Fiction Piece: “The Back Bedroom”

The Back Bedroom

Alyssa lay back on that crummy couch as if it were the lushest lounge in town. She lit the joint, and inhaled, as if it were some divine dope-of-the gods from a warmer, kinder climate. I loved watching her smoke, particularly when she was dressed for bed, her luscious mouth sucking in the thrill, breasts pushing, midriff tightening, eyes half-closing. It was something like a contact high for me, I myself didn’t have to smoke anything, didn’t have to say anything. 

But after that lovely moment or two, she did.  And it was unexpected.

“I think Meadow stole some of my pot,” she said. Meadow was our latest roommate, renting the rear bedroom. Arguably the cutest of the girls who’d occupied that space. But she was pretty quiet, paid her rent on time, and hadn’t had any guys overnighting, yet. 

“We know Meadow smokes,” I said, “but what makes you think it’s yours?”

“Because it smells like mine.”

“A lot of dope smells like yours,” I said. “And why shouldn’t it, if it’s good shit?” 

“Why are you trying to defend her?” Uh-oh. This was some other kind of shit, the kind  I never smelled in time and often found myself stepping into. 

“I’m not trying to defend Meadow,” I said.  “I like Meadow —“ 

”I know you like Meadow —“ 

”— but I’m trying to defend you against your own paranoia.” I looked at her intent, and said, “Let me have a hit of that stuff.” If I was gonna get kicked, I wanted to deaden the impact. 

I took a hit. Alyssa took another. But this time she was quicker to the commentary:

“I noticed that my bureau drawer was open, when I got home from work..” I wasn’t about to point out that Alyssa never shut her drawers properly. She was basically a slob. The slob who loved me. And said so. I always felt guilty that I couldn’t say it. Even when I was doing it. 

“Look,” I exhaled, “I’ll just go take a look in her room, she won’t be back for another hour.” Alyssa stayed on the couch, puffing, with a sour look on her beautiful face. 

Meadow’s room looked like what you’d think a room of a girl named Meadow would look like. Little hippie nicknacks, little bitty books about Zen, some kind of shrine, everything neater and brighter than in Alyssa’s room. I did a quick examination of what was immediately visible. But my mission allowed me to peek into Meadow’s chest of drawers, where I found not what Alyssa might be looking for, but what I might have been looking for:  the mysteries of unknown female underwear, a stack of twin-cupped bras, a pile of brief pastel panties. Did she choose a different color for each day of the week? 

I ambled back to the living room. “No sign of crime,” I announced, with some kind of smile. 

“Why do you look that way?,” Alyssa interrogated. I didn’t know what I looked like, or why. Was it the pot? The panties? “And how did you know where to look in her room? You’ve been in there before, haven’t you?” 

“Well, sure, maybe, she is our roommate.” I didn’t tell Alyssa that Meadow and I had exchanged massages one weekend, when Alyssa had been showing her visiting parents around the city. But nothing else happened. Meadow was cool that way. 

“I think we should think about getting our own place,” Alyssa said. She was still toking on the joint, but It sounded like a pretty sober proclamation. “It’ll cost us more money, but we need to think about making more money, and about the future.” A future with steady jobs, no roommates, no other girlfriends, and an approaching end to Alyssa’s wedding bell blues.

I’d heard this song before. 

 

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.

POETRY: “your two big toes”

your two big toes

the gate’s frame heaves and hoes
depending on the season
in winter, snug and resistant
like a pill bug
rolled up tight, looking
to tuck to a soft
warm side rib
then in summer
blooming loose, an open
laughing game
can’t catch
my running smile
but love, me
I am all the rooted
wildness
so why sit scrubby
tending distant
threads, measuring
stilted gulls
over lumbering water

Written By: Lisa Graves

POETRY: “Celia”

Celia

I feel very connected with you,
as I am writing this
but also reading this
for the first time,
just like you.
And you,
will you be cared for
by Iaia, as I was, as a little girl in Rio,
where my crazy flower of a momma
left my father, the man in the television,
left him helpless to put order in our hearts?
Are you holding my hand?
How do you feel when you read
how much I care about your caring about me?
Iaia was from Bahia, the warm womb of Brazil,
and she came with Candomblé,
the river on which the African saints
had sailed westward, in slave ships, in dark days.
Iaia cooked us cozido and pirão
and delighted with us in our girlish dancing.
Luiz Gonzaga Malheiros,
my esteemed father,
could never be a mama.
So he sat himself at a worn wooden desk
to prove the inexistence of God.
Maria de Gloria, in her separate sticky room in Copacabana,
missing the mothering of me, did auditions for death.
Neither Luiz nor Maria succeeded.
And in between them,
I began to hear the music,
the breath of the waves,
the clamoring coro of the sidewalks.
And my way started to compose itself.
I bloomed, and learned to be plucked,
and tested my browned and blonded body
by quickening its head, with smoke and colors.
Sometimes I saw what mommy saw,
and was glad and sad to see it.

Daddy sent me away, to the Disneyland of the North,
where I learned to order greasy food with hard consonants.
But I remembered to sing.
And I found America yearning towards my dipthongs,
seeking my salt-watered musical memories,
wanting curing from my dear dead Iaia.
Are you listening now, as I sing choro and bossa?
Have you married me, and made a mother of me?
And now, are we world enough?

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.

 

POETRY: “washing machines in a dark room”

washing machines in a dark room

almost romantic, to watch
the two move balanced in step,
rumbling in one another’s rhythm

the two grasp at
touches, the sound of gentle metal
upon gentle metal

the humming
reminiscent of
conversations that drift into
early morning hours

in their stomachs
a swirl of foam and bubbles
light-hearted and innocent

what happens when
the soap leaves their systems
does their love hover when they stand
next to each other

still and motionless

Written By: Wesley Wang

About the Author: Wesley Wang was born in Nashville, TN and moved to San Francisco at the age of two. He later earned his BA at UC Davis where they studied English and Japanese Literature. He currently takes classes at City College of San Francisco and is applying to MFA programs.

POETRY: “Sign”

Sign

I saw it writ big on the new building’s side:
Hayes Valley Isn’t
Just a State of Mind
It’s a State of Being.

I doubted that credo out loud—
Its ontology, its epistemology. No one answered me.

Is it true?
How can one know?
Only faith might illuminate this mystery.

I strained mine to imagine someone say,
“I guess I never thought about it that way,
but I suppose it’s so,” then shell out
For a million-dollar studio.

Written By: Jason Szyldik

About the Author: Jason Szydlik studied poetry at City College.

POETRY: “Old Furniture, Valencia Street”

Old Furniture, Valencia Street
low middle frequencies
of easy conversation
soft shaded light
through sidewalk windows
sweet maple umbrellas over
dozing meters and wheels

tenants of Valencia
arise and meander down your street
weaving like rattlers on your way to Dolores
I see you while a soft saxophone purrs in my ear,
rubs against my leg
making me forget all about
the sleeping desperados
who lay next to discarded dreams and other furniture
awaiting fate on the bordillo

hope is more expensive than slumber
dream of your childhood’s earliest days
before your sadness began

Written By: Steven Louis Ray

About 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

 

POETRY: “The Night Before Tomorrow”

The Night Before Tomorrow

Black above as far as the neck will stretch
Dark night sky, ear to ear black
But for the fireflies alit
And the stars that dance with white twinkles
And the faint smudge from 12 th Street
Aloft across the roof
Under the dome
Down to behind Billy’s dad’s house
Where the Moon sleeps during winter nights

Special shadows live at night
Some crawl from yellow street lamps
Others live in the ballpark by the stands
Where popcorn wafts and salted peanut shells hide
During Summer days but disappear when the Sun rests
After a long day surveying, cresting over the lake
And the birds retreat to their nests in the maple trees
Bluebirds and robins and brown birds with no names

Sometimes the sky explodes in crimson ribbons and pink petals
Night swallows day’s colours as a fish might play with a worm
A nibble or two to tease a ripple on the surface
And the colours are absorbed when the Sun tucks itself in
And rolls over until tomorrow
When bright and early before the milkman left a glass bottle or two

The kind that have a bulb shape at the neck to catch the cream
And the smells of breakfast stir juices in tummies

One day just like that a new dawn arose
That’s what cousin Billy said that night
But it seemed to me that kindergarten was the same
We played and napped and filled in lines with colours
And it didn’t rain, but we did have chocolate donuts
Still warm from the bakery where Nanny worked
And my brother and I fought about something
That was very important at the time

Still Billy called me outside after dark
Almost past bedtime and pointed up
“Do you see that” he said
And I knew he was joking so I said “Yeah.”
“Do you know what that is?”
“Yeh, a sky full of night and stars”
“No, that one is not a star but it is moving, see . . . “
“Where? Oh, I see. So what.”
“I don’t get it?” I whispered, not for the last time.
“What’s Telstar?”

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.

Poetry Piece: “Getting Dressed”

Getting Dressed

 

I put on a dress.

Turn once, twice in the mirror,

inspect my ass, my legs, my breasts.

I look myself in the eyes,

smile,

comfortable with my pieces

and the way they fit

together,

satisfied,

with how I have learned

to carry myself

lovingly,

deliberately,

and with pride.

Then, I imagine

walking outside.

Disjointed voices.

Crawling eyes.

I take off the dress.

 

Written By: Camryn Burkins

About the Author: Camryn is a writer and engineer from Houston, TX. Having left the engineering field to pursue her literary aspirations, her vision is a more unified and empathetic world, facilitated through the stories we tell each other. She can be found in libraries, coffee shops, and furiously scribbling on park benches.

 

Poetry Piece: “Hivemind”

Hivemind

 

“What will we do?” he asked the touch 

screen, capable of any

thing, but turning

Off. An entire civilization.

 

Only a circumstance, cinders.

Like a beehive dying

Sticky, abandoned.

Antennae and pheromones dance 

Instructions to air and wax

Meaning collapse; signal loss: total. 

 

Or a web of snapping 

Threads, delicate strategies.

Spinning and skilled hooks

Once tethered each branch to action,

Gathering vibration and struggle 

In a center, a silk heart.

 

Now subject to circumstitch replacement

Mere object, nano optics, operant conditioning

A swivel chair and a console.

 

“Who is there to do 

Anything now?” a small god

In his head offered. “You don’t even know 

it is happening.” 

 

Written By: Robert Hill

About the Author: Robert Hill lives in San Francisco. He is interested in philosophy and the relationship humans have with technology. He is a song writer and is attending the addiction and recovery program at CCSF.

 

 

Poetry: “Address To Myself Across Decades”, Featuring Image: “Days Catch”

Address To Myself Across Decades

 

Stricken as you were with silence—the fall-out from that troubled Celtic island—

you were dumb, voice held as if in solitary

confinement.

Language languished.

 

I remember you taking flight

from Dublin, fleeing the dole, the lone

twenty-four old you were.

You heaved that great bag, the

huge heft of it all

across continents to Tokyo.

 

The oppressive September heat of the East, heavy and thick held

you in place, no breath

of wind to stir your tongue, your thoughts taut still.

God gone.

Silent, you pushed through that new city,

the furtive stares of the people: foreigner—

signaling the need to know yourself.

 

              I see leaves of trees animated

                             the God I came to know releasing breath

                                            gently bowing boughs 

                                                            blowing blessings to all who listen.

 

Listen!

Were I able to reach you then, from decades’ distance, 

I might say,

“Go to the trees, 

twine around trunks

press your palm on bark

a pine—lay supine

draw in the mystery of tree

Your silent stasis will pass.”

 

Might you have heard?

 

Written By: Bette Mc Donnell

About the Author: Bette Mc Donnell is from Dublin, Ireland but has called San Francisco home for many years. She’s returned to poetry after a long hiatus. Bette works for habitat restoration in the City (www.natureinthecity.org) and enjoys hiking, dancing, and learning about biomimicry.

 

days catch_bnw

Visual Art “Days Catch” By: Erick Orihuela

About the Artist: Erick Orihuela is an Ethnic Studies and Film as Literature high school teacher. He grew up in the Mission District after moving from Mexico City. For him, teaching is a means of showing people his favorite philosophers: Frantz Fanon, Silvia Federici, San Te of the Shaolin Temple, and MF Doom. Takes pictures to better balance work and ludic activities.

City College of San Francisco's Literary Magazine