Zoom Chat with Janis Cooke Newman on Tuesday, May 3

Janis Cooke Newman is the next guest in our Visiting Writers series. She is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir The Russian Word for Snow. She’s also published novels Mary; Mrs. A. Lincoln, an L.A. Times Book Prize Finalist, and A Master Plan for Rescue, which the San Francisco Chronicle named one of its Best Books of the Year.

The San Francisco writer is also the founder of the Lit Camp writer’s conference, the Creative Caffeine writing platform, and the co-working space Page Street.

Bring your questions or just come to listen. Join <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href=" Zoom chat on Tuesday, May 3, 6-7pm.

Got Poems? Get Paid!

The Academy of American Poets is offering a $100 prize to current CCSF students. Submit three previously unpublished poems and you could fatten your wallet while gaining national recognition.

Click here for details on how to enter (it’s easy, we promise). More information can be found at the Academy of American Poets website.

Contest ends May 5, so get writing!

Poetry for the People Reading and Open Mic

Towards the Free Days Ahead
Feminist Creative Writing Series: Poetry for the People
Reading & Open Mic
Current and former Poetry for the People students and
faculty share creative writing that points us towards the
free days ahead.

Mon April 11 | 6-7:30pm |
Register on Eventbrite


Spring 2022 Submission Deadline EXTENDED to March 9

Who doesn’t love extensions? Your hair can relax, because we’re actually referring to the deadline extension for submitting to Forum Magazine. We’d love to see your original works of 

  • Fiction
  • Non-Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Drama
  • Memoir
  • Essays
  • Comics
  • Photographs
  • Paintings
  • Etchings 
  • Basically anything literary or artistic

Check out our details for submitting, and thanks for sharing your creativity!

University and College Poetry Prizes with the Academy Of American Poets!



Established in 1955, the University and College Poetry Prize program began with ten schools. Today, the Academy of American Poets sponsors over two hundred annual poetry prizes at colleges and universities across the U.S, and has awarded cash prizes to nearly ten thousand student poets since the program’s inception. The recognition winning student poets receive provides important validation. As one student poet, Emily, shared, “As a young poet the prize not only made me feel as if my work had something of value, it made me feel connected with the broader poetic community. It increased my confidence in my writing and encouraged me to continue working at my craft.”

Submissions are accepted March 9- April 20

$100 Prize and National Recognition!


If you are a currently enrolled City College of San Francisco student, please submit three previously unpublished poems of the highest quality and no more than a page each in length.

Group your submission in a single, typed document with your name, phone number, and email on each page. Include a filled out cover sheet listing your name, address, email address and/or telephone number and titles of your poems and proof that you are enrolled at City College of Spring 2021. See sample cover sheet below.

Also, include your age if you are 23 and under because you will be considered for the Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award.

Email a copy of the poems to

For more information, click on Academy of American Poets Website

Academy of American Poets College Prize Cover Sheet

Applicant’s Full Name:______________________________________

Applicant’s Email Address:_____________________________________

Applicant’s Mailing Address:____________________________________

Applicant’s Phone Number:____________________________________

Title of Poems Submitted:




Proof that applicant is enrolled at CCSF for Spring 2019

List of courses





Spring Submissions Closed;

“Poetry is the shadow cast by our streetlight imaginations.”
― Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Regular submissions for Forum Magazine are closed.

Special flash call of submissions in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti due by March 5th, Midnight PST are now closed.

**Photo credit of Lawrence Ferlinghetti is “Happy Birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti” by Christopher.Michel is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Lit Night is back! Have you been churning out poems and stories and essays that you are desperate to share ? Are you perhaps looking for inspiration and a regular meet up with fellow writers?

Next Lit Night fun is March 15th. The theme is PERFECT MATCH.

Visit for themes, dates and Zoom links!

Lit Night is every third Monday from 7:30-9:00PM

Come join the fun!




Alan Chazaro

February 16, 2021

To the CCSF and Forum Community,

The English Department and the Creative Writing program at City College wish to extend our apologies to all of you who attended Alan Chazaro’s poetry reading on Thursday, February 11th. We felt honored to have Alan read for us since, in addition to being a talented poet, he attended community college and went on to write about growing up in the Bay Area as a Mexican American. Alan received the Lawrence Ferlinghetti Scholarship at the University of San Francisco because of his focus on and commitment to social justice issues in America, and it is clear he is someone that many of us can see ourselves in and that he is a truly inspirational man.

In fact, Alan represents much of what we stand for at City College—a commitment to social equity and diversity. We are proud of our tradition of presenting writers of all races, ethnicities, and gender identities. For this reason, the attack on the reading that occurred when a group of intruders disrupted and insulted the poet and viewers, represents an assault on our values. As you may know, the group took over the Zoom screen and projected racist and pornographic images while they verbally attacked all present in the chat. This was a hate filled act that has no place at any college, let alone City College. City College’s Visiting Writers’ Series is about inclusivity and about presenting diverse voices that will help students, faculty, and Bay Area residents build a supportive and inclusive community based on love and acceptance.

We wish to extend deep and heartfelt thanks to Alan Chazaro for the generous gift of his poems and much gratitude to our audience for their patience and support. It was amazing to hear students immediately reject the intruders’ hate and turn to highlighting the connections they could make to his life and poems. It was inspiring to hear many of you mentioning favorite passages.

We strongly condemn these racial attacks on our presenter and audience members. After reflecting on the intrusion, we have made the following changes to how our online Visiting Writers’ Series events will be managed:

· All participants will be muted throughout the events and will be individually unmuted if they have raised their hand during the Q and A.

· Participants will not be able to change their screen names during an event.

· Participants will not be able to screenshare.

· At least one faculty member will manage the waiting room and settings while another hosts the event.

· All faculty hosting or cohosting a reading will be trained to manage disruptions.

· Chat may be restricted to the host only and disabled entirely if abused.

· Removed participants will not be able to rejoin the event.

· Members of the public will be required to register for the event with their full name and email address before receiving the Zoom link and password.

· Participants without first and last names in their profile will not be allowed in the meeting.

· Any attendee who attempts to disrupt the event will be reported to Zoom and our IT department as well as CCSF administrators.

We hope that all of you—and anyone who attends any of the English Department’s future events—will feel safe knowing that we have put in place measures to ensure that such intrusion will never occur again. We are dedicated to bringing a diverse range of writers—writers of all races, gender identifications, and religions—who honor inclusivity and the power of literature to bring people together in the spirit of love—and never hate.


CCSF Creative Writing Program and English Department

New Issue of Forum Magazine 2023 Edition

We are back! On Wednesday, May 24th from 6-8pm, we are hosting the launch of our new Spring issue and we want you to be there!

Who: YOU coming to hang out with us

What: For the launch of our Forum Literary Magazine, Spring 2023 Issue

When: May 24th, 6-8pm

Where: Medicine for Nightmares, Bookstore & Gallery, 3036 24th Street, San Francisco CA

Why: Because its going to be an amazing Spring issue and you don’t want to miss it

Come check us out, at Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore and Gallery, 3036 24th Street, San Francisco CA



  hours  minutes  seconds


Forum Spring 2023 Launch!


Written by Susan Stone

I used to be able to smell grandma’s house walking up the back steps to her covered porch. The house always smelled the same, like cooked cabbage, even though she now only made golumpki for holidays. Christmas night was our annual celebration with the Zechlinski family. We would have already been to a Christmas celebration for my dad’s side of the family where I loaded up on mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy. But now it was time for the Polish dinner which included thick sliced ham, bright red beets with horseradish, cheesy potatoes and grandma’s beloved golumpki. She must have worked hours preparing so many of the delicately stuffed cabbage rolls. I know from my own attempts that getting the cabbage to just the right pliability takes a lot of practice. When the gently cooked leaves are ready to be stuffed with the ground beef, sauteed onion and white rice, it takes time to find just the right-sized leaf for the spoonful of stuffing. Once rolled, they lay in a pool of rich tomato sauce ready for the oven. Though my grandma always used Campbell’s tomato soup, I try to be fancy and make a homemade creation with canned crushed tomatoes and a dash of vinegar and sugar. I have made many mistakes with my trials of this traditional Eastern European dish. The cabbage has been undercooked, the meat has been undercooked and even the rice has been undercooked. I can still remember the time my effort came out as I had dreamed. The rolls were perfect and simmering in the sauce that had a beautifully thick consistency. Each roll a uniform size and the edges slightly browned. As I cut them open, a fragrant waft of steam floated in the air greeting my nose and warming up my tastebuds. The flavorful beef pulled apart gently and soaked up the right amount of sauce. If only I had remembered to put the dish in the refrigerator that night, perhaps I could have had several more meals. Live and learn. I often wonder how many times grandma had to run through the recipe to get it right.

My mother also made the classic Polish meal. Though, it was not necessarily saved for a special occasion and I would often smell the cabbage coming home from school on a regular Tuesday afternoon. She served golumpki with overcooked boiled potatoes. I used to mash them with a fork and put extra tomato sauce all over them with a dash of salt. She did a great job cooking the cabbage. Even though it was wrapped around the meat, I could tell the end of the leaf from the vein. The end was so well cooked that it melted in your mouth like pasta. The leaf vein was also cooked to perfection and did not need to be cut around to be consumed.

In the fall of 2019, I was fortunate to be able to visit the old country with my mom and three of my aunts. A full 10 days of golumpki! And to my surprise, it was not always made from supermarket beef and red sauce. It had been transformed from a daily working man’s meal to one served in the finest restaurants of trendy Krakow. I had golumpki with seasoned pork instead of beef, hearty buckwheat instead of rice, with creamy mushroom sauce, and even with decadent truffle sauce. It was often served with pillowy pierogies covered with caramelized onion or fluffy mashed potatoes loaded with butter. Every restaurant had their own recipe, and probably had their own grandma in the back cooking. Each establishment also had the familiar smell of grandma’s house. No matter where I ate the golumpkis were served with love and pride on a plate that usually looked like it had been hand-painted. And in traditional Polish restaurants, you often had doilies as your tablecloth.  It was like Christmas at grandma’s all over again.

Over the years I had met others from Eastern Europe. We have a family friend who came from Serbia. They have a similar flavorful variation, except the cabbage is pickled and is essentially sauerkraut. My Russian friends have a version that uses Savoy cabbage and mixes sour cream into the sauce. The Germans also have a rendition with chopped cabbage that is engulfed in a strudel casing. My friends from these countries have similar stories of foods that elders made for special occasions. These homeland meals were the heart of the family gathering and have endured generations, new languages and new food sources. 

Golumpki was part of our family for decades and it left a legacy in the cabbage odor of grandma’s house. So many gatherings, stories, laughs and celebrations happened while dishing the hearty, warm meal on our plates. Grandma’s house was purchased by the neighboring veterinarian clinic a few years ago after she passed. We wondered whether it would be used to house animals or as a parking lot. The parking lot prevailed. Somehow, I think over the asphalt you might still be able to smell the cabbage. 

About the author

Susan is originally from Michigan but has been enjoying living in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco since 1996. She began taking classes at CCSF to update her skills in writing, computers, and business. Susan loves hiking, biking, and traveling with her husband and teen daughter.

Ode to Rebellions for Queer Liberation

Written by Carla Schick

Praise to the streets that bear footprints
indelible storm on Christopher Street
To the person in a tie, gender undescribed
who threw the first punch
To the Molotov cocktails and the tough
& tender brown & black trans women who tossed
their high heels to claw against the cops
reaching down their throats, voices strangled
Sing of the bodies freed from secret
dancings & fierce bouncers
eying street youth
Sing to the warriors, our ancestors, who roamed
alleys & markets every day to end
their own hungers
To the trans folks who fought fears
To the fight.

Praise the neglected East Village, the crumbling
edges of stone buildings turned into homes, broken
bottles of cheap wine
Praise a turning away from what is cheap
booze & syringes, a fist 
that punches rather than pounds its own
body into a carcass
Praise the end of our dying.

Sing of the fires, a rattling
of prison bars, the paddy wagons bursting
into scenes,  windows broken
for air that flows
into once dark & stifling
dance floors
Praise to feet that float in twirl,
a round about turn, to bodies
that touch
Sing of touch.

Sing of the children who didn’t hear
the sirens that hot June night,

Call out to the breeze in the stifling air, bringing
sweat-drenched sleep,  call
out to rumors
of love different
from the boys singing on a stoop
in Queens, wooing their girlfriends
on the edge of their harmonies,

Praise the child who leaves
these splintering corners, to an unbroken
body, to the sloughing off
of skin that feels too tight

Praise to a bicycle reimagined
as a motorcycle, a wall re-purposed
as a pitcher’s cage, a world disallowed
by the fact of girlness

Praise to teens who set 
buildings on fire, who looked
into the eyes of cops,
who pushed against billy clubs
battering their bodies
Praise to the overturned cop cars, immobilized

Praise to our bodies, the wild
and the serene, the girl, the boy
and the circuitous paths of the in-between.

About the Poet

Carla Schick is a queer transformative justice activist who taught in public schools for 30 years.  They moved to San Francisco in the late 1970’s and lived in the Mission where they enjoyed taking classes at SFCC.  and connecting with the writing community through Small Press Traffic bookstore and women’s writing groups.  They currently live in Oakland.

In addition to writing they are involved in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination and union work, including providing workshops on intersectional LGBTQ+ topics for the California Teacher’s Association.

Their work can be found in Forum, Milvia Street, Earth’s Daughters, Sinister Wisdom and online at A Gathering of the Tribes The Write Launch.   Their work was included in the Medusa Project Anthology 100 Lives (Pure Slush).  

Random, Rain

Written by Joel Alas

     “Will God remember you after you’ve taken your last breath…!?” he cried out, “Will He…!?” 

     Under the faint streetlamp light, he searched for any eyes that dare look back into his. My eyes crossed his unexpectedly for a moment after he whirled around from about ten feet in front of me, so that he was now facing me. His eyes were open so wide I could see the red under his quivering eyelids. They were shadowy dark eyes, bulging and bloodshot. They contained an unmistakable look of agony, as if the question he’d been screaming out at anyone and everyone within earshot on the busy street that night was part of his own excruciating inner dialogue turned inside out. 

     He stood about six feet tall with a slight build, dark thinning hair, a sunken unshaven face, and a general look of waning health. His grey woolen blanket, darkened with dirt, was strewn haphazardly over right shoulder, one end dragging on the ground behind him as he drifted along the sidewalk. 

     He focused his gaze on me as I approached at a moderate, measured pace, and looked as if he was about to say something, but instead he spotted a half-smoked cigarette on the sidewalk there, quickly scurrying down to pick it up. As I moved past him, I caught a whiff of his stale stench, urine mixed with cigarette smoke. I felt a tinge of compassion for him, or perhaps just pity. 

     It began to rain. 

     I arrived at my destination and turned right into the narrow alcove which led to the bar entrance. “Will God remember you after you…” bellowed out again from around the corner as I stepped through the doorway into Spec’s Museum Café.

     I recognized a couple of the regulars from my last visit sitting near the door. One fellow had straggly grey hair and wore a black coat, black cowboy hat, and donned a black eyepatch over his left eye. Another, a disheveled looking weathered old man of about seventy, sat at the stool next to him sporting a green corduroy blazer with holes worn through the elbow patches. His face had a pained look on it, with deep wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes mapping the years he’s displayed that same labored expression. 

     Before I could decide which barstool to claim, the bartender emerged out of the dark corner behind the far end of the bar with an affable, “What can I get you hon?”

     She had a friendly face with piercing blue eyes, a softly faded complexion, and long platinum white hair. She, being a woman of roughly sixty-five years, was disarming due to her kind, no nonsense demeanor. She quickly wiped down the end of the bar opposite the door. I took that as my cue to sit there.

     “I’ll take the beer and shot special please” I said.

     “One Lucky Lager and a shot of Powers Whiskey coming up!” she declared.

     As she prepared my order, I glanced over at the rain coming down, catching both regulars studying me indifferently. Rather than acknowledge my presence there, they each took a deep swig off their drinks then stared straight ahead as if looking into a great distance. I was clearly a stranger in their home away from home.

     “Here you are hon. That’ll be $10” she said as she placed the beer and shot in front of me. 

     I gave her a ten and a five and thanked her. I was feeling generous. She smiled as she scooped up my payment, then turned and pressed the keys on the old-timey cash register behind her, popping it open with a cha-ching! She placed the $10 bill in the till drawer and dropped the $5 bill vertically into her tip jar, an old beer pitcher resting beside the register. 

     Next, she carefully placed a record on the phonograph behind the bar. The music began to play. It was French café music from the ‘40s, atmospheric, dreamlike. I settled into my environment, wading through the décor of the bar. The walls displayed various artifacts and keepsakes from around the globe, small taxidermy, photos, portrait sketches, newspaper clippings, and old school bar signage with cheeky sayings. A bumper sticker over the centerpiece mirror behind the bar reads, “NOT FOOLED BY THE GOVERNMENT.” Another reads, “THOU SHALL NOT WHINE.” That’s why I like this bar, I thought, it has both character & characters. 

     The steady rhythm of raindrops intensified. I watched for a moment as they splashed down onto the smooth pavement outside the door, savoring each gulp of beer as I did so. The sight of it, coupled with music and general atmosphere of the bar transported me to another place. 

     Just then, with hurried footsteps she came rushing through the door in a heap. She was sopping wet. 

     “It isn’t supposed to rain tonight!” she protested playfully with a hint of a smile on her face, while attempting to shake the water from her clothes. 

     Despite her discombobulated entrance, she was clearly relieved to be out of the heavy rain. She carried no umbrella. She wore a flimsy jacket with a hood. What she did have was a presence that changed the feeling in the room. She was alluring, even in her tousled state. Maybe because of it? 

     Her red lipstick and dark mascara lent her a mysterious appeal. I realized I was borderline gawking when she looked over at me. She glanced my way inquisitively, as if she might know me, while methodically squeezing water out of her medium long black hair. Her almond-shaped brown eyes scanned the room, searching for a place to sit.

     “Come sit here sweetie. It’s warmer on this end of the bar” the bartender suggested, motioning her over to the stool next to me, farthest from the door.     “What can I get you?”

     “One shot of Jameson…no two shots of Jameson!” said the mysterious woman as she glanced my way. 

     “I’m good. I already have a drink here but thank you.” I said politely.

     “Who said one was for you?” she deadpanned, staring back at me. After an awkward half moment of silence, she began to laugh. The bartender and I joined her in laughter as her shots were poured into two big shot glasses. 

     “Cheers…” she said lifting one of the filled shot glasses up. 

     The bartender and I quickly joined her, tilting back our drinks simultaneously as she made short work of her shot.

     “Talia, here you are! I was waiting outside. I thought I’d get here first” he said as he entered the bar, approaching the end of the bar where she and I were seated.         He looked older than her, had a round, bearded face, and wore round-rimmed glasses too small for his face. He had a wet umbrella in his hand.

     Talia explained, “I ran over here from the restaurant because it started pouring as soon as my shift ended. I got pretty drenched.” 

     They embraced. Then they kissed. The intrigue I was feeling evaporated and was gone. 

     “I can move over for you guys” I said as I slid my beer down one spot, taking the next barstool to my right so they could sit together.

     “Thank you” she said, touching my forearm then reaching out her hand to introduce herself. “I’m Talia and this is my boyfriend, Todd.”

     “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Talia. Nice to meet you, Todd. I’m Nigel.”

     I gazed outside at the rain falling again, as Talia and Todd huddled close together, conversing privately. Both the regulars by the door were looking at me again, only this time with wide smiles on their faces that seemed to say, That’s a tough break for you buddy ha-ha! 

     I could hear sirens wailing in the distance. A citrusy aroma of burning cannabis terpenes wafted into the bar. I pretended not to be disappointed. The sirens increased in number, getting nearer and louder now.

     “Are you going to have another beer hon?” the bartender asked, snapping me back to the moment.

     “Sure. One more round.”

     “Another Lucky Lager with a shot of Powers?”

     “Yes please.”

     She brought the beer and bottle of Powers Whiskey over to me and poured my shot, then with a knowing smile said, “The shot’s on me. Just $5 for the beer.”

     I downed the shot and slowly polished off the beer. I left a five for the beer and two more dollars in tip, then made my way out the of the bar. Surprisingly, it stopped raining in the time it took me to finish my second round. I exited the alcove the bar is tucked into, turning the corner and heading up to the busier intersection where I could hail a taxi more easily. I could see a crowd of people gathered around the crosswalk, as well as police cars, and an ambulance. There was a firetruck in the middle of the intersection diverting traffic around the accident.  

     Not in the mood to rubberneck, I made my way through in such a way to avoid the busy scene and cross to the other side of the intersection where I could find a taxi. As I stepped off the curb, I saw a police officer photographing a blanket in the street. It was lying just outside the crosswalk close to where the crowd gathered. After looking more intently I could see it was the same grey, woolen, darkened with dirt blanket. The first responders were talking to each other in a hushed, somber manner. I doubled back to get an even closer look. 

     There the victim rested, surrounded by EMTs and firemen. It was him. His eyes were wide open like before, but they weren’t quivering anymore. They were perfectly still. Blood leaked from his ears. His head and neck were contorted in a strange, unnatural position, with his left cheek resting on the asphalt, while his shoulders and body twisted more to the right. I peered into his eyes once more. There was no look of agony there. In its place was a cold, vacant stare that was, in this case, finality. The coroner’s van pulled up to the scene as the yellow tape was unrolled around the perimeter.

     I heard one bystander say, “I don’t know what he was doing? I saw him crossing the street then he stopped all of a sudden and reached down–he must’ve dropped something and went to pick it up.” 

     He pointed to a black Prius sedan double-parked and straddled by police cars approximately one hundred feet farther down to the right from where the body lie dead in the street.

     “That car right there came speeding around the corner and baaaaam! When I heard how loud the sound was, I knew it was gonna be bad. I doubt he saw it coming. That’s a fucked-up way to go out.”

     I turned away, a little shocked at how sinister the night had become. I crossed to the other side of the intersection continuing on my way. I walked for blocks, forgetting to hail a cab and in a kind of strange, withdrawn haze. A tepid wind whipped up sweeping through everything around me, leaves and debris, scattering it all along the now dank, empty street where I wandered. 

     A taxi with its roof-light lit sped by me without slowing down. I didn’t see it until it was already gone. I just kept walking—didn’t really care. His words repeated in my mind:

Will God remember you after you’ve taken your last breath…!? 

Will He…!?

     Raindrops began to fall.

About the author

Joel Alas recently completed his Creative Writing Certificate from CCSF.

Red Wine, Gold Cake

Written by Allyson Baker

My mother baked a cake for my seventeenth birthday. I remember it well because it was the first time that I had eaten gold. I had asked for months to try a gold flake from her bakery, but she always refused. “Gluttonous bastards” was the phrase that she used to describe the people who requested her gold-laden cakes. On my seventeenth birthday, I suppose she’d had a change of heart.

As my friends harmonized “Happy Birthday,” my mother carefully carried out the three-tiered masterpiece, adorned with yellow buttercream sunflowers and matching golden flakes, artistically placed around the circumference of the cake. I watched the red wax of the seven-shaped candle drip down, threatening to tarnish the smooth, vanilla frosting if I didn’t make my wish fast enough. Squeezing my eyes shut, I blew the flames out, forgetting what I had wished for just as soon as the thought had appeared in my mind.

As my mother sliced the first piece of cake for me, a fresh, berry medley oozed onto the plate. Turning back to the cake to serve more slices, the maroon mixture slid from the serving spatula onto her sundress. She swiftly scooped it up with her finger and wiped the berries onto a napkin, leaving a remaining red stain, reminiscent of the wine she poured for herself every night.

“My sweet, sweet dancing queen,” she had called to me after I walked the last guest to their car that night. I snuggled into the blanket next to her on the couch, letting her stroke my hair the way that she often did when I was much younger. 

“Would you like to try some?” she asked coyly, holding out her glass of wine. She had wanted to show me that she thought I was mature enough to have my first taste of alcohol now. I hadn’t the heart to tell her that my friends and I had gotten into the wine cabinet last month and finished an entire bottle. I accepted the glass that she held out to me and took a sip, letting the warmth of the moment consume me.

“I’ve been thinking about what you asked me a while back,” she started, “and I think that you’re ready to come catering with me now.” My mother’s words caught me off guard. I had pleaded persistently for months to accompany her on her bakery’s extravagant catering events, where she frequently served her cakes to the rich and famous. “They’re not as magical as you think they are,” she always responded to my pleas. This time though, unprompted, she offered me the invitation to join.

“Next Friday, I have a large gala to cater for at the Palace de la Reine, and I could definitely use two extra hands to help me out,” she said, taking both of my hands into hers. She must have already known that my answer was yes, because she handed me a golden name tag with my name engraved. Tracing over the cold, metal letters with my thumb, I turned to smile appreciatively at my mother. A tear guided itself from the corner of her eye down her cheek. She realized I was now looking at her and hurriedly brushed it off of her face, as if the visual culmination of her sadness was just an itch that she had to scratch away. I pretended like I didn’t see the worry on her face and hugged her goodnight, taking my new nametag down the hall with me, feeling too awkward to ask my crying mother what was wrong.

I counted down the days leading up to my first catering event with her. Sneaking into her office while she was at her bakery, a quick perusing of her emails had told me that a handful of my favorite celebrities would be at this gala. The host of the gala was a new kind of celebrity at the time; he was one of the world’s first trillionaires. That first group of trillionaires had a handful of villains, but he appeared to us as promising and formidable as Batman. He made headlines for donating to wildfire relief efforts, with Time magazine putting him on their cover, pictured in a charred forest, one hand on his hip, the other hand wrapped around a firefighter’s helmet. His wealth seemed to give him superhuman qualities, with the Time cover nearing the territory of iconography.

The night of the gala, I sat on a wooden stool in my mother’s bakery, rocking its uneven legs back and forth as I eagerly watched her inspect the twenty finished cakes for any impurities. She cared more about perfecting her own craft than she did about feeding socialites. I imagine that if she actually gave any thought to her clients, she wouldn’t have created the masterpieces that she did. She separated her art from its consumer, the only way that she was able to wake up and bake cakes for trillionaires everyday.

“You’re quite the helpful assistant,” my mother said to me sarcastically, not taking her eyes off of the chocolate ganache. “I mean, if you’re going to just sit and twiddle your thumbs, can you at least put on some music for us?” she said with a wink. Tinny sound filled the air as I played her favorite songs from the compacted speakers of my phone. I admired the way she moved gracefully, even in an ankle-length apron. She waltzed over to me, whisk in hand, a makeshift microphone in her kitchen. With her encouragement, I sang into the whisk until she was satisfied. Giggling at our impromptu duet, I noticed my jaw was no longer tense, and my brow had become unfurrowed. My mother had successfully attempted to ease my nerves before the gala; and so we went, loading the cakes into her van.

The twenty gold-covered cakes that we had finished assorting on the buffet tables no longer seemed as magnificent as they were an hour before when they had covered every spare inch of counter space in my mother’s kitchen. Surrounding the cakes on the buffet tables were four different types of chocolate fondue fountains, accompanied by dishes of fresh fruit, each juicy slice beckoning to be skewered and slathered in sugar. My mother noticed my salivating gaze at the dessert table and shook her head in response. “We’re not here to eat. We’re here to serve,” she told me.

The guests filed in slowly that evening, filling up the main hall of the gala with their floor-length silk dresses, which I noticed dragged across the floor in an almost liquid-state, although the wearers moved quite rigidly themselves. Most of the men wore golden pins secured to their lapels, each pin identical to another. I looked down at my own golden nametag and smiled, happy to feel like I had something in common with these guests. 

These guests, with their flawlessly manicured nails and extravagant diamond rings, never reached for the delicious assortment of fruit and fondue, or even my mother’s cakes for that matter. Glued between the fingers of their left hands were champagne glasses. As soon as they finished one, another waiter was just as soon by their side with a silver platter of a dozen more. The guests were careful to keep their right hands free of anything at all, except for, of course, the hands of the other guests. Handshaking was constant. Although some ladies greeted one another with a kiss on the cheek, no one embraced for a hug. The mere thought of intimacy was taboo.

Standing behind the pastry table, I busied myself most of the night by watching wealth interact with itself. My mother stood next to me, serving decadent slices of cake to the few people that eventually asked. Once receiving their porcelain plates of cake, they took a few nibbles and abandoned the remains on a table, where a waiter, seemingly immediately, collected them and moved them out of sight.

The room performed in this reflexive, mechanical way until the host finally walked in. Conversations quieted, then, stopped entirely, and as he made his way to the platform on the opposite side of the room, a roaring applause filled the space between the four walls. I couldn’t see much of him from where I was standing at the pastry table, but the spotlights above him illuminated his statute with a golden glow. I squinted my eyes to make out his appearance, which was met with a firm tug on my wrist from my mother.

“Do not stare at them,” was all she said. I looked down from the brightly-lit figure speaking on the stage and turned my attention to the entrance of the gala hall instead. Two wait-staff stood on either side of the heavy glass doors, with a sheet of tint that made it impossible for those on the outside to see within. Those inside the room, however, could clearly see the marble steps outside that led up to the hall. Stumbling up them at that moment was someone I recognized as the host’s son, a tall, messy-haired boy only a few years older than me. He was famous in his own right, starring in films, known for always playing the compassionate, romantic lead.

As he clambered through the entrance of the hall, I had a difficult time picturing him as his stereotypical, charming character. Although guests turned to stare at him noisily stumble to the bar, his father paid no mind, and in fact, did not even stutter for a moment during his speech. The guests turned their attention back towards the stage, the host’s presence captivating and demanding our full attention once more. My mother, however, kept her focus directed at the host’s son, with an aura of uncharacteristic fear as if she was staring at Lucifer himself.

“There’s a dark shadow hanging over that poor child,” she muttered to herself, shaking her head solemnly. I glanced over at the bar, careful not to stare, to see him slouched over in a velvet chair in the corner, a glass of dark liquor in his hand, tempting the escapades of gravity.

There was a small plastic bag on the table next to him, and I turned away just as he began to drag his nose across the white, powdered surface. The orchestra, as if on cue, began to perform Vivaldi’s Four SeasonsSummer, concluding the host’s speech and commencing the chaos of the cocaine-consuming boy in the corner. An excited, cheering, “Woooo!” came from where he sat, and in my peripheral vision, I saw the boy leap up from his velvet throne to make an attempt to mingle with the crowd, exhibiting a newfound energy. Most people cringed back into themselves as he approached them, only tolerating the boy in the hopes that it would earn them a private minute with his father to speak about business.

The boy, seeking stimulation like a stir-crazy dog, inevitably approached the pastry table. I felt my mother stiffen next to me, one of the only times I had ever noticed her stressed. He reeked of whisky from seven feet away, and I understood why the guests all inched away from him as much as possible. My best friend was going to be devastated that the heartthrob on the poster above her bed was actually a drunken slob.

“Is there any ice cream cake?” he managed to slur out at my mother.

“No, I’m sorry. The labels in front of each cake tell you which flavor they are,” she responded.

The vein in his neck constricted itself and bulged out again, like a python swallowing its meal whole. Towering over us, he was noticeably much taller in person than in any of his films, and I began to feel my palms sweat. 

“What? You think I can’t read the labels or something?” he interrogated, pointing a finger at my mother’s face. He had a layer of black dirt and grime caked under his fingernails, which complemented the white dust that was powdered around his nose.

“I know you can read. That’s why I’m suggesting you take a look at the selection,” my mother said, her patience evidently wearing thin.

“My father doesn’t pay you to be a bitch. Just give me a damn piece of ice cream cake,” he bellowed down at her.

“Like I said, we don’t have any ice cream cake. If you’d like, I can slice you a piece of this truffle cheesecake, and you can let me know if you want more.”

“Don’t patronize me! You don’t think I can slice the cake myself? Give me the fucking knife!” He yanked the knife out of my mother’s hand, launching his elbow into the three-tiered cake next to me. Knocking me onto the floor and covering me in a sticky berry medley, I noticed that this was the same cake my mother had baked for my birthday the week before.

“What are you doing?” my mother yelled at him, still trying to maintain her composure.

“Cutting my own cake – I earned it! And I don’t care what any of these assholes think of me,” he announced, waving the knife around towards the other guests. “I can do it on my fucking own!”

“I know you can, but let me just do it for you,” my mother said anxiously, reaching for the knife in his hand. “Here, let me just-”

“Get off of me, bitch!” he screamed, driving the knife into my mother’s stomach. She looked down at her stomach, now oozing a deep red, and stumbled onto the floor. I crawled over to her and kneeled by her side, waiting for her to tell me what to do, to give me a plan of action, to tell me that it was going to be okay, to tell me that she was going to be okay.

“I shouldn’t have brought you here,” she choked out, “around these monsters. Get out before they notice you, my love.”

“Mom, I love-” I started.

“I know you do. Run out of here now. Trust that my love is with you always,” she said, caressing my cheek. “Most importantly, Amelia, you must avoid what appears to be golden.”

I kissed my mom on the forehead, my tears rolling off of my face and onto hers. She assured me with a nod, and I turned around to face the buffet tables, crawling underneath in the direction of the emergency exit. The white, satin tablecloths provided coverage for my escape underneath the table, allowing me to slip out inconspicuously. 

“What the hell is this?” the host of the party asked. I stopped in my tracks under the table. His shoes were inches from my face.

“That lady didn’t want to-” his son began to explain through sniffles.

“Save it. I’m tired of you embarrassing me at my events. When are you going to grow up? You say that you want to prove to me that you deserve a stake in my company, but time and time again, I’m cleaning up your messes and covering your ass when you get involved in these kinds of scandals,” the host’s shoes now turned to face the opposite direction. “Take care of this,” he directed, and I heard several pairs of feet shuffle over to where my mother’s body was, picking her up and moving her out of sight, like a piece of unfinished cake on the table.

“Was there anyone else who saw you do this?” the host asked his son.

“Yeah, some girl. I didn’t see where she went though.”

“Go upstairs, and get security to check the footage. Figure out which door she left through, or if she left at all. She might be in the building still.”

The host’s shoes walked away from where I was hiding. Taking a breath of courage, I summoned my mother’s strength: “Three, two, one.” 

I sprinted out from underneath the table and through the emergency exit a few feet away, finding myself on a crowded city street. Ripping off my golden nametag, I immersed myself into a group of pedestrians and disappeared into oblivion, unsure of what to do next.

Subduction Leads to Orogeny

Written by Austin Lui Mello

History is deep and
outside my reach; but
wet echoes
lap sand,
leaving traces
and topographies.

In the trench,
hungry fossils connive
in absolute obscurity,
trailing silken notions
from vane or spine,
carrion falling, freezing,
stirs abyssal appetites,
a toothy shifting in the murk;
not far from where i flew
home from the hospital to
learn to bob and toddle on teak;
not far from the territory where
my great grandma was
swept up by an airman;
not far from the woody
studio where my ex-pat dad
broke glass, learned to speak;
not far from the corrugated
quonset avalon where my
grandpa dick kept watch
over shorelines,
bated breath,
windows adorned in
mourning curtains.

Now, little more than
waves rumbling
below the threshold;
felt, but not heard.