her native Puerto Rico to go to college in the Midwest and there she had met her husband, who was in the Air Force. Given how acutely Mildred tested me, maybe I should have known she had been a teacher herself.
The minister said Mildred loved good cooking, particularly when someone else was doing it. We laughed. Then he said she loved yoga and dancing. My guard dropped, and I cried.
It was a few months after that before Wanda came back to class. She had stopped coming before her mother died, she told me, because she couldn’t stop crying at the end of class when she was in corpse pose.
When Wanda did return, it was to encourage another friend to come to yoga. This woman arrives in a Dial-a-Ride bus. The driver gets out and opens the back door and lowers the wheelchair platform so Lesley can roll up the wheelchair ramp . The bus is usually late, so Wanda leaps up and goes to open the door and to greet her friend, who suffered brain damage in a terrible car accident years earlier. Lesley rolls in with a sad smile, but always sharply dressed, sometimes with a sparkly hat and silver arm band. She was struggling with depression and Wanda thought yoga might help. Lesley says it has, she told me, partly because she feels she belongs.
Wanda still sits at the back of the class, along the wall where students go who are not so strong or who have balance problems. Now someone else sits next to her in Mildred’s spot. Wanda finds new students to help, most recently assisting a gentle woman with Alzheimer’s who became easily confused and needed constant small reminders on what was happening.
At first, Wanda would do an alternate pose at the end of class, but now she can do corpse pose again without crying.
The slow-paced class has a wide range of ages and abilities. Some people sit on chairs instead of the floor for the beginning seated pose; some use a cane to negotiate the studio; some people grab straps and blocks for others.
The slow-paced class is always packed, but even so, there’s an empty place there along the back wall near Wanda.
Christie Hall finally found herself rooted to the Inland area by her years of teaching yoga, first at a gym in Lake Arrowhead, then at her own studio in Riverside, at Riverside City College and Moreno Valley College and lately for another studio in Riverside. It’s an unlikely profession for someone who dreamed of being a foreign correspondent while attending Chaffey High School in Ontario and Pomona College in Claremont (where she earned a bachelor’s in international relations). Her journalism career had nothing at all foreign about it: She spent more than 20 years as an editor for the newspapers in Riverside and San Bernardino.
The Last Weekend in October, We Should Go Camping
We have been married for two years and
have never once gone camping:
to place those foil lumps onto breathing
coals –you would shape mine into a swan.
the arrival at night
under a leaky faucet sky
We have never sat wrapped in the blanket
your mother made, waiting for our souls’
to clamor at our tent’s pieces
while they lie lifelessly on the ground;
warming supper to sizzle and send signals
across the camp that it is ready. We have
or stuff a cooler full of essential
camping food, or carelessly add wood to
never sat tearing at those charred lumps, like
a neatly wrapped gift on Christmas morning.
an already feverous camp fire, where you
would toss cut up kielbasa, onions, peppers
& potatoes into tinfoil,
then shield your eyes
Lawrence Reeder currently attends Cal State University San Bernardino, and is working to obtain a Bachelors degree in Creative Writing. Afterwards, he plans to work towards an MFA. Lawrence lives in Redlands, CA.
The Clear Light
The vibration of molecules
in the empty space
of a bucket
in a cupboard below the kitchen sink.
Air spills over the brim
as drops of water leak from a loose pipe.
Each drop of water, a red thought,
a needle in the arm
of a man dying in a white room.
In between each drop, the air is unstirred.
In between each thought, the man rests in stillness.
For Virginia Holt Martin and Walt Pratt
a flash flood
washed out a section of the highway
in Red Rock Canyon,
collapsed the pavement
into a flow of grey slush.
I thought of this
as I waited in the doctor’s office.
Stared at the vermillion carpet
as she told me the cancer
had spread to my bones.
I thought of how the wind
scoured a hole straight through
the red center of a boulder.
The photo I took of my son
smiling back at me through that rock window
the time we went hiking
along those oxidized sandstone cliffs.
I thought of my wife,
the slight dimple in her left cheek,
her hair that shined like obsidian
and flowed down the full length of her back.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell them,
said I feel like going to the beach.
I stood knee deep in the water with my boy,
let a handful of sand slip through my fingers
to be pulled into the receding tide.
I told him, flesh is like this.
You wake in the night remembering
that your father is dead,
as if the news was only just told
to you. And in the absence of light you vision
a flat land, Joshua trees
like contorted shadows,
tumbleweed giving texture to the dark.
You remember the time when you met in the hall
and his surprise when he stood
within a foot of you. You knew then
that he could no longer see.
And now you
are going blind,
each year growing dimmer, the past
growing brighter in your mind
until waking in the night to visions
of what’s passed
is all that sight has left to you.
Elisha Holt is a poet of the desert’s edge. He was born in San Bernardino and raised in the rural Palo Verde Valley, on the Colorado River, in the shadow of the Big Maria Mountains. He currently resides in the cresting winds of Hesperia, California. His work is forthcoming in Badlands and The Pacific Review.