Sangre y Sudor

by Michael Berton

por siglos y siglos
la lengua de la patria del mundo
escribe en la sociedad

la gente pregunta
los libros
los místicos
los ancianos

sobre cual país
sobre cual moneda
sobre cual cultura
sobre cual moralidad

la boca de la tierra está llena
con sangre pudría y ceniza
del fuego que ha nacido

el aliento en la voz
de las palabras
en los sueños
sudor de un pronóstico
locura en una cueva

el miedo es un arma
de los que olvidan
la imaginación

años pasados años futuros
nunca recuerdan
cuando los cuerpos danzan
en un congreso carnal
y las almas timbran
juntos en un sonido eterno

 


Michael Berton is an educator, traveler, tequila aficionado and percussionist. He is the author of "No Shade In Aztlan" (New Mitote Press) which came out in 2015. His poetry has appeared in The Opiate, Acentos Review, Cold Noon, Talking River Review, Caesura, 2016 Texas Poetry Calendar, Fireweed, Hinchas de Poesia, Blaze Vox, And/Or, Volt, Shot Glass Journal, The Cracked Mirror, Night Bomb Review, and others. A native of El Paso, Texas, he currently lives in Portland, Oregon.

I’m No Climatologist

by Thad DeVassie

But when it starts raining frogs and broken crutches
everyone will take notice – the weather around these parts

is changing. There goes a mistuned piano plummeting
from a penthouse window. Young girls rub their tingling

knees before the onset of acid rain and thick traffic.
The one holding the leash is doing a different kind of barking.

Take it for granted, for what it is: random snippets, punch lines,
tiny revelations suggesting a world out of whack, wholly off kilter.

Ask if this is the new plague, if this is the new world disorder,
if this too shall pass with time, if spring is just around corner,

if it is even possible that this story, where sustainability is in
sustaining selfish abilities, offers us a swan song, a cameo,

at minimum a decent ending. Then notice the steel umbrella ready
for your lifting, for what rains next, as the wheels are about to come off.

 


Thad DeVassie is a lifelong Ohioan who writes and paints from the outskirts of Columbus. He was awarded the 2020 James Tate International Poetry Prize for his manuscript SPLENDID IRRATIONALITIES. His chapbook, THIS SIDE OF UTOPIA, will arrive in 2021 from Cervena Barva Press.

香格里拉 SHANGRI-LA

by Michael Chang

 

To be honest with you, I just assume everyone speaks Chinese

What happened to that Scottish boy with the different-colored eyes ???

If trends are cyclical, is it time to bring back CHATROOM POEMS ????

You are beautiful like my manners

Crystals really do a lot to a room I want to eat on a pile of crystals

Please do not ask abt my self-care/writing routine b/c if I had one would we be here? I think not

My Chinese eyes are all squinty from zooming in on low-res poetry images

Premium content—Madonna told me to be good & I have exceeded expectations

Haha Cavafy I wonder if he would have written abt me do you think he was into Azn

Sweaters are like hugs

Read abt Whitman “self-ghosting” & when I say I have a new kink—

RECENTLY VIEWED ???? I am still watching this ish

My default setting is Azn Glow

Read 6.5 as 6’5” & that tells you all you need to know

They say find a job you love & you’ll never work a day in your life. Well I love judging your shit

Attn universe I need to win some contests it is Chinese holiday so I can do whatever I want

What’s your favorite non-sexual act of intimacy?—NAPPING ALONE

Some of you talk so serious abt manifestly terrible poems & I’m like hehe cheese

PSA: talent is only minimally relevant. Dedication & discipline are much more important.

Chris Evans moderates & throws his shield at interruptions

If you made a horror movie, what extremely upbeat pop song would you want slowed down &
creepified to play in the trailer?—Higher Love

Between this Viet Thanh Nguyen quote (“poetry, the least expensive of the literary arts”) & Robin
Coste Lewis saying she became a poet after suffering brain damage—I feel so validated

Eoin—you’re like 75% vowels—daz hot

I don’t use track changes my word is final

Phil of the Future is still cute. I wish you well in my future endeavors

A famous author said to me: with 3 words you have ruined this picture for me you really are a poet

My work being taught—I feel very powerful almost like D. A. Powell

My poetics is pre-outburst Galliano, 16 collections a year, Couture & Pre-Fall & Cruise & Resort . . .

My brave poetics putting hot sauce in a Valentino bag

These jobs really b tryin to get me to do work for free. No to “writing tests”—have you met me?

We are poet we have no land just cup noodle

I hate mini muffins

Great enterprise invent cranapple

Baked potato, 1962

Resting like a DOG! A SICK CUSTOMER!

Maybe iz like farewell tour. Maybe iz like animal going home to die

I don’t do trends but these pink & black covers are a trend I approve hunny

I don’t know what load-bearing means but am admittedly intrigued

I’d be Patron Saint of Best I Never Had

Met a poet who said her fav books are Harry Potter I said yes yes very sad what has happened to Dobby

Need m*n to open particular jars but other than that drawing a blank

Every day I live in fear of being misidentified as another Azn poet but then I realize there’s no one like me

Writers, when you request a blurb, you don’t need to frame it by saying how gross or terrible or
whatever you are. We KNOW! TRUST!

Dog treat dat human also eat

I have the worst migraine after editing ms & this whiskey is not helping ???? I was told it would ????

Saw photo of tacos & said that is an excellent idea

Wonder if DC Madam is back in biz b/c Lady G has a flip phone so I KNOW they are not on apps

Thank you Russian giveth Chinese taketh away

A construction worker, a m*nly m*n, wants to know what’s so different abt my sex poems. Sir, I say, I am actually desirable in them. He weeps

Call me Costco b/c you need a membership & I am a lot to handle

A poet tells me they listen to Chopin while reading my work. If you’ve read my poems, I don’t foreclose the possibility that you’ve been naughty & skipped ahead, you will appreciate how hilarious that is

I am smol I am petite the Meowth of the team

I just remembered a Senator who claimed to be a tech gal but did not know how to email

Jane Hirshfield has a book called Cum Thief. I once wrote a poem abt queer angels texting. It is lost
to the anus of history now

We are poet we know what la petite mort is thank YOU!

 


Michael Chang (they/them) is a Lambda Literary fellow who was awarded the Kundiman Scholarship at the Miami Writers Institute. A finalist in contests at the Iowa Review, BOMB, NightBlock, & many others, their poems have been nominated for Best of the Net & the Pushcart Prize. Their manuscript <big shot manifesto> was selected by Rae Armantrout as a finalist for the Fonograf Editions Open Genre Book Prize, & another was a finalist in the Diode Editions Book Contest.

Three on Two

by Stan Lee Werlin

Deep in the third period the ACE line is half-way through its shift and the crowd is unsettled, cranked with nervous tension. Behind his net Alex “Ass” Alessandroni
stops on a dime, a sudden cascade of white ice shavings flying off his skates into
the deadened boards.

The countless pockmarks from skates, sticks, headgear and collisions with heavily padded knees and elbows are barely visible to the crowd stand-ing at their seats and screaming for a goal to tie the game and send it into over-time. The season is nearing an end and the team is on the edge of a third straight year missing the playoffs.  They need to run the table: pull out this game, take the next two, hope the team ahead of them in the standings stumbles and drops a game.

The zealous hometown fans are frustrated, weary, and their raucous catcalls let the players know it even as they root the team on.

Alessandroni is good at tuning everything out. He knows the ice as well as he knows his own body, the distance to each of the two blue-lines, the time it takes to cross the huge neutral zone face-off circle when unimpeded, the angles of approach to the opposing goal-tender 180 feet away at the far end of the rink.

Taking in the positioning of his teammates in their traditional uniforms of yellow-
jacket gold with black accents and the opponents in their hated red and white, his mind instantly calculates the probable geometry of the play setting up in front of him and the fluid ways it is most likely to change depending on what he does and how the players on the ice react. For Alessandroni that kind of vision is mostly instinct. It’s a rare talent, a precious gift that causes others to marvel, and he knows it.

He senses immediately that the other team’s defensemen are cautious, backing into a protective posture. They’re good at holding late game leads. The line they’re up against, though, the center and both wings, they’re aggressive forecheckers known to pressure an attacking team starting out of their own end of the ice to try to force a costly turn-over.

Maybe Alessandroni can induce an error from them. He digs the puck off the netting at the back of the cage where it has come to rest and settles it flat on the ice, caressed in the barely curved blade of his meticulously taped stick. He tapes it only at the heel and in the center of the blade, a superstition he’s followed ever since his first goal in the NHL. His linemates Kevin Cavanaugh and Buzz Evans swoop in from each side of the rink, criss-crossing in front of their goalie to build up their speed. The repetitive sound of their skates cutting into the ice is like the cadence of scythes mowing down a field of hay only faster, much much faster.

It is somehow both graceful and soothing, entirely unlike the violent, chaotic game they play. They both look back at Alessandroni, ready to receive a breakout pass that will start the attack.

**********

Vickie Alessandroni cups her hands under her chin and tilts her face upward in a mega-phone pose. “Let’s go boys!” she yells, “Go! Go! Go! Get up ice!” Next to her, Cassie Evans is fussing with her cell phone camera, ready to take video when the action nears. Cavanaugh’s latest girlfriend Izzy is seated a row behind them, a few seats to their left. The players’ wives and girlfriends and guests are sitting together in the cushiony loge seats at center ice for this game, not high off the ice in the team’s plush suite with the boringly buttoned-down executives staring at computer screens filled with spread-sheets offering mind-numbing advanced hockey analytics:

Corsi, Fenwick, WOWY and more, a slew of elaborate player statistics and sophisticated quantitative performance assessments that would hypnotize even the most rabid of fans.

No, they simply like to be close to their men, on top of the whirlwind action, watching the harsh crunch of bodies colliding as the players chase the puck and deliver bruising body checks and hack at each other with their sticks just softly enough not to draw a penalty. The brief grimaces of pain the women glimpse behind the players’ protective face visors don’t unnerve them so much as energize them. It’s a tough game and their men have to be able to stand up to it, don’t they? The stats don’t measure grit.

Cassie leans toward Vicky and has to shout in her ear to be heard over the rapidly increasing cheers of the crowd. “You think Izzy knows about Casanova?” she asks, nodding her head backward slightly in Izzy’s direction.

Vicky doesn’t know if Cassie uses Cavanaugh’s nickname innocently or to get under her skin. It evokes images of last summer she wants to suppress, and for some reason right now it irritates her.

“What? His fun-loving rep? Sure she does. How could she not?” Vicky pauses. “Oh. You mean about Kevin and you?” she rasps out. “What could she know, unless he told her?” They exchange a lingering private look.

Cassie arches her eyebrows at Vicky. “Not only me,” she replies with a crooked grin.

**********

Alessandroni feints once in each direction before carrying the puck from behind the net and straight up ice directly in front of his goalie. His defensemen settle in safely behind him, prepared to jump into the play if an offensive opening materializes.

His outlet pass goes to Cavanaugh on the left wing midway to their own blue line, a crisp tape to tape laser that Cavanaugh gathers in and cradles easily, the sound on his stick a loud rifle report audible throughout the stadium.

His wings are among the fastest skaters in the league, quicker than their counterparts. He’s counting on them to out-skate the opponents shadowing them and gain the inside position driving through center ice.

Casanova, he thinks, carry it up a few strides and then give it back to me. Their eyes meet for just an instant in a silent exchange that confirms what will happen next.

Alessandroni, Cavanaugh and Evans have played together for three years as the team’s top line. They know each other’s moves so well that at their best their positioning and passing is as smooth as precision choreography, almost balletic.

Or do we?, Alessandroni thinks as he charges forward. His mind flickers to his wife for a fraction of a second. He knows she’s at center ice, her eyes focused sharply on the play. Casanova, buddy, do I really know your every move, or have you put something over on me? He senses even before he sees Cavanaugh’s stick move that the puck is about to come back to him in a saucer pass through the air a few inches above the ice surface, the rhythm of the play uninterrupted. Concentrate, Alex, he thinks to himself.

**********

“Nothing ever happened Cass!” Vicky whisper-shouts over the crowd noise.

“Bullshit”, Cassie mouths back. “Does Ass know?”

Vicky is rueful. What’s the point in continuing her half-hearted deceit any longer? She as much as admitted it to Cassie months ago. She’s a trusted friend. They each know most of the other’s secrets. “He suspects. He asked me outright just before the first game this year. Of course I denied it. ‘I have to skate with this guy all season, Vick’, he said. I don’t think he believed me. There was this look in his eyes like he was pleading.

I just couldn’t tell him. It was so dumb to do it. I don’t know…that lopsided Kevin smile, the way he tilts his hips at you, maybe all that booze at the beach. Over before the season started.”

“I know,” Cassie said. She turns around to contemplate Izzy who’s waving her arms wildly and shouting “Whoo! Kevin! Skate! Don’t go downsides!”

“He’s sure not bonin’ her because she’s a student of the game, is he?” Cassie laughs. “She’s cute, though. Tight body. I give it a month with him.” Eyes back on the ice. “Here they come.”

**********

Cavanaugh steals a glance at the scoreboard overhead to catch the digital clock count-ing down the remaining game time. More than enough to regroup and get their goalie to the bench for a sixth skater if the play gets broken up. He gauges the distance between the opposing center and Alessandroni and then sends the puck back to him with a soft airborne pass calculated to tempt the opponent into trying to intercept it but keep the puck safely out of reach. They’ve done this a thousand times in practice. As soon as the opponent sees that Cavanaugh will back-pass he takes the bait, drops to a knee and whips his stick down flat on the ice, arcing it toward the puck with a quick sweep check to try to knock the puck off path and away from Alessandroni.

It doesn’t work. Just like that, the puck is back on Alessandroni’s stick and the opposing center is scrambling to get to his feet.  Now fifteen feet behind Alessandroni, he’s lost all skating momentum. He and the crowd and Alessandroni all know he won’t recover to get back into the play. It was exactly the mistake they needed.

In an instant,  a genuine 3-on-2 break looks possible.

Alessandroni is now alone, crossing his own blue line with the puck. Cavanaugh and Evans each accelerate past the opposing wingers, shrugging off their harmless stick checks, establishing the position they need.

A second later, the ACE line is in a classic 3-on-2 formation, Alessandroni at the top
of the triangle, Cavanaugh and Evans bear-ing down on the defensemen skating back-ward toward their own goalie and staying low to the ice in strong athletic posture, ready to dart in any direction.

Yvan Therrieu, their colorful French-Canadian coach, has schooled them for this brilliantly. They’ve watched films of the old Montreal Canadiens teams of the 60’s executing perfect 3-on-2s over and over, seemingly scoring at will. There was
never a team better at this part of the game in the entire history of the National
Hockey League, getting over the blue line, wings tying up the defensemen as they
drove to the net, the drop pass to the wide open center iceman barreling down
the slot and closing in to shoot. Now it’s do or die time. They’ve got to produce.

Alessandroni, Cavanaugh and Evans are skating hard through the neutral zone
at center ice past the player benches as the crowd sees the 3-on-2 develop.

Their second line center Gord Tkachuck shouts encouragement from the bench
as Cavanaugh flies past him on the left wing. “You guys get this one, we’ll get the
game-winner!” The women are invisible in the stands as the play rushes by in a
blur, Izzy jumping up and down with a non-stop “Yah! Yah! Go Kev Go!”, Cassie
taking video, Vicky intent on watching the angles and projecting the way the play
will shape up in the next two make-it-or-break-it seconds.

All three linemates hear the unmistakable full-throated call from Coach Therrieu that marks so many offensive rushes every game: “Vite! Vite!” Quickly, quickly! “Vite! Vite!” Evans knows the play; he’ll get the puck from Alessandroni just as he reaches the
opponents’ blue line.

Everything has to be executed at top speed.

The whole season is riding on the ACE line now. For reasons Evans can’t begin to fathom his mind flashes on their public persona. He’s the quiet one with the low key personality. He hates the spotlight and gives perfunctory, predictable athlete interviews. Skate hard, focus, keep to the game plan, stay positive, they’re a good team but if we play up to our capability we can beat them…Ass is the one who wants the glory, the credit for being a great playmaker, the adoration for scoring flashy high-light reel goals.

Ass the arrogant. He’s chasing the big contract when he becomes a free agent after
the season ends. Chances are high he’ll sign with another team: it’ll be the end of the ACE line.

Casanova is, well…Casanova. Sleeps with the groupies. Takes whatever comes
from flirting with teammates’ women. Flamboyant personality. Gives great stream
of consciousness interviews sitting at his locker after games, interviews that Ass
watches with a mixture of admiration and dark brooding jealousy. The same Ass
who right on cue just head-faked left and fired a perfect pass to Evans flying down
the right wing.

**********

It was Evans who took Coach Therrieu aside months earlier as soon as he heard it from Cassie. He still isn’t sure he should have done it. In some ways it felt like a betrayal of confidence, a soiled revelation. How do you balance that personal uneasiness against the needs of the team, the delicacy of human relationships, the huge sums they get paid to selflessly give their all and become professional scoring machines once they take the ice?

“Are you sure, Cass?” he had asked before seeking out the coach. “From Vicky herself? You’re not just maybe reading too much into harmless flirtation? Vicky can be a real cock-teaser.”

“Casanova told me,” she answered. “Not Vicky. Bragged about it, really. ‘Screwed Ass’s wife at that beach party in June’, he said, ‘Again last month before she said no more. Buzz and I do the heavy work, Ass hogs the puck and gets the glory. Vicky, she’s just payback. He deserves it’. His exact words. So I asked her about it. ‘He’s got a great body’, was all she would say.”

“Why would he boast about it to you? Tryin’ to make you jealous, lookin’ for another
go-round maybe?”

“Buzz, c’mon. Casanova and me, sure, we had our good times before you came along. That’s a thing of the past now, dead and buried, and he knows it. But he still likes to
take me aside once in a while like I’m his confidante, tell me he’s still in play, let me
know what I’m missin’. Great player but can’t help himself. Still just a kid chasin’ tail.
His cross to bear, not yours.”

“No, Cass. On that you’re wrong. We’re all in it. We are definitely all in it.”

Coach Therrieu’s office door is closed when Alessandroni wanders past and spots Casanova in the office with him, shoulders sagging under the weight of a harsh tongue-lashing. “We need you guys to be together in every way this year on the ice and off, n’est-ce pas? You understand? Team chemistry above all! If I have to break up your line there’ll be hell to pay! You want to move in on the girlfriends, that’s your business Casanova. But the wives are off limits. Laissez les femmes seules! Laissez les femmes! Is that clear enough?”

By the time Cavanaugh opens the door and steps out, Ass is gone, pondering what he overheard. There’s a deep scowl on his face that twists the fading rows of stitches on his chin and cheeks into an ugly mask.

**********

Alessandroni’s pass to Evans is another flawless laser timed exquisitely, catching
Evans in stride just as he reaches the offensive blue line. On the left wing, Cavanaugh jukes sideways and drags his rear skate along the blue paint to ensure he does not precede Evans into the zone. The puck has to cross the line completely before any attacking player has entered the offensive zone or the play will be ruled offside and whistled to a stop, and it does. They’ve nailed it.

The geometry of the 3-on-2 is now like a moving human isosceles triangle closing in on the net. Evans’s drop pass to the trailing Alessandroni just inside the blue line is a well-executed thing of beauty that has the fans already rising from their seats. Alessandroni picks up the puck and cruises unimpeded straight down the center of the attacking zone toward the opposing net. His counterpart nine or ten feet behind him backchecks futilely trying to throw him off stride, flailing at Alessandroni with his stick, catching only air. The opponents’ defensemen are helpless, prevented from driving into the slot and closing it off by Cavanaugh and Evans’s dominating size and muscular inside positioning.

The GM, the off-ice coaches, the scouts are all watching from the team’s suite
high above the ice in their state of the art stadium, all concrete and padded comfort,
vast and sterile, nothing like the original arenas and their stiff wooden seats. Those places had personality: Boston Garden with its first and second balconies practically hanging over the ice surface; Chicago Stadium with its analog penalty timers and the throbbing of its impossibly loud pipe organ; the venerated Montreal Forum where the fans attended games in suit and tie. They also had drifting clouds of smoke, obstructed view seats, wretched air conditioning, dim lighting, garbled sound, and sometimes, late in the season, when the playoffs were underway, fog on the ice.

The new generation of execs expects to be pampered: multiple TV feeds, video replay, gourmet food service, in-suite kitchen and bathroom facilities. Welcome to the high tech, high finance worldof contemporary professional sports.

None of that matters right now. They’ve shared the coach’s concern about the fragile chemistry of the ACE line all year. Mostly, the line has held together well. Game in and game out, made strong aggressive plays. Performed better than last season. Leads
the team in scoring. Solid defensively.  The dark undercurrent of difficulties between Alessandroni and Cavanaugh hasn’t surfaced in public. There’s been no media or press speculation. The locker room scuffle early in the season when Evans separated Ass and Casanova was intense but brief. It stayed private, no harm done.

The players refused to talk about it. Still, there’s been a persistent low wattage negative vibe, elusive, nothing anyone chose to put a finger on, just something percolating under the surface that has remained there for months. There’s never been a thought of breaking up the line, let alone a more extreme consideration like trading one of
the players. And now, here it is playing out on the ice below them, the last chance
to keep the season alive,a few seconds squarely in the hands of the ACE line.

Cavanaugh bangs his stick twice on the ice, hard and insistent, the signal he’s open
and wants the puck. Alessandroni has to decide instantly – thread it in to Cavanaugh
for a possible tip-in past the goalie or a deft deke that gives Cavanaugh a completely open net for an easy goal, or keep the puck to unleash an unimpeded slap shot. The pass is the riskier play. No glory for you on this one, Casanova.

Alessandroni cruises in alone from the blue line. Fifty feet. Forty feet.

The opposing goalie leaves his crease, gliding directly toward Alessandroni, squared
up to him. His pads, stick, blocker and catching glove loom ever larger in Alessandroni’s field of vision, creating a wide, imposing profile to cut down the shooting angles in an
effort to give the rapidly approaching shooter nothing to see and aim for, pressuring
him to take a high risk shot at the barely visible corners of the net. Alessandroni, the team’s best sniper, can hit the corners in his sleep. He raises his stick behind him, the blade above head height, threatening a slap shot at 100 miles per hour.

At that speed, the vulcanized rubber puck will be an unstoppable lethal missile cover-
ing the short distance between the shooter and the goalie in just over one-tenth of a second. There is no human reaction time now, just a set of divergent possible results.

The puck could hit the goal-tender, or miss him and rip into the net at the corner of Alessandroni’s choosing for a goal that sets off a wild frenzy of celebration, or fly
wide and smash into the protective glass or boards behind the net. It might strike
the bright red metal crossbar or one of the goalposts and continue into the net for
a goal, or it might carom away from the players harmlessly or drop down into the
tangle of bodies in front of the net where it could deflect in off a leg or arm or skate
for a goal, or skitter off into a corner or be buried under a body to end the play with
the harsh shriek of the referee’s whistle. All of these futures are about to collapse
into one.

Alessandroni winds up to take the shot. It is a violent action, shooting a puck at
this speed toward another human being, fierce, uncompromising, unmerciful.

In a final effort to fuse desire and determination into pure athletic focus, Alessandroni envisions Cavanaugh’s chiseled features on the surface of the puck. With a slight change of direction and lift, too subtle for anyone to see, he could fire the puck at Cavanaugh’s head.

No one can control a slapshot in today’s high speed game, he imagines the comment-ators saying as they replay the video again and again, the shot just went awry. At that short distance, the impact was bone-breaking. The helmet saved his life. Cavanaugh is
a lucky man tonight.
That vision he has of Vicky and Cavanaugh naked together, bed-sheets askew, their skin glistening with sweat, her hand tracing a line down Kevin’s rock hard quadriceps has never left him.

He drives the blade of his stick toward the frozen black disc, meeting it flat and hard slightly in front of his body where the laws of physics pinpoint the exact location of maximum force. In his mind, time slows to a crawl. The decibel level in the stands skyrockets. Eighteen thousand fans are propelling themselves upward from their
seats, leaving their feet, anticipating, their arms prematurely beginning to fly above
their heads in that unmistakable reflex of triumph, the way hockey goals are always celebrated. They are already halfway to a thunderous ovation that will shake the
stadium from floor to ceiling if the ACE line ties the game.

It all happens so quickly. Alessandroni hears the unmistakable harsh thunk of the
puck on metal, a sound so loud it reverberates through the entire arena, rising
above even the cacophony of the screaming fans. The puck deflects downward
off the crossbar, bouncing crazily and spinning on the ice surface in the crease
behind the goalie, rolling perilously close to but not entering the gaping four by
six foot rectangle that is now a wide open net. The puck is a black hole vacuuming
in the attention of everyone who can see it, waiting to be tapped in to the net to
tie the game or to be batted away by the desperate defense.

The fans behind the net are delirious, shouting, pounding on the protective glass. Instantly everyone converges in the goal crease - the defense-men, Cavanaugh,
Evans, the trailing opponent wingers, the goaltender.

The sheer tangle of bodies obscures Alessandroni’s vision of the net as the players wrestle each other to the ice surface in a flailing mass of arms and legs and sticks
and skates. The referee is positioned perfectly a few feet to the side of and slightly behind the cage where he can see the entire play and follow the fate of the shot.

He begins to make a waving motion toward the net with his arms, peering in
to find a glimpse of the puck, looking for a round black edge, ready to signal.

 


Stan Lee Werlin's short stories and poetry have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Review, Sheepshead Review, Prime Number, Glassworks, Futures Trading, Soundings East, Saranac Review, Bacopa Literary Review, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Reunion, The Write Launch, Waymark, Blind Corner, Dark Elements, The Louisville Review and Roanoke Review. His humorous children's poetry has been published in numerous children’s magazines and anthologies. He was a Harvard undergrad and received an MBA from The Wharton School. Stan enjoys competitive singles tennis
and is a lifelong fan of the Boston Bruins. You can follow him on Twitter at @natsnilrew.

The Dog People Who Built Bridges They Would One Day Tear Down

by Bryan Harvey

The river flowed between two nations—one younger and one older—but the river no longer reached the ocean, although it once did.

On either side of the river was a town. In these towns lived people of disparate clans. The people were strangers, but before that they were distant cousins and before that close cousins and before that, quite possibly, they were siblings, sons and daughters of the same mothers and fathers.

On one side of the river, the most popular pets were dogs that looked like coyotes. On the other side, the most popular pets were dogs that looked like wolves. Some people, but very few, on both sides of the river owned bright blue and green birds. But, again, this occurrence was a very rare thing indeed, for birds are prone to give flight and venture beyond the horizon lines of the many visible worlds that exist on the borders of antiquated waterways.

Sometimes these people built bridges, but sometimes they tore down the bridges. This is a story about one of those times: the building or the tearing down.

The men gathered stones and set them in the mud downriver from where the women bathed the town’s children and washed their clothes. The stones piled high until they reached the heights of the bank, and then the men wove hemp ropes together and threw them across the river. The great braid floated high in the air, possibly even in the path of a blue and green bird flying beyond the lines of the visible world, but ultimately the great braid landed on the surface of the moving water and coiled and uncoiled like a snake in the current. The men pulled in the rope and tried again. After several tries, the men managed to lasso a stump protruding from the soil on the other side. Then, holding onto the thick braid of hair, they crossed.

Once on the other side, the men built another stone tower, braided more ropes, and made the bridge easier to cross. When the bridge became easier to cross, more and more people crossed. People crossed in both directions, and some people forgot upon which side of the bridge they had originated. Men and women would go to the custom houses on either side and ask to see the record books, but the books only proved that the bridge had been crossed many times by many peoples and that origin stories made about as much sense as ghost stories.

In fact, people were haunted by the invisibility of their own origin stories as the howling of their dogs that looked more like wolves and coyotes grew louder and the flights of green and blue birds decreased as the bird population within the realms of the visible worlds dwindled with each setting sun and each rising sun and the overall passage of time. In the end, however, some people began to feel frustration over the cloudiness of the past and how it had come to resemble the brown murk of the river where they cleaned their children and washed their clothes. And, with this mounting frustration, meetings were called on both sides of the river.

At these meetings, people complained about the bridge almost as much as they had once complained about the lack of a bridge. And, in this complaining, the two towns hatched two plans which were really part of a single plan. When night fell and as the dogs howled and no birds flew, people passed on the bridge like the hints of shapeless shadows. Hidden in their coats and stowed away in their bundles were all sorts of tools: shovels and picks and hammers and dynamite.

When they reached the opposite sides from where their journeys began, they winked and nodded to one another in the darkness and took out the same tools that the build-ers of the bridge had used and they began to tear it down. They removed the stones with a great deal of clamoring grunts and metal on stone. They severed the braids and even lit them on fire. The coils floated downriver like great flaming snakes—orange furies against the blackness that eventually hissed gray smoke. Then they blew up the found-ations, and those who had not woken to the sounds of metal clanging on stone awoke to the sound of artificial thunder.

 But each of the two plans had a problem, which really was the same problem. They left themselves no way of return. They were stranded. And, because history still would not share its grand secrets, they did not know if they were stranded on the right or the wrong side. This realization struck them like lightning, and they panicked because what they realized was that they knew nothing other than how to destroy the one thing they understood. And it was this reasoning that led each group to construct out of the rubble of the old bridge a new bridge. So, working from a single plan that was really two plans, each group set about building a bridge, which was really two bridges.

When those responsible for the tearing down of the first bridge and the building of the second and third bridges passed from the visible world, the same problems arose in their sons and daughters. People were bothered by crossings and unclear stories and so more bridges were destroyed.

Yet, the destruction always left the same problem: no escape from the wrong or right side of the river. And it was often as the dust and smoke settled on the moving waters that the deserted looked towards the sky, hoping to witness a blue and green bird in flight, and found themselves howling—either like wolves or like coyotes—at their loneliness reflected in the moon’s yellow eye.

Such was true of the first bridge, and such was true of the last bridge. And such was true of all the bridges in between. And somewhere in all that building and not building the river was lost.


Bryan Harvey lives and teaches in Virginia. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming
in FlashBack Fiction, Moon Park Review, Hobart, No Contact Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, The Florida Review's Aquifer, and Cold Mountain Review. He tweets at @Bryan_S_Harvey. Most of his rough drafts begin on long runs and are never finished.

Interview with Donna Miscolta, Author of Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories

SC:  Hi Donna, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed by Sinking City! We’re a huge fan of the book, and one of the most distinguishable features is how easily I fell into my own memories of elementary school while listening to Angie’s thoughts, points of view, and her own experiences. What I mean to say more broadly is that you don’t shy away from the embarrassing, and that is I think what makes Angie such a loveable character. My first question is, how did you envision Angie’s character before beginning to write? Did you create an outline beforehand, or was it more of something that come progressively through ideas that would sprout throughout the process?

DM: I’m so glad you found Angie to be a loveable character. She’s certainly dear to me, and I agree with you that it’s due in large part to the mortifying moments she suffers. I think many of us can relate to such moments. Who hasn’t at some time in their life shrunk in excruciating discomfort at some blunder or feeling of rejection or exclusion?

As someone who was herself a shy, awkward girl growing up, I could easily transfer these traits to a fictional character. I could endow her with the bafflement and hurt I felt. I could put her in situations that had been mortifying to me. But I could also give her attributes I didn’t have to allow her to engage more readily with a world that doesn’t seem to notice or accept her. She’s more actively reflective, and she’s more inclined to act, if tentatively so, with the result that her efforts often fall short of the mark.  And yet she does try again and again.

One of the earlier stories I wrote was about the slumber party and at first I focused on Angie’s outsiderliness, her inability to crack the code to acceptance to the group. But
as I developed the story more, the elements of race and racism inserted themselves because they are part of any story when the protagonist is a person of color. As I  wrote the other stories, that element was always present, though I tried to allow it to arise
from the story rather than impose it in the story. Often scenes grew from memories
of incidents from my own girlhood. It was fun and instructive for me to put Angie in circumstances that were similar to mine and to see how she responded to them in
ways I didn’t know how to back then.

I never created an outline of who Angie was as a way to develop her character. She emerged for me in the writing. What I did do as the number of stories grew was to summarize the plot of each in a document to see trends, repetition, and resonances as well as any contradictions or omissions. So maybe it was an outline not to develop the character and story but to analyze what I’d done and still needed to do.

SC: Who was the inspiration for Aunt Nelda? Was it someone from your own family or friend group? She seems to have such a big personality, and her character development towards the end is surprising, a bittersweet one for me.

DM: Nelda was a composite of women in my family, who ranged from the quiet to the loquacious, from the acquiescent to the intermittently assertive. The women in my family, those of my mother’s generation, did not have more than a high school education, married early, and started families when they were in their late teens or early twenties. When they ventured into the workforce, they worked retail or other service industry positions. These jobs gave them a sense of purpose and access to an income. They also gave them an escape from the household, though it didn’t mean an escape from those duties. It gave them a physical space to exist in other than the home.

Both Nelda and Delia, Angie’s mother, share this background of my mother’s generation. Of the two, Nelda was on the louder, sassier side of the spectrum. I wanted to contrast her with Delia who has the more traditional trajectory with a husband and children but who feels more hemmed in by her lack of options. Delia is the kind of woman who would never identify with the women’s liberation movement yet itches for a bigger life outside of her narrowly defined spaces. Nelda is a single parent and the absence of a Big Eddie for whom Little Eddie seems to have been named is a mystery to the Rubio children and an untouchable subject. She, too, has been hemmed in by traditional roles and by society’s view of single parents, but she’s willing to take bigger risks. She’s searching for an outlet for her creativity and finally finds it as a real estate agent. Her success allows her to move herself and Eddie to a different part of town and to indulge Eddie’s esoteric interests. It’s a situation that Angie envies. I, on the other hand, was very pleased with Nelda’s trajectory.

 SC: This may be more of an abstract question, but how did you decide what to include with regards to the information about Angie’s identity? From the beginning, we get mention that she moved from Hawaii, but not a lot about her Mexican identity; more broadly, we get her Hispanic upbringing, some regret over not being able to speak and even, for the most part, understand Spanish. We also get more explicit details about her community (school, neighborhood, etc.), focusing on the white-dominant culture, the lack of people of color in her school, etc.; is this something that Angie doesn’t think about as much, or is it intentionally subtle, almost serving as a background?

DM: This is an interesting question for me. I was mostly interested in how Angie was perceived by the world and how she in turn perceived her place in the world as a brown girl rather than as someone of a particular ethnic background. But it seems important to readers that characters be anchored in a specific identity if they are other than white.

As someone of mixed heritage, mining my own identity is a bit messy because in real life it’s something that seems to require an explanation full of provisos and caveats, so on the page I decided to simplify things as I’ve done in my previous books. Of my Filipino and Mexican background, I gave Angie the latter, which allowed me to specify certain details about her such as her inability to speak Spanish and the irony of her last name, which means blond.

In my own experience, forces of socialization and assimilation resulted in a very Americanized household from its décor to the food on the table. My mother cooked Mexican dishes only once in a while and my father cooked Filipino food for special occasions. Rice was on the table every day. Otherwise, our table looked much the same as the families on TV – meat, potatoes, and vegetable, with Wonder Bread in the bread box. While there was never forgetting that we were brown, it didn’t occur to us constantly that we were Filipino and Mexican. Somehow, we imagined that the TV
shows we watched and magazines we read that reflected white America mirrored our existence as well. I wrote this consciousness to a similar degree into the characters in Living Color.

There are often contradictory expectations at work by the dominant culture that immigrants and children of immigrants adopt mainstream ways but also conform to its perceptions of them as different or other, and I think color is the reason. I don’t think I necessarily convey this in the book, but I think it’s at the root of its emphasis on color over a specific ethnic or racial identity.

SC: When you were in the process of writing each scene, did you have the idea of writing them in chronological order, or did they just come to in more fragmented forms (I’m especially interested in how writing shorter, yet vivid scenes work as a poet myself).

DM: Well, first, let me say that I think poets make great scene writers since they’re so practiced at concision and timing. They understand white space. I tend to have to strip away a lot of writing to get to the essential and to trust the unsaid. In terms of chronology, I at first was writing stories at random points in time, until I realized the obvious structure that was presenting itself. Once I had filled in all the early years of Angie’s grade-by-grade education, I wrote all the subsequent chapters in chronological order. In terms of scenes in each story, those didn’t always flow in order. There were a number of stories where I did quite a bit of rearranging to find the sequence that functioned best dramatically.

Michael Cunningham says that a fully realized character paired with another character will make a story happen. I have to remind myself of that because often when I begin a scene my character will be alone in reflection or doing something by herself. Sometimes I have let such a scene stand as the opening to a story as long as too much time doesn’t elapse before another character enters the scene to make something happen, to get the story moving, to make it vivid.

SC: The dialogue in Living Color is an element that has stayed with me for quite some bit. There is humor, cleverness, and a concise way in which you especially achieve t movement through dialogue, i.e: Where is God? God is everywhere., or when Eva tells Angie, “Being brown is hereditary. Being a Brownie is not”. Were these remarks / jokes ones you took time to craft, or did they come naturally to you / along the lines of things that you had heard of before?

Because I’ve always been shy and therefore quiet, I became a listener and an observer. I paid attention to how things were said and by whom and with what response. And if the exact words didn’t stay with me, the feelings around them did. And that’s what’s important when creating scene and dialog –  capturing and conveying a feeling or sensation.

My ear absorbed the speech and delivery of the people around me. I have an older sister who read a lot and threw around her large vocabulary when we were growing up, some-times sounding like a British pedagogue. On the other hand, my mother and her sisters, who were not educated beyond high school, lacked polish and precision in their speech, often confusing words such as genetic and generic, which could make for some comic phrasing. Cruelly, we distorted our faces with mock frowns or stifled laughter at their nonsequiturs, malapropisms, and mispronunciations.

Sometimes, when I’m writing, immersed in the scene and the characters and what they each are striving for, one of these stored memories will conveniently unlock itself from the vault and find itself on the page. Other times, it’s a more deliberate process and it might occur in the editing as I snip away at the fat to leave intact the most relevant words and phrases, which is when space opens up for some perfect waiting-in-the-wings darling to slide in.

Another thing I find helpful is a lecture on dialogue by Pam Houston I attended several years ago, which you can find on YouTube. Houston describes dialogue as “a game of tennis between two not very good players,” each with her own agenda fighting for control of the scene. I think that when humor is part of the fight, well, all the better.


Donna Miscolta’s most recent book is Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories from Jaded Ibis Press in 2020. Her story collection Hola and Goodbye, winner of the Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman, was published by Carolina Wren Press in 2016. It won an Independent Publishers award for Best Regional Fiction and an International Latino Book Award for Best Latino Focused Fiction. She’s also the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced, published in 2011 by Signal 8 Press. Recent stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s, Atticus Review, Los Angeles Review, and the anthology Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of Covid-19.

Through a Glass Darkly

by Wong Wei Cong

Below the icy surface, there dwelled a race of the most peculiar creature. An indigenous tribe of small silver-furred dwarves, with overflowing beards, atrophied limbs, and ashen eyes, they lived an isolated existence. For generations, there had never been any contact outside their kind. It did not help that unlike creatures like us, from the world of the other side, they moved through solid ice the same way we move through air, and just as we are bounded by the earth beneath our feet, they could never breach the celestial boundary between ice and air – the laws of physics of their world forbade them.

They were truly creatures of the ice – forever bound within the constraints of a solid, crystalline aether that followed the meanders of a dead river. They lived and died with the ice.  After aeons of existence (or approximately three human months), at the end
of their world-cycle, the entire race vanished with the annihilation of their world by the wrath of hellfire (as the river thawed). And when the heaving, fecund winter winds blew again, they were reincarnated once more into their nascent frozen universe, cold and fresh from the mould. How they come about remained one of those imponderable questions – they had just existed, just when the wheel of time began to turn.

As one could imagine, their days were dreadfully dull and sorry, being stuck in a
vitreous prison of scattered, latticed light, an expansive space of white and emptiness.

One day, when they stood staring into the glaring heavens, carelessly stroking their beards, a dash of the richest, most sonorous red streaked across the sky. And another. And another. Florid, psychedelic hues were daubed across the firmament, as though fireworks suspended in full bloom, hanging from the empyrean like a curated master-piece. It was unlike anything they had ever seen, not for the countless generations that had come before. They gawked in petrified stupor at the scene of exquisite beauty, of ambrosial red on perennial white. A distant rumble, like a divine echo, tintinnabulated through the ice.

One of them fell to his knees in awe, and the rest followed, kneeling and craning their heads towards the sublime splendour of the heavens, which had spoken so evocatively. Looking up through the ice, it was clear and it was true, that in the most forsaken realm, there existed the divine and the beautiful.


Wong Wei Cong is an aspiring writer and an undergraduate medical student in Singapore, whose previous work has been published in Acumen, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal.

Dragon Year

by T. Dallas Saylor

Pouring water for tea,
hanging up a shirt,
starting a car it can happen—
one day, somewhere deeper
than TV, to-do’s, or tacos,
perhaps for the first time
since the toys were taped shut,
the keys returned, the earth
shoveled in the hole,
it dawns—you’re
happy.
You can poke it
and it doesn’t pop.

 


T. Dallas Saylor is a PhD student in poetry at Florida State University, and he holds an MFA from the University of Houston. His work meditates on the body, especially gender and sexuality, against physical, spiritual, and digital landscapes. His poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Colorado Review, Christianity & Literature, PRISM international, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Tallahassee, FL.

Coin Laundry

by Chloé Firetto-Toomey

Boxed rows of black drums,
vortexes, perfectly contained—proof
you can force a circle into a square.

I am satisfied, stuffing five machines
instead of just one,
saving time—bending the continuum.

I’m reading in the corner nested in the Y of wall and window
when Mum calls. Her voice bright as a bleached shirt,
as high-noon across the Atlantic with no land in sight.

She talks fast, her words quick birds, warblers,
trying to quell my nerves, soften my edges
but longing is a hardened sphere.

My therapist said anger masks sadness.
I hold the phone from my ear—her voice thins
and when we hang up, I want to hide

within those spinning black drums
or in the thin stitched lines of this poem. Above the dryers,
a lady in a Spanish soap opera pretends to cry.

Two fast kids chase each other, jolt the dry-cleaning counter,
their sneakers squeak the tiles and their mother doesn’t care.
The thing I know about coin laundries is that nobody cares

if I weep to the humming machines—black mirrors or hurricane eyes—
nobody cares if I fold all my clothes into seven rubbish bags,
nobody cares if I write:

Longing is an image of her at the kitchen table in the oven’s light.


Chloé Firetto-Toomey is a British-American poet and essayist living in Miami Beach, FL. She has an MFA degree from Florida International University , where she served as Poetry Editor for Gulf Stream Magazine and where she taught Introduction to Creative Writing and Creative Nonfiction. She currently serves as an Author Assistant at InnerLasting Lit Arts. A two-time finalist in Tupelo Quarterly's Prose Open Contest and a finalist in Diagram's chapbook contest, she won the 2017 Christopher F. Kelly Award for Poetry and the 2020 Scotti Merril Award for Poetry. Her most recent chapbook of poems, Little Cauliflower, was published in 2019 by Dancing Girl Press.

The Field

by Esther Vincent Xueming

I find myself standing again at the edge of the road, although now, there is something different, I can’t quite pinpoint what, about this road from the road I remember. In search of the field of my childhood, I cross. In this dream, the place I grew up in is familiar yet strange, and instead of a small patch of grass that used to mark the boundary between this estate and the next, there is now a manicured lawn with various kinds of weird and wonderful animals perambulating.

But this is not the field of my childhood—where as a child of nine or ten, I used to ramble for hours on my own while my mother did her chores in our apartment on the third floor, leaving me to return with bunches of wildflowers and rapt stories of tiger moths—so I continue walking down the road, on the red road tiles shaped like arrows pointing me home, through the void decks of the housing estate, under sheltered walkways connecting block to carpark, past the empty playing court where you could string a net or ride around in circles on your bike, towards the lift lobby, normally flooded with natural light, now morphed into a dark corridor. But I walk further still, towards the phone booth near the letter boxes on the ground floor, because my memory tells me that beyond the labyrinth of pillars, the grey of concrete will give way to a field of green.

 

//

 

Mary Oliver writes in Upstream that a writer’s subject may just as well be what she “longs for and dreams about, in an unquenchable dream, in lush detail and harsh honesty”. And yet, to long for the subject of this essay, the field of my childhood, is to long for a broken and irretrievable past. A place or habitation I can no longer enter in the physical sense though I keep returning to it in my dreams, in various iterations and permutations, the field changing each time, but still the same.

The field of my dreams was once a field of green, inhabited by wildflowers I would only later learn the names of. One day, upon visiting my mother, she hands me two books I used to own as a child: A Guide to the Wildflowers of Singapore and A Guide to Medicinal Plants, scientific handbooks published by the Singapore Science Centre. I flip the cover and on the reverse side, my mother’s name “Mrs. Vincent Elaine” is written in blue ink, dated “10/3/99”, against paper ringed with the sepia of mould. These would be the same two handbooks I would consult twenty one years later as I revise a poem for a Creative Writing Graduate course about childhood, memory and change.

But what of the field, you ask?

To paint a landscape from memory, one has to take certain liberties. But let me endeavour to recreate the scene as accurately as I can remember. As accurately as it is deserving of memory. To a child, the field was an immeasurable expanse of grassland, a gentle slope leading up to a plateau where all around, an ocean of green. Of course there were already high-rise blocks bordering the edges of the field, but a child’s mind is immune to limits and boundaries, and so I invented stories and places, telling myself that to my north was a strange and forbidden land (in reality, my mother had disallowed me from venturing too far, the field containing my adventures and exploits), to my east, the road of daily traffic, to my south, my castle, my home, and to my west, nothing of real consequence.

The adventure begins with waving goodbye to my mother, walking out the house gates in slippers, my fingers trailing the white walls of the corridor, fingering the peeled beige paint of the metal staircase. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I would be greeted by a tiger moth resting on the wall, but if not, I would skip down the three floors of stairs, walk past the lift landing on the ground floor, towards the pillars at the void deck, phone booth to the left, letter boxes somewhere nearby. Past all that, the block would end with a narrow strip of metal drains, and all I had to do was take a breath and cross over, and I would enter another world.

The field was always there for me, waiting. And I was always eager to be alone in her company. I remember climbing up the little slope with great effort, imagining it was a steep incline, and then running across the wide expanse, lungs bursting like the white tufts of the common vernonia fruits when they explode from the tight cups of their flowering, or blowing bubbles into the air when I brought along with me a small bottle of cheap soap. I remember touching and sniffing the wildflowers, knowing they were common weeds but loving them all the same. How I would look for grass blues, little silver-blue butterflies that were ever in abundance, flitting from wildflower to wildflower, doing their work diligently, interrupted only by my thumb and forefinger when I picked them up in wonder, before setting them free on their powdery voyage.

The grass was green and the field of my childhood was open to me, like a mother whose heart would daily welcome the daughter who stood at the door, asking to return home.

 

//

 

We are told a story of scarcity and economy, one whereby our government’s land use policy is predicated upon the need to “optimise limited land” to meet the demands of the people. As a small nation-state with supposedly little natural resources, we believe that people are our key resource, and that our land should be subject to stringent planning for the continual growth and development of the nation. Redevelopment, the word is sandy in my mouth, and so I gather it into a ball and spit each grain out.

Here, it is common for the average citizen to view land as a scarce commodity, a piece of real estate that appreciates or depreciates in economic value, a thing to buy, sell, rent, cordon off, tear down, build over. Rationalised in pragmatics terms, land is partitioned into parcels and plots, put up for the wealthy to acquire and commercialise. A house serves its purpose well in so far as it facilitates day-to-day living, and most of the time, when housing decisions are made, factors like proximity, accessibility and convenience rank at the top of a homebuyer’s list. Home owners buy and sell their houses when the property market works in their favour, buying when low and selling when high, and so we trade our homes for houses of brick and stone in the housing marketplace.

Marshall Sahlins, cultural anthropologist, writes that “modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity. Inadequacy of economic means is the first principle of the world’s wealthiest peoples”.

As a child growing up, I had little notion of this at the beginning. My childhood before the age of six was a hazy blur, and much of what I recall about home was aided by old photographs, which conjured long forgotten memories of sand-filled playgrounds, a bulky, red, wired telephone, a tricycle in the living room, dark sliding doors in the bedroom, my father carrying me in his arms, smiling by the main door gate. We had lived in two different parts of Singapore by then, Yishun which was in the north, and then Serangoon North, which was the northeast. Much of that I have forgotten.

The home of my remembered childhood, the one that appears to me time and again in my dreams, is the place of my primary school years, of taking the school bus, then the public bus to our school at the other side of Tampines, of crossing the road, past the small patch of green, and plucking a handful of Cupid’s Shaving Brush to secretly feed the neighbour’s rabbits before heading home. Going over to the Thai home-based hair salon for a cheap haircut, then walking past the basketball court quickly to avoid getting hit by the ball. Spending hot afternoons after school watching Speedy Gonzales on the television, and then racing for joy downstairs to the void deck with my father, back from work in the evenings, to rollerblade from pillar to pillar, pillar to his arms.

Cycling in dizzying circles in my living room, holding large birthday parties, and once, hearing the sounds of an Indian wedding from down below, I ran to the kitchen window and caught a glimpse of the procession. Bride and groom smiling, flowers strewn on the red road tiles, the scent of jasmine and the drumming of the tabla lingering in my awestruck mind long after another season of monsoon rains washed over the city.

Before I turned thirteen, we would sell this house, and move even closer to my secondary school, affiliated to my primary school and located at the same site. Here, high-rise blocks lined both sides of the small road. We would only be a five-minute walk away from school, where before, we had to take a thirty-minute bus ride with our ponderous school bags. There was a coffeeshop and some amenities on the ground floor, which made it convenient. While this new place was much smaller, there was built-in air-conditioning, as well as cabinets in both bedrooms, so we could readily move in with little renovations.

True, there would be no more large birthday parties, no slipping next door to our Malay neighbours’ place for cookies and cake. I would no longer be able to meet my cousins who lived a few blocks away to rollerblade, cycle, or play. There were no sand-filled playgrounds with the smell of rank piss, but by this time, I had outgrown playgrounds, and moved on to crushes instead. While downsizing from a spacious four-roomed to a three-roomed apartment financed our first family trip down south to Sydney and Melbourne, in hindsight, I now regret the price we paid just to afford ten days of leisure.

I remember our last weeks in my childhood home. Our bedroom was locked, and now filled with the belongings of the new homeowners. The house no longer smelt of the five of us, but of an inevitable past and a beckoning future, housed into one living, breathing space. We would leave behind wall posters and charts of fruits, vegetables and Chinese characters, for the new homeowners to do with them as they pleased. Perhaps I visited the field everyday, perhaps I willed myself to forget, perhaps I truly forgot about it in my delirium to grow up and move away.

Or perhaps I shut the door to the memory of my field because the pain of separation was too much for a child of twelve to bear.

 

//

 

A girl observes from a distance an indiscernible shape on a hill, which unfolds into a red fox. The fox unfurls, bows and stretches its body, unaware of the girl. It takes its time, licking its front paws, looks around and eventually ambles away. The girl comes to a profound realisation—that life goes on in spite of her. The red fox and the girl, both alive, both sharing the same space for a moment in time, the girl regarding the fox, the fox disregarding the girl.

This is what I reimagine of a poem by Mary Oliver, although I have taken the liberty to dream that the girl stands in a field at the foot of the hill, wishing she could peel off her skin, shake loose her luscious, red fur, and bound off to join the others in the woods just beyond the hill.

 

//

 

Secondary school would pass with little nostalgia for my childhood home. I entered polytechnic, I graduated, I worked for over a year in a small marketing firm. I received a teaching bond and travelled across the island for four years to complete my education degree, and returned to my secondary school, this time as a teacher.

The field did not come to me in my dreams, and I was now a young woman of twenty-seven. Jo Gill writes in her chapter “Poetry and Place” that a “return to the country is also a return to the self”. In this case, the field was my country, the country was my childhood, my childhood was the part of my self I had barred shut behind a door in order to survive.

Perhaps it is Eavan Boland, who in “The Woman, the Place, the Poet”, says it most poignantly, that “there is the place that happened and the place that happens to you”.

The field of my childhood happened to me, and when a tiger moth landed on my kitchen windowpane one evening as I was doing the dishes, it was as though the waters in the well of my memory, the silence and loss buried within my subconscious, began brimming and running over, flooding the shores of my conscious waking self. The tiger moth as spirit guide, as patient teacher, as intuitive dreamer, leading me by my fingertips on a bittersweet journey of returning.

 

//

 

Let me tell you the Iroqouis creation myth of Skywoman.

Skywoman fell from Skyworld down into the water below, and was greeted and cared for by all the animals there. Turtle carried her on his back, and after many gave up their lives trying to get her mud from the bottom of the lake, little muskrat succeeded before he too breathed his last. Skywoman was grateful to the animal beings for their sacrifice, and she created land with that mud, blessing the earth with all manner of seeds, plants and trees, her hair, wiingaashk, or sweetgrass, reminding us of Skywoman and bringing to mind forgotten stories that tell of our indigenous and reciprocal bonds to the land.

I read this moving creation story from the first chapter of Braiding Sweetgrass, written by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, scientist and Potawatomi nation citizen, and I think of how, like Skywoman, my ancestors too left their homes, leaving behind memories and maps of the rocky plateaus, hilly plantations, waterfalls and beaches of Sri Lanka, the salt deserts, arid scrublands and coastal plains of Gujarat, the mountains, farmlands and infamous harbour of Fujian, known also as the starting point of the “silk road of the sea”, the forests and caves of Ipoh.

What did they expect, crossing the seas, when they finally set foot on a land whose name, derived from Sanskrit, meant lion city? Displaced from the lands of their ancestors and the homes of their births, they would soon forget their own stories of home. What was once memory, now lost and forgotten, like the winds that blow gently away at the sands of time.

But if I look back even further, if I dive into the darkness of the pool of my ancestry, beyond the abyss of time and remembering into the mantle of history to witness the first birth, my first mother, I will find her in the Northern Islands of Melanesia. Towards the end of the book, in the chapter, “Defeating Windigo”, Kimmerer writes that we all come from “people who were once indigenous”, and in genetically tracing my ancestry, I am beginning to understand why I have always felt drawn to the song of the sea, the tug of the winds in the sails of a boat, the beckoning of the stars like a celestial map charting my coordinates, pointing me home. On my right thigh, an anchor to steady the boat, and an eight-pointed compass star for direction.

Perhaps, I am remembering the way of my ancestors, who could once read the winds and the stars at the back of their hands, who one day sailed away from their islands and did not return, whose travels, migrations and displacements over land and sea over time has birthed me home on this new island, this island whose body of red hills, green forests and thriving coral reefs has been shaped by the sickled hands of men into a sinking first-world city. Like the non-native Flame of the Forest trees that hail all the way from Madagascar, my roots have sprouted and continue to tunnel deep into the earth in a land I call home.

I sing myself home as a child of ten in a field of green, wildflowers still wet in the grip of my fist. I sing myself home as I walk down a familiar road, navigating my way back home in a dream. I sing myself home at the edge of a lush, verdant field full of rolling hills, finding myself in another dream. I sing myself home as all around me, wildflowers and green fields turn into terrifying towers rising like pristine chimney stacks against the dazzling sky.

 

//

 

To be indigenous to land is to care for the land, to nurture and cultivate it so that it looks after our children long after we are gone. If we look to nature, we find that she is the best teacher, showing us how to tend to the gardens of our lives, through planting and watering seeds of gratitude, balance and reciprocity, and weeding out greed, strife and selfishness.

A few years back, I learnt the Hawaiian word Kuleana, which embodies the reciprocal relationship and responsibility we have with and to the land. Kuleana, I write this in green on my chalkboard door as a daily reminder to myself. Kuleana, my heart jumps with joy when two stray dogs lie in the empty field in front of my new home, where I now live in the northeastern part of the island. Kuleana, from my window, fourteen migratory egrets visit today in the field down below, wintering here all the way from southeastern China or Korea. Kuleana, the workers have set up wooden fences, they have wrapped you, field, in a ghost net of blue. Kuleana, they have sent in the excavators and towering blue cranes; so it begins. Kuleana, how do I still find the strength to sing on as their drills bore deep into the wet belly of the earth?

 

//

 

This time, the field is lush, full of vegetation that only takes on such girth when nursed by the tropical sun and rain. There are verdant, rolling hills, and wild animals grazing. I see boars and dogs together, and I know then that I am in another dream, and though my body now sleeps in yet another part of this island city, my mind is travelling in space and time, excavating the dream-world of the subject of unquenchable desire, a desire for home.

According to Martin Heidegger, the topology of Being is to dwell on the earth by means of building. Apart from physical buildings, language too can be a way by which human beings attempt to build their dwelling places. A prerequisite of dwelling is caring for one’s dwelling place, by cultivating and constructing home as we know it. The English word eco can be traced to its Greek origins oikos, meaning house. The house as a home, the earth as our first home, the home as the centre of our universe.

 

//

 

It is hard for me to return.

The field that used to occupy my time and imagination no longer remains. Instead, it is replaced by another estate of high-rise apartments, buildings that house nameless, faceless others, weeding their way into the field of my childhood, blocking off the view my mother used to have when she looked out the corridor from her chores. When I was a child, she tells me she loved to watch The Little House on the Prairie. Googling it now as an adult, I wonder if she too felt the prairie’s call through the screen, halfway across the world from Plum Creek, that unspeakable urge to burst out of the metal gates and launch into the open of an endless green. Her own prairie in the tropics, her daughter in the field.

Canadian poet Anne Szumigalski, who spent her formative years growing up in the prairie, acknowledged how its open landscape was “an enabling psychological space” for her writing. Reading that, I think back to how I would imagine scaling mountainous terrain when I climbed up the wee slope. Tiger moths, with their instinctive trust, would wander from flowers to the twigs I held, and to my fingers. I collected wildflowers of all sorts—Kanching Baju, Common Vernonia, White Weed, Cupid’s Shaving Brush—and brought them home to my mother, hoping to brighten up my home the way homes were brightened by flowers in vases in the English story books I read.

Like the prairie of Szumigalski, the field of my childhood was not bound to a beginning or end; there are no boundaries to a child’s imagination. From the Greek, peras, boundaries did not indicate where something stopped, rather, the Greeks recognised how, like horismos, or horizon, boundaries were places where things began their “essential unfolding”. The field unfolding into the prairie, the prairie unfolding into the world, the world unfolding into the self.

The field as the beginning of knowing, and in knowing, I navigate my way home.

 

//

 

Let me end then, with the beginning. Let me invent and narrate a new myth, one that pays homage to the fields of our childhood, the homes we have lost, the mothers who taught us the meaning of love.

In the beginning there was a field.

And a girl was born into this field.

That field, with its tiger moths, grass blues and wildflowers, was her world.

That world was her mother.

And the mother was good and beautiful, and she loved her daughter well.


Esther Vincent Xueming, is an editor, poet and educator. She is the editor-in-chief and founder of The Tiger Moth Review, an eco journal of art & literature based in Singapore, and has co-edited two poetry anthologies, Little Things and Poetry Moves. Her poems have been published locally and internationally, and her unpublished manuscript was a finalist for the Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize 2020 (New York). She is passionate about the intersections between art, literature and the environment.