Category Archives: News

Poetry Piece “Nyanza” Featuring Image “History”

“Nyanza” 

Written By: Tom Luttrell

About the Author: Tom Luttrell was born in Oakland and lives in San Francisco. He has a BA from UC Berkeley and takes classes at CCSF. “Nyanza” is his first published work. 

After I take down the recycling and the compost,

when my hands are free,

I grab my mom’s 1947 Funk & Wagnalls college standard dictionary,

in the garage,

on a shelf,

in a cabinet,

laying sideways between a stack of gilt frames and a VHS of

Chinatown. 

The back of my nails pass the beige linen cover and like a zither it tingles back, its pomegranate spine still fast and tight.

It says on the side, in gold, on black

EM’-PHA-TYPE EDITION

A font square and direct, like mesopotamian beards.

It was there, stuck to others, in a celery-green bookcase

in our house in Oakland

Beneath the Hummels and other untouchables

in the room reserved for company.

But NYANZA smells

like his den:

perforated white stucco

attached to the garage

in the backyard.

Pipes and tobacco,

mold and wood.

And DROIKIT too, like that

gold-veined white linoleum covered with brown knotted oval rugs,

then that bathroom

with a never-used shower painted gas-chamber green.

And how is it your presence still gets me,

the way I saved your parole agent fedoras (because of the Brylcreem?)

your calling card between the headband,

behind the bow by the tag with the size (“he’s got a head like a bastard cat”) and

Before

February 9, 1971,

in a Sacramento Inn motel room,

metal door ajar, Ryder truck safe,

the morning sun splitting the black and white screen,

the four of us and one bitter grandma,

standing and watching

other peoples’ earthquakes and

other peoples’ station wagons

hover over freeway cracks and

Before

I knew what proxy meant.

 

Visual Art Piece By: Kseniia Ha

About the Artist: In the past, I have learned how to draw religious icons, following all the scholastic rules. I have studied perfection in the craft, technique and formula of how to draw the divine face, until I finally came to feel an intangible truth: that all people on Earth already are ideal. We already are what we are searching for. I truly believe that we are the iconic images.

 

History_Visual Arts_Mixed Media Photography

Fiction Piece “Rikki” Featuring Image “Couer d’Alene”

Rikki

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

About the Author: Jeff Kaliss has been studying creative writing and music at City College following the completion of an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. At City, he’s appeared in Forum in various genres, read at Lit Night, and hosted the Poetry for the People Podcast.

         Through the overheated night, Lucius had dreamed of unquiet clamorous parades down the garish main streets of sub-tropical foreign countries, where the shouts and the signs were in a language he’d never know, and the naked bodies he followed, the bodies flanking him and pushing him from behind, were the bodies of every girl and woman he’d ever touched, and had wanted to touch. What were they protesting? Why could they all never reach a climax? 

            Lucius found himself dragged into morning excited but unsatisfied. It was Labor Day, a day off from the daily commute alongside perfumed sad-eyed girls in buttoned outfits he’d imagine unbuttoning. And there’d be no holiday company with any of the temporary girlfriends who’d gone past the point of staving off their own loneliness with movies and dinners out and new sex, until it had, all too soon, become old sex. 

            Lucius got in his car and drove dully in the direction of the ocean. He wished he could drive back into his dreams. He pushed a Best of Cream cd into the cushioned slit, and the thrumming pulse of “Sunshine of Your Love” began filling the Honda and his heart. Then he ran his right index finger along the back of his ear, then positioned the finger under his nostrils. Ah, there it was, that olfactory funk which always made him think back past the dreary work years to Rikki, his early girlfriend with the boyish name and the lithe, gently rounded androgynous body. This was her smell, that special smell of that place he went to and she’d loved having him go to, the isthmus between her vagina and her anus. He could stay there forever. She could want him to stay there forever. 

            He’d reached the beach, but Lucius didn’t know where to go, between now and Tuesday. So he took off his shoes, left them in the car, walked down to the tide, and waded in. The water surged and whispered, it splashed over his hand, he licked his hand, and it was salty, like sweat. It would always be Rikki. 

Visual Art By: Meredith Brown

Coeur d'Alene_Visual Arts_Photography

Fiction Piece:”Unicorn”; Featuring Image: “Rainbow of Our Escape”

Unicorn 

Written By: Jenia Bernstein

About the Author: My name is Jenia Bernstein. Born and raised in Uzbekistan, I came to the United States as a refugee in 1991. I was nineteen years old and did not speak a word of English. I now live in San Francisco with my husband and two teenage children and run a business. Lately I am finding time to try new things. I grew up reading Russian classics but over the years I have spent in US I fell in love with the English language so I have decided to take a writing class at CCSF. The piece I have submitted titled “Unicorn” is one of my first short stories.

They stayed at Fort Tiracol Heritage, ten kilometers away from the little beach town of Arambol, Goa. Tiracol Heritage was a former 17th century fortress, converted into a luxury hotel where each room had a view of the Arabian sea and a monumental poster bed decorated with gold embroidered canopy, all of this for the exuberant cost of a Motel 6 room. In this grand place, they played out their sexual fantasies evoked by visiting numerous museum forts during their past three weeks in India. Instead of battles and politics, tour guides mostly focused on luxurious lifestyles of kings with their multiple wives and mistresses. The couple found their play scenarios challenging to reconcile. Rushi fantasized about being a king who was choosing one of his wives for the night. Jemma imagined being a queen who was picking a lover from one of her young servants. They seemed to always agree on the ending. 

               This afternoon they drove to Arambol and signed up for Ayurvedic massages by the beach. The appointment was in the afternoon so they decided to go for a swim. Multiple sanitation concerns would arise anywhere in the world from being on this beach but this was India where cows, pigs and street dogs enjoyed wading the water in perfect harmony with human tourists.  While the couple were in the water, a young woman floated up from the waves like a mermaid and started a conversation. They must have seemed like safe people to talk to, a mixed Indian-European couple speaking English, obviously foreigners on vacation. The woman was alone and craved company. Droves of young men – consequences of female infanticide – were all around and she – no doubt – spent a lot of energy deterring unwanted attention. A woman traveling alone in India is rare, especially an Indian woman. She was wearing a sporty swimsuit and did not have a t-shirt over it as did all other women on the beach. Some of them were going into the water in full sari. Rushi chatted with her for awhile, told her they were waiting for massages and shared their dinner plans. She was from Calcutta and staying in Arambol for a one week vacation. Today was her last full day in Goa. 

  At 4pm the couple went back to the massage shed and had themselves four hand massages. Jemma’s  body felt like butter but Rushi was all perky. “Let’s go eat! What was that place called?” The restaurant was right on the beach and live music was promised. It had only two walls, the beach and the street sides were exposed. There was a stage with a mural for backdrop and a dance floor in the depth of the restaurant. They got icy cold beers with tiny drops forming on green glass and ordered dinner: kingfish – deep fried to a crispy skin, coconut vegetable curry, rice – infused with spices, pistachio kulfi for dessert. 

Rushi waved to someone. Jemma turned and saw her walking through the door, their mermaid. She came looking for them and was now on her way to join them at the table. The mermaid had a lovely angelic face, dark brown eyes and smooth olive skin. She was petite, about the same height as Jemma and similarly built but also reminded Jemma of the goddesses from bas reliefs decorating Hindu temples. Maybe it was her narrow wrists and the tightness of skin on her shoulders, or the contrast of her small waist and full hips. She had had dinner already but would like to have a drink with them. 

They danced and the young woman watched and took pictures at their request. She told them she was a family psychologist and twenty seven years old. They discussed how psychology is stigmatized in conservative cultures. She assumed they were married. They went with it to avoid launching a storm of involuntary psychoanalysis on her last day of vacation. Her name was Radikha. She showed them a gesture from a popular Bollywood movie that would somehow help them remember her name. Neither of them had watched the movie. 

“Do you want to ask her?” Rushi whispered in Jemma’s  ear as they stood up to dance to a catchy tune. 

“We can try but I think she will run away,” Jemma laughed. The song ended and they got back to the table. Musicians started to pack away instruments. 

“Would you join us for a walk on the beach?” Jemma asked. She would.

They walked and then sat on the sand to watch the sunset, the two women on either side of Rushi. He suddenly switched places with the mermaid so she was now in the middle. 

“Would you like to be our unicorn?” he asked.

“What is a unicorn?”

“No one knows if they really exist but everybody wants one. A unicorn is a woman who comes to play with a couple.” He locked a gaze with her as he did with Jemma three years ago in California when they first met and she still could not get enough of this intense eye contact. Jemma could tell this was not what Radhika expected to hear. She momentarily pulled back, shocked, but composed herself and stayed. She turned to Jemma with an incredulous glare, silently questioning if Jemma was on board with this proposal or if it was a joke.

               “I was a unicorn once and it was the most sensual experience of my life,” Jemma said to her. It was true. Too bad it did not last. Tripod is a flimsy construction. They got divorced. It was not her fault. 

“We are staying at Fort Tiracol hotel, the room is lovely and you can come with us. We will bring you back here. Or we could come to your place if you prefer,”  Rushi said. 

“Let me think about it for a moment,” She replied after a pause. “I did not know I would ever consider anything like this but here I am, thinking hard.” She looked at each of them again. Jemma could tell Radhika liked him. He looked younger, more her age, even though in reality he had just turned forty, only four years Jemma’s  junior. Men choosing to be free from responsibility age slower than the rest of us, Jemma theorized. She remembered thinking he was no more than 26 at the time they met. 

“You cannot come to my place, I am renting a room from a family. We are in India, you guys. This kind of stuff does not happen,” She laughed. “And I have some reservations, I don’t even know where to start…” She seemed more hesitant again and Rushi sensed the moment slipping. 

“We can just rent a room here on the beach. I saw rooms for rent sign across from the restaurant. And you don’t even have to participate. You can just watch us. Come on, let’s have some fun,” He got up. She got up too, reassured of safety, curious and sweet, and happy to defy the norms of her culture in the biggest way yet. Running back to the street to rent the room, holding hands like children, they passed dozens of young men, all of them oblivious to the presence of a unicorn, creature of their wildest dreams. 

Well past midnight, the couple drove back to the fort. The road, so lively earlier, was now deserted, with packs of skinny dogs roaming in search of food. Radhika, thought Jemma, my tender magical animal, I will forever remember you. I am sure you will too, although I understand why you did not want to stay in touch.

“How was it for you?” Jemma shifted gears, still struggling with the stick shift on the left side.

“I did not care for her that much,” Rushi said. “It did not do anything for me.”

“Liar. You did not care for her, right. Just in the same way you did not care for sleeping with my friend, when I asked you to leave her alone. So which is it? Are you trying to hurt me on purpose or protect my feelings when there is no need? Decide already.”

“If you were with me it would all be different.”

“I am with you now. What else do you want? Even if I was single, I would not spend more time with you than I do now. And you are still a free man,” she said.

“I don’t want freedom. I want to belong.”

“Then you should have stayed with your possessive wife. You just don’t want what you have.”

Visual Art Piece By: Matt Luedke

About the Artist: Matt Luedke is a former editor of Forum. He loves to use words and art to pursue the magic of the Bay Area.

Rainbow of our Escape_Visual Arts_Photography

“Tapestry: Circling the Square” Featuring Image “GG Fortune Cookies”

 Tapestry: Circling the Square 

Poetry Written By: Thomas A. E. Hesketh

About the Author: THOMAS A. E. HESKETH was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on a cusp, in the last half of the last century of the last millennium; none of it his fault. He enjoys poetry because of its verbal range, except the caesuras, and chess because it is non-verbal, except the regicide.

[A note first, before beginning, to set the stage without a play, for this will be (our) secret, if at all, because so much depends on frankness, being candid in a hamlet, if not Teutonic or overly Latin, Chinese, as if one (or two) could shed the mantel of the past, our stars, our names, our ethnicity, DNA, or ourselves, meaning the singular multidimensional bi-self, inner and outer, overtly mask encrusted spirits of tangential typology; inner Tibetan demons or Western psychological quirks, favorite emerging from exotic, at times self-absorbed and after hours, expansive as our last exhale; gods of our own design, bound to our blindness, as Homer to the cosmos; mute as Easter Island heads, driven by tides and currents drawn by many moons, each cycle, memory of the gyre of time incising its scars on fresh meat, bloodless, but for the tears welling inside, whelping souls crying to justice deaf to rumors she cannot see; lost light of suns exhausted amid the universe of lost suns, kindred leaves of grass decayed under ice sheets, now released as permafrost melts, elements set loose, and condemned for mere being, innocent of intent, barred from the garden; measured by metrics splayed from kingly cubits; colored by rainbows left by tornadoes; iced by full on ages; numb to the Waste Land of prophets and poets; divided by Da Vinci’s dividers; touched, if at all, one finger forward from Michelangelo’s palette; no metaphor spared in the quest for more, more purpose; rejecting myth in triumph of reason; affirming false facts in true belief; emerging no less quixotic than a windmill’s turn; searching again for truth on the floodplain of centuries left by war; random as a word in the dictionary to a dog gnawing on a graveyard bone; ordered, in turn, by Samuel Johnson’s pet mark: the semicolon; as if progress came frmrdngmrksbtwnwrds/lnbrks in their turn, too; so, thought bubbles burst as aneurisms, undeserved, coincidental, often (our) deadly universe dissolved to dimness and dried to dust, dark as a womb; with only the desperation of (our) vastness of need; save me from myself, the cry is heard, meaning: you save me, I cannot help me; who, what, when, where, why, and (w)how – for it too, was a “w” word, etymologically speaking; xenophobic rejection of all other ones and objects prohibits as insane a straightforward call for aid; yell not into that good darkness; leave the niceties of tomorrow to another life; add one to one, but zero is the land of today; with that preface, I address this missive; but, can you be trusted, at last?]

 

Visual Art Piece By: Chiara Di Martino

About the Artist: Chiara Di Martino was born on January 17 1987 in Rome, Italy, where she spent also most of her life. Her passions have always been Poetry, Literature and Art. Growing up, she put her dream to be an artist or writer on hold, choosing instead to become a Psychologist. In 2015, she moved to San Francisco to study English. Along the way, she decided to open herself-up to follow her old dream, joining City College’s Design Department.

GG Fortune Cookies_Visual Arts_Digital Illustration

“Wide stance-boy on a bench” Featuring Visual Art Piece “Assange”

 

Wide Stance- Boy on a Bench

Nonfiction Piece Written By: Nat Naylor

About the Author: Nat Naylor is a queer parent and working labor leader in San Francisco.

I looked across the gym during my daughter’s Catholic Youth Organization basketball game in April. She was sitting on the bench laughing with her friends. Their legs were crossed like little ladies in a pew at Mass. Nobody asked them nor reminded them to sit like that, not that anyone would in San Francisco in 2018.

I thought I clearly remembered all of the times I was reminded to “sit like a lady” as a child. Parenthood is funny like that: your own childhood memories sometimes encroach upon your attempts at being present in the moment when you least expect it. I also played CYO girls’ basketball.

At age 38, I sat in the brightly lit echoey gym at my daughter’s school recalling my 6th grade playoff game in our local high school gymnasium. We had terrible polyester basketball uniform shorts that were inches shorter than the boys’ teams and not at all like the real basketball shorts of the 1990’s. One year our shorts were white. I was horrified. In 6th grade, I believe our entire uniform was red, like our school colors. I’m not sure I trust my memory entirely on that detail. I do have a keen recollection of the ill-fitting uniform on my changing body as I constantly fidgeted with it trying to achieve some level of comfort; it was illusive. The shorts always felt too short and the shirt too tight in the wrong places. My body was quickly betraying me and the uniform highlighted this. There was no place to hide in it.

The year prior I was chronically and famously admonished in cotillion, a “finishing” type class for young ladies and gentlemen to learn manners and basic couples dancing, like the Foxtrot. I got in trouble every class for not sitting properly, like a lady, while waiting for the boys to ask me to dance; I wasn’t a popular choice on the dance floor. The boys who always picked me first for my wall-like stature in Red Rover avoided me at cotillion.

Several of the girls in my grade and a few older siblings attended these classes; it was expensive and a privilege in our middle-class community. I was frequently reminded that my participation was my choice and a gift. I think I was already keenly aware of what would become my lifelong battle to be the best and most feminine girl I could possibly muster. In short, I likely already suspected something different in me and accepted the social pressure to participate with a hope it might normalize me. One of my friend’s mothers sat across the dance floor in the small audience of folding chairs. She would engage me in purposeful eye contact while putting her hands on her spread knees and then jam them together as a not so subtle reminder to sit like a lady with my legs closed. The cotillion teacher kicked my foot in to close my legs. She would loudly whisper, “This is not a sports bench.” I always found it hard to cross my athletically thick and muscular thighs. I never could remember how girls are supposed to sit. One of the boys complained that I wasn’t letting him lead and that I kept trying to control him as he led. I find that amusing now but was mortified at the time. I did not cut it in cotillion. I wasn’t a little lady.

Certainly a basketball court and later a science class were far more appropriate places for me to sit. The cotillion teacher had said so herself; it wouldn’t prove to be true.

My face grew hot as my daughter’s team played and I remembered watching an adult rush over from the stands during my own playoff CYO basketball game and whisper in my ear: “You aren’t a boy sitting on this bench. Back straight, ankles crossed.” I’m sure I made it into a joke as I often did/ do. I was a funny kid and am still a funny adult. You cannot be bullied if you are the joke of your creation. Cultivating humor from shame gives you control of a situation in which you ostensibly have none. I spent the rest of the series trying to remember how to sit like a lady while waiting for my turn to play. I hadn’t thought about that experience in over 25 years.

I’ve always precisely recalled the times my 7th grade science teacher frequently commented on my gender performance failures. Boxer shorts and V-neck t-shirts weren’t supposed to be clothing; they were men’s underwear. I tried to explain that my shorts were actually shorts, but she never believed me. On days when I wore something different, she would proactively remark that it was nice to see me in real clothing. The “lady-like” monitoring began when she handed me a small note during a rock dissection lab. “Please sit with your legs closed. You are sitting in a way that is vulgar and not lady-like.” I snapped up. I remembered cotillion. It was hard for me to be a lady and focus on the rocks, but I tried. My beautiful lithe friend who sat next to me did it all with ease. I tried to be like her when all I wanted was to be her boyfriend. The teacher mentioned my lack of sitting like a lady to my mother; I’m sure she was mortified. I promised to try to remember to not sit like a guy. But I often forgot. The science teacher took to calling me out from the front of the classroom. She disturbed a test once. I rarely, if never, wore dresses or skirts. My pre-teen mind could understand that you shouldn’t show off your underwear, but I wasn’t and it felt unfair. Despite her treatment of me, I craved the teacher’s positive attention and wanted to please her. I really did try. After each embarrassing class-wide reprimand, I looked around to notice most of the guys were sitting like me. I once attempted to argue this point in order to highlight the inequity of her attention on me. Her reply: “well, are you a boy?” I sat in silence as my friend tried to shrink away from me. It ingrained a certain shame that despite my best efforts, femininity just naturally did not exist within me. By 7th grade I knew there was undeniably something wrong with me. 

It is only after parenting for over a decade, and watching with great shock how and when natural “femininity” occurs that I hold any understanding or emotion other than shame for the little version of me who fruitlessly and painfully tried so hard and eventually grew into a big person who spent far too many years continuing that effort. I’m so grateful to finally be an adult who can sit like a boy on a bench and comfortably watch my daughter play basketball. Parenthood is funny like that.

 

Visual Art By: Chiara Di Martino

About the Artist: Chiara Di Martino was born on January 17 1987 in Rome, Italy, where she spent also most of her life. Her passions have always been Poetry, Literature and Art. Growing up, she put her dream to be an artist or writer on hold, choosing instead to become a Psychologist. In 2015, she moved to San Francisco to study English. Along the way, she decided to open herself-up to follow her old dream, joining City College’s Design Department.

Assange_Visual Arts_Mixed Media

Fiction Piece “Little Bundle” Featuring Art Piece “NF3”

Little Bundle

Written By: Anna Walters

About the Author: Anna spends most of her days trying to get more people to ride bikes. She enjoys moshing, sarcastic quips, Bruce Springsteen, and ice cream. Piece of advice: Don’t share a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with Anna — she’ll mine it for all the delicious chocolatey bits.

Alex’s best friend is about to have a baby. A boy! This friend has all the blue things. Spit up rags the color of mist. Periwinkle elephants on comically small socks. One recent afternoon, she unfurled blue ribbons binding blue boxes. Inside were more blue things. Alex is loathe to participate in this blue orgy with all its damaging expectations — this absurd “boys will be boys will be blue.” It’s possible this could be why their phone conversations have waned. That and the having-a-baby-thing. Alex finds lately she is reaching across a gulf. She wants to clasp this friend’s hand and go for a walk, but Alex can’t even make out a face. Alex bleats, whips out her fingers and tries to lasso her back. But her friend is gone in blue baby boy land.

Maybe they can go for a twilight walk some day, but not now. 

Alex’s baby is much different.

Her baby? Well, she says “her” but it’s really his: The Maker’s. After all, he made it. She just subbed in here and there. He lightened the yarn. He mixed the dye. For Alex’s bit, she stirred the fibers in the big vat. She rinsed it. Watched it bleed the color of a blue raspberry snow cone. Alien blue hues. She stained her hands as her blue shed its excess ink. 

The first mark it ever left on Alex’s skin.

Alex had to leave before the rinsing was done, so The Maker did the spinning and the twisting. Meanwhile, Alex busied herself in her city, away from her baby and its Maker. She couldn’t wait to see them both again, and didn’t care that her little bundle was turning out deeper and darker than expected, as The Maker told Alex over a spotty connection one night. It was her blue baby, one that she helped make with him. And whatever it grew up to be would be perfect.

The Maker said he needed Alex to help. Little baby blue needed to shed his excess fuzz, so one morning in her kitchen Alex began a day of infinite sparkles. She slugged black coffee and slowly tugged each coil back and forth across the open flame on the stove top. My, isn’t he is growing and changing so fast! Alex thought to herself. She looked at the delicate thread of unicorn woven into the strand in her hands, a sly bit of metal that could shock any flesh it touched. Alex smiled dreamily — conductive! She held a handful up to her nose — MMMmmmm jute!

While Alex did these things, her head plowed through the upcoming scenarios: I can’t wait for my bundle to be baptized in my body juices! I can’t wait for it all to run through The Maker’s hands! I can’t wait for him to weave it all around me. I can’t wait to have it hug me while I’m weightless!

The burner flame licked up any errant bits of fuzz. Shuffling one coil through her fingers, she found a tiny rough patch. A burr !? Alex’s heart skipped a beat in panic. It was strange for her to think that something she was so connected to — something she labored over and had grown to love well before it was christened or even born ! — could somehow betray her someday. It could break. She could fall. It could hurt Alex. Or worse. She marked the piece with tape for further inspection. 

“That?” The Maker later asked when Alex showed him the marred bit. “Pfft.” He pulled out the piece of fuzz with his thumb and forefinger.

The first night The Maker laid blue trails all over Alex’s body. The trails cut into her skin until it bled. The second mark. Under the lights and under the ring in the dungeon, blue snow fell softly. The coils were shedding. After it was done, and Alex was safely returned to the floor in a heap, her body was flecked by blue. 

One night on Skype with The Maker, Alex learned of her blue bundle’s twin — a twilight jute kit, still just a gleam in The Maker’s eye, that he’d promised to a friend. “Sorry, I don’t mean to say ‘my’ rope,” Alex fumbled, “it’s clearly ‘yours’… or our rope? No certainly yours …. I’m sorry.”

The Maker just laughed. “Our rope? Oh god.” To him, it was a bunch of fiber. It may as well be celery or kale. The good stuff to keep you regular.
But to Alex, it was lil’ bundle of joy. And pain. Her rope. Her baby.

 

 

NF3_Visual Arts_Drawing

Visual Art Piece By: Rosa Adams

About the Artist: A Connecticut Yankee transplant who moved to San Francisco in 2012. Rosa is a cartoonist, illustrator, writer, and photographer. She has an Associate degree in Visual Communication, and is now currently studying animation. She still lives in San Francisco, loves to travel, and hate going to hospitals.

“Mothering Without a (Good) Mother” Featuring Visual Art Piece: “Mom’s Sparkling Water”

Mothering Without a (Good) Mother

Nonfiction Piece Written By: Brandi Lawless

About the Author: Brandi Lawless lives in San Francisco with her son, partner, and two cats. She is a social justice trainer/teacher and a pumpkin enthusiast. In her spare time, she likes to read, visit piano bars, check out local restaurants, and travel internationally.

I was six weeks away from my due date, bent over my swollen belly in the shower with tears falling as quickly as the water from the showerhead. It was supposed to be a happy day—my baby shower, “little pumpkin” themed, but I was so angry. I wanted to chalk it up to hormones, but the truth was that I had a right to be angry. I had just planned and executed this shower myself. My mother-in-law, who was listed as the “host” on Paperless Post, showed up two hours late, without the tables and chairs she had promised to bring. The poor woman doesn’t have a Martha Stewart bone in in her body, but I had a vision of what I wanted. I knew I would only be doing this once and I wanted it to be perfect. The one shower my husband’s mother hosted before amounted to a table cloth and some soup for the mom-to-be. I wanted the whole shebang—games, favors, door prizes, and a photobooth. I was already feeling like less-than when I saw the wife of an old high school teacher post pictures of the beautiful shower she hosted for her daughter on Instagram. I wanted that. I wanted it so much that I wrote to tell her, “Laura, I have to tell you I’ve been crying almost every day because I’m getting close and know that I don’t have a mom to help me through labor. I keep thinking if I had a mom I would want it to be you. I just see how much you love Ellie and Elizabeth. Just wanted you to know you’re great.” I wanted a great mom to teach me how to be a good mom. I was crying because I didn’t get anything close to that.

My mother, Renee, was many things; she was intelligent, the life of the party, manipulative, an abuser, and an addict. The latter took her life in 2011. I was 26 years old, the age she was when she had me. I have fond memories of going to an amusement park with her and watching her dance naked in her graduation robe after completing a degree as a single mother in her late 30s. These scant happy memories hide in the shadow of our abusive relationship, her addictions, and her pain. I thought that I had put all of this behind me as time marched on, but everything came back up when I was preparing to have my son. The anger leaked out of me like hot water boiling over. Didn’t I deserve to have a good mom to help me through this?

***

There was a knock on the door. I jumped off of the couch to open it, but didn’t stop to say, “Who is it?” When I opened the door, I was towered over by four or five police bodies, staring down at me, pushing past me, and one, who I recognized, asking, “Where is your mother?” My mother sat up from her stoned stupor on the couch and said, “Ok, ok, let me first say that there are drugs here.” She stared from the blonde female officer to me, her eyes closed to a deep sneer that said, “How could you open the fucking door?” As if, by not answering the door, her subsequent search, seizure, and arrest would not take place. The police were there for hours, taking everything from piles of marijuana, to scales, to sandwich bags. My sister and I were 5 and 10 years old, respectively, and nobody seemed to know what to do with us. The blonde officer’s job was to keep my sister and me occupied while the search took place. I remember my sister asking if she could have the bracelet that draped the woman’s wrist. The woman, seemingly frustrated, said she could “borrow it” while she was “visiting.” She sat on the couch occupying us while a hurricane swept around us, for what seemed like hours. As the sun dipped below the horizon, my Aunt Kara and Grandma arrived to take my sister and me to stay with family. My mother stayed behind, crying, angry, and defeated.

“It was a miracle,” she said, as she recounts the judge ruling, “no incarceration.” In lieu of more jail time, my mother would serve one year of house arrest while on probation, submitting to random drug testing. To make this happen, two officers visited our house, installing a bracelet around my mother’s foot and setting up a computer monitor in the kitchen. This was 1996, when computers were large, loud, and looming. This monitor was no exception. The monitoring station was so large that we had to set up a separate table to house it, which took up a third of our kitchen. To shield our embarrassment, when guests came over we put a large box over the structure, hoping it wouldn’t beep or overheat. We would rather look like slobs than admit that there was a convicted felon in the house, something that might prevent us from keeping and maintaining friendships.

***

My husband and I attended a birthing class at our local Kaiser. One by one, partners went around and introduced themselves. Some women were with their spouse, but a few were with their mom. I felt disdain bubble up inside of me. How could they bring their mom, when I can’t bring mine? The irony of these angry thoughts is that even if she was here, I would never want her to be that person for me. I just wanted to have the option. I wanted the type of love that only a good mother could give. The one that emits itself when you are sick and still feel a kinship for your mother making you ache for her hug, smile, and soup. I felt a hole where that was supposed to be.  

In November of 2018, having accepted that I was severely depressed, I went on the Mainstreet Mamas Facebook page and posted, “Hi moms–Have any of you dealt with PRE-partum depression? I’m six weeks away from labor with my first kid and pregnancy is bringing up a lot of issues around not having my mom around and I’m just feeling depressed. I hear a lot about post-partum depression, but nothing about depression during pregnancy…in fact, everyone keeps expecting me to be on my most excited behavior. Hoping I’m not the only one and wondering how you dealt with it.” 60 comments followed. All 60 presumed that I lost a good mom. Several suggested I join the “Mothering Without a Mother” group. I did. Again, I was bombarded with posts about how much these women missed their wonderful mothers and didn’t know how they would mother without them. I felt isolated. I was without a mother. But more than that, even while she was alive, I was without a good mother. It hit me that my biggest fear was learning to be a good mother, when I never had one myself.

***

Renee was only allowed to leave the house for work, and because she agreed to attend “useless” drug counseling group sessions, she could pick us up from our afterschool activities. Not a day went by where she didn’t remind us of her great sacrifice, while pretending that we hadn’t sacrificed part of our childhood to live with her under surveillance. I was an 11-year-old in 6th grade, trying to find things that made me feel like a normal kid. I auditioned for and was cast as a chorus member in my first school musical, Anything Goes. Rehearsals ran from 4-6pm, at which time I had to promptly walk out the door and meet my mother who had a ten-minute window to pick me up before she had to be back in close proximity to the monitor. Normally, this wasn’t a problem. However, during dress rehearsal, I learned that it was common to stay late to receive “notes” from the director. In fact, we were told we must stay until the end of all the notes and if we failed to do so, we would be cut from the play. At 6:05 my sister was sent in to get me. I gave her a nervous look and refocused my gaze at the director who was only on the first page of notes. At 6:10, my sister was sent in again to pull me away. She stood in the doorway frantically waving her hands as tears ran down her face—a six-year-old who was told that her mother would go back to jail if she didn’t successfully bring me to the car. I threw my hands up, signaling to her that I didn’t know what to do. The director shot a look at my sister and then to me, followed by, “Is this some kind of joke to you? Do you want to be a part of this play?” “I do!” I replied, as my voice cracked, not knowing how to communicate that something very bad was about to happen and I would be blamed again. At 6:15 my mother walked in, herself, screaming, “Do you want the fucking cops to come get me you ungrateful…” I ran out the door crying. My mom screamed at me the whole ride home. I tried to explain what happened, asking, “What was I supposed to tell her?” She screamed and cursed the whole way home, rehashing how it was my fault in the first place, because I opened the door to let the police in. To my knowledge, there was no consequence for being late. None, except my mother’s fear and my embarrassment. When I returned to rehearsal the next day, nobody said a word, silently acknowledging that it was not my fault and perhaps things are better left unsaid. I went back to rehearsal each of the following days, sweeping what happened under the rug. I had my performance, with no mother in the audience, because she was not allowed to leave the house for those 3 hours on the weekend. 

***

Prenatal/perinatal depression is a predictor for postpartum depression. I was watching it like a hawk, but it still snuck up on me and attacked from behind. While I don’t remember the moment I realized that I had lost the battle to postpone or overcome PPD, I do remember the worst parts. I was sitting in the glider during a 3AM feeding. I was frustrated that breastfeeding required me to do ten times the labor that my partner was/could do. But more than my frustration with him, I just kept thinking, “There is no way she did this for me. And if she did, there is no way she did it happily.” I never knew my mother as a sober person, and as she admitted to me, she wasn’t sober when she gave birth to me, breastfed me, or cared for me. When she was awakened from a pill-induced nap, she would rustle, sit straight up and snap, “Mother fucker, son of a bitch! Jesus fucking christ. Leave me the fuck alone.” These words would be spewed at an 8-year-old simply asking if she was going to get a ride to girl scouts, or a 14-year-old who needs to make it to her choral recital. My mind put two and two together and imagined her either putting a pillow over her head while baby me screamed in the background, or grabbing me and cursing under her breath while she begrudgingly gave me a bottle. At 3AM I was fighting how tired I was by channeling all of my anger toward this woman who wasn’t there to defend herself. I looked down at my son, his eyes closed as he nursed just to get through the night and thought, “How could you do that to me?” Even though these scenarios were self-invented, I felt wronged. I felt outraged.   

***

When I got the call, I was in the wilderness on a retreat, assisting my mentor, MJ, by facilitating poverty simulations for 25 students. In the middle of the simulation, my phone rang. MJ shot me a look because we had told the students to keep their phones in their cabins. My mouth stretched into a remorseful grin and I switched the phone to silent. Twenty minutes later, we were finished and I walked my phone to the cabin. I saw a voicemail, so I quickly listened. My sister was wailing. In between the cracked breaths I heard her say, “Brandi, you have to call me right now.” I did, immediately, but there was no answer. My heart set into an arrhythmic pattern. When you know your parent is an addict, every call could be that call. My sister and I had made an agreement long ago never to call crying without an explanation. She had once done so and I thought the worst. As it turned out, she got into a fight with her friend. That’s how I knew this time was different. 

I ran out of the cabin to MJ. My wide eyes, quivering lip, depleted breath, and sharp gaze told her something was wrong. “I think my mom died.” We walked outside where I began pacing, waiting for a phone call. I had already confided in her that my mother was a heroin addict. She knew where my worry came from. I was anticipating this. After 15 minutes, my phone rang. “Hello?!” I couldn’t stop myself from screaming into the phone. “She’s gone Brandi” was all my sister could get out between choking back tears. I fell to my knees and screamed. MJ wrapped her arms around me, pulling me in for what felt like an hour. She left me for a few minutes and came back with something small in her hand—an elephant bead. Did she know that my mother collected elephants? She wrapped my fingers around the small burgandy bead and told me, “I want you to look at this and think of nurturing on a BIG level.” Was she my new nurturer? Was I to nurture myself? Was I the nurturer all along?

***

“I’m not the nurturing type.” I was the first to tell people, those who knew me and new mom friends, that this didn’t come naturally to me. I used this as a way to explain why I couldn’t deal with a colicky baby—one that cries three or more hours a day. I couldn’t tell them that I had to sometimes leave him in his crib and walk away. Or that I could relate to those parents who had to fight the desire to shake their babies. It was all I could do to get through a day. I felt isolated. I felt taken advantage of. I didn’t want to do this, but somehow, I had to. For him. For myself. And, yes, to prove that I am better than her. Because, if I succumbed to those feelings of despair and anger, then I was just another bad mother. I would not become her. So, when he would cry, I would look at him and plead, “Please, baby, don’t make me become her. You deserve better.”

***

After my mother died, I had a hard time coming to terms with a lot of things. I felt guilty that I couldn’t save her. I was deeply depressed about our relationship. And, part of me wanted to know what those final moments were like. I was gifted a session with an intuitive. I was skeptical, but intrigued. This particular woman was a hypnotherapist who only got clients as an intuitive through word of mouth. I made an appointment and waited in anticipation. When I arrived at her office, she sat on a couch and closed her eyes. She asked for my name and birthdate. She asked for my mother’s full name, birthdate, and date of death. As I gave her the information, she seemed to be tuning in. We spent an hour together while she told me about how my mom died, how she felt about her life, who she was with now, and what she thought of my choices. This session did more for me than any round of therapy. She described my mother to a T. Yes, it was her. She told me things that nobody could have known: “Your mother had a younger sister who also passed. She is with her now and they are talking a lot.” “Your mother was very smart. She had her own rules.” As I look back on this session, there was something much more important than a verification that she was tuning into my mother. She said, “In another lifetime you were her mother. You’ve been going back and forth about who the mother in the relationship is. In a way, you had to raise her.” I never thought of it this way, but she was absolutely right. I had been the mother my whole life, and perhaps in other lives too. This was already a part of me.

***

On my first Mother’s Day, my husband gave me a card that brought me to tears. He knew I was depressed and that Mother’s Day was (and had been for 34 years) a complicated day for me. I needed to know I was doing a good job. The card said, “You are the best mother for Griffin. You are loving, you are kind. You have nourished his body and his soul. He responds to your voice and music like nobody else. You will be a strong role model. You will be the mother you deserved.” Tears streamed down my face once again. In this instance, all of my fears, sadness, anger, and happiness were swimming together in one school. It was affirming and heart wrenching. And, it was all I wanted to hear.

 

Visual Art By: Veronica Voss-Macomber

About the Artist: Growing up in the wilds of Saskatchwan (you know where that is, eh), Veronica created with whatever was at hand – the family Super 8 camera, sidewalk chalk. Now a grown up (sorta) Veronica mostly uses a computer to create, but she has been spotted using a pencil and paper.

moms_sparkling_NoSignat copy

“Freak Show Bill” Featuring Visual Art Piece “The Dragon”

Meet the Author:

Steven Louis Ray is a multidisciplinary artist working in traditional film and darkroom processes, in addition to writing and recording ambient & experimental music and writing poetry. He’s currently studying poetry at San Francisco’s City College. More of his photography can be viewed at stevenlouisray.com

freak show bill

there’s a certain fluorescence in that stain on the floor 

but also, too much dirt for even the ants to ignore

no gift cards accepted  

we reserve the right to refuse service 

selection 

happiness while you wait

oh and also, let us sell you more than you bargained for, thank you very much.

 

bear witness to the leeching of all honor 

from snow that’s admittedly less than white already

lips oscillate, sparks fly but not around all ears

they choose their deafness, but why?

stainless steel provider, screw that in a little harder 

the strain is felt in the threads, this embarrassment we thee wed

 

I am metamorphosis I am reverse butterfly 

shedding my wings to build a cocoon

 

you are an unmoored allegory floating down the highway

new wheels come off everyday yet you exceed all 

expectorations

 

a collective scoff results in rips at the very fabric of a nation, 

while the world pays the slimy freak show bill

 

therein lies the rub: 

 

you live so far outside of the norm, your alterity was your great advantage 

 

No one thought it could happen.

 

 

Visual Art By: Kseniia Ha

About the Artist: In the past, I have learned how to draw religious icons, following all the scholastic rules. I have studied perfection in the craft, technique and formula of how to draw the divine face, until I finally came to feel an intangible truth: that all people on Earth already are ideal. We already are what we are searching for. I truly believe that we are the iconic images.

Fiction Piece “The Final Visit”; Featuring Visual Art Submission “Old Souls”

The Final Visit

Written By: Vincent Calvarese

About the Author: 

As a writer and visual artist, he found his wings amongst his heroes of Eureka Valley. Using the San Francisco Bay Area as his canvas, he highlights themes of restorative justice in The Final Visit, familial pain in The Flesh of the Father, gun violence in Three Cloves of Garlic, the pharmaceutical crisis in The Clipboard and the gentrifying 7×7 plain in The Slanted Winds Down Guerrero Street. He is a past General and Poetry Editor for Forum Magazine.

Chapter One

I am looking up. At first, I am unaware of my positioning. Am I laying down? Or am I standing up? All I can see is blue. Maybe a ceiling. Suddenly it opens like a mouth about to grab onto a spoonful of morning cereal, and I see the kitchen from my childhood. I begin to hear the Eagles “Take It To The Limit”. Dad used to listen to it after he had a few beers. He knew the words, All Alone at the end of the evening, And the bright lights have faded to blue. Dad is bouncing me on his knee as he takes a swig of his favorite 40oz. of Olympia. I can feel his muscular leg between my legs. “Daddy, is this what it’s like to ride a real horse?” I look up at his face. I can see the small grey hairs in his goatee. His lips begin to move but he’s not saying anything. His image slowly disappears and I am now standing alone in front of a glass window. It spans at least ten feet in each direction. He’s suddenly on the other side. His body is in the sign of the cross. He’s dressed all in white. I reach out and place my hand on the glass. It’s hot to the touch. I pull my hand away quickly. Abruptly, a drape drops and I hear the sound of an emergency room privacy curtain quickly closed, when something has become very serious. It’s pitch black. I take a deep breath and I hold it. I continue to hold my breath. I begin to feel the pressure in my face as it begins to redden. I want the curtain to open. I reach out for it but my hand goes limp. I begin to feel faint. I exhale and begin coughing uncontrollably. I awaken. The morning had arrived.

I’m looking up at the ceiling. There are a few cracks intersecting towards my open unscreened window.  It’s framing a very blue sky. “Fuck! It’s a sunny day,” I say. I begin to sing, I was thinking ‘bout a woman who might have loved me, I never knew. You know I’ve always been a dreamer. The tears begin. I couldn’t stop them. I breathed deeply through my nostrils and slowly exhaled through my mouth. I turned on my side, lifted up my legs, sat upright and put my feet on the floor next to my crumpled-up “mom” jeans and balled up elastic beige-colored socks covered in little red hearts. I thought, I really need to do laundry. “Damn, I wish it was a grey, rainy day”. I thought it would be more appropriate for the last visit. I reached for a rubber band on the nightstand, stood up, fashioned a pony-tail as I walked toward the bathroom, which I am sure needed a good scrubbing. 

The shower water seemed to take extra long to warm. I ran my hand through the cold water a few times. Each time I could feel my nipples react and harden. I still don’t know why that happens but I’ve decided I like it.

I remember the first time I bathed without my father. I was probably six years old. We had a child-like yet very adult discussion, actually more like an argument about my abilities to not damage the bathroom floor and flood the apartment units below. He had witnessed my toy ship flotilla creation a year before in the bathroom sink. Niagara Falls had relocated to 1031 E. 14th Street, there were no survivors. See, none of my little girlfriends still bathed with their fathers but then again, they all had mothers at home. Tisha and Claudia had started making fun of me about it. The “discussion” ended with him sitting on the toilet seat giving me scrubbing instructions through the shower curtain. After a few more Dad and Daughter original instructional YouTube-like videos, Dad left me to my own hygiene; abet hair and teeth.

By the time I was 10-years-old, Dad’s appearances at morning showers were almost non-existent. Living in the Bay Area was becoming more and more challenging financially. Of course, at that age I thought we were rich. Flat screens in more than one room in the house, Pop Tarts at every meal (if I wanted them) and a maid. Of course, later in life I realized we didn’t have an actual maid. They were women my father had met “out-in-the-field”, brought home, fucked regularly and who didn’t mind taking care of me when Dad’s jobs took him further away from home.

Lucinda was my favorite. She had beautiful red hair, she smiled all the time, always wore bright colored long-sleeve shirts (even in summer), and her eyes twinkled. I know now she was a heroin addict but her imagination was expansive and she could always distract me when he hadn’t come home in months. I am always amazed at the ability of any drug addict to manipulate any situation, at any time with a few simple sentences. “Your Dad? Oh, he called three times when you were at school! He’ll be home….soon. He loves you dearly and can’t wait to kiss your beautiful face. How about we go watch Friends and I’ll make Mac’n Cheese?” Rachel, Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey and melted cheese. Yes, I loved Lucinda most.

Sometimes when Dad would finally come home, he was always wearing the same clothes he left with, as if only a morning and afternoon had passed. Sometimes when he came home, he’d be wearing really nice clothes and have a bunch of expensive jewelry for me. Gold chains, silver bracelets, pearl earrings and even diamond rings. Nothing ever matched and the rings never fit.

Dad and I had started living in Alameda County. First in Oakland, then El Cerrito and then finally El Sobrante. Alma was his newest and she was the strictest, at least with me. I had to be in bed by 8:30pm. If I forgot to brush my teeth, take out the garbage or leave just one dirty dish in the sink, I would be punished. Sometimes I’d be hit with a wooden spoon. When I hid the wooden spoon, Alma would spank me really hard with her braided belt. After a while, I found it easier to obey her demands and stop hiding utensils.

However, Alma did have a positive influence on me. She taught me about the power in the stars, the earth and the flowers. She told me stories about the radiance of sunrays and their relationship with the waning and waxing of the moonbeams. I learned to see the universe in the eyes of my first German Shepard puppy and the ultimate joy in the laughter and smiles of the young children running around our local playground. She always said, “Always look for the happiness in everything.”

Alma did have one ultimate rule. I wasn’t allowed to ever answer the telephone. However, one night, Alma was showering and the telephone rang. I let it ring. Then it stopped. A few minutes passed and it began again. The phone and I danced a few times and I finally picked it up. I said, “Hello?” No answer. I cleared my throat and said a little louder, “Hello?” Finally, a voice said, “HELLO, YOU HAVE RECEIVED A TELEPHONE CALL FROM A PRISONER IN THE ALAMEDA COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM. PLEASE PUSH THE NUMBER ONE TO ACCEPT.” I quickly hung up the phone. We didn’t know any prisoners, and after that call, I was afraid to pick up the phone ever again.

Visual Art Piece Photographed by Nadine Peralta

Old Souls_Visual Arts_Photography

Tommy Orange: Pics and Recap

tommy_orange_portrait-

©Tigran Demurjian

Wow! We had the immense honor of hosting Tommy Orange, author of There, There, at City College this past Wednesday. Mr. Orange was interviewed by CCSF instructor, activist, and author Benjamin Bac Sierra. He spoke about his recent novel and his plans for the future. This was great opportunity for the writers in the crowd because Mr. Orange spoke extensively about his writing process, the books and writers that have influenced him, and how he applies his past experience as a musician to his writing today. Mr. Orange then read a passage from his novel. It was amazing to see an author read their own work how they intended it to be read; his reading was powerful and inspiring. The event was concluded with a Q&A and book signing session.

This is only one of the many amazing events that Forum is involved with! Stay tuned for more–check the blog and our social media! And don’t forget about our Launch Party on December 18th 2019, from 6-9PM @Alley Cat Bookstore in the Mission District. Save the date!

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Photos ©Tigran Demurjian