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4.4

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sparkle + blink 35
© 2013 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-300-59651-6 This show curated by Charles Kruger and Sandra Wassilie artwork © Daniel Healey danielhealey.net "Cloud Town" by Matt Leibel appeared previously in Quarterly West book design by j. brandon loberg set in Absara Promotional rights only. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from individual authors. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the author(s) is illegal. Your support is crucial and appreciated.

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Contents
curated by Charles

Kruger & Sandra Wassilie Healey

featured artist Daniel

set 1
J. E. FrEEman matt LEibEL ShidEh Etaat

In the West Cloud Town On Moisture and Other Things We Desire To Be Beautiful Enough

1 5 9 19

WiLLiam tayLor Jr.

set 2
WiLLiam tayLor Jr. WiLLiam tayLor Jr.

Please As we wait for the moment when I disappoint you

21 23

ariEL FintuShEL

The Revolution Is Largely a Material Act 25 Morality of Dropping Things 27 In Turning One Piece, Turn Everything Else 29 Bodies Jesus Smokes A Stolen Kiss On a Clear Day 31 35 39 45

Sarah nataLiE WEbStEr Sarah KobrinSKy daWn GroSS J. E. FrEEman

e t L ig Qu i

htning is sponsored

by

lagunitas.com

Quiet Lightning
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet Lightning is to foster a community based on literary expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on the first Monday of every month, of which these books (sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts. Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is currently: Evan Karp founder + president Chris Cole managing director Josey Lee public relations Charles Kruger secretary Meghan Thornton treasurer Kristen Kramer chair Jacqueline Norheim Nicole McFeely Brandon Loberg art director outreach design

Sarah Maria Griffin and Ceri Bevan directors of special operations If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in helping—on any level—please send us a line: evan@quietlightning.org

QuIET LIghTnIng

tour through town
In 2013, Quiet Lightning is teaming up with a different literary organization each month in order to bring together the many outstanding series and organizations of the Bay Area literary world, and to introduce its various audience members to programming they might like, but not yet know about. For these reasons, we will create custom-designed shows that combine the defining features of Quiet Lightning with those of each month’s partner organization, beginning with next month’s show; we will include the ways we modified our format in each issue.
For details on the Tour T h r ou gh T own visit our website:

QuIETLIghTnIng.ORg

- set one -

JREEMAn J. E.

i n t h e w est
In the West the sea sits fog shrouded  and grey in the distance. I sit sunny on the side of the Buena Vista Hill in my own outdoor sitting room. It is not mine nor is it a room , really. Just a place to sit in the park under the tree in the sun where I am comfortable and free. Where my pen can paint this page any page with the features of the face of my soul

1

From here I can see the spires of the university church, the Lone Mountain tower the sea swept trees the occasional soaring bird and jet planes scratching contrails playing tic-tac-toe with the sun. Tourists stop sometimes in front of me with their cameras trying to capture time’s light and shadows in a box. They become the unknowing random fore ground objects in the pictures I am taking  in my mind. I can not keep them or these shapes or colors or moments. But I see them feel them and that is what is important after all.

2

The way they change the mood the scene the sense the tense the syntax of time. Rhymes, they set breaking tempos establishing a frame nameless. They might be any one any time anywhere else but here. Here, they are mine. They shine strut pose move on enraptured as they are by this beauty this blue sky this light these sights they will remember long after their photographs
J. E . F rE E man

3

have faded and are gone from this stage this page this poem . In the West.

watch j.e. freeman read "In the West"

4

MATT

LEIBEL

C Lo ud to w n
The cloud was heavier than we expected: it had rough skin, like the hide of an elephant, and its graying insides were dank as a seaside cave. We were drawn to the cloud because it promised something, though we weren’t quite sure what. It had fallen from the sky obscurely (a suicide attempt?), and when it landed it splashed wet white foam, which first we’d thought of as snow, onto some of the adjacent buildings. We wondered if there’d be others: there was a term coined—kamikaze weather. But the cloud remained alone, willfully singular. We integrated the cloud into our lives. We blocked off the street, encircled the cloud with orange cones and yellow-black police tape. Sundays were the most popular visiting days—admission was half off, and there were organized meditations. We’d sit lotus-style and we’d hum quietly, and we’d stare into the cloud, its ethereal whiteness, its seductive, tantalizing vagueness, to ask it, in words or in spirit, for guidance. The cloud never provided the actual guidance, of course: it was merely a conduit for us to provide our own versions of guidance to ourselves. But still, the people came in droves from cities near and distant. There were names for the cloud in over ninety different languages. An Egyptologist
5

developed a hieroglyph: it was meant to look like a cloud, but more closely resembled a pencil sketch of a shower cap. Soon it was said that the cloud was the most universally recognized entity on the planet. Poets wrote it sonnets, opera singers sang it arias, museum exhibitions were dedicated to both literal and metaphorical representations. This was all quite a boon for tourism, and of course we milked it, calling ourselves Cloud Town. It was said by some that the cloud was God, and by others that the cloud served as a crucial reminder of God’s shape-shifting omnipotence: He is within our hearts, our animals, our books, our buildings, our bullet holes, our traffic lights, and yes, within our clouds. Others argued that the cloud disproved the existence of God: surely, no god would allow such as thing as a fallen cloud to disrupt his Grand Design, and thus it follows that the universe is random. Regardless, we saw the cloud as received knowledge: our librarians struggled to find ways to catalog it, to wedge it into the established paradigms. Of course you could file it under “C”, somewhere between cloak and clover. You could set it down next to air, water, mountain and sky; you could gather them together, you could take a group photo, but it would have to be on a sunny day, since there was no flash photography allowed within a mile of the cloud. We speculated, rampantly, on what the cloud might say, were it possessed of the ability to speak. There was a poll taken, by a popular magazine, and the consensus was that the cloud would say Hola, muchachos. One afternoon some kids broke through
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the barriers and spraypainted a mouth and some teeth onto the cloud: luckily, the paint evaporated and the kids were punished, in spectacular and thrilling fashion. There was gossip about the cloud’s personal life, rumors that it was seeing an actress, that it might be serious. There were grumblings that the cloud was unhappy with its roped-off position in the square, that it wanted a more prominent, permanent location. Words like ego and primadonna were bandied about, unabashed and out in the open. This is when the speculation first started, that the cloud was planning a skyward return. We were all forced to consider what this might mean. We went through the mental exercise of pre-drilling the tiny holes in our hearts that the cloud’s departure would surely leave us with. Not quite all of us, however. A few of us started scheming, scheming a little scheme. We would break through the elephant-hide skin of the cloud, we would enter into its dark, craggy, damp-cottony folds, its inner sanctum. We would curl ourselves up into fetal balls and ready ourselves to rise up into the sky. We would ride over the City, we would look down upon the great buildings and laugh cruelly at their silly insignificance, their pointy, caricatured, phallic quality. We would look down upon all our friends and neighbors and the way they moved about, jittery as ants: the further away they became, the more absurd seemed the notion that they were recognizably human, that they had heartbeats, free will. There would be something new for us up there, we knew. Not God, nothing overtly spiritual like that.
mat t LE i bE L

7

There would be, instead, just us, the fact of us, living inside a cloud, surrounded by all the others, a crowd of clouds, and we’d be maybe wondering if this was what Transcendence really felt like, and was there any more to it—wait, hold on, wasn’t there supposed to be?—or was it just kind of this, the cold, the quiet, the city below, the clouds like eggs, the sky as incubator…

watch matt leibel read "Cloud Town"

8

ShID

Eh ETAAT

on Moi sture and other

t h in gs w e s o d esi r e

There was no doubt about it; the peacocks were dead. The drought had begun at the beginning of that year in 1678, that season when rain usually came over the plateau like a trusted lover who entered one’s bed at precisely the same hour each night. The nights were turning cold again; it was that desert night chill that plunged like an arrow into skin and made even the most eloquent poets stutter and skip over words. Shah Soleyman was the ruler of the Persians, not just the Shiite Muslims if that’s what’s crossing your minds, but the Jews, Zoroastrians, Armenians, and even the Sunnis who’d made a home out of this land too. But what a life it was for these non-Shiites who were considered to be dog-like, infested with diseases that had crawled inside of their brains and altered something of its chemistry to make them resist joining Ali’s religious party; it was really no life at all. For many it was a choice, as life always is: conversion or expulsion. New converts were rewarded with money, because as it turned out money could in fact buy you out of your god. Water remained blind to such distinctions; and in the end all were
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deprived. Corn prices had skyrocketed, goats and sheep and the chickens that ran around and clucked all day long became nothing but a haphazard collection of bones. They were desperate times and so they called for desperate measures; all were invited to the Shah’s court to pray. The men gathered in the courtyard where the peacocks once roamed, but were now nothing but carcasses molting under the day’s heat, other, less noble birds pecking at their organs. Men were too exhausted to dig through this hardened earth and give these once majestic birds a proper burial. The trees had once been green too, but were now barren and chaotic with their curved limbs. Moosa the Jew with his tattered strings that hung from his waist, his long beard and eyes that drooped in a permanent state of sadness stood bowing back and forth, his feet dirtied just the way he liked them because he enjoyed nothing more in this life than walking barefoot. When asked once by his son why, he had replied: When my feet are connected to the earth in such a way, every step I take reminds me of the lightness of my own being; that this is just a body and we are so much more than a body, My Boy. And I must say, I do have the most beautiful feet in the world, don’t you think? Armen the Armenian with a mustache so thin it looked to be meticulously drawn above his lips with
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ink and ears so big that they flapped even though there was no wind closed his eyes and lowered his head as he prayed to Sargis who answers the call of those in distress. When his wife had asked him about the size of his ears on their wedding night years before, and if they ever got in the way of his lovemaking, his response had been simply: Don’t be silly, my dear, God gave me such ears to hear him better with, and nothing ever gets in the way of me and my lovemaking. There were too many men and so Armen and Moosa stood quite close to one another. Abadi the Zoroastrian also stood next to them, but a little further away since he was experiencing horrible gas and felt embarrassed by it. Abadi always held a drum in his hands and thumped the thing as he prayed. Ali the Sunni wore a red cloth wrapped around his long hair and prayed to Allah the supreme and all-powerful one. And Mohammad the Shiite who was a close confidante of Shah Soleyman wore something yellow that looked like a woman’s dress, except it wasn’t a dress because Mohammad the Shiite was a man, so we shall call it a robe of sorts, he also prayed to Allah the supreme and all-powerful one. In the end, even if they didn’t wish to see it, and still don’t wish to see it, it was all the same, and would in essence always be the same: words and breath and hope reaching out to the heavens, to the universe believing that if they did it right, there would always be an answer waiting for them.
Sh i dE h E ta at

11

Hundreds gathered inside the overheated courtyard. The feet of those who had taken their shoes off burned from the hot cement, but not our dear Moosa whose feet were planted firmly on that ground. His body didn’t wriggle or twist itself to relieve the scalding pain; he looked like a man at peace with everything God would send his way and he knew that like most things in life, he wouldn’t always have a say in it. Not even the Shah himself had enough water to keep himself quenched and he even considered once or twice drinking the dirtied, old water of his shisha pipe. It was a rare occasion to have this interfaith assembly and would perhaps only happen again in Zoreh Khanoom’s brothel where the rooms were so small that no man’s god was allowed to enter. Just then Mohammad the Shiite sneezed, sending his dress/robe flapping as the force almost knocked him down to his knees. The snot in his hands was the only moisture he had felt in months and so he rubbed his calloused hands furiously with it. He sneezed every time he came close to a non-Shiite and considered himself to be allergic. With his eyes open to a slit he speculated the others as he snotrubbed his hands. Everyone seemed so focused and hypnotized by his own god. He could hear other languages being whispered; gurgling inside throats and men holding books in their hands in writing he was unfamiliar with. Moosa the Jew and Armen the Armenian seemed to be standing a little too close to
12

each other, closer than the other men were at least. They appeared as two people who had entered this world through the same tunnel. Perhaps they were planning their rebellion; perhaps they’d hoarded all the water and were secretly keeping it away from the others creating this landscape of utter and complete desperation so they could finally get the power their greedy souls desired. The two men made Muhammad nervous and the sneezing, loud and violent, wouldn’t cease. He lowered to his knees each time, his head pounding from the intensity of it and pretended that this was a new form of prayer. Shah Soleyman opened his eyes, annoyed, searching for the culprit. He glanced over at Muhammad and then smiled as he caught his eyes, and put a finger towards his lips urging him into silence the way a lover would someone who was making far too many pleasurable noises. The men prayed as the sun fell asleep and the moon brought its momentary relief until the shivering began; it felt like another world to them, the heat of the day nothing but a memory or a bad dream, but the sun soon returned and taunted them with its harsh rays yet again. And when the sound of roaring bellies overpowered the communion of prayer, the Shah announced a break seemed necessary so the men were told to return the following morning to continue their prayers.

Sh i dE h E ta at

13

Maybe it was the deliriousness of dehydration that had overtaken Muhhamad’s already miniscule brain, but as Shah Soleyman bathed that evening with the last of the dirtied river water, enough only to cover his legs and his rear, Muhammad approached him. “Your highness it has become apparent to me that Moosa the Jew and Armen the Armenian are conspiring against us. Their prayers appeared loud and strong and unified and I worry that they could have nullified the voices and requests of our fellow Shiites. I believe they may be hoarding all the water.” Shah Soleyman sipped on the very last drops of his wine. He saw two Muhammads; both so beautiful with eyes blue, soft and birdlike, his dress/robe like canary wings reaching out begging for an embrace. The Shah invited him to get undressed and to join him. It wasn’t the first time. “But the water,” Muhammad said hesitating and then peeking inside to get a better glimpse of the brown liquid, his ruler’s large penis seemed to extend like a claw, opening and closing with each breath he took. “Don’t be a fool, there is enough for two,” the Shah insisted. And Muhammad accepted because who says no to Shah Soleyman, and he allowed the Shah to touch him in a way that Muhammad did not understand,
14

not even a woman had touched him in such a way, cradling him as if he was a child, pressing his lips to Muhammad’s neck, stroking the bulge between his legs until Muhammad felt he could not contain whatever ugly spit had gathered up inside of him. “It is pure if you do it for your leader,” the Shah whispered in his ear, “Allah would approve of this,” he told Muhammad right after the wetness had been released and Muhammad felt like a child, naked and waiting for a spanking from his mother. But he had left her so long ago, hadn’t seen her since he was a young boy, and now he’d forgotten most everything about her except the rough way she used to beat him. “But Moosa and Armen, what will we do with them, Shah Soleyman?” “Kiss me and I will tell you,” the Shah insisted and his burgundy, parched lips looked as if painted with rouge as they touched those of Muhammad’s and turned them into a similar bloody color.

The next day the men were ordered instead to meet in the public square where Moosa the Jew and Armen the Armenian would be executed. Two arrows went soaring into both their beating hearts, and as Muhammad looked on, satisfied, his stomach turned with the bile of unanswered questions. He thought of his mother and what she had told him so long ago
Sh i dE h E ta at

15

after she’d spanked his bare bottom for throwing rocks at the Jewish kids who lived next to them, as Muhammad had almost blinded one: All are loved you stupid, hateful boy. With God all are loved! She’d screeched at him. And Muhhamad had forgotten it, just as he’d forgotten the sweetness of her breath, and the kindness that washed over her after the blood had started to flow from his skin and she realized she was actually harming her son. And then she’d kissed his forehead and held him in her lap, his pants still around his ankles and rocked him gently until his tears had stopped pouring, whispering in his ear: All are loved, even you, even this good boy of mine. You are loved too. Moosa and Armen continued their prayers until their final breaths because that was just the kind of men they were, their bodies still and at peace as the blood-soaked arrows now looked like newly acquired limbs they hadn’t asked for at all. Moosa’s bare feet sparkled as if freshly bathed and really they were the most beautiful feet anyone had ever seen and Armen’s mustache disappeared as if someone had taken a wet cloth to it while his ears listened closely. The sky opened up just as Muhammad let out a violent sneeze that sounded more like a scream than anything else.
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The bear has exploded, his mother would always tell him after his alarming sneezes, my fat, little bear has exploded. Who needed a mother when you had God? He sneezed again and again and again until he felt his head would explode, and it was only then that the rain finally began to pour.

watch shideh etaat read "On Moisture and Other Things We So Desire"

Sh i dE h E ta at

17

LL WI

IAM TAWLOR J R

.

to be beautifuL

en o ug h

To be beautiful enough in your eyes, for a day or even an hour is a magic most will never know and I am thankful for the experience but babe, I will not lie, the comedown is quite the bitch.

19

watch william taylor jr. read "To Be Beautiful Enough"

- set two -

LL WI

IAM TAWLOR J R

.

p L e a se
Baby weren’t we beautiful, I mean for just a little while, when you imagined me brave and I imagined me brave and wasn’t the love we made the kind that you read about in books? Didn’t you say so once? And didn’t we walk hand in hand through the city like Christmas the look on your face something like joy, before I turned it into the other thing? And baby weren’t we alive the way things are supposed to be alive for just a little while, our laughter bigger than Jesus?

23

And baby was there something in me good enough to keep when you threw out all the rest, something good enough to make you remember and maybe smile a bit when you’ve nothing else to do? Baby, I’m sorry, I promise I won’t call again, but baby we were beautiful, weren’t we?

24

as we wait for the MoMent when i disappoint you
We both know it’s coming as sure as the dawn but for now let’s put it in the place where we keep all the things we don’t think about until we have no choice because it’s a lovely afternoon and we’ve found a pretty good place to hide   and seeing my face from a certain angle and in a certain light it’s possible to imagine that this love has transformed me into something bigger than I am and it’s true that sometimes people have been known to rise above their baser selves to forge the future like a spear
Wi LLi a m tay Lor Jr.

25

and for now it’s much more pleasant to think of that rather than the other because this thing inside me could be mistaken for love the sex is really good and sometimes it’s fun to believe in things.

watch william taylor jr. read "Please" and "As We Wait for the Moment When I Disappoint You"
26

AR

IEL JInTuShEL

is L a r t h e r e v o L u t i o n a C t geLy a MateriaL
Is this a song we’re in? Fill me up 570ml, an Irish pint. My hand is dying, one finger at a time one finger a year for 10 yrs ‘til they’re all dead and gone ‘Til one finger at a time for 10 traditional annus comes back to life    Jesus! Remember when counting was a hobby? The lower we are the closer we are to the bar
27

zero, zed, zephyr only earnest at the axle making love how many times on the baker’s counter— zephyr, unus, duo…decem! with no hands Jesus! The biggest glass you’ve got? Unsay your compliments and pound this dough

28

MoraLity of dropping things
I imagined I was the cat, rising to meet his hand I imagined I was the cat walking over his fingers on the keyboard in the blue light circling his shoes in the doorway I imagined I was the cat, paper weight in his curled lap title pacing the bookshelves licking his ankle where skin rises out from sock where sock rises out from shoe, where shoe meets the ground and the ground affirms it I imagined I was the cat getting sick on the carpet her unboundaried hunger the self-conscious upheaval his hand lowers to steady I imagined belonging to him not having a name of my own
a ri E L F i nt u Sh E L

29

drinking from his dish, occupying his hand with the morality of fur flicking my tail into and out of his curled fingers I never imagined that he is the cat wandering his own halls, hunting in the colorless light communicating with whiskers the moon’s silver misery which stalks him without knowing him cold, fingerless presence makes him drop his toys so low to pick them up he is human, he is a man who drops like everyone else, and shivers.

30

in turning one pieCe, turn everything eLse
I once knew a girl named Marmaduke Someone’s hand catches an invisible string Desire to know before each slice finishes Allow this kindness to separate out, even if the stock is stiffness in your limbs One at a time covered in translucent hairs Everyone has gone I once knew a girl named Marmaduke
a ri E L F i nt u Sh E L

31

watch ariel fintushel read the three poems: "The Revolution Is Largely A Material Act" , "Morality of Dropping Things", and "In Turning One Piece, Turn Everything Else"

SA

h RA

nATALIE WEB S

b o d ie s
Prue on Tuesday night Prue up and drowned herself in a bath of lavender moisturizer hysterical they pulled her out grasping gloopy arms and somebody brave sucked slime from wet nostril whilst frantic thumbs wiped milk marbled eyes but she was already dead limp limbed in the claw foot tub (they say her skin was very soft)

TE

R

Evelyn
33

Evelyn got stuck in the mirrors and could never make it out the door she existed in the bathroom, the hall, and the oval wardrobe but when the mirrors were taken down she disappeared

Rose Rose didn’t want her lipstick smudged so nothing passed her lips she became as thin and pale as paper and eventually she folded

Huriya aspired to her namesake as one of the the seventy-two virgins of heaven chastity, that was the easy part, the body fluids were the problem finding no other option (not even on Google) she gamely stitched each offending orifice
34

a self-sculpted silent vase of flesh, she filled with the sticky tar of her own blood

Ashley Perusing the catalogue of designer vaginas Ashley asked for a Sharon Stone the surgery went badly (it really looked more a Kate Winslet) so now she’s suing the surgeon as she sits, (with some discomfort) astride the Julia Robert’s wait list

Nicolas Nicolas fell for his own air-brushed image and never again settled for less barring his door he lived on a swivel chair and Chinese take out the years stacking up like greasy wire-handled boxes
Sa ra h nata Li E WE bSt E r

35

while the perfect picture on his internet interface, remained

Connor after reading an article about a surgery-addicted octouplet mother’s suicide Connor’s bleeding heart finally gave out for weeks he lay undiscovered on a shining carpet of tabloids his thick red cheek rolled in last repose against a tea stained centerfold of the Kardashians

Jane and Jane, well Jane was too attractive – people tried to pull her limb from limb so she joined Second Life (as an old fat man) and got all her groceries delivered
36

watch sarah natalie webster read "Bodies"

RA SA

h KOBRInSK

W

Jesus sM okes
My father, the cancer doctor, sits at the head of the table coughing like his father, a cancer doctor, coughed in the oxygen tent in the room in the hospital in Canada. My grandfather, a Russian immigrant famous for his Anglophilia, leaned out of his oxygen tent with his riding crop   and whispered through cancerous spittle. My son, you must become a doctor. My father, who didn’t want to become a doctor, sits at the head of the table coughing up white smoke. It’s Passover and everyone’s on their third glass of wine. In his best Rabbi Burkle voice, my father chants a blessing, then says: Jesus smokes. Now, the Jesus reference is weird because we’re Jewish,
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but my father, the cancer doctor, he’s famous for saying things that are weird like: Jesus smokes. Myself and my five siblings, all confirmed smokers, and our mother, an ex-smoker, sit around our father, the non-smoker, smoking… Our father, the cancer doctor, who likes to be referred to as the Blood Count, clears his throat and looks upon our ashen faces: Just as Jesus died for the people’s sins, I cough for my children’s smoke. Jesus Smokes. Our father, the Jewish doctor, sits at the head of the table and chants another blessing: My children, you must never become doctors. So my sister, the chain smoker, and my mother, the ex-smoker, and my brother, the social smoker, and my eldest brother, the I’m-so-broke-I-roll-my-own smoker, and my youngest brother, the chronic pot smoker, and my other brother, the I-just-quit-so-can-I-have-one-of-yours smoker,
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and me, the I-feel-so-guilty-because-I-smoke smoker, all agree to never become doctors. Our father, the would-be witch doctor, sits at the head of the table and instructs us, in his bathrobe, to pour the fourth glass of wine: Blessed are you, Ruler of the Universe, who doctored the fruit of the vine. And for a moment none of us are smoking. Elijah’s wind moves through the room and everything is silent. Our father, the cancer doctor, sits at the head of the table laughing like his father, the cancer doctor, laughed when he heard the news he was going to have a son who might–God willing— be a doctor someday. Jesus smokes.

watch sarah kobrinsky read "Jesus Smokes"

Sa ra h Kobri nSKy

39

DAW

n gROSS

a st o L e n kiss
I didn’t know this would be my last visit with Mr. Zuver. I had seen him just three weeks earlier when he was sitting at his dining room table, getting up periodically to walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water or later to the bathroom to relieve himself and then again to get his medication for shortness of breath. I didn’t know he was dying so quickly because he was still speaking in full, uninterrupted sentences with pride and enthusiasm as he spoke of his wife’s green thumb noting my admiration of their garden framing the view of the sparkling lagoon in the afternoon sun. I didn’t know, until this morning, when his wife answered the door in her pajamas, smile faded but unmistakable, hair tussled and her purple Lucite clipboard held tightly in her hands. Mr. Zuver is lying in a hospital bed centered in the middle of the living room facing the sliding glass door with a view of the garden, lagoon and beyond. His breath is slow and measured but his thin chest is heaving beneath the white sheet in each of its failing attempts to bring more oxygen into his body. His right eye is closed part-way but his left is open fully and quick to focus on my face as I approach his bed and gently press my hand to his.
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“Hello Mr. Zuver,” I say with a smile. His wife on the other side of him caressing his right hand, “It’s your doctor,” she says. He opens both eyes now to scrutinize the statement and then forcibly whispers, “Oh.” He takes a breath. “The”—again he takes a breath— “pretty [breath] one [breath],” and gives me a wink and a toothy-grin. His hand is warm, thin and weak, his whole body unmoving, with the exception of his chest, in an attempt to conserve what little energy he has to keep his breath going. He is working hard against a losing battle. His lungs long since destroyed from smoking despite having quit years ago. Mr. Zuver looks at me after I finish my exam and says, “I [breath] wouldn’t [breath] start [breath] over [breath] again [breath].” Not certain what he is referring to I look to his wife for insight. She bends near him and gently says, “What dear? Start what over again?” He says, with effort, “This.” “Oh,” she replies, sitting down still holding his hand, “this dying you mean.” He nods again with an appreciative smile as her telepathic powers have saved him more precious breaths. I look at the two of them in that moment, the wife so focused and intent on keeping her husband strong. Her ever-present clipboard, noting the history of all medication adjustments including the numerous ones I’ve made this morning alone, never relinquishing the power and hope those pages hold—a tether to keeping his life with her. That cord so visibly fraying now.
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Mr. Zuver’s weakened and frail body lying still and flat in bed, his left eye remains open (his wife explaining that: as he is seeing double and has been unable to get himself to the eye doctor for a new prescription of eyeglasses, “And, well, now….” Her throat closes off before she can finish the sentence of acknowledged futility.) “He is ready,” his wife tells me. She settles down beside me as I continue his medication review with our nurse. “He has told me so. He is so tired… He has fought a long, long time,” her grip tightening on the clipboard resting on her lap. Her eyes well up as I place my hand on hers and say, “And you.” She nods, “It’s so hard… you know….” “No” I softly reply, “I don’t know. I can’t imagine. But, I can see.” She nods, silently behind tears, “No, of course you don’t.” Several minutes pass and she then asks, “How?” with a pause and a forced swallow. “What do I do when it happens?” Her clipboard on her lap visibly-trembling, “I mean, phone calls have to be made… and… ” She looks down and tears splash the paper. “You sit,” I say, tightening my grip on her hand, and I repeat, catching her gaze in my eyes: “you just sit.” She takes a deep, knowing breath and nods, “That’s all there is for you to do… right now and from now on.” She looks at her clipboard. “You have been taking such impeccable care of him for so long,” I continue, looking toward our nurse, who is busy tending to Mr. Zuver’s slurry of morning medications, “let us unburden you now so you can just be with him.” We sat together in silence for a while, her knuckles loosening but not relinquishing their hold on his tether.
daWn GroSS

43

A while later, as I prepare to leave, I lean over Mr. Zuver in direct line of vision of his left eye and say, “Can I get you anything?” His wife, now at his right side, strokes his arm like a tender kitten. He looks to her and then flashes a devilish grin my way, “A [breath] kiss?” I hesitate for only a moment and then lean down to give him a kiss on his lips while memories of my grandfather come rushing in as he puckers up with such sheer delight. He immediately turns back to his wife and says “You [breath] for[breath]

give [breath] this [breath]

silly [breath] old [breath]

man? [breath]” “Not so old…” she says almost under her breath. He adds, “You’ve [breath]
44

had

[breath]

many [breath] kisses you know [breath] [breath] [breath].”

She nods and whispers, “I know. It’s all right.” He continues without breaking his gaze: “You [breath] can [breath]

have [breath] more [breath]…” Hands lock, their chests heave in synchrony.

daWn GroSS

45

JREEMAn J. E.

on a CLear day
I come to this place on the hill so often I sometimes wonder why I don’t get bored? I see the same view. The topography doesn’t change. The cathedral of Saint Francis and the Lone Mountain spire never move. The Pacific Ocean stays where it always is stretching off to the other end of the Earth. And yet…… And yet …… Today it is so clear I can see all the way to the outer islands out past the headlands at the foot of Mount Tam. Islands that are often just ghosts shrouded in fog now sit clear on the horizon near one o’clock on the watch face of my vision.

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Overhead stage coach clouds race behind a team of six white wispy horses running with the wind. One lone sailboat tacks on the sea below trying not to be trampled neath their hooves. The pair of crows that normally dip and slide in the cross current breeze above me are not to be seen. Maybe they sit above me on a branch in the tree I rest my back upon preening their iridescent ebony feathers watching as I write this moment on this page. It is hot down in the San Francisco streets. Too hot. Here on the hill the breeze sings a tune the eucalyptus leaves echo as a lady bug crawls up my sleeve. A single humming bird hunts for a flower to kiss. The wind talks to the trees. The trees bark back. Insects drone. Birds whistle.
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A siren wails faraway. A plane climbs a stairway only its pilot sees. Yes the topography never changes but the scene is never the same. And I am never bored.

watch j. e. freeman read "On A Clear Day"

J. E . F rE E man

49

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- january 16, 2013 -

ISBN 978-1-300-59651-6

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