Write You Are
Whoever came up with the phrase “starving artist” is wrong. Well, half wrong, at least. Not every visual artist grows up to sell murals and paintings at $7,000 to $10,000 a pop, but most writers who sweat over their craft are lucky to make half that in a lifetime. Even if their books make it all the way to the best-seller list, accomplished writers can rest assured that their books will sell for less than half the cover price in a matter of years or be checked out at the local library for free.
But that’s a digression, if not a moot point. No great writer has ever written for money alone, despite Samuel Johnson’s admonition that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
Writers, when they’re not resisting the procrastinator’s temptation of defrosting the refrigerator, write because they have a vision to share. An athlete may train years for a special game or competition, but that’s still nothing compared to the jumble of thoughts and strategies that must be tamed inside a writer’s head before anything of worth can be committed to paper. Nothing’s left to chance when you write. Every line, character, scene and description is left to the writer.
At City Weekly, we appreciate the craft of good writing, which is why we sponsor an annual literary competition. When submissions roll in and the paper cuts start, every envelope is treated with the respect of a potential winner. Even in the most nascent piece of writing, there’s much to be admired. Of the more than 200 entries we received this year, however, only nine made it to the finish. This year, though, poetry judge Eric Burger was so taken by the wealth of talent that we made room for an honorable mention, plus a special mention penned by an 8-year-old girl. Rebecca Nickerson’s wonderful poem “The Sun” used the word “basilisk,” which had our judge rifling the pages of his dictionary.
We hope you find all the winners’ entries as luminescent and entertaining as our judges did. Using one part dialogue and one part recipe, Lisa Van Orman’s masterful short-fiction piece weaves tight, striking parallels between food, life, death and quiet tragedy. David Heiniger’s winning essay is a fine meditation on the double-edged sword of time, and if you don’t like Mary Milner’s poem “The Gray Space” you probably ought to take a road trip of your own—soon. You’re free to disagree, naturally. Try reading the other winners if you do.
Rounding out the edges of this fifth annual Literary Issue, City Weekly extends a special thanks to the professional staff of Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore in downtown Salt Lake City. The bookstore’s support does a lot to make this issue possible, and its basement is a fine place to hold book-related events. Join us there at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, when our literary issue winners will read from their works and get a chance to compare notes. For the aspiring writer, it’s the next best thing to defrosting the fridge.
ABOUT THE JUDGES:
Eric Burger is a Ph.D. candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Utah, where he is also a full-time lecturer in the University writing program. He is the recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and was awarded the 2001 Writers at Work first-place poetry fellowship. Burger is a former co-editor of the literary magazine Sonora Review and his poems have appeared recently in CutBank, Green Mountains Review, Quarterly West, POL, and Comstock Review. He has work forthcoming in Black Warrior Review.
Ben Fulton is managing editor of City Weekly and the recipient of several journalism awards. His work has appeared in other publications including Los Angeles’ Option magazine (now defunct) and New York Newsday.
John Yewell is editor of City Weekly and has worked at other alternative weeklies including Twin Cities Reader and North Carolina’s Independent. Yewell has 13 years of experience as an editor, investigative reporter, political columnist and essayist.
Andrea Malouf is former editor of Salt Lake magazine, past president of Writers @ Work and writes for a local design firm. Her work has appeared in Catalyst magazine, City Weekly and the Park City Journal. She holds an M.A. in English and spends her free time writing fiction.
Jason Matthew Smith is associate editor of Salt Lake magazine, and six months away from fatherhood. He’s held editorial positions at a handful of weekly newspapers and a magazine, and has seen his short stories published in various literary publications.
Lisa Van Orman
Receita para Feijão/
How to Make Beans
This is how you make feijão. This is how you get rid of the ones that are bad and this is the way you wash them. Be sure to wash them very well. Now pour them into the pressure cooker. This is how much water you put in and this is how long you cook them.
“If you don’t baptize her, she’ll go to hell, Flavia. Flavia, are you listening to me? She’s a heathen and you know where heathens go.”
Flavia stared down at the cardboard box with the blue baby inside. “How can she go to hell? She wasn’t ever alive.”
“Listen to me—that baby needs to be baptized before burial or she’ll receive the condemnation of God.” The woman continued, “a few months ago there was a baby that died on our street who was never baptized. That baby screamed from the ground—I’m telling you—he cried every night and all of us could hear it in our houses. I said to my husband, ‘that dead baby is crying out to be baptized—let’s go put him out of his misery.” So we dug the baby up and baptized him and I tell you—honest truth—he never screamed again. May he rest in peace.”
“No need to wash them if they’re already clean,” Flavia thought.
This is how you know whether the beans are good or not. This is how you make them so your husband likes them. These are the spices that go inside. This is the way you take them off the stove and this is the way you hold a baby at the same time. This is the way you cook them if they’re for someone else and they’re watching to see if you do it right. This is what it looks like if you do it right. This is what it looks like if you do it wrong.
“It never felt like this with the boys.” She patted her stomach. “Boys carry wide—see how my stomach is pointy? They say it’s a girl when your stomach does that. Gordo wants a girl.”
His real name was Nonato, but everyone called him Gordo. Gordo because that’s what he was—rice and beans every day and a cerveja or two, or three, or four to top it off.
This is the way you heat the oil in the pan and make it really hot. This is how much garlic and onions to put in. This is where you really have to pay attention because you don’t want to put in too much garlic and onions. This is how long you cook them so they’re transparent but not brown. This is what they taste like if there’s too much garlic. This is what they taste like if there’s not enough garlic. This is what they taste like is you’ve put in just the right amount or garlic.
“She’s dead,” the nursemaid announced.
“Can I see her?” Flavia asked.
The nurse showed them the little girl, blue and perfect. “The cord must have wrapped around her and suffocated her,” the nursemaid said.
Now you add the beans and salt and let it boil. This is where you have to check to see if there is too much water. This is how much longer you should cook it if there’s too much water and you’re waiting for it to evaporate.
They took the dead baby while Flavia was taking a nap and baptized her. They sang hymns and said “Oh Gloria!” as they sprinkled water over her head. No priest, but when a dead baby needs baptizing, you do the best you can.
They christened her “Maria de Jesus Nossa Senhora Santificada dos Santos,” a proper Christian name. Flavia named her Isabel. But Flavia was a heathen.
They placed her back in the cardboard box and sprinkled salt over her body, to protect her from the demons.
This is when you add more salt. This is how you cook the feijão until it’s soft. This is how many people it will feed. This is what your husband will say if he doesn’t like it. This is what to say if he says he doesn’t like it and this is how you tell him what happened. This is what to tell him if he doesn’t like it. This is what you sprinkle in so he doesn’t know whether or not he likes it.
Flavia felt the baby go soft inside her. She didn’t want to wake Gordo—didn’t want him to yell at her for it happening. Flavia didn’t do anything to make it happen. The baby was swishing around and struggling like that hand then it just went soft. So she laid there in her hammock. She thought about the litter of kittens that were born earlier that week on the street. One was stillborn and Flavia couldn’t help but think that it was the luckiest one—saved from life on the street and saved from one of the horsecarts that would have inevitably run it over.
This is what you do when it’s done. This is how you use it the next day to make little bean cakes. This is how you use it the day after the little bean cakes to make food for the chickens. This is what you do when there are no more beans. This is what you do when you have a little bacon. This is what it tastes like.
She lies down low in the bathtub, shivering, the bathroom dark save for a single lit candle. A clean and dry white washcloth, twice folded in half, pillows her head. Feet awkwardly propped up on the running waterspout, ankles crossed, knees splayed, kidneys aching against the hard chill of the porcelain, she watches with childlike fascination as the ice-cold water creeps up the small round of her stomach and spills into the pinch of her navel.
On the outer ledge of the bathtub, a freshly washed Comice pear, larger than her fist, shines red-and-green ripe between the candle and a half empty wineglass. Hugging herself and trying to rub away the chill, she remembers why she is here and thrusts both hands back into the icy water. Clutching the cold, they shrink into empty fists.
She knows he is on the other side of the bathroom door right now, leaning against it, doing God knows what. His heavy shadow interrupts the yellow crack of light that falls across the floor.
She savors the wine, the only warmth left in her body, holding it in her mouth before swallowing.
Cold water laps at her chin as she uses her foot to work the faucet handle into the off position. An afterthought of cold water drizzles from the spout. The bathtub feeling more than ever like an icy tomb, she takes a deep breath and plunges her legs into the frigid water. The cold becomes colder. Her calves and thighs cramp, and the painful, frozen feeling grows inside her.
Reaching forward and fumbling with the other faucet handle, the washcloth that served as her pillow steals into the water and gently unfolds.
At first she cannot feel any difference—just the same aching chill. Soon the welcome blare of hot running water relaxes her a little, then fills her with the promise of what it will deliver. The distant sensation of warmth licks shyly at her toes. Thickening, it wraps around her feet, her ankles, inches her way up her legs like a pair of sheer stockings fresh from the dryer. Her mind swells with images of tropical isles. She stirs the incoming water with her foot, careful not to scald herself, spreading the sultry current up over the rest of her body.
She yanks the rubber plug out of the drain so the hot water can supplant the cold. The steadily rising temperature soothes her sore arms and shoulders. Planting the balls of her feet against the end of the bathtub, she pushes off and glides into an almost upright position. Her nipples stand firm and moist out of the water, her breasts buoy with the rhythm of her breathing.
Drinking a silent toast to herself, she takes another sip of wine, this one decidedly smaller than the last. She wishes she had brought the bottle into the bathroom with her. The idea of propping it between her legs, chilling it along with herself in the icy bathwater, pleases her. Cupping her right breast in her hand, she trickles the remaining drops of wine onto her nipple, making it proud, and leans forward to taste the slightly bitter fruitiness.
She has to move gingerly to keep the water from sloshing onto the bathroom floor. Steam rises around her, and through the mist her usually snowy skin glows fervent and flawless in the hot water’s blush. No longer feeling too heavy or not pretty enough, her heart throbs way up into her throat and ears. Her hand drifts back and forth between her thighs. The excess water spilling into the basement pipes sounds like the blood racing through her veins.
She cradles the pear in both hands, nuzzles it with her lips, caresses her flushed cheeks with its cool ripeness. Like her own, its skin is smooth and delicate, and occasionally bruised. She gorges her mouth with the fruit’s silky sweetness until its splendid juices coat her chin, flowing down her neck into the water.
She slides deeper into the bathtub, immersing as much of herself as possible, luxuriating in the intimate act of growing warmer along with the bathwater, as if she and the water were one. Holding her hands back above her head, crossed at the wrists as if bound there in a moment of enthusiastic submission, lusty breaths fill her body. She arches her back until her breasts rise out of the water. Her body tingles deliciously inside and out.
It feels like falling in love.
Animal sounds come from out in the hallway, calling her name. The doorknob turns once more.
She bends her knees until they knife into the air and, like a stone, settles to the bottom of the tub, her eyes and ears filling with water. Spilling onto the floor, the hot water rises higher and higher, splashing between her legs, melting into her. She becomes part of the water’s roar, only distantly hearing the pounding on the bathroom door.
Closing her eyes and pretending she is a sliver of ice that has broken off an ice floe, she floats away towards warmer waters. Dissolving.
She remembers thinking that, if he wants in, he’ll have to kick down the door.
When he does, she will be nowhere to be found.
The Rose Laundry
You gotta hate a man who leaves you alone in Salt Lake City on a Saturday night. It’s just not that kind of town. Everyone here comes in pairs and if you aren’t on some guy’s arm then it’s off to the grocery store for a quart of ice cream and a video.
For almost three years I had Saturday nights sewn up, then Harry stopped calling. At first, I just accumulated the two-for-one coupons we used to share, but when they started to expire I knew he wasn’t coming around. Oh, I had my share of ice cream and fell asleep with videos. Then I discovered the Rose Laundry. It sits on the corner just off a busy street in an old downtown neighborhood, like an enamel and chrome oasis in the mist. Sort of like a still life with pay phone? Sooner or later almost everyone needs a Laundromat, whether it’s the occasional call for a giant-sized load or a washer breakdown, like my old Kenmore.
The first time, I was scared. After all, it’s terribly personal, sorting your dirty laundry around strangers. But face it, whether we come with lumpy black garbage bags or neat little hampers, we’re on common ground. We’re all here for the same reason. It’s Biblical, like coming to the well. You know, religion, a fresh start? So I kept coming back, even if I didn’t have full loads.
It’s not at all like real life, laundry makes sense. You just separate the lights and darks, line up seven quarters and whamo. Unlike gambling, there’s always a payoff. Doing laundry can be a form of meditation, you concentrate on the swish and churn of everything coming clean. You just sit back and watch all those little foaming oceans at high tide.
And you’d be surprised at the men in the place. Oh, most of them just nod hello. I think it’s because they’re vulnerable. I’ve been watching this guy. He’s not like a lot of them, you know the ones who come up the sidewalk with an armload taken out of the back seat, trailing loose sox behind. He’s different. He has a plan. His loads are presorted in pillowcases. I like that in a man.
After he starts his wash he sits cross-legged on the jumbo dryer, eyes closed, his arms resting on his thighs, palms up. I guess he’s doing Zen laundry. He has a halo of dark curls that lightly vibrate with the machine. When I finally saw him with his eyes open, I said to myself, “Yes.” I just knew it, they had to be surf blue.
Let me get to my point. Last night was typical. I put my final load in the dryer then sit down to watch the crazy dance of clothes. I call it the dryer tango. You know when the arm of a shirt links with the flying twist of a nightgown or the sweet flirtation of panties and T-shirts, or socks flung in a wild striptease. Maybe it’s that shot of fabric softener cocktail tossed down with the last rinse cycle. While I’m packing up my basket, I confess I’m moving a bit slowly. After all it is Saturday night and if the maintenance man would finish, it would be just me and Mr. Zen. I notice as he unloads his whites from the washer he stares in surprise. Undershirts, gym sox, one by one, I see it, everything has a pink glow. He puts his head right inside the tub, then thrusts in one arm and brings out something small but bright … red panties. He examines the bow with little pearls. I know that bow. I grab my basket and fly out the door.
When my basket’s in the car and I’m safe in the shadows, I turn toward the steamy windows. The cold night is filled with heady puffs of hot air from dryer vents. Standing in billows I watch a Laundromat pantomime. It’s just Mr. Zen and the hulking manager in his jumpsuit and tool belt. The manager, staring at the pink pile of laundry, shakes his head then picks up the panties, with some disdain, then walks over to the bulletin board and impales them on a giant stick pin so they dangle under Lost and Found. Then he waves goodnight and leaves, his tool belt bumping as he walks. Mr. Zen is calm while he tosses each rosy piece into the dryer. But this time there’s no meditating, he paces, hands clasped behind his back.
I’m outside dying. With my panties hanging there I can never go back, my Saturdays are shot forever. I’m thinking, if I wait, he’ll leave and I’ll retrieve them in the dead of night. I get in the car, peer over the dash and wait. At last the dryer stops. He unloads, then gracefully begins to sort his pink stuff. He shakes out a T-shirt, holds it up to himself then with deliberate care he folds each shirt, tucking the sleeves inside, neater than new ones in a store. Almost like a magic act he pairs up sox then adds folded briefs to his tidy stacks.
He stuffs those magic hands into his pockets, makes a few quick circles then walks his high tops over to the bulletin board where he scans used-car ads and garage-sale announcements. Then with one bold stroke he plucks the giant stick pin and rescues my red panties. Hope he didn’t hear my gasp but I had to catch my breath. Back at the table he almost tenderly folds them, then with a pat, he puts my panties on top of his clean briefs.
Now I don’t pretend to understand men, I just like them. You might think it’s weird but there is such a sweetness in what he did … so I just start the motor and head home. Why ruin a perfect Saturday night.
The Gray Space
1. Mancos-Land, North of Shiprock, New Mexico
Home of all my dreams—dry places
dirt devils now mark their disappearance
the bumpy sage
the pop-up monuments
one poet life
spins on its axis.
Lush and looming grass lines the washes
for the micro-eye only
two crows, stark-outlined on a wire.
Like a western movie: everything happens in the shale breaks.
Shades of rolling tan and gray
the long grade up
then squared cartoon cliffs of Point Lookout Sandstone
two trees and a pole corral
home of the people
gentle tilt of sand stringers in gray clay hills.
To the human: forever
the long-gone ocean says no
only temporarily ours.
A road is a way
someone’s gone before
sometimes an invitation.
my road is empty
sheep ghosts rattle along it
slightly sinuous, picked clean of vegetation
it climbs a shale ramp
leaves me stunned, alone, breathless.
Peace, settle here, pulling breath.
Become us, each life and opening.
Let our clinging fall.
Peace, be a dimension
As I disintegrate.
Be the oxygen as I turn to ash.
Help me become the wind on space.
Peace, be ultraviolet.
Glare my monkey mind back to ions.
Bleach these brains of fears.
Look how much lighter the world becomes.
Nothing desires it together.
It spins on its own, in its only way.
The glistening detail, its intricacies all done.
Peace, absolve our little griefs
In a vinegar of tears.
An astringent to polish these molecules.
Hold us here,
To each breath and to each other.
Hold us to what we know is here.
The sun is as terrible as a basilisk, which can kill you if you get too near.
The sun is as dangerous as a mosquito, which spread diseases from there to here.
The sun is as strong as a knot in the hair, which is so hard to comb.
But still let’s be thankful for the sun, that she is part of our home.
You Are Here—-•
I will never, despite the spinning,
fly off the Earth.
It’s just not possible.
The grip that holds it all together—
all the oceans and coffee cups,
wheat field and butter knives,
porches and the cats on them, cats
who’ve seen it all before;
all the mornings turning birds into music
and streams turning stones into music
and women turning me into music
when they smile, when they tell stories;
all the sunlight and shadows
and moonlight and shadows;
all the many moods of rain,
and so much more—those hands
keeping things together
hold me here, despite the unlikelihood;
despite odds of infinity to one,
they’re a surefire bet. Big hands. Galactic.
Hands building winds in the wind shop
then sawing some down into breezes.
For every thermal updraft,
fashioning a hawk.
Hands shaping mice in the mouse shop for food,
seeds and cones in the wood shop for food
with enough left over for forests and orchards
and maples for the pancakes of the world.
Or arranging flowers in the flower shop,
or inventing the smell of cinnamon,
or creating the flavor of peaches,
the purring in cats … none of it necessary,
no explanation or meaning.
Which means they’re an artist’s hands,
means you and I are paintings,
means daylight and darkness are our frame,
and we will never, even with the spinning,
fly off the Earth while we’re alive.
That’s a fact, but some facts are magic:
Like our minds. Like sex.
Like every evening the sun sets.
Like grapes are for much more than vitamins.
Like a cat’s tail, up and casually flicking,
is telling us the cat feels at home.
The Sanitary Grocery Co.
is huge in its own way. It makes
both a poem and a mystery.
It makes you think
of muscle, of flesh, of sweat,
and of a time we say
was more innocent,
because all we know of it from culture
is a picture of men, single-purposed.
We can see no women in the building’s history
to complicate it,
to make us see sex
when we look at a building,
built in either that time or this one.
I was not born of buildings like this,
but born of sky, of valley, and of wind.
And in this world there were always the women,
even when I was a girl.
And these women were always in my head or my real life,
not so much like visions, but like
What I mean by that
is that they were not dreamlike,
not ethereal in any respect
or sense of the word.
They were like sand
hitting your face
in a strong wind.
They were stretching,
breathing, alive beings of
–dare I say it—
albeit unpredictable, independent light.
they had their
I said to you
late one night was this:
Before you, I thought one person
—even a woman—
could never be enough
to fill one whole lifetime.
years after I found you,
I realized that one lifetime
would never be enough with one woman.
sentiment like this
—no matter how sincere—
which makes me seem small of limits,
I can say to that is this:
I have seen the darkness
of the civilized world we call America.
[I have been nowhere else, it is true.
But this is where I live and what I know.
So what other place matters?]
I have seen America,
with its commodified hate
and its desire for pavement.
And I have sat on
its soft, white porches in lawn chairs,
drinking a thing called punch
while children I am related to
have played in the summer dusk.
I have loosened my tie.
I have tucked in my shirt.
Whatever has been called for in my life,
I have done it.
I know what it is to be torn
between what is smart and what is right;
between the pleasure of sprinting
and a pace that will endure.
And I am telling you
that the only thing
that is worth knowing
is what you can stand to live with
when you walk around
like you do
in the thin, raw skin that is yours.
In the Closet
Iread what Stephen Hawking had to say on the subject. Something about a Ping-Pong ball in a moving train and the earth’s speed relative to the sun and how, if my twin spent his life in space, he’d come back younger than me. Of course, I don’t have a twin and even if I did, it’s still a bit much to wrap my mind around. For me, it begins first thing every morning, this obsession with time.
It starts with my wife telling me to get up before I’m late for work and the kids to get up before they’re late for school. I guess it’s not really an obsession with time but rather an obsession with beating time, as if it were something to be conquered. My 16-year-old son is eager to be 21 so he’ll be a grown up. My 15-year-old daughter can’t wait to be 16 so she can drive. Even I fall for it sometimes; I can’t wait until I have 30 years on the job so I can retire. We’re wishing our lives away, as my mother would say, and why? Out of some foolish notion that time is something we can beat?
I love to cook. My wife, on the other hand, well … cooking isn’t her thing. She hates it for the same reason I love it: because it can’t be rushed. It’s pure artistry to mix this ingredient and that, in just the right ways and in just the right amounts and then apply heat in just the right way and in just the right amount to create something new and wonderful. She doesn’t like to wait for that magical reaction so she turns the heat up thinking she can speed it along, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead of cooking faster it just singes the edges and leaves the middle raw, fringe on the eggs and raw yolks. Is there anything more American than that?
It seems to me that the things that can’t be rushed are the best things in life. Take this hardwood floor I’m sitting on right not. It’s been here, in this house, for nearly a hundred years. And how long did it grow before it was chopped down, milled and yes, aged just right before it was turned into this floor, maybe another hundred years? This floor might have been an acorn during the Revolutionary War.
The truth is, nothing can really be rushed. It takes what it takes to do everything we do, even if we hurry. I can make love a little faster and I can make love a little slower (my wife’s preference) but it still takes what it takes. I can’t tell you what any of this has to do with that Ping-Pong ball or the ages of my imaginary twin. I can only tell you that the leaves fall from the tree in autumn, which is a long way from April and there’s just nothing we can really do about that. When basketball season ends, we must suffer through endless baseball games, some relief finally coming with the start of football season before Stockton can yo-yo the belt high dribble one more season. Then we find out that time has expired on the yo-yo dribble too.
So here I sit, with the door closed and the voices of my family throughout the house sounding dim and distant. No one really knows where I am and to be hon