Category Archives: Spring 2020

Luggage Fee

Pre-Partition luggage tag
for the ancestral round-trip

Attendant sees my belly and lets me board early
with the still-complete families

Lahore traffic clouds my open eyes,
the only part of me that can pass
When storm-windowed shut, they only
dream in American and only
got here by exhausting the question:
How much of Daughter’s climate is negotiable?

Slashes of jet lag until life rhymes:

The oven an unaging beast
My frozen stomach thaws and feasts
Ten days cut shorter by warping east
Then time to vaporize, says my iPhone priest

My toes touch grandma’s when we hug goodbye
Under the floorboards hushes a treasure that lawyers can’t split
But it’s over the weight limit

Written by: Matt Luedke

Matt Luedke is a former editor of Forum who continues to be inspired by the writing community he’s found through CCSF. He has also been published in Prairie Light Review and Ripples in Space. Links to his published works are at mattluedke.com.

The Things You See

These are the things you see
yet I remember:               first,
the animals in cages too small,
littered with empty strawberry
soda cans;                           then,
the yellow cocoon of a puttering bus
to Aden,                               then
the sudden carcass of a car,
a woman running in full balto
and nikab, and blood on the road.
I am                        here
and you are                       there.
It’s strange to wake and not see
you in your bed bent over
crossed legs unfolding out of sleep,
count our coins together for bodega coffee.
I am alone on a packed corner
where a woman catches my eye
telling me she’s anorexic, OCD
is killing her, and would I please
put my trust in a stranger and call
her sister? You would’ve been her
stranger, a brief indent against the skin
of another day. A sister, my sister—
for though some say two friends
must be            parted,
the hazel tree still stands by
our old window
by the wire fence
and vacant lot,
where the bittersweet
vine once held fast.                       Look:
its grooved body still marks
the invisible       weight of another.

Written by: Grace Zhou

Grace H. Zhou is a poet, dancer, and cultural anthropologist living in Oakland, California. Her writings are inspired by ethnographic encounters, diasporic experience, botanical worlds, friendship, and loss. Her work can also be found in Icarus Magazine and a smattering of academic publications. She is Poetry Editor at ABD Zine and a PhD Candidate at Stanford University.

 

Toucan barbet, by Canyon Sam

When Tadpoles Become Frogs

“How do they know, do you think?” she asked me.

Water fell in streams from between her cupped hands as she squinted into her palms. We squatted beside the ditch, as we did every day on our way home from school, endlessly fascinated by this gurgling stream funneling down the ditch next to the road. It was spring, the best time of year.

“Know what?” I asked.

She lowered her hands, sinking them into the cold water. Behind us the road was empty except for a family of quail running across it, their plumes bobbing as they scurried into the bushes on the other side of the street. Above us, woodpeckers hammered, the sound echoing down the quiet street and mixing with the scratch of gray squirrels’ claws on the dry bark of the trees. Walnuts and green acorns thudded to the ground on the other side of the ditch, where leaves moldered under newborn clover that seemed to have sprung up overnight. We both trained our eyes on the muddy water, our fingers stirring through the ripples. Tendrils of my hair trailed in the water and dirt ringed my fingernails, lining the creases of my knuckles. Between our fingers darted and wriggled the quick-silver forms of tadpoles.

She said, “How do they know they can walk? How do they know when they’re frogs?”

Eyes on the fat tadpoles, each no bigger than the pad of my finger, I swirled up the mud. As the silt settled back at the bottom, the tadpoles appeared, brownish- gray, freckled, with bulging eyes. They had already sprouted minuscule legs, though their arms had yet
to appear, and they swam mostly with their tails. “I don’t know,” I said.

We watched the tadpoles appear every spring in this ditch, studying their evolution as we chewed on the tart, lemon-yellow petals of wood sorrel. Each year, we came here every day to see the tadpoles, until, one day near summer, they disappeared. But we had never seen that moment a tadpole found its feet and crawled up from the water into the air.

When we continued home, swinging our pink backpacks, mud clung to our fingers and the rubber toes of our sneakers. The ends of my hair dripped. We chattered about other things, but my mind kept worrying on the tadpole question. When did they know?

We were ten years old.

* * *

“We’re going to see it this time,” she said two years later. We squatted side by side in front of a fish tank she’d dragged from her garage to my backyard, a huge rectangle tank with filmy greenish glass. We spent yesterday afternoon scrubbing it with the hose and
an old sponge, filling it with water, rocks, and sand. I discovered an old stained-wood table among the other junk on the lawn that we set up against the wall of the house. It wobbled on the rock patio. On our way home from school today, we stopped at the ditch to fill two mason jars with muddy water and wriggling tadpoles that we dumped in the half-filled tank. Now we knelt in front of it, squinting into the silty, brown water. Her fingers tapped softly against the glass. “We’re going to get to see when they decide to be frogs. They can’t get out without us seeing it.”

I nodded and rubbed my fingers across the sun-warm back of one of our half-feral cats. Her fur felt dusty, her spine a sharp mountain ridge under my fingers. She hunched at my knee, eyes on the tank, gray tail twitching. “How will we know when it’s time?” I
asked, my heart thudding.

“You have to check on them every morning. When you know, call me right away.”

I checked the tadpoles first thing every morning. I studied their fat, freckled bodies and shrinking tails as their arms and legs budded. I noticed just how awkward their bodies were in transition. Their tails whipped faster, producing less movement, and their
limbs paddled, their heads and bodies nodding. Every part of them seemed determined to go in a different direction. I wondered how they could make any progress at all, and where, in this confusion and chaos, it became clear to them that air was just as good as
water, and that fingers and toes worked for walking as well as swimming.

Every morning she met me in my front yard, the long, dew-beaded grass wetting our quarterlength socks and the toes of our low-top Converse knock-offs. Every morning I shook my head. “Not yet.”

One Saturday morning I knocked on her front door. Sheepishly, I said, “They’re gone.”

For months after, I found the frogs in my yard, huddled in the sun on the faded yellow roof of my Little Tikes car. Or clinging to the side of the house, their gray markings shiny and wet, their bodies small enough to sit in my palm. We had assumed a new frog would know nothing but walking. But they knew so much more. I reported this to her, weeks after the empty fish tank was stored in the garage again, while we lounged on the long grass, avoiding the stickery plants that stung our bare legs. “They knew they
could climb. How could they know?”

She shrugged, her eyes closed, the sun heating her skin until I could smell it, a floury smell, like baking bread. Though the question still rustled anxiously in my mind, I picked a fluffy dandelion, blew the tiny white seeds into the air, and watched them float away in silence.

We were twelve years old.

* * *

“Remember when we used to play with the tadpoles?” I asked her.

We leaned on the wall outside of the school gym, the sun burning our faces. She’d flowered into a jock, hair in a tight bun at the top of her head, legs bare and muscular, wearing brand new Adidas. She and I weren’t neighbors anymore. Her family had moved to the neighborhood surrounding the high school, while my mom moved us across town after she and my dad split up, to a house that didn’t even have a backyard. We sometimes gave a smile or a nod when we saw each other. More often we avoided each other’s eyes. But today I skipped PE and ran into her. I’d offered her a cigarette that I expected her to decline. Now I felt strange, unsure what to say, conscious of my black makeup, my Airwalks with holes worn in the heels.

She squinted into the sun. “What?”

“That ditch on our street. We used to, like, play with the tadpoles that lived in it?”

“How do you play with tadpoles?”

“We’d pick them up.” I cupped my hands like Oliver Twist begging for gruel, cigarette between two fingers. “Like this.”

She shuddered in spite of the hot sun, making a face.“Ugh. How could we stand to touch them? We were such weird kids.”

“It’s funny,” I said, watching as she tipped her head back to blow smoke up to the brilliant blue sky. “It used to bother me so much. Like, how did they know?”

“How did who know what?”

“The frogs. How’d they know they were frogs?”

She glanced at me, her eyes squinted still as though I was as bright as the sky and hard to look at. I suddenly got the sense that she pitied me, that she knew something I didn’t, had some insight into something I’d yet to catch onto. It was the same in middle school, back when she first went out for the volleyball team and got asked out by a boy in our Algebra class, when she first started to wear a training bra and lip gloss. I’d always nursed a sense of being slow to catch on, to catch up. I tried to explain. “I mean, like, do scientists study that? Are there frog scientists who, like, know how tadpoles figure it out?”

“Figure what out?” she asked.

“How do tadpoles know they can walk out of the water? If all they ever know is water, how does it suddenly click with them that they can walk and, like, breathe air? When exactly do tadpoles become…frogs?”

We both squinted up into the springtime sky, the smell of tobacco and newly-mowed grass making my nose pinch pleasantly. The field was just around the corner and I could hear my class running and shouting in the otherwise quiet afternoon. She scratched her leg, shrugged. “I don’t know. I never really thought about it that much.”

“I did.”

We were sixteen.

* * *

I’m in my thirties, far away from that street and that girl, when the fires tear across California and burn down where I used to live. I look up the aerial shots online and gasp out loud to see the empty, ashy lots, unrecognizable in gray and white, the brown lines marking out the squares where our homes and yards used to be. I find myself thinking of the ditch. I moved again in my junior year, went to a different high school, never really spoke to her after our sophomore year. I doubt she even remembers that ditch. My throat feels tight, I set my coffee cup aside and sit down on the floor, like I haven’t done since I was a little kid, my feet bare on the cool tiles. I’m blinking hard, swallowing. I’m mourning for a muddy little stream probably no one in the world remembers or cares about but me and the frogs. I stare at my phone and imagine that ditch, that quiet road
lined with black walnut and oak trees, the quail and squirrels and my half-feral cats. And it occurs to me that I’ve missed it. Again, and forever. I’ll never see it now, never learn the secret. I’d let the moment pass me by without remark. I’ve missed it completely, that crucial moment when tadpoles become frogs.

Written by: Shalynn Ehrenpfort

My name is Shalynn Ehrenpfort and I’m 27 years old. I’ve lived in San Francisco for  nine years and I’ve attended CCSF off and on for about three years.

A Wicked on Rickety Road

Rickety Road, Lost County, Dakota Territory, 1888

There was a Gunslinger walking down Rickety Road. His limp swaying arms and unsteady gait gave him the appearance of a drunkard, although he did not stumble. Every now and then his pale, thin fingers twitched toward the scratched and grimy black revolvers at his sides, ready to blast a hole in anyone that came too close. His light grey shirt was torn up and appeared to have old bullet holes all over it, his faded brown pants were completely ripped up halfway down the shin. His feet were bare, revealing pale white skin clinging disgustingly tight to the bones. A cowboy hat with a wide brim and a grey, blood-stained bandana concealed his face. And his eyes, oh those haunting faded eyes, they were not the eyes of a drunk. They were the eyes of a killer, one aiming to kill again.

There was a Mortician on Rickety Road. A strange man, pale and thin like the Angel of Death. The Mortician always wore his black undertaker suit with a long coat and derby hat. He always had a crooked grin on his face, which kept most of the decent townsfolk away. For this reason, or some other unknown one, the Mortician spent all his time in his shop or the run down graveyard a bit up the road. He came to town nearly a year ago, a few days after the previous mortician was done in by a falling coffin. Oh, the grim irony. This strange newcomer was accepted for simplicity’s sake. The people of Rickety Road were used to the sudden arrival of strangers. The Mortician stood there on the side of the road with that devil’s grin on his face and tipped his hat to the Gunslinger as he passed.

“Welcome back, Mr. Harrow,” said the Mortician.

The Gunslinger stopped for a moment, turning his head ever so slightly to the Mortician. Something under his bandana moved, and a muffled sound similar to a pick scraping across granite was heard.

“Oh I would not recommend that you try speaking yet, Mr. Harrow,” continued the Mortician. “That ability tends to return to the body much later. I reckon you should go take care of your business at the church, and then come back and see me. I have work that requires your bullets.”

There was a Sheriff on Rickety Road. A good man, or so the people claimed. He liked to dress in a nice white button up shirt with brown slacks and a heavy duster and large hat, which prominently displayed his badge. He looked a bit ridiculous, honestly, like someone trying to embody every cliche at once, but he was adamant that when one gets the job then one ought to look the part. At high noon eight and a half years ago, the Sheriff, a simple deputy at the time, gunned down a gunslinger in front of the old church. A wanted criminal named Wickett Harrow. Harrow was infamous for being a cruel and cunning member of the Bear River Rioteers, a vicious bandit gang born out of the Bear River City Riot twenty years ago. For his vile ways people took to calling him Wicked Harrow, due to the old cowboy superstition of Wickeds, damned souls brought back to life to reap violent vengeance on the living. But despite the rumors, Harrow wasn’t some infernal spirit. And that day eight and a half years ago proved it. Abandoned by his partners in crime after a robbery gone wrong, Harrow faced the old sheriff and his deputies, which included the current Sheriff, all alone. Thirteen men died that day, twelve of the lawmen and Wicked Harrow. The last surviving lawman was praised by the town and swiftly elected into his current position as town Sheriff. And now he stood there, eight and a half years later, right at the spot where Wicked Wickett Harrow choked on his own blood.

The Sheriff smiled at the fond memory and casually checked his pocket watch, not noticing the familiar Gunslinger ominously striding closer. According to the Sheriff’s watch, it was eight and a half minutes before high noon.

Eight and a half minutes later, there was a Sheriff’s bloody corpse in front of the old church, and a Gunslinger walking back up Rickety Road.

Written by: Jack W. Bonney

Jonathan “Jack” Warren Bonney is a young aspiring writer with the soul of an old washed up writer. Born and raised in two different countries, Jack has been making stories in his head for his whole life, and only recently realized that writing them down would be a good idea.

Skeletor

Skeletor had long wanted a body: to cover him, shield him, make him whole. He was only a skeleton. He was jealous of the other skeletons who had bodies. Sometimes, he would put clothes on and stuff them with pillows or crumpled up newspaper and stare in the mirror. He always put an extra pillow or something in his stomach area because he didn’t know what it was like to be hungry. He dreamed that one day he would have a body with a big belly. He couldn’t wait to be hungry.

His name, tk421, had been given to him by the courts. There was also tk422, tk423, bk102, and so on. All names had two letters followed by three numbers. It was more or less a tracking system the courts had developed. But the skeletons usually hated their names and would come up with their own. His given name, tk421, was funny to Skeletor because of the scene in Star Wars using that name. He liked Star Wars. He liked fantasy movies and stories. Anything that would take his mind off his current world. Skeletor named himself after He-Man & the Masters of the Universe, a cartoon. He always rooted for He-Man but was sympathetic to Skeletor, and being a skeleton, the name made sense. He imagined it would only be a short time before he got a body and then he would get a new name that did not consist of two letters and three numbers.

The rules and regulations to get a body were simple: fill out the forms properly, keep your bones clean, don’t break your bones, and the most important rule — do not go outside during daylight hours. He followed these rules religiously but about a year ago, he was mistaken to have taken part in a protest where many skeletons marched the streets — during the day! Skeletor couldn’t believe so many skeletons would do this. He was so afraid to break the daylight law that he would wait one hour after official daylight time to go outside. But a skeleton, with a body, had said he was in the protest. Skeletons, after all, do look alike, and skeletons, unlike skeletons with a body, are guilty until proven innocent. The skeletons that openly admitted to taking part in the protest were banished to Skeleton Island. Once there, the odds of getting a body were about one in a million. Those who were accused like Skeletor, but denied it, were in limbo with the courts. There was no trial for them; they were given a strike on their record. Two strikes and it’s Skeleton Island. Skeletons with no strikes were first in line for bodies.

Bodies, these days, were produced ever so slowly, because of resources, or so they were told. There were conspiracy theories, mainly held by the skeleton population. One theory, probably the most believed, was that they slowed down body production because they were experimenting with bodies in order to make them stronger, more durable, and last longer. Skeletor paid no mind though. He just wanted a body and didn’t care what quality.

He went to the bd (Body Department) to check, yet again, to see if he had been given a body. He only went once a week. Some skeletons went everyday but Skeletor didn’t want to upset the wrong clerk at the bd. He had heard of a skeleton that was banished to Skeleton Island for checking too much. He didn’t want to risk that. The clerks always called the skeletons “bone.” It was a running joke with the clerks. They also cracked jokes to the skeletons, like “make no bones about it, no body for you,” and other ridiculous comments. But the skeletons were at their mercy. The clerks had bodies.

“Next bone,” the clerk yelled. Skeletor walked up to the window.

The clerk said, “Hi Bone.”

“Hello, I’m tk421,” Skeletor said.

“Teee…Kayyy…nope. Next bone,” the clerk said with a smirk. Skeletor walked away, sad, yet again. What could be the problem, he thought. Normally, skeletons with one strike would get a body after about six months. It had been at least a year since the protest incident. He decided to go see his friend, tk997, also known as Ribeye.

Ribeye was a mentor to the skeletons. He had been around for many years. He shared everything about his life and helped any skeleton he could. He was like an open book, but no one really knew the whole story as to why he never got a body. This, Ribeye, would
not share.

Skeletor knocked. “Come in,” Ribeye said from his sculpting chair. He was adding water to his clay for a new piece.

“Hi Ribeye,” Skeletor said and walked over to the long picnic table which was covered in books and sat down. He felt at ease; he always did at Ribeye’s house. The walls were lined with bookshelves that were filled mostly with books but also with sculptures. Ribeye had become a very talented artist over the years. He mostly created sculptures of planets with different terrains. The rest of his house was similar to other skeleton houses: there was the main room, a
small sleeping quarters, and a shower. There was no kitchen or bathroom because skeletons didn’t eat or drink. Ribeye spent his time sculpting and reading.

He never bothered to check with the BD and from what Skeletor could tell, he was content.

“Let me guess, you’re coming from the BD,” Ribeye said. He noticed Skeletor’s bone posture.

“You guessed right. I don’t know what to do anymore. If I don’t get a body soon, I may take the incinerator option. This is terrible. I just want to be hungry and thirsty. To taste. How can I remain a skeleton? Who wants to be a skeleton!?” Skeletor remembered just then about Ribeye’s decision. “I mean, I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t offend you.”

“Relax, Skeletor. I’ve made my decision to remain a skeleton and I’m happy with it. I have my books and my sculpting. Have you developed any hobbies besides dressing up like you have a body?”

“Well, uhhh, not really,” Skeletor said; he was embarrassed. How did Ribeye know he still dressed himself up?

“Look, we’ve all dressed up. Even me. It’s only natural. But you should start thinking about what would make you happy, as you are now, a skeleton.”

“But I want to eat. I want to drink. I want to feel.” Skeletor felt defeated.

“Don’t you feel now? You feel sad, right? Well, you can feel happy too,” Ribeye said.

“I suppose so,” Skeletor said and slumped at the table. “Well, I’m going home before daylight begins.Thank you for your advice.”

“Remember, there’s no guarantee a body will make you happy. You’ve seen them, not all of them are happy. Even the ones with large bellies. Think about that.”

Skeletor walked home, slow and sad. Days and weeks passed. He hadn’t been to the BD since that day he saw Ribeye. He was too depressed to hear another rejection. He even stopped dressing up. But he kept his bones clean, hoping. After about two months he couldn’t take it anymore. He thought, one more check at the BD and if no luck, he would start his life, as he is, a skeleton.

“Next bone,” the clerk said with an abnormally big smile. He remembered this bone.

“Hi, I’m TK421,” Skeletor said, shaking.

“I know,” the clerk said.

Written by: Andrew Park

Andrew Park grew up near Sacramento and earned a Business degree at Chico State before moving to San Francisco. He has always written in his spare time as a hobby. In the Fall of 2019, he took a creative writing class at the City College of San Francisco for fun.

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama
Portrait of Yayoi Kusama, Japanese artist

Art title: Yayoi Kusama 

Art  by: Ana Lazaro

Ana Lazaro is a San Francisco based artist. She considers herself a world citizen and has, since childhood, had a passion for capturing moods and emotions through her portraiture. Ana’s current work is inspired by her desire to celebrate empowered women making a difference across the globe.

Simplify

Circa 1956. Sometime in the predawn hours of the Cultural Revolution[1]. A black, red-flagged limo pulls up in front of the Chairman’s dacha in idyllic West Lake. A weary looking Minister of Culture, Hung, steps out of the car, and is ushered inside by the guards. He hands off his gloves and coat to the staff and, with a briefcase in hand, heads straight to the Chairman’s den. 

A wooden door embellished with a red sickle and hammer clangs open. The Chairman is seen wielding a brush behind the desk in the midst of composing another one of his rousing speeches in traditional language[2]. The den is lined with bookshelves, which are stacked with dusty tomes and handscrolls, apparently penned in the traditional language.

The minister bows from the hip, head over toe, his legs slightly wobbly. The Chairman looks up from under his spectacles. “What do you have for me, Comrade Hung?” he says, frowning slightly.

“Begging your pardon, sir. Reporting on—uh, that is—about the Han Dse[3]Reformation. Sir, I ca-can’t—” The Chairman cuts in. “May I remind you that can’t is not in my book?” He picks up a pocket-sized red book[4] from the desktop and waves it in the minister’s face. Embossed in gold on the red cover is Wisdom of Chairman Mao, apparently written in simplified language.

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“No-no, Comrade Chairman. That’s not what I meant. Forgive me…” He finds words in short supply, as he gasps for oxygen. He manages to regain his composure and begins to blurt out the opposing opinions from the academia. He reports that renowned linguists, scholars, Confucius elders, and the entire controlled media were gathered to work on the reformation of the outmoded traditional language. The methodology is simple. Chinese characters are made up of anywhere from one to thirty to forty strokes, perhaps more. To simplify you just take all the lengthy words—say eight or nine strokes or more, and chop off the excess, like taking a cleaver to a piece of pork belly. No use for the extra fat (words). 

Had this been English, Washington could lose its ton, the minister muses. Not sure what that would do to Whitehouse. But it’s a good rule—when in doubt, simplify. You can use it on any language, in any culture; even on people, if necessary. One can easily imagine chopping people down to size—say anyone taller than five-eight (that would be five-ten for westerners. Let’s give the Asians an inch or two)—chop-chop. That way there will be no ridiculous seven-footers to deal with in the paint. There could be a thousand uses indeed—a Swiss army knife of sorts, if you will. The more Hung thinks about it the more he is proud of himself for being so clever. He has outdone himself. He couldn’t help but smile a bit. 

“Wipe that smirk off your face. Show me some real stuff,” says the Chairman.

Hung flips open the briefcase and hands over a stack of papers. Pointing at a bunch of characters on the pages, he sizes them up as follows: 

Take these four characters: Love, factory, dear, andbirth. All everyday words in life. In the simplified form, the character love becomes, without the heart 心 in the middle; factory is now 广, making it an empty shell, devoid of workers or machineries that were there a moment before; dear is now , missing the other half 見, which by itself means see—so now we have dear but no see; as to , the life 生that was inside has just gone AWOL. 

The Chairman pauses his brush and fixes his gaze on the minister. 

“You know, words got out and people begin to sing their own renditions in the streets,” says the minister.

“Really? What do you mean?” 

“Well, goes like this—

Love—no heart,

Factories—kung kung[5],

Dear—half gone,

Birth—sans life.”

 

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An estimate of 2,200 commonly used words will be on the chopping block, the minister goes on, and it’s not without problems. The biggest stumbling block being time. The chairman wants it done in four years. But changing the face of 2,200 characters in four years is tantamount to fast-tracking evolution overnight. “You know what one old scholar said to me?” the minister says. “‘Our words are not made of alphabets. Each character is unique, and it can’t be cut to suit or reshaped overnight like some kind of jewelry piece. Words are people; they evolve, as do humans. Change the face of a language is tantamount to changing the face of the people…’ blah, blah, blah,” says Hung. “The nerve, comparing words to people.” 

The Chairman motions Hung to approach. The minister winces as he turns to face the Chairman’s cold stare. He does not know how else to explain it but to tell it straight. It’s his responsibility to mine the words. Changing the appearance of a word changes all of its associations on which other related words depend for meaning. Each character in the Chinese language is unique and they build on each other to form new, compound characters, which then evolve into even more complex words. Most of the 30,000 words in the dictionary descended from merely 250 basic characters through thousands of years of history and evolution. Imagine these words getting a face change virtually overnight, their roots gone forever. Besides—

“What? Out with it,” says the Chairman. 

In a wavering voice, the minister relays the concerns from the scholarly experts on the imminent catastrophic impact on the cultural reference systems. Ancient scrolls, cultural sites, fossils and cave carvings, not to mention tomes upon tomes of history, all recorded in traditional language, are now doomed to become objects of amnesia overnight. Reforming history necessarily means destroying it. People will become strangers to their own culture…

“Let me understand, you’re saying that my four-year plan is—” Mao drops his brush and takes off his spectacles, “unrealistic?” 

“Ye-yessir. No-no-sir. Sorry sir. That’s what all my experts tell me. Not me, sir, you understand—I’m all in,” again with a bow.

The Chairman gets up from his desk and starts to pace around the room. “I’ve been thinking about this myself lately. And I concur. The Four-Year-Plan may be a bit ambitious, but no one else needs to know. It’s just a random number I threw in for our big brother in the Kremlin.” He looks up at a large map on the wall. China lays bare like a shriveling maple leaf. A big chunk of the northern lands is missing, as though some worm has taken a big bite out of it. The Chairman points his finger at the missing part, namely the Outer Mongolia, now a newly minted buffer zone that was gifted to Stalin in Yalta.[6]

“The Russians are taking over the territory, pushing our people out,” Mao said. “Those who stayed behind were forbidden to speak their native language. They were forced to speak Russian. That’s how they do it. Stalin told me himself—to tame the people, you fix their language first,’” he said. “But I can’t deal with that right now. Outer Mongolia is done. Nothing we can do about it. Now we must bring down the old bourgeoisie. It must go, and it must go now.” He fixes his eyes on Hung and cleaves his fat palm through the air. “Chop-chop.”

“Chop-chop?” The minister’s face turns white. 

“Not you, moron,” says the Chairman. “I mean the old language. Just do it. Chop it up—slice or dice, whatever. The traditional language is too difficult for the masses to learn, that’s the reality. The rest of it is pure nonsense. Who cares about the street noises! It doesn’t matter. Revolution has consequences. We’ll deal with whatever side effects after we take care of our enemies. Is that clear? Now off you go.” 

The minister steps back and takes his leave. The Chairman picks up the red book and thumbs through the pages. Before the minister reaches the door, the Chairman calls him back and tosses the red book to him half-way across the room. “Give me the traditional version,” he says. “Can’t read this crap!”

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Written by: John Tsao

I had been an engineer–now retired, trying to write, and is currently enrolled in the Short Fiction class at CCSF. Formerly I’ve attended the MFA program in nonfiction at USF and graduated in 2014. I’ve been writing ever since.

Un Puño de Tierra

Acostumbrada está mi cuerpa de mujer a las muchas vejaciones,
tantas ha sentido en cada uno de los días.
Hoy amanecí en un tiradero.
Mucho le pedí a él que la vida me dejara,
tengo familia
voy a la escuela
me esperan en el trabajo,
solo iba al cine y por un helado
mis amigas me extrañan.
No escuchó
ni mis ruegos
ni los gritos
ni el llanto o los gemidos
ni las muchas quejas que de toda mí salían.
Considera, mucho repetí, mi futuro, cada uno de los días.
Con tímido pudor y ese último aliento, desde muy profundo le imploré,
cuando ya termines y me dejes ir
tápame la desnudez, ponme otra vez la ropa,
—por lo que más tú quieras—

no me botes así nomás por ahí,
échame encima al menos un puño de tierra.
No escuchó, ninguno de los días.

“A Handful Of Dirt”
My her-body is so used to all harassments
So many has she felt each one of her days.
Dawn caught me today at a dump.
So much I asked him to grant me my own life:
I have a family
I go to school
At work, I am expected
All I wanted was to catch a movie and have some ice cream
My besties already miss me.
He didn’t listen
Not my pleas
Not my squeals
Not my cries or the wails
Not the much hurt exuding from each one of my pores.
Think about, constantly I repeated, my future, each one of the days.
With timid modesty and my last breath from very deep inside me I begged him,
Once you are done with me and you let me go
Cover my nakedness, dress me again,
— for goddess sake—

Do not just discard me somewhere
At least, throw a handful of dirt on top of me.
He didn’t listen, any of the days.

Written by: Fernanda Vega

 @laveganda: migrant womxn of color who loves letras (literature). she is a borderlands dweller who spends her days fascinated by Kumeyaay lands and the beautiful fresh and salty waters and desert surrounding Tijuana-San Diego. Her most recent dream is to bring awareness to y’all about the femicides south of the border, please look over the fence!

Prepping

where i’m from there’s a lake full of gold which is also a pond full of people & my pops my old
man has taken to buying gold because it’s that or cryptocurrency that will be salvaged in the
flood & people drowned in that pond men who never learned to swim striking out like Michael
Phelps and sinking amongst bubbles and kelp & there are great open spaces where i’m from with
tree lines that stand on toes to respect the expanse of hay & if a flood is coming the lake will
overflow & the gold will carouse through these labored fields & the bodies will still be full of
water & they will still be unpracticed & littered amongst the wreck like salmon on a slippery
deck & i wonder what my dad will think of that

Written by: Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri is a Chicano novelist, poet, and journalist living in San Francisco. His work can be found in Standart Magazine, Nomadic Press, Flash Fiction Magazine, and bookstores all along the West Coast. He loves working with volunteers and students at 826 Valencia and looking at snowy plovers at the beach.

Abdication

At first I think
of postage stamps and the faces of queens, immortalized
in their black-and-white moment. The shades of the past
are monochrome, marred only by some accidental fold,
some streak of pale lightning. Pink roses blooming
on the wallpaper of my bedside dresser. When I take
this photo between my thumb and forefinger, I find
a child. Younger than I, somehow:
roundcheeked in a stiff-collared dress,
lips peeled back in what we called a shuaya smile—
“brushing teeth” in perpetuity, to appease some ghost
behind the lens. (Her own mother, as it turns out).
Her eyes are dark and wide. In her entirety
my mother is barely larger than my thumbnail.
(I am eight years old). Here are things that surely
must always have existed as they are
now: Mars. Stonehenge. Mt. Everest.
The swelling of the seven seas.
The gnarled roots of redwoods, reaching
deep through the soil of the earth. When
she tells me of my grandmother
witch, who sent her away at two, expecting
love at six, and then a smile flashed for the future too,
I cannot help but
shrink away from the unframed tears, saying
Bu xiang can le. I don’t want to see. Burying myself
in the legos scattered on the carpet, and the photo
underneath the socks in the uppermost drawer
of the dresser, floral and pink.
On nights when the moonlight streams through
my window slats like tiger stripes,
slinking slow across the ceiling, something
brings me to rummage out the past,
to gaze back at a face younger
and more vulnerable than mine, though somehow also

still sleeping in the room right beside me.
I wonder who else had watched Princess Diaries,
and pawed through their mother’s things, seeking family
heirlooms: perhaps the gems
of royalty, or an alternate path
towards nobility: “You were adopted!”
My mother tells me that she knew, at ten, that
her daughter would be a princess.
It is often the nature of things to follow
patterns, branches to twist onwards
as tangled as the buried roots.
Yet she does not curse me
with her inheritance—the mother of hers
who had chosen favorites, withheld
love. Could I too have
hacked a clean cut at the past?
Loved the usurper, that baby brother
like I would my own children? Transmuted
my blood into garnets
at each joyful coronation?
Never my (her) own.
(I am twenty six). Older
than the not-crying child in the photo,
older than her mother when her mother had her, nearly
older than the mother she herself would become
upon having my older brother
in this far and foreign land. The beautiful country.
Now when we hug and she says that
I am her dream, born into being, I wonder
if it is too late to throw down my crown.

Written by: Jessica Yao

Jessica enjoys exploring winding roads, new ideas, and interesting combinations of words. Hopefully one day this all coalesces into something beautiful. In the meantime, she continues to mash at her keyboard.

Maau!_Visual Arts_Photography_Kayla Wilton

Art title: Maau!

By: Kayla Wilton

I received my English degree with a Spanish minor from CSU Stanislaus in spring, 2019, and I will complete my creative writing certificate at CCSF in spring, 2020. Writing is my passion, but I also dabble in drawing, painting, photography, and performance. My work has appeared in Penumbra Literary Magazine.