Below the Snow Line
The maid wields her duster. She
Wears the little apron you love to watch,
The one that bares her thighs.
She is meticulous, and young—too young
For such difficult work: keeping
Each and every flake of snow from the needles
Of trees called Evergreen. She smells
Of Paper whites, calls out your name
In a husky, Aussie accent—are you home?
Have you arrived back from the office,
Mission, dock, island, market where you
Picked up a crusty bread and a bottle of white,
Some cheese aged perfectly, the texture
Encaustic as if hot wax were Brie and we
Could each bite into our portion of the painting,
Savor the light shining as if from behind.
My hair a halo, yours a ponytail.
You not even interested in her wiles: flirtatious
Backbends as she continually moves lower
And lower and lower…
Are You In Range?
But at least with heartbreak I knew I was human,
that at least some small part of me knew I should be loved.
And now, now there’s just nothing.
My therapist says I should masturbate more:
Whatever you need think of to get yourself off.
But I don’t want to think of anything or
to get myself off. I want to become one with the snow
pounded by oranges falling from a bridge barrel
left out at the Christmas parade. Lately, I find myself
sending out mass letters that begin, Soon I will be no one.
Please don’t call the police; I already don’t exist
the minute you read this. This is not a threat
because suicide implies that before it happened one was alive.
Anyways I am just rowing toward a heavy, wet sleep.
I know no one will respond. All the letters
were to strangers who live in pink row homes
and chastise other Christians for not being happy—
Jesus wants your happiness, apparently the lost verse.
And I am happy; I am so happy when I am getting off with you.
On a train of memory, you pull me through a red curtain
and play the radio’s sad jazz and swing, offer me eggs fresh
from the farm where all your pretty boys had left for war.
No, on second thought that’s not what I wanted, really.
I just wanted to be the neon again— to roam the city and blur
all the tender things to come ahead with the sound of sadness & hope,
spoken in all the grocery and fish mart night shift’s foreign tongues.
The semi hollers down the expressway beneath her window making her move to sit up, as if someone had lassoed her and yanked. The arcing sound was distinct as if a scream piercing through the dark. The room pulsed as she attempted to focus, she grabbed her phone, swiping her thumb across the screen until the ocean blue light flooded her face. No calls. No messages. No likes. No emails. No news. She padded her finger about flipping through calls missed and calls made. The coroner’s number stood in informative black script the last conversation she had with the indifferently toned voice on the other end of the line consisted of questions:
Any distinct markings…tattoos? No. Just my Mom’s name,
Rose on the neck.
Race? Black. Dark skinned, very dark.
Would he have an I.D. on him? He was kind of on the move, I don’t know.
Keep calling, back we get em’ everyday.
Every morning, an hour after they opened she would call to see if anybody even Death had found her brother. Blue and red lights strobed against the powder white walls, she shifted out of the bed and went to the window, the lights from an ambulance and police car cast purplish hues upon her from Walton Avenue. The avenue extended over the expressway as a bridge, it was intersected by 174th that lead down to the train. Rainbow colored lights from the delis illuminated street corners up on the concourse the lights from the hospital stood coldly in the autumn brisk. The street lamps cast solid, hard ponds of light onto the sidewalk, the train caterwauled in the distance, slitting skyline as it quickened ahead.
5:11am, she sighed, long hands rubbing over the clammy flesh of her face, the sound of the semi had invaded her dream. She saw him, traipsing lankily down a road they always walked together back in Perry, Georgia to go from their Auntie Ida to their Auntie Terry’s houses. The narrow strip was green on both sides underneath a blue sky slurred through by orange and opium colors dusk or sunrise. Periodic easter egg colored houses stood on cinderblocks, aged glass windows open with curtains lapping in and out. The horizon, freckled with peach trees she and her brother would steal from in the late spring. He still wore his army coat and some old jeans. His body tilted forward as if he was falling and walking at the same time. His gangly black hands hung dry at his sides. He was always running, like a bird when it got too cold. In the dream she called for him, but he never turned. The last time she called the sound of the truck that had awoken her, came out. Auntie Ida, Terry and Momma had pushed aside her ideas to put up posters on the church bulletins and at all the bus stops. They said, “He does this,… he will call…, sometimes you know he just disappears.”
“You ain’t home anyway bay’sis”, he huffed over the phone, last she spoke to him.
Her only stress relief was the melanoid bliss of sleep, but she had to get there, she would leave the house for long walks to tire herself out. Slinking through the alleyways and buildings like a cat. The cold deterred her so she decided to go to the gym. She roped her fluffy, spiral spring curls into something messy, opened drawers and slipped from pajamas into slick running pants, sports bra and loose shirt. She grabbed her bag, cotton with pastel flowers, dropped it over her thin shoulder and left the apartment. The halls were frigid, the marble floors sleek under the flickering fluorescents the owner just put in.
Outside the building light sat in limpid pools before the doors of different buildings. Boys on the block cycled between the darkness and the light, hands shoved in pockets. Figures in the distance milled about the hospital’s greenish awning, the corner store in the other direction was occupied loosely with young men, gathering like moths. Nothing reminded her of death more than a swell of bodies on a train car or the people that paced outside of the hospital at the corner of Mount Eden. Stabbing and shooting victims were always carried in wailing ambulances to that particular location, the precinct was not far. She crossed the six lane concourse, walking quickly to the descending steps. Her body became uneasy. Losing her footing she slid. Stepping back she lifted her sneaker, a red splotch underfoot in the shape of a crushed butterfly. She peered down at the gauze, tiny ribbons of dried flesh, she frenziedly looked towards the hospital and then up the concourse for whom they may have come from. Coming to the first landing, there stood, more bloody planets of white cotton. She took more steps down finding three more continents remains surrounded in concrete ocean. She walked to the train ticket teller’s booth, beating the glass to get his attention, gesturing at the swabs. His long face, reddened eyes, shoulders shrugged. She passed the turnstile with a swipe of her card, only to meet more islands, cookie crumb trails of gauze. She slowly ascended, wondering if the person may be there hurt, or perhaps like an animal on guard after attack ready to bristle and bite. Coming to the platform she saw no one, but the bandages strutted halfway down before a few more continued along the tracks, disappearing into the unresponsive tunnel. She stood there, her knees weak and shaky. She took her phone from her bag and stared at it, pushing a button to make the screen shine. 5:30am. Still too early to call the coroner. She dialed his cell phone, and listened to his voicemail tell her that there was was no room for more messages, the “mailbox is full”. The train, came towards her, light hammering, sparkling flares through a dark tunnel.
For example, N, who is the first boy ever to do it
and is unlike all other boys, though N has been told
boys’ bodies get ready soon, which is reasonable,
like new teeth or those hairs beneath his navel,
being automatic and so much a foregone conclusion
it has nothing to do with sitting here pulling the skin,
hiding it, revealing, thinking perhaps there is a girl
whose face he cannot quite see, who keeps saying,
show me, show me, though why, he is not sure, nor who
she is really, only, the idea she wants to see is good, good,
repeatedly imagined – done – though she is hard to imagine
because girls do not say that, why would anyone (except
a boy like N who is unlike others) think of her saying it
as he shows her, over, feeling something, something new,
something like a gift opened, something like gratitude,
or a battery on the tongue, though not so like waking
without air through the bedclothes, aware boys do not show girls –
who never ask – like N does as he realises this lightbulb
is being crushed into light, and she likes what he imagines,
this agony of what life is for, exquisite, as he shows her
and there is a flash as something hits him in the eye
and it stings, stings because she is gone, never there,
fading like a voice going N, what have you done… done…
a waking sickness, and never telling about an eye
glued shut or a handful, almost yellow though he cannot
know it does not look that way again.
Breakfast in Limbo
The Islamic prayer call resonated in the dawn as the large bus came to a halt at the port. The air was still and misty and a periwinkle color. There were folks out there with eyes red and beards even redder dyed with henna. We were somewhere, not yet in Mombasa. I think we were in limbo.
We’d need a ferry to go the rest of the way. My cousin bumped my knee with his to wake me. I’d already been up, finding it hard to sleep through the night in a cramped bus seat. As we had traveled through the bush I saw the golden eyes of unknown creatures punctuate the darkness, and heard men outside uttering words I could not decipher through the open windows. These men were probably thieves as my auntie warned us upon our departure from Thika the day before.
“Watch your bags,” she said while distributing kisses. “I’ll call your mother tonight. Nenda Salaama.”
Being far from home made my stomach feel like a thick knot. I considered myself a Kenyan in America, and an American while I was here, in Kenya. My eyes were wide and inquisitive. Everything was foreign to me here.
At a stop in Nairobi, a few hours earlier, I went to a public toilet where tissue cost a few shillings. In the women’s room I ventured alone while my cousin was in the men’s room. I could no longer hide behind him. Walking into a stall, a woman grabbed my arm and said something in Swahili. Her mouth was moving in wide circles and she spoke louder as she repeated herself. I stared quizzically and said nothing. I’d been told to blend in while in the city; you don’t want people knowing you aren’t Kenyan, especially if you’re an American.
Up until this moment I’d always thought I was a Kenyan. In elementary school I’d been mocked for years because of my background. Kids made faces at the strange looking flat bread my mother packed in my lunch box. Other black children called me an “African booty scratcher” and said I couldn’t be like them because of my Kenyan features. My forehead is too prominent, gums too dark and my hair is much knottier than theirs. But at this point, I was looking at this woman, who looks like me, and I could not understand her. I realized I am Kenyan, but not quite Kenyan. Having no other choice, I finally gave myself up.
“I don’t speak Swahili, miss.”
“Oh,” The woman laughed. “That toilet is out of order. Use another stall.”
“Asante,” I thanked her for being so kind.
“Karibu,” she responded.
Finally at the port, we exited. After the ten hour trip, my back ached and my stomach growled fiercely. I had been hungry for a lot of things, (mostly a solid sense of cultural identity as a first generation Kenyan-American) but right then food was a priority. We stumbled into an open door with a rusted tin sign painted with the words Dhaba Inn. Incidentally, ‘dhaba’ is a Punjabi term. It refers to fast food meant for travelers. We were near the Indian Ocean, still in Kenya, but not quite Kenya as we know it (ie: safaris, tribesmen, tea plantations, rich red soil the color of raw coffee). This is an area historically known for having a unique melding of language, food and people. There is Indian influence in the food, lighter-skinned, looser-haired Somalian people, and the salty, sandy, gritty air which carried a sense of wanderlust. Nothing was permanent or stagnant. The people moved with the air. They were there, but not really there.
A tall man with weathered skin like the bark of a tree led us to a table just as a cat was leaping off of it. We sat down and a Somalian- looking waitress approached. She had two lazy eyes lined black with kohl. My cousin, barely noting the eeriness of this place, ordered our breakfast nonchalantly in his own mix of Swahili and English “Tafadhali, Sausage bili na Chai. Thank you.” She nodded, looking right through him.
Our two sausages and tea arrived and we ate like we’d never eaten before. The salty, fatty pork tasted like heaven and the nutty spices of the hot tea with sweet goat’s milk slowly brought me back down to Earth with every sip. It was 5:00am, and while we were enjoying breakfast, the howls of the young people coming from outside let us know that some people were just coming down from a night of partying.
When were done eating, the commotion summoned us away from our table and out into the street. What I saw was not a group of kids singing the songs of drunken nightclub mischief, but a frail young man wailing and shrieking in a strange mix of pleasure and pain.
He danced around with his arms straight in the air and his legs wobbling weakly as if his body was not his. He inhaled deeply from the half empty bottle of glue in his hands and I saw his eyes roll back into his head. He grinned and started to laugh. He was ascending the hellish nature of the cold, hunger, and the fear of being a child alone on the street, and he was entering the temporary joy of a toluene high—He quickly jerked back into reality as he found himself in the path of an oncoming car. I gasped sharply. He narrowly avoided death.
I watched him slowly huff more of his glue, floating between ecstasy and sheer suffering. He continued huffing the poison, smiling and dancing. He was alive, but not quite alive. He was in limbo.
I’ll Remember You
Dadio left on weekends to supervise his Puko’o project on Moloka’i. He demanded that either Barry, my big brother, or me accompany him. I hated going with my father. He treated me more like a slave than a son and always reminded me that my poor grades at Punahou signaled I’d go nowhere in life.
If it were my weekend in Honolulu, I’d often catch my Irish mother singing and tapping on linoleum while the kitchen radio played show tunes. Her singing and tapping had a purpose—the girl inside was trying to find the fire of optimism the woman had lost. The use of voice and limbs sparked her positive nature and her face took on a vibrant glow. I understood what had attracted my hapa haole father all those years ago in Boston: she bore a resemblance to Rita Hayworth and had a beauty mark like Marilyn Monroe. There was a star quality in the way she carried herself, as if she were walking the red carpet at a premiere. I felt bad she wasn’t a celebrity because I knew that’s what she really wanted. She’d put on weight the past year and Dadio said, even if she did have talent, no director would cast a “fatso watso.” I called her “June Spoon” because her father had given her that nickname as a girl and I knew using it made her feel young.
My mother invited Julie, my kid sister, to join us in the living room and we listened to her recite a Blanche DuBois monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire. I realized she lacked the drive and ambition to really make it, but it was fun playing along. The height of her fame in the islands was singing “Beyond the Reef” on the Jack McCoy Radio Show and working as an extra on one episode of Hawaiian Eye. The episode was hard on her because she had to pose as an adoring member of the audience while Connie Stevens sang.
My mother finished her monologue and bowed.
“June Spoon,” I clapped, “the star!”
“Oh, go on,” she replied.
“You’re a natural.”
“Better than Ethel Merman,” Julie added. My sister was a shy, reticent girl who had our father’s dark complexion and slanted eyes. She ached to be a rock star like Elton John.
“You know,” my mother told us, “I feel so happy with Daddy gone.”
“Me too,” Julie said.
“Why do you call him ‘Daddy?'” I asked.
My mother looked puzzled. “Because he’s your father.”
“Yeah, but he’s not yours.”
“Well, I guess I shouldn’t.”
“Would you have married him,” I asked, “knowing then what you know now?”
“At first your father was quite the gentleman. He listened to every word I said and even wrote me poetry.”
“He wrote poems?”
“He recited love poems that he’d scribbled on legal pads, during our picnics on the Charles River. I was certain marrying him would make every day of my life wonderful. Your father’s the best actor I’ve ever met.”
“He deserves an Oscar,” I told her.
“He certainly does.”
“When did he change?”
“Three years after we were married. I couldn’t believe it when he started hitting you boys. I’d never seen anything like that in all my life, and he nearly hit me when I tried stopping him. My father called him that strange fish and said he sensed something odd.”
“No. It had to do with his personality, some odd thing he noticed but couldn’t put into words. ‘Devious,’ he might have said. Thank god you didn’t turn out like him.”
“You should get a divorce,” I advised.
“Let’s wait until you and Barry get into college. I don’t want him punishing you if we go our separate ways.”
It was hard to understand how my mother could live with someone she hated year after year. It was like being in jail. It struck me that, since she was faking it as a wife, she might be faking it as a mother too. How could she bear listening to the cries of her sons echoing through the house? Maybe she considered children props in a macabre play designed to fool our Kahala neighbors and the partners at the firm.
* * *
June McCormack had grown up in the upper class burbs of Waltham, Massachusetts. She was the child of an adoring father who’d made a killing in the stock market during the Roaring Twenties. They’d lost everything during the Great Depression. Pops started coming home late. Gert, her mother, hired a detective and he found Pops with a blonde at the Black Rose Tavern. June was eleven when the Waltham house was sold. Gert hocked a pink sapphire bracelet and moved them into a Brookline flat. The ruby engagement ring paid for food. Finally, the cognac diamond wedding ring was sold.
* * *
My mother pulled out a photo album with a faded red velvet cover. There were tintypes, albumens, and daguerreotypes on paper-thin metal glued in black pages as thick as card stock. It smelled of stale perfume and tarnished silver. She leafed through the pages and marveled how young everyone looked. She drifted back to a less complicated time, the years of plenty with a powerful father eager to spoil her. She showed me the tintype of her parents strolling the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Her mother wore a hat, a mink coat, gloves, and an orchid corsage; Pops sported a camel hair topcoat, fedora, tie, and an ebony cane he appeared to be using more for effect than for balance. There were photos of a Tudor mini-mansion featuring a nightclub-sized bar with a baby grand. Her parents wrapped her in a world of silk dresses, singing and tap lessons, and music. The black maid Isabel loved her like a daughter. June Spoon sang show tunes as Gert’s fingers tickled the keys. Pops promised she would go to Broadway. She could do anything knowing her father was sitting just beyond the stage lights puffing his cigar. Like the plant that can survive on air, her soul nourished itself on the fantasies of an indulged girl.
My mother had lost Pops earlier that year. He’d suffered a heart attack in Chicago after losing a leg to phlebitis. He died alone in his apartment at the Pick-Congress Hotel. The concierge found him in his wheelchair with his parakeet, Sparky, clinging to his shoulder. My mother couldn’t stop crying the day the call came and there was nothing I could do to cheer her up. I wondered if guilt was part of her suffering. She’d only seen Pops twice in the past decade, on stopovers on the way to Boston. Chicago was never a final destination. I guessed she harbored a deep resentment for him because he’d failed as a provider after the divorce, and then failed a second time when he couldn’t afford her wedding at Saint Aidan’s Church in Brookline. I wondered how she reconciled her lack of forgiveness with the teachings of Jesus. I’m certain that, by ignoring her crippled father, she was getting revenge for being abandoned. This feeling of abandonment had turned her bitter because it was his praise and money that nourished her dream of stardom, a dream that struggled to survive. Get took a job as a bank teller. Pops meant everything to June Spoon as a child but nothing to her as an adult. Her pain became his pain, as he languished alone in his wheelchair in a second-rate hotel. That’s when I became aware of my mother’s vindictive nature—if I did anything to cross her, I knew I’d pay the price.
My father tried comforting my mother the day Pops died. He gave her a box of Kleenex and patted her on the back like she’d done a good job at something. He bought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner and fixed a Manhattan. He placed two breasts, a scoop of coleslaw, and a muffin on a plate, then carried his drink-and-fast-food offering into the master bedroom on a TV tray table.
* * *
Dadio’s weekend on Moloka’i inspired my mother to phone her Bostonian aunts.
After catching up on their latest ailments and financial woes, she invited Julie and me out
to the lanai for a Cole Porter concert. She sang “Anything Goes” and the haunting “In The Still Of The Night.” A fashion show followed the singing engagement—she modeled cocktail dresses, necklaces, and an assortment of wigs. I remembered our cruise to Disneyland aboard the SS Lurline and the Talent Show. June Spoon approached a silver microphone and crooned about a magical land of golden gates and sun-kissed girls in a ballroom filled with strangers. Raucous applause and a First Place trophy gave life to her dream that she could still make it.
After the fashion show, my mother asked us if we could see her on Broadway.
“Would you consider Off Broadway?” I asked.
“On Broadway would be nicer.”
“You could be Laura’s mother,” I suggested, “in The Glass Menagerie.”
“I should be Laura.”
“But you’re a mother.”
She looked at her reflection in the glass doors. “Oh, I guess you’re right, Kirby. I’m a fat old woman now.”
“The cashier at Star Market asked if you were my sister.”
“Oh, go on.”
“Do I look that young?”
“Yes.” I suggested she try out for Hawaii 5-0. My mother said she’d heard through the Coconut Wireless that you had to be “friendly” with the casting director and launched into a vicious attack of Jack Lord. She claimed he never smiled in public, wore a big floppy hat, and didn’t offer her his grocery cart after wheeling it out of Star Market.
“The nerve of him,” my mother said, “he saw me coming and just returned his cart to the rack.” She said he’d been a used car salesman in New York and she couldn’t be bothered trying out for Hawaii 5-0 with such a rude star running the show.
“You’ve gotta start somewhere,” I reminded her.
“I guess you’re right.”
“What about Community Theater?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“They’re auditioning for Hot L Baltimore in Manoa.”
“That play’s full of dirty language.”
“You can’t be picky.”
“Everyone’s so young and talented these days.”
“You’re not old and you’ve got plenty of talent,” I coached. “You just need your first big break.”
“I should lose a few pounds first.”
“No,” Julie blurted. “You’re perfect.”
June Spoon’s make-believe world transported her to the crossroads of absurdity and delusion. The sky was the limit. If she could imagine it, it could happen. She had never abandoned the dreams that Pops inspired back in Waltham, and I fed her dream world because I didn’t have the heart to crush her. I told my mother she could be as big as Liz Taylor or Barbra Streisand.
“Please,” she pleaded, “not Liz.”
“Liz can’t sing.”
After the talk about stardom, my mother launched into her list of ‘I Wonders.’ These were her musings on how life would be different if she’d married another suitor.
“I often wonder about Fletcher Eaton,” she mused. She said he had to sell his blood to pay for her lobster dinner at Durghan Park.
“Was he the man who got away?” I asked.
June Spoon gazed sadly into the ti leaf garden. “Fletcher invented polyester,” she said. “Now he’s a millionaire.”
“Does Fletcher strap his children?” I asked.
“Why, that nice man wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
There were other men besides Fletcher. My mother adjusted her mood according to each man’s earnings. She was heartbroken about Fletcher, but her spirits picked up noticeably when we discussed the Boston College quarterback she’d met on a blind date.
“I’m glad I dumped Burt,” she chuckled. “Last I heard, the poor man was selling shoes in Southie.”
Later that night, my mother put on her honey blonde wig with the flip and applied mascara and blue eye shadow. She squeezed into a white sequined gown and draped a wrap of pink ostrich feathers over her shoulders. The gown revealed a midriff bulge.
“Kirby,” she said, “what shape is my face?”
“Mrs. Machado says it’s moon-shaped. It’s not moon-shaped, is it?”
She patted her belly. “I think she’s jealous of me.”
* * *
The only kink in the weekend was the call from Dadio on Saturday night. I picked up the extension in the master bedroom.
“I miss you, Dear,” my mother lied.
“Very good,” he replied. “Is Kirby doing his chores?”
“Tell him I’ll be inspecting his work.”
“I will, Dear. How’s Barry doing?”
“That boy’s a big help.”
* * *
My mother celebrated Dadio’s absence by taking Julie to Papa Nino’s for pizza. They snacked on jumbo hot dogs at Orange Julius, bags of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts at Morrow’s Nut House, and cheese sandwiches at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. They dined at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor on Saturday nights. My mother seemed more like a teen on a binge than a wife worried about her figure. I made do with Hungry Man TV dinners. I rebelled against my father by sleeping late and staying up till two in the morning. I got addicted to KORL talk radio and phoned incessantly. Tom Slaughtery, the talk jock, called me “The Kalihi Kid.” I spoke Pidgin English and asked if anyone listening wanted to fight. The by-products of my calling gave birth to three new characters—a Portuguese bus driver, a Japanese mama san, and a hooker from Oklahoma. I would dial and redial, switch voices, and have one person agreeing or disagreeing with another. The mama san called to criticize the hooker for selling her body. The bus driver called because he wanted to date the hooker. The hooker called to inform the mama san she was just a working girl and to tell the bus driver she’d be wearing a red bikini at Makapu’u that Sunday. I created a soap opera of intrigue. Invariably, another listener would call and racially slur one of my voices, and that would trigger an avalanche of calls from the Portuguese, Asian, and haole communities, with offended listeners either defending or attacking the mama san, the bus driver, and the hooker.
“Nervous breakdown time,” Tom Slaughtery admitted over the air.
“Eat Portagee bean soup,” the bus driver advised.
“I’ll massage you,” the hooker offered, “for fifty bucks.”
“Everyone pupule!” the mama san chortled.
* * *
Dadio assigned chores to the son who didn’t accompany him to Moloka’i. That son had to water the garden and perform odd jobs, such as hand sanding the garage ceiling, trimming the bamboo in the front yard, and scrubbing dust off the exterior walls of the house with a bristle brush. The second my father returned from Moloka’i, he’d rush out to his ti garden and dig through the soil. “This dirt’s bone dry!” he’d say. He wasn’t happy unless the soil was the consistency of mud. If you devised a more efficient way to do a chore, he considered that a challenge to his logic and authority. Once, when I borrowed Mr. Applegate’s power sander for the garage ceiling, he went ballistic.
“Didn’t I tell you to hand sand?” Dadio asked.
“Yes,” I said, “but it went tons faster.”
He climbed up on the bumper of his Olds and ran his hand over the ceiling. “You lil’ sonuvabitch,” he said, “you gouged the god damn surface!”
“Right here,” he answered, “right where I’m feeling.”
Later, I stood on the bumper and ran my hand over the spot—it was as smooth as silk.
* * *
My mother wanted to be gone before Dadio returned on Sunday nights, so we split to feed the homeless at Saint Andrew’s Priory downtown. Julie handed out plastic spoons. My mother slung scoops of macaroni salad and I ladled out beach stew. Father Keelan had discovered my mother liked to sing so he started bringing along a microphone with a small amp. She sang, “If I Had a Hammer” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The homeless made requests. A Hawaiian lady asked for Kui Lee’s “I’ll Remember You.” My mother sang it with such conviction that the lady cried. Dadio’s Olds was always parked in the garage when we got home. He said my mother only went because she liked to pretend she was a famous singer. But June Spoon had a glow from entertaining the less fortunate and there was nothing my father could do or say to dampen her spirits. Her dream burned with renewed hope. It remained in her heart, even after he popped the Lancers Vin Rose as his signal he wanted her in the bedroom. Sex was his way of getting her to submit, the way Barry and I submitted when he beat us. I suppose my mother kept her sanity by believing she was sacrificing her body for the good of the family. As Dadio sweated over her in the oily moonlight, I wondered if June Spoon escaped by imagining she was singing show tunes on a big city stage an ocean and a continent away. But no matter how much she pretended, my mother couldn’t escape the truth that her life was a lie. She didn’t love my father and, by living with him, a seed of evil had taken root in her heart.
hapa haole: part Hawaiian and part white
Judith Skillman’s new collection is House of Burnt Offerings from Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press. Her work has appeared in Tampa Review, Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, Midwest Quarterly Review, New Poets of the American West, and other journals and anthologies. Skillman is the recipient of grants from the Academy of American Poets, Washington State Arts Commission, The Centrum Foundation, and other organizations. She has taught Humanities at City University, Richard Hugo House, and Yellow Wood Academy. Visit www.judithskillman.com.
Michelle Askin’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Willard & Maple, The Sand, Verdad, Exact Change Only, Split Lip Zine, and elsewhere. She lives and works in the Washington DC area.
Jessi Lanay is a poet and a short story writer, the former colors and permeates all writing that she does. In her short stories she prefers to focus on the solitary experiences of women, especially in moments of confusion regarding agency, freedom and at times mental illness. In 2007 and 2008 she was a finalist in the Georgia Writers Festival at Agnes Scott College. Recent publications include poems the the flash fiction piece “Picture Show” in Blackberry: a magazine, a personal essay, entitled “A Short Biography of My Skin” is forthcoming in Kweli Journal. She currently lives in the Bronx, works in Manhattan and originates from the Caribbean adjacent South.
Gram Joel Davies is from Somerset. His work has appeared in, among other places, The Centrifugal Eye and The Black Market Review. He is a member of Juncture 25 and is working on his first collection.
Pauline Kit is a first generation Kenyan-American who received her BA in creative writing from William Paterson University with a minor in Africana World Studies. She currently works in higher educational publishing and hopes to one day develop a leading comprehensive Pan-African studies textbook. She spends her free time brushing up on her Swahili, rollerskating, watching reality television and trying her best to emulate the styles of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and August Wilson. Her work has appeared in Zeitgeist.
Kirby Wright was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at San Diego. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Wright has been nominated for five Pushcart Prizes and three Best of The Webs. Wright is a past recipient of the Ann Fields Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets Award, the Browning Society Award for Dramatic Monologue, and Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowships in Poetry and The Novel. BEFORE THE CITY, his first book of poetry, took First Place at the 2003 San Diego Book Awards. Wright is also the author of the companion novels PUNAHOU BLUES and MOLOKA’I NUI AHINA, both set in Hawaii. He was a Visiting Fellow at the 2009 International Writers Conference in Hong Kong, where he represented the Pacific Rim region of Hawaii. He was the 2011 Artist in Residence at Milkwood International, Czech Republic. THE WIDOW FROM LAKE BLED, his second collection of poetry, was published in 2013, along with two works of speculative fiction: THE END, MY FRIEND (novel) and SQUARE DANCING AT THE ASYLUM (flash fiction collection).