Do You Smile For Us?
You sit quietly
as you were brushed.
Centered in the First Arrondissement,
Bank right of the Seine,
West, in the old Île de la Cité
Do you smile for us?
Your name is whispered
but broken, with wings
Mo, mo, mo…
to languages far away
na, na, na…
Your gauzy veil,
the jocund one
Do you smile for us?
Stanchions of velvet
surround your bust.
Your luminescent skin
down to the pit of your throat.
A bullet for those who dare
to love you, Gioconda,
arms folded with your light touch
Do you smile for us?
rendered your beauty silent
until the libretto from Beatrice
awakened your kindred spirit,
sharing your subtlety with the world.
Though your allure had been stolen,
your voice echoed again
in the Valley of Tuscany.
Your grace and refinement,
vanishing no more.
Do you smile for us?
The scrutiny of man
always and questions
of your origin left to answer.
A second child born
versus the patient wife
to the matriarch of Da Vinci.
Do you smile for us?
that shift to your lips
Your centuries old illusion
Your mysterious simper
that acid touched
Now and forever
Do you smile for us?
Vincent Calvarese was born in Walnut Creek, California and has worn many hats in the Bay Area–barista, salesperson, journalist, graphic designer, union representative, deputy sheriff, homeless advocate and published writer and poet. After a long educational hiatus, he returned to City College of San Francisco in August 2017. He states he had become a lazy writer. His poetic work Grief was published in Forum in December 2017.
My friend Jane is having a party. I walk into her house, grinning, carrying an expensive bottle of Champagne along with a bottle of bleach. Fifty bucks. I tend bar on Fisherman’s Wharf. During late autumn that is a big sacrifice. Fifty dollars is the average I make during a lunch shift, but tonight is a special occasion, a celebration.
“What’s with the bleach?” Jane laughs, opens the door to her apartment in Laurel Heights. She’s grinning too. Excited. Herstory is in the making. Her first job, was at Secretary Clinton’s State Department. She’s the person I am most eager to spend this night with.
“The champagne is for celebrating. The bleach is if the world ends.”
We both laugh at this absurdity. Exchange bearhugs.
“Something smells good,” I observe, as we walk down the hall towards the living room.
“Alex cooked dinner for me before. Did you eat? There’s some leftovers if you want?”
“What is it?”
“Oh are you still being a vegetarian?”
“Yes, gotta save the earth.”
“That’s good. I tried that for a little. Well there’s some cheese. Of course Rob’s here and he decided he’s becoming a vegan yesterday. He keeps bringing it up. ”
“Of course he is,” I laugh.
We arrive in the living room. Everyone’s on the couch. There’s our close friends Bri and Rob. Next to them is Jane’s girlfriend Alex.
“Guys, look what Fran brought,” Jane laughs, flipping her dirty blonde hair.
Grinning I make the same joke about how the bleach is to be consumed if the world ends.
Everyone laughs, loudly, a clear indication of their lubrication. I sport a satisfied smirk, set down the bottle of bleach and champagne on the coffee table. I am careful not to disturb the cheese spread and an open bottle of wine. I salivate at the cheese.
Behind the two bottles Rachel Maddow is talking, surrounded by a panel of fellow political pundits. She says something about how the results of an election are live. The pundits and herself will be learning the results as we do. She has to remind people of this, because a conspiracist said he would lose the election. Our democratic process is rigged against him, an alleged billionaire with a dozen or so rape allegations. He is still neck and neck with the 30 year veteran public servant. Millions of people believe him.
I shudder, concerned with what will happen if he does not concede upon his inevitable loss. This last year has felt more or less like the beginnings of a Cold Civil War.
I take a piece of cheese and put it on a cracker. It’s not as good as I thought, but still delicious. I don’t think much about the two bottles obscuring Rachel Maddow, as I play catch up with everyone.
I make my rounds of hugs and sit down on the armchair beside the couch. The springs beneath the cushion creak, softly.
Jane sits on the leg of the couch next to her girlfriend. Alex rests her head on her leg, briefly.
“Do you two want the love seat?” I ask.
“No it’s ok!” Jane assures.
Alex nods in agreement. She’s the stoic of the group. Most of the Europeans I have met are reserved. Alex is fitting of this stereotype. She is from Croatia.
I note they’re a beautiful couple. Jane interrupts this affectionate musing.
“Fran get your feet off the coffee table, you almost knocked over the wine. Twice.”
“No I didn’t,” I lie.
“Sorry, Mom,” I say, sitting up straight with exaggerated care.
Jane rolls her eyes. She’s uptight sometimes, but that’s what makes pushing her buttons so much fun.
Don’t get me wrong, our friendship is strong, significant. It took me a long time to learn that the best sort of friends care about helping you grow even more so than seeing you laugh. It’s one of the reasons I am especially thankful for this group.
“Anyone want a drink!” Bri asks, springing up from the couch.
“Yeah.. no I am okay!”
“Need help?” I offer.
“No I got it!”
There’s only half a glass in the open bottle. Bri grabs a new one from the kitchen. She opens it with the finesse of a veteran server. We’ve both been in the industry for too long. I see myself, feigning interest with phony, folksy accent asking Where are ya’ll from, struggling to open a wine bottle in the air without setting it down. Which is really fucking hard by the way, so think about that the next time when you are struggling between choosing between beer and wine. Consider your server. No one does.
“So Fran how’s the book going?” she asks as she hands me a glass.
Its an election inspired novel. The main character is a queer youth, forced into conversion therapy, while navigating this tumultuous political climate. They know this, so I just give them an update on my progress.
“It’s going well! I think I can be done in a few months,” I add casually. It’s my first month on such an ambitious project, an arrogant statement. I continue, “I want to get it done fast. One of the things on soon to be President Clinton’s platform is a federal end to conversion therapy.”
“I didn’t know that about Clinton,” Bri responds.
Jane says, “Yes! There’s so much actual progressive policy reform Secretary Clinton is running on, but no one’s talking about that because of her goddamn emails.”
“Yeah, I feel like that’s what sucked most about this election. Well not the most, but basically we were robbed of policy discussions. The main focus of news coverage was just what came out of his ass for a mouth. Because coverage of the campaign was reduced to Trump’s flaws, discussion of Clinton was reduced to that. We didn’t discuss the policy visions for the candidates. The very fact that Trump doesn’t have concrete policy platforms was underwhelmingly covered,” I explain.
“Oh he has some policies,” Jane laments.
“What? Build the wall? Muslim Ban? Horrendous, but come on even he knows he’s lying,” I object.
“Federal hiring freeze, reduce the state department to a third, leave the Paris Climate Agreement. The President can do those things,” Jane disagrees.
Rob cuts in, “UHG, I literally cannot wait until we never have to see his ugly, fucking face again.”
My fellow gay Jew from the east coast. Loud. Vulgar. A fierce friend.
There are murmurs of agreement. General excitement. Tomorrow is the end of waking up in the morning, anxious about that orange nightmare.
I glance at the television. Rachel Maddow’s head looks like its coming out of the bleach bottle. I want to move it aside, and put the champagne in the fridge. I am too lazy. The wine went to my head, quicker than usual. I haven’t eaten much. Perhaps I should have more cheese.
I smile to myself. Tonight feels good. We were only small children when the world celebrated the millenia New Year’s Eve party, but I imagine that night must have felt a bit like this for adults. The ushering in of a new era. Nothing but excitement about the road forward.
I pause. No. Tonight is better. More significant. A crack in the glass ceiling. The fall of a monster. A night that will be recorded in history books, that I can tell my future granddaughters about.
On the screen, nothing of note is happening yet. The red states are voting red. Blue states voting blue. Soldiers toeing their party line. Hillary is behind, but that’s to be expected at this point. I lament. The Democrats always seem to be playing catch up. It’s like being a Mets fan. My Father, a conservative leaning independent and Mets fan, laughs whenever I draw this parallel.
Bri pokes my boob, giggling A typical occurrence once she’s passed her third drink. She’s such a weirdo, adoringly so. She could get away with murder with that laugh.
“Uhhh, Bri’s drunk,” I chuckle.
“They’re just so much fun to poke!” she giggles, again, allegorical of her toddler. Her cheeks are flushed, either from laughter or the wine. Most likely a combination.
“So how’s things? How’s Alden?”
She talks about her son, and her new job at city hall. She’s enthusiastic about the prospect of Universal Pre-K for all of San Francisco, possibly all of America when Hillary wins.
Bri is the person I am next most excited to spend this night with. She was a diehard Berner in the primaries, but she’s the most politically involved person I know. She is going to grad school, essentially to become a social activist. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was mayor someday. We should all be so lucky.
This election was hard on her. It was hard on all of us. Like when you were a kid and you learned Santa wasn’t real. If only experiencing this election was as benign of a discovery.
The conversation turns into a group dialogue. We shift to Jane’s new job at an immigration law firm. It sounds perfect for her. Important work she can dedicate herself too. A tick on a law school application box.
“My Grandma asked me why I am helping illegals get into the country?”
“What a Putz,” Rob adds.
“Oh my god. What do you even say to something like that?” I wonder, shaking my head.
“I told her people are never illegal. She didn’t like that.”
“You should come out to her the next time you see her. See how that goes”
Jane shakes her head, “She’s 90, it’ll kill her.”
I bite back the urge to sarcastically add oh no. This is not like me. I have a limited tolerance for Republicans these days.
We all start paying attention to the news, America in a nutshell.
The first blow happens. North Carolina goes red.
“No!” Jane screams
“Is that bad?” Rob wonders.
“Is Fran going to have to chug the bleach?” Bri laughs, nudging my boob, again.
“You’re such a pest!” I say, shoving her back.
Rob jumps up from his seat, swipes the bleach, pretends to chug it, and lays down playing dead.
“Oh my god, Rob” I yell, loud. We have this ongoing competition to out yell each other. I yank the bottle from him.
Bri, Rob, and I start cackling.
Alex laughs in response.
Jane shakes her head, the clear adult in the room, and explains “This is not good, but Rachel Maddow is still calm, so it’s not the end, but that was a blow.”
Alex grows serious, sits up, and puts her arm around Jane.
“I feel like North Carolina is real redneck,” Alex offers.
“It is. They’re not, like yay liberals down there,” Jane reasonably adds, “And they do have concerns that liberals aren’t addressing. Like the coal miners.”
“Oh come on Jane,” Bri interjects, “This election is about race. People are voting for Trump because they are fucking racist. They don’t seriously believe that he’s going to bring back clean coal.”
“Which isn’t a thing!” I shriek, “It’s literally black sludge in solid form.”
One in ten American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. The branding of clean coal is the least of our problems.
“I mean, Bernie ran on ending school debt which wouldn’t happen either, and you all still voted for him.”
“That’s different,” Bri retorts.
“Take it back,” Rob orders, lightheartedly.
Amongst this group of queers, socialists, and Anarchists; Jane a center left Democrat is treated like a Republican at times.
The bleach is still in my hands. I fidget with it as they bicker about populism. I don’t really remember what made me bring it as a joke. I set it down, so I can use my phone, start playing with the map on 538. I agree with Jane’s initial assessment. North Carolina is a blow, but nowhere near fatal. There’s nothing to be paranoid about. To some extent, the news is theatre. It’s supposed invoke pity and fear. It keeps us tuned in.
We all shrug it off. The impossible is not going to happen. Our minds can’t even fathom it. The party goes on.
Rob starts telling a story, loudly of course. I am only half listening, still fidgeting with the map on my phone. Evaluating all the worst case scenarios for the electoral college. Anything realistic still ends with Clinton winning.
My meandering mind comes back into focus for Rob’s punchline.
“And then he said, yes Rob I have come with a dick in my ass thank you very much!”
The room howls with laughter.
“The music on the news is kind of like the Hunger Games,” Bri notices.
“I think the Hunger Games is like the music on the news,” Jane observes.
More red states fall in place. Blue and purple are still being counted. Texas is red.
“The dream of turning Texas Blue will have to wait another four years for Democrats, but it is much closer than previous years,” Rachel Maddow explains.
“There’s a lot of nothing in this country,” Alex states, not unkindly. She’s pointing to map. The spreading of red. I think of a phrase from The Song of Fire and Ice. Blood and fire.
No one responds. I glance back at the bleach. It looks bigger than the bottle I carried in.
“More wine?” Rob suggests.
I nod. He tops me off. I swirl my glass. A few droplets splatter on the arm rest. Barely noticeable, but present nonetheless. I set down my arm, obscuring the blemishes to avoid an admonishment from Jane.
The night progressed, but it became glaringly obvious that society would not.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida. Giddiness escapes the room faster than helium deflating from a punctured balloon. Cockiness fades next. Followed by hope. Everyone is silent as the dismal reality settles itself in. Uninvited guests let themselves in. Their names are fear, apprehension, and tension. They will spend the remainder of the evening with us.
Virginia goes blue.
“Okay good. The map is making sense again,” Jane breathes a sigh of relief, eager for any good news.
“I don’t know Jack… he’s getting all of the swing states,” I add, crossing my arms.
Jane dismisses my concern with a casual wave of her hand. She explains, “Those swing states were unexpected, but he would still need to pick up so many blue states. The map is stacked against him. The swing states just aren’t enough to sway this election. Especially since Clinton just got a major one.”
I suspect she’s coaxing herself into relaxing more than the rest of us.
“But Ohio,” Bri adds.
Ohio has successfully predicted the president every year since 1964.
“Yes, but he would need to get Michigan, Wisconsin. There’s just no way!”
There is a consensus. Uneasy agreement, like fearing being called too chickenshit to face a cruel dare as a kid.
Our eyes widen as the impossible continues to happen. An ominous, blood red continues to spread across the map of our home. A harlot’s red for the part of family values. The map is dripping in that God, awful color. The map of a country I thought I knew. I thought I believed in.
“This is horrible!” Jane cries, falling into Alex’s arms. Sobbing.
I swallow a generous portion of wine.
“Anyone want a refill?”
I scan my misty-eyed loved ones. No one says anything, but I top them all off. Perhaps this is why the night starts to blur. The wine. It’s either that or the water welling in all of our eyes.
Rob attempts a joke, “Everyone on MSNBC looks like they got their dick caught in their zippers.” His mouth becomes a thin line. Color drains from his cheeks, which is odd. He usually gets so flushed after a glass of wine.
No one laughs at his joke. Maybe it’s not a joke. It certainly didn’t feel very funny. It didn’t feel very real either.
Jane continues her ugly cry. The sort of cry where you see it in her face, hear it in her voice. It makes you as uncomfortable as the dirty beggars, struggling with homelessness, that you pass on the street.
I want her to stop before my own hideous sobs commence.
“What is happening? How is this real?” she manages to say in between wails.
I slam back my next glass of wine, tears streaming down my face, “I need to go.”
I am ignored.
“This country is so fucking racist,” Bri shakes her head in disgust. I know she’s thinking of her son. How does a parent explain to their child, that the President hates you because your Mexican?
“This country is so fucking stupid,” Rob adds.
I grab the bottle of bleach. One of my funnier jokes gone so horribly awry. I want to throw it against the wall. I am paralyzed. Helpless to move.
“They’re fucking Nazis,” Alex cries, pointing to the sea of white faces celebrating at Trump’s victory speech.
We all share a knowing glance.
The party ends.
by Jim Duff
The sun pukes upon the sea and sets
yellow-white light falls off the horizon
dusk loiters behind the Bay until night attacks it
a Transylvanian moon smiles upon a hospital
morgues pace back and forth waiting to be fed
ambulance drives with blackjacks
stalk the sidestreets
searching for customers
a police car
seeking shelter from crime
patrols a nearby park
foghorns are of the evil spirits of foreign freighters
the freeway fattens on the flood of a car accident
a neon duchy chalks off the casualty
to the exotic rhythm
of cattle screaming with an extra mouth
concrete tears two layers high
branch off to form other freeways
each seeking to escape from itself
Ulysses grovels in horror
at sights beyond his comprehension
in the shadows of a produce market
like mild acne
breaks out upon the faceless sky
blue chip stamps find redemption a carpeted calvary.
“Bayview Terrace,” by Jim Duff originally published in Reality Trip ([Forum] 1973, City College of San Francisco).
by Gabriel Ariel Levicky
prepare for paramilitary
godhead will anoint you.
so you too can afford a huge
the end of orgasm is comin’.
just ask isadora.
dictators of happyism
rebuilt their countries
spending vacations on
hypocrisy software inc.
is pissing a virus
to our soda minds.
yes, we are speechless, so speechless.
no common sense for underwear.
we can count dots and spots
on each anonymous giraffe passing by.
smiling left & right
for the best future.
i am angry!
but lovingly angry,
allowing them to save me again
until we all tired and exhausted,
cocks visibly weaken and shaking,
“Down,” by Gabriel Ariel Levicky originally published in City Scriptum ([Forum] 1992, City College of San Francisco).
One of These Days the Revolution Will Not Be Televised
by Madlyne Pagtanac
You are the brain, baby
Fetus fruit that rots in the womb
Congealed in the pickling gelatin of ignorance
–Basket of maggots
My forehead sealed, vacuum packed
I can feel thoughts, thoughts of YOU
Drilling through, drilling deep burrows;
Separate compartments where you live
Comfortable with apathy, nestled like a couch potato
These spores which sprout upon my head
The antennae of a T.V. idiot
I am a garden fool that will not forget.
“One of These Days the Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Madlyne Paftanac originally published in City Scriptum ([Forum] 1993, City College of San Francisco).
For Those Who Must Pay
by Tomas Aquinas Valasquez
After a battle
Silence is not golden.
It is ash gray,
And blood is not red
Where the silent lay,
And the odor of death
Is not sweet.
It stinks of shit
And rotting, butchered meat.
After a battle
The news releases say
“Our losses were moderate,
But the enemies’ were high.”
Victory was cheap,
Or so they imply.
I cannot see it that way.
After a battle
I’ve seen the dying and the dead
And visited the wounded,
And the medics,
And the nurses,
And the doctors
Upon whom the wounded
And the dead have bled.
And long after
I visited the wives
And the families of dead friends
To what they had to say.
No victory is cheap
For those who must pay.
“For Those Who Must Pay,” by Tomas Aquinas Valasquez originally published in City Scriptum ([Forum] 1992, City College of San Francisco).
by Gene Carriker
A truck rumbled overhead causing tiny cascades of road dirt to sift down Jim Haley’s back as he sat in the inky night under the viaduct waiting for the eleven o’ clock freight. His stomach had shifted at least fourteen times in the last fifteen minutes, and every time Big Bill’s hoarse whisper broke the silence the skin on the back of his neck seemed to crawl. Riding a freight would be a new experience for him and he had nightmarish visions of being hauled before the police magistrate and spending this long anticipated weekend in the city jail. It was too late to back down now. He had come from camp in his spirits, eager to go home but as the time drew nearer he was becoming almost afraid.
In the yard a switchman’s lantern blinked as the man opened a switch. Two cars rolled into the siding to the protesting screech of steel wheel-flange against the steel rail and the crash of coupling toggles and draw bars. Across the river a Burlington “flyer” wailed for the Sabula yard and right-of-way to the bridge.
Suddenly the gravel ballast along the track rattled and both boys dropped silently behind the abutment of the viaduct support. The white finger of the railroad “bull’s” flash poked inquisitively into the shadows where they had been thirty seconds before. After a cursory probe the detective passed by, and when he had gone down into the yard and disappeared into the switchman’s shanty, Jim began breathing again.
Three sharp blasts of a locomotive whistle caused Jim’s pulse to drum suddenly in his ears and then seem to stop completely. A stifled feeling enveloped him and he found it an effort to breathe. Big Bill and he slithered down the cindered incline to the road bed. Numbly he listened to last minute instructions from Bill. “Grab the front of the second car, Kid, before she gets up speed. I’ll take it up ahead here.” Bill’s vague silhouette merged with the night. Jim lay flat against the bank. The hiss of his breath seemed so loud he feared that the “dick” would hear it.
A short and long blast rent the night and instantly the black was banished by the headlight of the outbound locomotive. The engine started and the long tail of cards behind it rumbled and banged as the slack came out of the draw bars. Jim passed a clammy palm across his dry lips. He wondered detachedly what would happen if he slipped.
The engineer “high balled” the yard master. The superstructure of the viaduct disappeared in smoke and steam. When the front of the engine was abreast of him, Jim stood up. The wave of heat from the fire box scorched his cheek. The ground trembled under his feet as the drive wheels pounded past. The tender went by, then the first car. “Grab the front end before she picks up speed.” Jim was galvanized into action by the thought. He ran a few steps with the car until he had a good hold, then stepped up. He was on. It wasn’t hard. Joy was short lived as panic stricken he thought, “What if Bill doesn’t get on?” He peered vainly into the black. Jim knew nothing about freights. He would be lost if Bill didn’t show. He stood half way up the side of the car for an age-long minute, picturing himself riding into the clutches of the Galesburg “bulls” because he didn’t know where to get off. He wouldn’t get him! He wouldn’t see Doreas! He would be A.W.O.L.! He resolved if he ever got back to camp he would never ride another freight.
“Hey, kid, you gonna ride there all night? Come on up.”
“Novice,” by Gene Carriker originally published in Forum (1939, City College of San Francisco).
Joys of Destruction
by Jack Lagoria
When Siva’s black hands
Sear our brains with fire,
When winds howl
And the bleeding fox lies in the trap,
When oppressed people roll wild
Eyes to the sickles on the wall,
There is hunger in the soul.
If we be cowards, we seek
Some weaker animal
And in the night destroy it.
If we be brave, from our fevered bodies
We light the fires to engulf the world.
We plunge ourselves into anything that has flesh,
Or is a memory of man.
We cut, and rip, slash, and tear,
And obliterate all trace of the curse of man’s existence.
“Joys of Destruction,” by Jack Lagoria originally published in Forum (1942, City College of San Francisco).