Thank you to everyone who sent us their work! Submissions are now closed. Stay tuned for further announcements about our upcoming events and the publication of our Spring issue.
Forum Literary Magazine Presents…Open-Mic Night!
Come join us as we celebrate the colorful urban voices of San Francisco! Whether it’s spoken word, music, comedy, or something else entirely, all are welcome to the stage! Artist sign-ups will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each artist receives 5 minutes on stage.
My name is Sam Ward; I’m a 23 year old self-taught photographer from Antioch California. The catalyst that first sparked my interest in photography was skateboarding and the desire to capture those authentic moments between my friends and I. My style of photography is mainly lifestyle and documentary style work.
I am young, aspiring creator working in both film and digital photography and other various mediums of art. I’m inspired by the complex dualities in mundane life and exploring those relationships through my work. This print is a double exposure 35mm photo made with paper cutouts in the darkroom.
Joyce is a graphic designer with roots in Chicago but based in the Bay. When she’s not obsessing over ampersands you can find her galavanting around the world with her camera to capture the perfect shot.
Benjamin Fedosky lives and works in Oakland, CA. He studied at the University of Milwaukee – WI from 1997-99, and has since taken a self-directed approach to his art and studio practice. Benjamin has exhibited in solo and group shows in the U.S, Canada, and the U.K. benjaminfedosky.com
School and Shadow
(An excerpt from The Passion of la Niña Milagros: Growing Up in the Violence of El Salvador)
Getting to school was an adventure for my big brothers and sisters. The dirt road passed through isolated coffee plantations with no people anywhere around, and no electric light. You had to walk right by the cemetery, so parents with a little money would let their kids smoke a cigarette to fend off the Siguanaba. This was a supernatural woman of great beauty who could drive you mad or make you lose your way. She was usually seen from behind, a woman with long, shining black hair, dressed in a flimsy white slip—but if she turned her head you’d see she had the face of a skull!
Fortunately, by the time I was ready for first grade we had moved to a newly populated neighborhood in the hills outside the capital, where the government established a new school. They bought a former chicken ranch with an ancient henhouse made of weathered boards and rusty chicken-wire mesh to keep the pullets from escaping. Workers put up partitions and fashioned eight tiny classrooms with a couple of narrow corridors and a large patio in front.
This new school was only a dozen blocks from our house, and a great joy for everyone—especially Mamá. My next older brother, Alfredo, started first grade there. Even now I remember how my mother herded him to school by pitching rocks at him. He didn’t like to sit in class, so Mamá followed him down the road, tossing stones at him for a few blocks so that he would get going and stay on course. He was so scatterbrained that sometimes people stopped him to point out that he was wearing his shoes on the wrong feet. Well, the problem may not have been absent-mindedness so much as the novelty of wearing shoes at all!
I started school early, perhaps because of a calcium deficiency. All the little children would begin first grade when their first milk tooth fell out. Mine fell out when I was six and not seven years old, like everyone else. Also, I was very small for my age, and rather scared of school. But the joy of my brothers and sisters was contagious, and I was very curious to know what school was.
Indeed, I was very content at the school that happened to be mine. It didn’t matter that chicks and hens had been raised there before me. I didn’t mind the rough floor of dirt and concrete or the corrugated tin roof which, when it rained, kept you from hearing what your teachers were saying. While it’s true that the teachers abused us, any change in our lives was a reason for joy: surely anything would be better!
In school it was all laughter—and sometimes tears. Why? Usually because of some punishment that had been inflicted upon our bodies at home the night before. At times our parents were in a bad mood, and in their anger or frustration they would take out their ire upon their children. The next day, in our pain and frustration, we didn’t want anybody near us.
Of course, the teachers would contribute their share to our woe. Teachers threatened to set fire to your hair if you came to school unkempt, so I tried to be well dressed. Of course, I had only my little momo—a sleeveless playsuit with a faded pattern of tiny flowers. I carried water and played in this costume every day, too. My siblings made fun of me because instead of sleeping in it I insisted on changing into a ragged old dress of my mother’s. Each morning I shook out my momo and made sure my hair was tidy. Every Sunday, Mamá would braid my hair, and I tried to wash my outfit once a month.
We children were subject to many forms of punishment. A teacher might humiliate you in front of others by throwing your notebook at your feet. Or she might bestow un coscorrón—a rabbit punch to the head—or else lift your skirt and whack you with a yardstick. Sometimes at eleven in the morning she’d put you out in the sun underneath the bell they rang for recess. For an hour or two you’d have to stand there sweltering in the sun, balancing your desk on top of your head. Other times, the teacher might give you una carrera de mico—a “monkey race,” rubbing her two thumbs up the sides of your head so that a few hairs might be ripped out. Or she might say, “Quieres ver a Dios?” (Do you want to see God?) Then she would use her thumbs to lift you up by the temples, again ripping out a few hairs. They would do this to boys and girls alike, even the little kids. Only at adolescence did they stop, when we got too big and rebellious. And, of course, the teachers threatened to expel us if we told our parents any of this.
Our teachers were from well-to-do families, very superior to all of us. They always made it clear that we would never attain their high-class status. Throughout our childhood they nurtured in us the idea that we were beings who must be completely subservient to anyone who would guide us on the road to knowledge. This was confirmed by Mamá, who had only been to school for six months in her whole life; and by Papá, who said of the teacher, “she’s your second mother.” In this way they confirmed that it would be stupid for us to refuse the teacher’s crazy whims, such as cleaning her desk, running to carry her briefcase, and doing other ridiculous things.
There are people who leave very deep footprints on your life, difficult to efface. One of these was my first grade teacher, Señorita Marina—I will never forget her name. She was a tall, slender woman with a stylish bubble hairdo. On my very first day of school she smacked me very hard on the back. She told me to move a bench, but I was so little that I could barely drag it, and I inadvertently bumped into her desk. Another time, Marina decided to punish us all because, unbeknownst to the class, two boys had stood in the doorway, looking her over like vagabonds. This had filled her with shame. She made us stretch out our hands with the palms down, and whacked us on the knuckles with a ruler. She did this to thirty-five children, although only two had offended her. But she was very fair-minded and punished the lot of us, giving several blows to each one.
Sometimes I got in trouble despite my best efforts. Part of my problem was that things would happen and I wouldn’t understand why. Maybe I was just unsuspecting. Here’s an example: Señorita Marina picked three of us children to be her servants, perhaps by chance or perhaps because we were the poorest and most neglected of her students. She would arrive quite early in the morning, and desire us to fetch her breakfast.
One day when we little servants arrived she sent us back out to bring her a cup of milk and some bread with an egg. We had to walk perhaps seven blocks to get her breakfast, and so naturally we missed class. Señorita Marina may have forgotten about us that day, or maybe we came back more quickly than she expected. Our hands full, we backed through the little wooden door into the classroom. Suddenly we discovered that our teacher had no hair! She suffered from alopecia—a malady that causes people to lose their hair and eyelashes and eyebrows. Even then I understood that it was an illness. All her life Marina had been impeccable in her toilette, but the three of us kids saw her without her wig, and that cost us her hatred. She angrily chewed us out, saying that the door was closed and we needed to knock. But how were we to knock, with our hands full of her breakfast? “Sorry! Sorry!” we said, overcome with shame. We put down her breakfast and fled.
We often wondered whether school was a good thing or not. On the one hand, we were the laughingstock of other schools because we were the poorest. But on the other hand, there were classmates who walked three miles to get there—and even though class began at seven-thirty in the morning, they were punctual. We figured that you had to learn to read, even if you could only read badly, so that later in life people couldn’t take advantage of you.
In first grade I had a fifteen-year-old classmate named Lucía. She was a simple young woman, a bit strange; much lighter in color than me. You could tell at a glance that she was from the countryside because she wore two long braids in her hair and always came barefoot, with dusty, calloused feet. She wore the typical peasant dress—a loose white blouse with a bit of elastic in the short sleeves, and a long black skirt made of commercial cloth. Of course, Lucía was much bigger than the rest of us: she was fifteen and we were only six or seven. Her parents hadn’t sent her to school because they had cows that needed to be herded to pasture.
Just as her family exploited her, so did the teacher. Señorita Marina saw in Lucía a person who could be useful to her. When we were halfway through the school year she appropriated the girl to be her personal servant. Marina sent me home with Lucía to gather up her possessions. I knew the house—a humble cabin on a very beautiful little ranchito—because I was very nosy, and Lucía was very special. We left the school at eight o’clock in the morning, forded the river Acelhuate, and then traversed it once again with her possessions balanced in a couple of small bundles on our heads. We didn’t get back until eleven-thirty—that’s how far away her house was.
Instead of helping the girl, the teacher administered one more wound. Once she had Lucía in her power, Marina restricted the girl to her house in the capital and only permitted her to go out once a month. This was how all the domestic servants were treated at that time. As for our friend Lucía, she never studied again—she couldn’t even finish first grade. How are we supposed to get ahead if we can’t study? Poor Lucía hadn’t even learned to read or write before the teacher took her away.
One thing above all remains etched in my memory. It happened in second grade, which must have been the year 1972. One day at noon we little kids came out of school, and there in the dusty road near the bakery were the bodies of three young men. All were youngsters that everybody knew, who came every week to deliver the flour used to make bread. They always took the same route, and that day they had been murdered at point-blank range.
The dirt road was narrow and the delivery truck very wide, thus we all had to squeeze alongside it in order to pass. The police hadn’t arrived, nobody had come. No mothers were with us; they were all working and almost never brought their children to school or picked them up. You’d walk to school with a neighbor, or with a brother or sister. And so we children made a circle right up close around the bodies. Somebody older, maybe one of my siblings, should have told me not to look.
One body was splayed in the dirt at the bottom of the bakery steps. A second body lay next to the delivery truck, and another underneath it. We saw the boys’ faces in the dirt, their blood spattered in the dust, and we said to one another, “They killed them!” These bleeding bodies, cast onto the ground amid white splotches of scattered flour, were the first of so many corpses I was to see.
Wow, how hard life is! I stood there looking. We just stood there, a clump of us—my brothers and sisters and neighbor kids—maybe ten or fifteen minutes, just looking at the bodies. As a little child, despite the violence that I had witnessed in my own family, it was shocking to see the bloody bodies of the three young men. They were hard workers, youths not so much older than we were, covered in dust from the rutted dirt road. I dreamed of this scene near my house for about a year: the faces of the murdered boys in that steaming noontime, and the way your body writhes when no longer directed by your brain.
For us this was the beginning of the time of violence. I don’t remember the date, but I do remember the heat, the dust, the noonday sun and the crowd of us little kids from the school. Sometimes I talk with my family about it and they clam up, especially people of my generation, because we like to pretend that such carnage only happens in films. But when you have seen these things with your own eyes, and your ears have heard the sound of a bullet striking flesh, a machete slicing into a human body—these are things that you can’t so easily forget.
We kids walked those dirt roads every single day. That day we stood in the road, all huddled together, and for us it was… How can I express it?
Okay, now as an old woman I can articulate it: This violence was something profoundly disrespectful. They didn’t harm those youths in some middle-class district. No, they had to come to our impoverished neighborhood and murder them exactly at the hour when children were coming out from school. It seemed that they did it precisely so that we kids would see what would happen. They did it consciously, to terrorize the next generation.
Before they ever reached our district, the killers had to pass through an upper-middle class neighborhood. But such things never happened there amid the pretty homes, the big houses with a garage, people who were employed. Murderers also passed through our narrow dirt streets to dispose of the bodies of people they had killed elsewhere. Perhaps they liked our poverty-stricken, outlying district because all the streets ended up overlooking the river. They tossed their victims down the cliffs so the current would carry them away. The bodies of murdered people always turned up downstream at a place called las Tres Cruces, after three crossings of the river.
As time went on we’d watch killers come and go, but nobody said anything. Sometimes I’m sad, because I wonder: Why couldn’t we talk about these things? Why did we have to keep silent when we all knew who had done the evil deed? Everyone knew it was the army—sometimes we’d even see uniformed soldiers disposing of bodies. We knew that the people with money were behind it.
The incident at the bakery was widely reported on radio and television. They said that the youths belonged to a union, which was prohibited in those days—so they had to pay the price. I had never known what a unionist was; my family unfortunately never had the connections to get work in a private company. Later, they taught us in school about unions and unionists, and then we realized that they were workers who wanted to struggle for their rights.
Who made these boys pay the price? Well, the only people who didn’t like unions at that time were those in the government of Arturo Armando Molina, the PCN (National Conciliation Party). Its slogan was “Vote for the little hands,” and to this day their symbol is two hands clasped. Those hands were stained by the blood of many people who never agreed with what was happening in the country.
A paramilitary death squad formed, the Shadow of Death. They gagged you, beat you, tortured you, and if this was not enough, then they killed you. As time went on, people took advantage of the situation to get back at neighbors they were quarreling with. All you’d have to do is talk loudly about someone, maybe saying that a certain man belonged to the green party, the PDC (Christian Democratic Party), and the Shadow of Death would come at night and murder the whole family.
As a young child I came to understand all this—what the symbol of the little hands meant. I will always remember this, and remember all the people who have never told their stories. I believe that the perpetrators thought us so stupid that we would never know who had murdered the young men at the bakery. I believe the weight of these deaths will always be on their conscience.
And so the delivery boys were dead. Their corpses had not fallen naturally into the road, and we were not going to touch them, either. What could we children have done? Mamá had always told us not to look at dead people, lest we get traumatized. After maybe twenty minutes my older sister said, “Let’s go, monkeys—Mamá must be waiting for us.” And we went running home with the news. But Mamá had already heard, and the curious were coming out to see.
A new era began the moment the bakery boys were murdered. Big changes began to take place, things that my mind never could have conceived of. Only later did we realize that a huge wave of violence was approaching. A diaspora began, of everyone who had the means to leave our little country.
Milagros and Rita have been collaborating on this memoir for several years, and as chapters are completed they are posted to the website MilagrosVela.com. Rita Moran is an active CCSF ESL Instructor. Milagros Vela is a dear friend and a former CCSF student. Milagros uses a pseudonym, to protect her identity.
What Do Stars Look Like in the Middle of the Ocean
what do the waves feel like
are they calm, placid without wind
or violent as you charge
through swelling, white caps
between past and future
making you seasick
but not enough to turn back
only love can make us sail the open sea
never knowing what lies ahead
trusting what is on the other side
might be better than where we left
what we do not know
better than the desperation of war
what does the middle of the ocean feel like
where waves meet, crashing into each other
a known desolation into an unknown isolation
is there a silence so dark
you can hear your desires blaze
across the sky and fall into the sea
can you see a million of them
in a vastness that makes you feel
only stars can hear your prayers
Jennifer Barone is the author of Saporoso, Poems of Italian Food & Love (Feather Press), host of the monthly WordParty Poetry & Jazz Series (thewordparty.com) and winner of the Poets Eleven contest for North Beach where she resides. Visit: jenniferbarone.wordpress.com for more.
The Forum Fall 2018 Launch Event was held Thursday, December 20th at Alley Cat Books in the Mission.
Forum Faculty Advisers Chante McCormick and John Isles kicked- off the event, thanking the entire Forum Fall 2018 Staff for their dedication in producing a beautiful publication filled with fiction, non-fiction, poetry and visual art. They reminded the attendees of the upcoming Spring 2019 Creative Writing and English Department classes.
Next, Forum General Editor Vincent Calvarese walked the audience through the 4-month journey from submissions to publication. The rest of the Forum staff joined him at the microphone, introduced themselves, and shared their own experience with CCSF’s 81-year-old publication.
After a short break, City College of San Francisco’s Chancellor Mark Rocha spoke to the audience and thanked the Forum staff for their dedication to excellence. He read briefly a fiction story, The Sanctuary, from Forum Magazine. He compared it to CCSF’s policy as an institution of inclusion and safety for all.
The rest of the evening was filled with readings from Forum published authors SF Poet Laureate Kim Shuck, Forum featured poet MK Chavez and Forum published poets Cassandra Dallett, Jennifer Barone and Thea Matthews. There was a raffle held and many participants who purchased a Forum Magazine received published works from the featured guests.
Live music came alive with Forum published non-fiction writer John Paul Krause, known as AEon Flow.
Food was supplied by Morning Due Cafe and libations from Doug Salin.
I couldn’t take it anymore
Walking by sad, homeless people,
barely looking at them
as I passed them by.
I wanted to be better than that
so I decided on a simple outreach plan:
I would give them granola bars.
Using my instincts,
I chose the people to approach.
I thought that my gift to them was the granola bar,
but right away I learned the truth:
It’s not about the granola bar.
No matter how hungry a person was,
what mattered more than the bar was
my looking into their eyes
and that I wasn’t telling them
to be someone more,
to go somewhere else.
I was smiling and gentle
and, in return, no matter how deep their agony,
no matter how far back
they had to travel to me
from their psychotic wanderings,
they were there for me with friendly eyes
and polite “pleases” and “thank yous”
and “your compassion means a lot.”
One man clung to the granola bar
as though it were a gift from heaven
in a life where he owns nothing — but despair.
Yet even so…
It’s not about the granola bar.
Our real connection became clear
when tears swelled up in his eyes
because, although he had asked nothing of me,
I came to him when he had long forgotten
what it was like for someone to see him.
Giving of ourselves may seem like a little thing
but it isn’t, in fact, a little thing
but a big forever thing
that can change how a person feels about the world
and, very importantly, how he feels about his own worth.
Those simple gestures are selfish in a way
because each time I left in awe
of how kindness survives
inside worn-out, ignored people.
Kindness waiting for a reason to glow.
It’s not about the granola bar.
It’s about talking with a person and not at a person.
It’s about giving him a moment of not being judged.
It’s about letting his humanity shine through
to light his smile that brightens both our worlds.
Vivian (Sinick) Imperiale was a CCSF student and later worked at a now defunct position: Behavioral Sciences Reader. Poetry plays a therapeutic role in her life, allowing her to better understand herself and process emotions around life events.