Alan Berecka was the Poet Laureate of Corpus Christi from February 2017 - February 2019. His latest collection, The Hamlet of Stittville, is a collaboration with the New Yorker cartoonist and boyhood friend John Klossner. Berecka earns his keep as a reference librarian at Del Mar College. His work has appeared in such publications as Red River Review, Texas Review, The Christian Century, Windhover, Ruminate, St. Peter’s B-List and Oklahoma Poems…And Their Poets.
My friend Pete Merkl’s dad sold copiers.
A salesman’s salesman, the old man’s smile
could turn any stranger into a friend.
His patter was so smooth he could smooze
a Temperance Leaguer into a booze
of the month subscription. I asked
him once why he plied his trade
selling inferior products. He told me,
“Alan, a Xerox can sell itself, but it takes
a real pro to sell an A B Dick copier.”
read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
How far can a fog lift
before it becomes a cloud?
Whatever it was, it hung
above the causeway,
a few feet above each car
and truck, as we drove
over the shallow end
of the Gulf, consumed
with the needs
of our daily commute.
I noticed how the gulls
and pelicans disappeared
diving up into the thickness
but thought little of it, until
I rounded the long curve
near the final exit,
and there it hung
like a shroud, completely
obscuring the upper two-thirds
of the Harbor Bridge.
While being pulled along
by the constant traffic,
I watched the countless
sets of tail lights
ascending into obscurity,
taking on faith that beyond
it still lies the bridge
into the city of Corpus Christi.
copyright Alan Berecka
Buy on Amazon. From the cover: Berecka's commedia is not so much divine as it is deeply human-a retrospective poetic, accompanied by a wince and a grin. Scott Cairns Author of Compass of Affection: Poems New & Selected Alan Berecka probes his blue collar roots with honesty and insight, depicting, with haunting detail and striking imagery, everything from family members who "smell of cabbage and onions" to the love "that pins us down." Ranging in tone from the elegiac to the hilarious, these impressive poems shimmer with craftsmanship, the work of a poet who takes his art seriously, who works the jagged stones of his poems until they sparkle on the page like faceted gems. Larry D. Thomas 2008 Texas Poet Laureate The hardest task of a serious writer is to be able to write funny, but Alan Berecka not only does this, he does it brilliantly. These are laugh-out-loud funny poems on child abuse and alcoholism, profanity and prayer, via some of the most unlikely subjects: the Pope's T-shirt, the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Carl Yastrezmski, Jiffy Pop popcorn, Playboy magazine. These poems will both break your heart and alter your vision; I guarantee you will never look at the world in quite the same way again. Barbara Crooker Author, Line Dance and Radiance Berecka embraces the "flaw" without a hint of resignation-never hesitating to administer the sacrament of laughter where others might erect a wall of ridicule. This collection is a Eucharist, beginning to end. Bread and wine have their place; but the sacramental elements might just as well be baseball, popcorn, t-shirts, a puzzled Pope responding to a phrasebook reference to lost luggage-or the poet's old man flipping a bird. He has an uncanny ability to sense the presence of God in such acts, and that is a welcome invitation to take our shoes off and get comfortable on this holy ground we share. Steven Schroeder Virtual Artists Collective
Buy The Hamlet of Stittville on Amazon. "There is much ado about monkey in Berecka and Klossner’s poignant and humorous search for meaning in The Hamlet of Stittsville. It’s monkeys all the way down, with Shakespearian commentary on current politicalevents mixed with the deep, personal observation we’ve come to expect in Berecka’s work. Klossner’s art offers both counterpoint and reflection in Berecka’s tongue-in-cheek universe. Together they pack a knock-out punch that will, for an infinite moment, take our minds off the baloney of our political present and give us the comical perspective necessary to enjoy our dawning days. L.A. Times Bestselling Author Stephen Jay Schwartz Alan Berecka starts with a wily premise of infinite monkeys, infinite typewriters, and time. But the monkeys are us and time is running out as sad little monkeys continue to ring the bell, hoping for a banana. And we all know what the definition of insanity is..."
Alisa Hope Wagner is an award-winning author, editor and publisher of over 20 books she produces on her own label, Marked Writers Publishing. She is aggressive about leading a simple life. She married her high school sweetheart, and together they raise their three children in a Christ-centered home. Visit her site to learn more
Aryan listened to his parents’ fading murmurs. They had finally receded into thick darkness that separated him from them. His mother’s blanketed sobs had slipped down the cracks of the floorboards into the cellar of his new room. The vibrations of their voices painted vapors of fading colors along the dusk of the ceiling. The emptiness of the cellar only magnified the echoes, like stray rays sneaking out from a cloud-covered sun.
Just this morning his parents declared his brother a man who needed his own space. His older brother, Derik, kept the warm hearth next to their parents, and Aryan made his way down the wood-chopped steps into the earth chamber of their home. No longer would he be able to smell the salt of Derik’s skin next to him. They were now two brothers separated because of their age.
He had tried to leave the cellar earlier that night, wanting a cool drink of water from the basin. But the opening leading to the main floor had been barricaded. He cried out for Derik, frustrated that he couldn’t see his brother’s form through the wood panels of the door. His eyes could only capture a slight glimpse of his straw-colored hair or a quick glance of his blue eyes that matched a midday sky. The warm fire of the main hearth afforded just enough light to see portions, but no comforting touch could be given from the other side.
Aryan left the locked door and crawled back to his fiber-stuffed mattress on the floor. He peered into the void above and envisioned the blue of his brother’s eyes, displaying them like stars across the wood planks of the floor hovering over him. The underbelly wood surface was smooth and unscathed by the constant footsteps that scuffed the other side. Had his brother’s eyes been rimmed in red? Aryan didn’t understand. Did all boys cry when they were to become men? His mother had wept in the folds of her bed. Time transformed her firstborn into a man, and she mourned her loss. But what of the him, the second-born son?
Aryan knew that the tears shed that night could not counter the cries they beheld only two moons ago. His best friend, Ryun, had been touched by the Walking Disease. A peddler had sold him a kicking stone made of a spongy material from a coastal village. Playing with that stone had been Ryun’s favorite pastime every afternoon until his neck grew a red lesion that wept yellow. The day Aryan noticed his friend’s sore would be the last day he would ever see him again.
Ryun’s family forced him to follow the path that led to the Walker’s settlement. A path that Ryun and Aryan avoided all of their lives. The Walkers moaned every few nights when one of their own embraced death. Their howls were mixed with sadness and joy—sadness for the life lost and joy for the pain ended. Aryan listened for the Walker’s sorrowful harmony every night, wondering if Ryun had wandered into eternity. It was too early still. Ryun’s eyes had no abrasions when his parents banished him. The loss of the Walker’s sight was the first sign that death would shortly come. Ryun was lost to them. He could never return home.
Aryan’s nostrils flared. The winds had brought the scent of fired-consumed flesh. Once a week the Walker’s burned their dead, sparing the living from their disease-encrusted carcasses. They would then bury the ashes several feet underground and plant a single seed from the One Tree. The seeds rarely survived. The One Tree did not grow well in the dampness of Northland. The Southland contained the loose, dry soil needed for their sinewy roots. But the few that did thrive marked the land with the hope of every Walker—a hope of returning home.
Aryan tried to cover his face with the thinly woven fabric of his blanket. It did not impede the smell of scorching rot from entering into his lungs. Previous nights when the fires sent smoke to his hearth, his brother would listen to him while he softly chattered his thoughts. The words he sprinkled from his lips became like a soft covering around him, allowing sleep to finally overtake him. But his brother was no longer by his side, forcing the perfume of the dead to now share his bed. Aryan became angry at time for stealing his brother. Had the moon and sun halted their course, Derik would not have grown up. And things could have stayed like they were.
Aryan followed behind his older brother. He had been so glad to leave the cellar, but after months of searching for his mother’s pregnancy root, he was ready to go home.
“Derik, I don’t understand why we must walk at night,” Aryan said, pulling at the wrappings around his arms. “I cannot see the trees in front of me. Every night is cloudy and dark and then you find a deep cave for us to sleep during the day. I haven’t seen the sun in ages.”
“Stop pulling at your covering. You know what Father said,” Derik whispered sternly in the night. “The sun is brighter in the Southland and our skin is not accustomed to its harsh rays. We have to keep these coverings on, so our skin does not burn. If we get burned, we must go home. If we go home without the pregnancy root, the twins won’t make it to full term.”
Aryan looked toward his brother’s figure walking in front of him. He could barely make out his silhouette in the shadows of the forest. Instead he envisioned the blue of his brother’s eyes glinting in the sunlight. “The sun does not shine at night, Brother.”
“Yes, but it lingers. It’s always lingering. Already, you have a burn on your neck. I see you scratch at it. You are being reckless. Keep your covering tight around your skin. Isn’t this better than being in the cellar?”
Aryan dropped his head. “Yes, I hated sleeping there. I’m glad Mother sent us on this quest to save her twins. I just hope we find the cure in time. She was already midterm before we left.”
“Don’t worry, Little Brother. I know we will find it. I feel it in my soul. The root only grows under the shade the large One Trees that have enjoyed the dryness of Southland for uncountable moons. We are getting close. The air has become dry and the rains have lessened. The land has become flat and the natural springs are growing scarce,” he said, patting the side of his tunic. “But Father gave me a flagon of water, though, for our journey back, but we must resist the urge to drink until it’s time. He gave me specific orders to follow.”
Aryan fixed a memory of the night they left in his mind. “I saw Father talking with you for many moments before we set out on our journey. He even embraced you. Why did he not give me instructions too? Why did I not receive a hug? You are not even three years older than I. I too carry this burden of finding Mother’s root,” Aryan said. He was not supposed to have seen their conversation. Although it was night, it was his first time out of the cellar in many moons. He longed to see his family and absorb its love once more. It would be like diving into a lake after weeks of working the fields. Yet he searched for his mother, he couldn’t find her. She had gone to bed early and her door was shut.
Derik did not answer Aryan’s questions right away. His footsteps slowed but continued south. Finally, he whispered over his shoulder. “Father didn’t want to scare you, but he knew this quest would be difficult. He told me to take care of you and make sure to bring you home safely,” Derik finished. “He wants everything to go back to normal when we return home. Now, let’s quiet our voices, lest we arouse the senses of a nocturnal predator.”
Aryan turned onto his back. The ground of the cave was cool, and it felt good against his skin. Sleep did not come easily. He wanted to scratch at his coverings, but he knew his brother would yell at him. Both his and Derik’s coverings were filthy, but they couldn’t wash them because there was no water for cleaning. He felt dirty and tired and longed for home. He thought of his mother. She disappeared the night they left. He knew it must have been difficult to send her two sons on a mission to save the two unborn babies within her. Maybe she couldn’t bear to watch them leave.
“Derik, are you awake?” he whispered, knowing his brother would wake up even if he were asleep.
“I am now,” Derik said, rolling over.
Aryan stared at his brother but could barely make out his figure in the darkness of the cave. “I was thinking of Mother. Remember when she started crying every night? I thought she was crying for you because you had become a man and now how to be separated. But now I look back on it, do you think she may have cried because—you know—it was the first sign of her pregnancy?”
Aryan waited. His brother was thinking. Derik liked to consider his words before releasing them. Aryan decided to press his point further. “Ryun told me that when his mother became pregnant with his younger sister, she was very emotional. She would cry if a bird fell from her nest. He asked his father about it, and he told him that women cry more when they are with child.”
Again, Aryan waited for his brother to reply.
“You think about Mother a lot, don’t you?” Derik finally asked.
“No, it’s not that. Well—yes, I do think of her. I miss her. Did you know that she used to run her fingers through my hair when she thought I was sleeping? Every night I would rush to bed and wait for her to come in. She’d sneak in while you were still finishing up your evening chores. I’d feel her stroke my head. Sometimes I would hear her whisper words, but they were always too quiet for me to hear.”
“Those weren’t whispers,” Derik said softly. “They were prayers. Mother used to stroke my hair and pray over me too. I told her to stop, though, when I got too old.”
“I never told her to stop,” Aryan said, anger rising in his voice. “She probably stopped for both of us when you told her to. I’m almost three years younger than you. I still wanted those nights with her.”
“I’m sorry, Brother. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have said anything,” Derik said.
Aryan noted that his brother’s voice sounded sorrowful. “It’s okay. I know you had become a man, which is why we could no longer share the same bed. And you are the oldest and work the hardest, so you deserved to stay in our hearth. The nights in the cellar were lonely. I only wish…”
“Father said he saw Ryun trying to get into our home. He was afraid that he would try to give me the Walking Disease, so I would be forced to go with him to the settlement,” Aryan said.
“And that’s why you had to stay in the cellar during the day. Mother was afraid that Ryun would get you sick and take you away,” Derik said.
“I’m glad she protected me. I would never want to leave my home. I would rather stay in the cellar than live with the Walkers,” Aryan said resolutely.
“Are you okay, Brother? Is something wrong?”
Derik turned on the cold, stone floor. “No, a little dirt got into my nose is all. Mother would never have sent you down the Walker’s path. Now get some sleep. We are close to getting the cure. I feel it in my soul.”
Aryan didn’t bother trying to move the ripped piece of fabric that flapped in the breeze against his hand. His entire body ached from so much walking and sleeping in caves. His dry lips thirsted for water, but the Southland were parched and windy. Two days had passed without finding a spring of water and no rain fell in the south skies. He listened for his brother’s footsteps ahead of him. He knew that he too was tired and thirsty because his steps also staggered along the dry ground. The darkness engulfed them both, yet they continued to meander forward.
“It’s up here!” Derik shouted. “I feel it in my soul. The biggest One Tree is just ahead, and I know Mother’s pregnancy root will be found growing next to it. We will dig it up and go straight back home.”
“I can barely see you,” Aryan cried.
“The clouds cover the sky,” Derik replied.
“But there is never rain. Only weeks and weeks of cloudy skies. I want to go home! I want to see Mother!” Aryan felt tears begin to wet his cheeks. He wanted to rub his eyes, but he knew his brother would be angry. The eyes could become easily burned by the lingering rays of the Southland sun. But he thought it was too late for him, for they had been hurting for many days now.
He heard his brother’s footsteps stop.
“Listen to me, Aryan. I promise. The root is just up ahead. Mother needs us to do this. She told me not to bring you home until the cure was found. She said we were both strong enough to finish this quest. You are younger and weaker than I. I see that you are tired. But you have more strength of heart than anyone I know. You can do this. Mother will be so pleased. The lives of our two new siblings are counting on us.”
Aryan knew his brother was right. They needed to find the root to save the twins that Mother now carried. He nodded his head. “Yes, you are right. We must find the cure,” he said with determination. “And when we return home, Ryun will have died. I won’t have to be locked in the cellar anymore. We can keep the door open, and maybe Mother will sneak into my room and stroke my hair like she once did.”
Aryan waited for his brother’s reply. He could imagine his blue eyes contemplating his words.
“Yes, I believe you are right. The time has come. I am sure the Walkers weep for Ryun. He walks in eternity now. When we get home, the cellar will no longer have to be locked. Mother will want to stroke your hair and whisper her prayers. I know she cried many nights when she couldn’t see you anymore.”
“No, she cried over you—because you had become a man,” Aryan insisted.
“No, Brother. She cried for you,” Derik said. “Now let us continue our walk.”
Aryan felt his knees buckle. His legs could no longer carry the weight of his body. His lips and eyes were dried shut. The Southland winds cruelly beat across his face carrying grains of sand that scratched his cheeks. Several of the strips of dirty fabric fell from his body, but he no longer bothered trying to tighten them. The sun was no longer in the sky. Everything was black. The only color he saw was his brother’s blue eyes fastened to his memory like a promise of future happiness.
He heard the footsteps in front of him stop. “Brother! Go on without me. I can go no further!”
“It is as I said!” Derik exclaimed. “I have found the biggest One Tree in all of the Southland. And I see Mother’s root springing up all around it. Just a little further. Hurry! Crawl toward the sound of my voice. There is shade under the great branches.”
Aryan listened to his brother calling out. He crawled on his elbows and knees toward the voice. The arid ground scraped against his legs and arms, but he no longer cared. He only thought of going home to the open door of his cellar. His mother could go in now and stroke his hair.
“You made it!” his brother said. “Feel the trunk of the tree. It is massive!”
Aryan pushed up from his elbows and hugged the tree, clasping his hands tightly against the bark. The tree was wide, and his arms were spread out like the wingspan of the great eagles that fly free in the morning skies. “I feel it! We are here!”
“Now, you rest under the tree. Try to sleep. I will get plenty of Mother’s pregnancy root. Then I am going to search for water. When I get back, we will quench our thirst and rest some more. Then we will be revived enough to journey home. Mother will be so happy to see us. She will have her family back again.”
Aryan thought of the twins in his mother’s belly. “Yes, Mother will have her whole family together.” He couldn’t help but smile. His dry lips peeled open. “And she will no longer have need to cry. In fact, I can see her smiling at us.”
“Yes,” Derik said. “She is smiling at you. She is stroking your hair. And she is whispering prayers over you. You are sleeping now in your bed. And I am finishing up the evening chores. I take my time because I know Mother likes to pet you to sleep. Do you feel it? She is petting you now.”
Aryan’s grinned widened. “Yes, I feel it.” He stopped. “I can hear her prayers too!”
“What is she saying?”
“She is praying that I find the One Tree, for He will take me Home.”
“And we have found it!”
“No, this is Another One Tree. He is the Joy.”
“I don’t understand,” Derik said. “Who is the joy?”
“When I slept in the cellar and listened to the Walkers cry out, I heard both sadness and joy as one of their own walked into eternity. He is the joy I heard. His door is always opened to anyone who seeks Him. He is never hidden, and—look! There is water all around Him!”
“You see water?” Derik asked, confused.
“Yes, I see water streaming around the One Tree like waves. And light! So much light shining from Him. And there are people and kids. They are dancing and playing! I want to go to them! Derik, can I go to them?”
“But where? I don’t see them,” Derik said, looking around the Southland. It was mid-afternoon and the hot summer sun had faded to a soft autumn glow.
Aryan clung onto the One Tree as he tried to look over his shoulder toward his brother’s voice. He saw only darkness. He returned his gaze to the One Tree and rested his cheek against the smooth bark. The One Tree bright. And the water was blue like his brother’s eyes. And the clothing of the people was clean and colorful. He wanted to go to them. “And look! It is Ryun! I see him. He is waving to me. He wants to play. Derik! Derik! Can I go to him? Please!”
“Yes, but what should I tell Mother? She will want to know why you did not return home.”
Aryan spoke but kept his cheek against the bark of the One Tree. His torso pressed up against it, and he embraced as much of it as he could in his outstretched arms. “Tell her that I finally heard her prayers. Tell her that I have found the place she wanted me to find. Tell her that I met the Cure.”
Derik said nothing. Aryan knew his brother was considering his words, but he didn’t want to wait anymore. Ryun beckoned for him to come, so they could play. Aryan finally got up from the tree, leaving the filthy strips of fabric behind. He was ready to go Home.
Derik watched his brother’s body collapse onto the ground. The weight he carried finally lifted. He reached into the folds of his filthy, tattered tunic and pulled out the flagon of water his mother had forced him to carry. He had refused it at first, but now his shaking hands ripped off the lid. He brought the tip of the bottle to his lips and drank deeply. He poured every ounce of liquid down his throat. The moisture soothed his parched mouth and revived his soul. He had finished his mother’s quest. He had brought Aryan Home.
Derik walked into the clearing of his father’s land. The cool breeze of autumn greeted him knowingly. Before coming home, he had jumped into the first lake he saw when entering the Northland. The lake absorbed the gathered grime on his clothes and body, and he walked away wetter yet lighter. After his brother died, he had untangled the dirty strips of cloth he wore on his body to protect against contracting the Walking Disease. He laid them on his brother’s decaying body before burning everything within a parameter of assembled stones. He buried the ashes under the large One Tree they found deep in the Southland. His brother deserved to rest under the biggest tree in all the lands. He had died fighting to return home.
Derik walked past the rows of freshly turned soil. The harvest had finished. His father had done all the work without help. It was a difficult time for all of them. He heard a baby’s cry in the distance. He looked to the porch framing the front of his family’s house. He could see his mother. She held a baby in her arms. He tried to hide from her view, vying for a moment longer before having to speak with her. But she must have sensed his presence. She shielded the sun from her eyes and gazed his way. When she spotted him, she cried out over the baby’s cries. She ran down the steps with the baby tightly in her arms and began to run across the field. His father must have heard her cry because he exited the tool shed and began to race across the field after her.
“Don’t touch him, Lenora! Just wait so I can see him!” his father yelled.
“No, Dustin! I must see my son!” she yelled without yielding her steps.
Derik stopped walking and watched his father run in desperation passed his mother. His father caught up to him first and stood with his arms spread like a wall blocking his mother’s view. “Lenora, stop right now. Let me look at him first to see if there are signs of the disease.”
She finally halted her run. “Derik knew better. I told him not to touch his brother. Only use his words to soothe Aryan, I told him.” The baby fussed in her arms. She instinctually began to rock her arms side to side to quiet her cries.
“I understand but let me just check to make sure. Give me a moment,” his father said gently.
She nodded her head. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were streaked with tears. She tried to calm her heated breaths.
His father turned back to him. “How are you doing, Son?”
“I am fine, Father. I’m glad to be home. I checked all over. No lesions or dryness. I made sure not to touch him. I think he got used to being alone toward the end.”
“Lift up your shirt and turn around. They start on the neck usually.”
Derik turned around and lifted his shirt over his head. He waited, feeling his father’s breath on his back.
“Okay, put your shirt back on. There is nothing on you.”
Derik pulled his shirt back over his head and faced his mother. He wanted to hug her, but the habit of not touching a human soul for six months was ingrained in him. She handed the baby to his father and her cries deepened as she grabbed hold of him.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I should have let him go to the Walker’s Settlement, but I couldn’t lose my boy. But then I lost both of you. I’m so sorry!”
Derik tried to hold back the tears, but the months of watching his brother slowly die tore away at his resolve. “Mother, I did it. I did what you asked of me. I took Aryan on the quest, and he died under a large One Tree deep in the Southland. I burned his body and buried him there. He is at peace now.”
He felt his mother’s body go limp in his arms. He tried to hold her up, but her arms shook with her sobs. “My Aryan! I wanted to go with him. I would have taken him to the Walker’s settlement. I would have hugged him each night under the stars and stroked his hair until he fell asleep. My boy! My boy! I should have gone with you!”
“Son, come hold your sister for me,” his father said.
Derik got up from the ground and walked to his father. Gently, his father placed the now calm baby into his arms.
His father then fell onto his knees onto the ground in front of his wife and grabbed her into his arms. They both wept. “Lenora, there was nothing you could have done. If you would have contracted the Walking Disease Aydan and Arella would have died too. Look,” he said, pointing to Derik who was holding a now sleeping baby. “Arella is healthy. And Aydan sleeps soundly in his bed after you have lulled him to sleep with your touch.”
His mother released herself from his father’s arms, not wanting to be consoled. She leaned her face into the ground and pressed her cheek against the dark soil. “I know, but it still hurts. My boy! If I would have known that day would be the last time I would ever touch him, I would have held on longer!”
“Don’t cry, Mother,” Derik said softly, not wanting to wake Arella. “I wish you could have heard Aryan. He was so excited to leave. He had been completely blind for almost a month, but suddenly he saw color again. And he saw the One Tree you prayed about. He heard you, Mother! He heard your voice speaking to him.”
His mother lifted her head from the ground. The soft soil clung to her face. “He heard my prayers?”
Derik nodded. “Yes, and he was so excited to go. He saw Ryun playing. And bright lights and water surrounding the One Tree. He told me to tell you that he found the place you wanted him to find. He found the Cure. He is Home.”
Lenora covered her face with her hands and began to weep. Her voice rose up in sadness, and her cries echoed across the Northland. Her husband gently brought her back into his embrace. Derik stood holding his baby sister against his chest and listened to his mother mourn. The breeze pulled at the sadness, and a hint of joy lifted into the fading rays of the autumn sun. He heard another cry coming from the house. Baby Aydan was awake, and he needed his mother. Their family was whole once more.
“God has planted eternity in the human heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3.11).
The Mother stood firmly on the base of the mountain. She anchored herself to her sword, alert to the Enemy’s arrows of condemnation flying all around her. One of the arrows pierced her thigh, but she no longer cried out. Half a dozen arrows had already dug into her flesh, and the stings combined to form a continual ache. She gripped her shield, determined to not let another arrow find its mark...
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Allyson Chavez Larkin is a family physician specializing in wound care. She lives in Corpus Christi, Texas with her unfailingly patient husband, a Midwest transplant who still cannot get used to the heat, and three lovely children who are turning into amazing people right in front of her eyes. She reads and writes voraciously in her spare time. Middle grade and young adult fiction are her guilty pleasures.
Jesus Lopez mows his own lawn. So do I of course. So do most of us; but Mr. Lopez is paraplegic.
Twenty-five years ago, a bullet lodged in Jesus Lopez’s back severing the neurologic connection between his spine and legs. Now no signal reaches the muscles below his waist. Paralysis and deformity ensued. His feet are contracted and twisted upside down so that they look like curved bowls -- no good for walking or even standing for that matter. So, Mr. Lopez mows his yard in his wheelchair.
Mr. Lopez’s home health nurse keeps calling me, complaining that his dressings are dirty or have fallen off when she goes out to care for him three times a week. She can’t figure out why. So this visit I’ve got to have a “heart to heart” with him about his role in the healing process.
“Mr. Lopez, you won’t heal unless you are compliant with our wound care plan. If your dressings are dirty or wet when the home nurse sees you, you will never heal.”
“Sorry Doctora.” That is what he calls me. “I think it might be the mowing. I’ll tie a grocery bag on my foot from now on to keep the bandage clean.”
“Mowing? How do you manage that?”
“I pull my chair right up next to the mower so I can pull the crank at the same time I squeeze the start paddle on the handle.”
“It’s a push mower?” I cannot believe what I am hearing.
“You bet, self-propelled. Once I get it started, the mowing is easy.”
I shake my head.
“I pull my chair up behind the mower and push it with my left hand. I drive the wheelchair with my right.”
“That doesn’t sound safe,” I say as I inspect the horseshoe-shaped ulcer on top of his right foot, which due to his contractures, is actually resting on the footplate of his wheelchair.
“I tie that belt around my legs to keep them from flopping if I hit a rut.” Mr. Lopez points to a frayed brown leather belt draped on the edge of his seat. A jagged tear in the cushion has been repaired with silver duct tape and a shopping bag chock full of gear -- a sack lunch, an umbrella, a blanket -- hangs off the handles. “I’ve never had a bit of trouble.”
The wound is pink and shallow. It looks like it should heal right up; but never does. It is maddening. “Dirt and debris getting into your dressing isn’t doing your foot much good either,” I say.
“I have to do it, Doctora. I have a big yard and if I don’t keep it cut, the city will fine me $75. I’m not made of money. ”
That’s true. He gets to my office by bus, but unlike a lot of my bus patients, he is never late. I should have Mr. Lopez give a class: “How to Master Public Transportation and Arrive On Time.” I didn’t even know he took the bus until one day I ran so late that I made him miss the last pick-up. He had to borrow the phone at the front desk to shift around for someone to pick him up.
“Jesus Lopez’s mother died,” my medical assistant warns me before I go in for our next visit.
“I'm so sorry, Mr. Lopez,” I say as I look at his foot.
“Thank you Doctora. I miss her. We were very close, but she was old. It was her time.”
“You lived with her?”
“Yes, just her and I. The house is very quiet now.”
“How are you managing? Have you had to move?”
“Doctora,” Mr. Lopez pauses waiting until I look up and give him my full attention. “My mother couldn’t get out of bed this last year. I managed to take care of her. I sure can take care of myself.”
I blush. This is the closest to an angry word I have ever had from Mr. Lopez, and I deserve every bit of it. I’ve been treating him for a year, but I don't understand a thing about his life.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean -- I just assumed.” I struggled for words. I did not want to offend this man, always so courteous and patient. “But how do you possibly manage? It’s not just your paralysis, but your feet. You can’t even -- ”
“Doctora. I got shot over twenty years ago -- and it was pretty much my own fault. For a few weeks I thought all about ‘I can’t.’ I couldn’t get out of my mind all the things I would never do. But then I decided, ‘Hey, I’m alive. The Lord is not done with me.’ So, every day I just do everything I can do.”
I am humbled and have no response.
“So I took care of my mother. I owed her that. She gave me life and I wasn’t gonna put her in a nursing home.”
“You’re like MacGyver,” I say.
“Oh Doctora,” Mr. Lopez laughs, “I love that show.”
I have an idea. “Do you think if I put home health on hold, you can figure out how to you reach down to your foot and dress the wound yourself everyday?”
“I’ll find a way if you tell me what I need to do.”
“Jesus Lopez is healed.” My medical assistant moon walks in the hall outside Mr. Lopez’s room at his follow up appointment two weeks later.
I walk into the room, hoping but not convinced. I shine the spotlight on his foot. Indeed there is a thin, translucent layer of pink tissue over the wound.
“Mr. Lopez, you are healed.” I can’t help but grin.
“I thought you’d like that, Doctora. Thank you for healing me.”
“Mr. Lopez, are you kidding? You did it. I’m just sorry I didn’t have you change your own dressings months ago.”
“That’s OK, Doctora. You always did your best. Sometimes it takes trying different things before you get them right.”
Copyright Allyson Chavez Larkin
Ana Varela lived in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Taipei before moving to Corpus Christi, and then to Denver. She has proudly worked at a domestic violence shelter, as a paralegal at a non-profit immigration law firm, and spends her free time finding volunteer families for international students. She is a freelance writer, cultural consultant, and host of the Corpus Culture Fest. Her work has been featured in anthologies, and she was a board member and panelist at the 2019 People’s Poetry Festival.
Pacing back in forth in the lobby of a women's shelter
she paused at the paperwork, looked at the baby and felt that no one could help her.
She lifted her daughter, flipped up her hoodie and walked back into the blur.
Pacing back and forth in the lobby of a women's shelter
she paused at the paperwork, paused at the baby and noticed the same day on the calendar.
She lifted that baby, and she put her back down and tried to remember where they were.
Pacing back and forth where they said that they can help her
she paused at the thermostat, thought about smoking crack
and wondered where she could get hers.
She flipped up her hoodie, flipped it back down-
She couldn't feel the right temperature.
Pacing back and forth, wondering about her worth
She looked past the paperwork, stared at the floor
and saw her crawling daughter.
She lifted that baby, walked back into the blur and felt that no one could help her.
The valley knew that it would change my life forever. The longer that I spent in it, the more sure I was of where I needed to be. Nothing could be the same after that summer in the desert.
I met Jay in the three days that I spent at the end of spring in the Joshua Tree dessert. I would not leave for good until the come and go of a year of seasons. If I was once a seed I had grown into a mesquite, and I was finally enjoying my shade. Before, I had wandered content, well-nourished from the freedom of decisions that had led me to this event. When I reached the desert, I gave in to a restful time and listened, for once, to the message of a music festival. If “music is the soul of life” then the desert is the body from which energy might manifest as humming, the vibrations as song. I met my Jay in Joshua Tree, and, one day, I flew away with him.
My first winter with Jay was a high-desert January and a world of wonder. I drove the three hours from Los Angeles, as I had done so many times throughout the summer, to reach our paradise in the desert. The last hour of the drive, heading up the mountain after a windmill valley, was hard on the car but easy on the mind. I passed the small but popular Joshua Tree city, catering to the tourists that came from around the world to visit the national park, the businesses boutique with faux-desert facades. Farther up the road Twentynine Palms -- an even smaller bucolic town that most only know if they have heard of the military base. Two different cities, like two very different beasts, feeding on that which keeps them growing. Turning off the main street there, I drove for a quarter of an hour more as the asphalt turned into dirt road. Not too far in the distance, with its red stripe around its side, the 1970’s El Rey camper was my minds favorite sight. I imagined that I could hear Jay's small dog panting as he listened for my tires driving up the property. I was moments from Jay's smile and feeling the weight of the wine glass in my hand.
The sky in winter matched Jay’s eyes -- a crisp and clean bright, blue grey. By morning, I was happy to be in the El Rey, warmed by the closeness of our bodies. If this had been August, the camper would be empty by midday, and we would be somewhere else searching for shade. Winter called for a noontime wandering. When the morning freeze had melted under the sun, we set out from our cozy home. Imitating the flower buds of the cacti around us, we wrapped up in layered bundles, bursting with anticipation for spring. Vast and limitless, ours was the most beautiful backyard in the world. Except for the few trails we had worn around the property, we explored in a new direction every day. There was every shape of twisting branch discovered for each pairless shoe found. When the afternoon warmed enough, we stopped anywhere in a greasewood bush field to drink wine, laugh, and watch as the stars appeared.
The Joshua Tree seemed the greatest teacher, the desert the greatest classroom. For it to survive, the Joshua Tree gave parts of itself to the desert; fruit for the sloth (extinct to humans) and seeds for Yucca Moth larvae to eat. When the flowers bloom in spring, the appreciative moth pollinates other trees. It is a thousand year old dance of coevolution. The philosophy of the Joshua Tree was simple; keep only that which you need to survive and a partner to help you grow- the rest is too heavy to carry.
Jay had a bird’s eye view of the world, and could see farther than I ever could alone. He could see where the wind would blow, dropping pieces of desert trash and treasures in a secret sand bowl. It was a long valley, hidden between a row of small mountains and sand dunes. Burnouts and storms and time had turned parts into pieces and sections to shreds. Collecting our favorite fragments of broken plates, plastics, and metals, Jay and I spent afternoons creating our mosaics. Longing for a body of water, the sound of a crashing wave, or the salt saturated spray of ocean mist, he brought a sea creature to life in the dry desert. With teeth of glass and shotgun shells for scales a devilish angler fish appeared from the sand. Once, a friend, stopping in our desert on a roadtrip across the country, painted a monarch over a wide boulder in our secret mosaic sand bowl. Before him, that boulder had looked like an abandoned Volkswagen bug in the distance. Then, it was as if the butterfly had flown swiftly into the side of the boulder and left her color splattered all over the sand. So vast, in fact, was this mosaic valley, that when we returned to find the massive monarch, with a wingspan twice as large as mine, she seemed to have flown off. Perhaps the Volkswagen had suddenly driven away.
Nothing dies in the desert. A seemingly dry greasewood, when its bare branch snaps, reveals a jade green center, ready to feed the new leaves of spring. If something begins to lose life, it crumbles over the sands' surface and smooths to preservation becoming an important particle of the ever growing land. Everything becomes the desert again.
The first time I crashed a motorcycle I fell into the soft embrace of the desert. The deep trail behind me snaked its way more sharply the closer to where I lay. Jay hadn’t seen me yet. I didn’t want him to think that I was hurt. I unburied myself from the sand and, despite the pain in my shin, walked over to the other side of the little red Honda to pull it up. By the time Jay had noticed, I was loading onto the bike again. I only fell once more that day as we were leaving the mosaic valley, burying my front tire into the side of one of the dunes. Again the snickering snake led to exactly the point where I was splayed across the sand.
Summer had gone months before but the grab of its rays still burned like yesterday in our memories. Each blazing day of that season, when the rocks and the trees and the mountains began to see their shadows, we set off on another ride. The buzzing motorbikes echoed through the canyons we explored. The world hummed to the tune of our adventures. Eager for curious visitors and luring us in with their shade, we rode up to the mouth of the hungry caves. Abandoned mines that had no notion of time. It would be weeks before the next desert riders would find them again. Leaving behind the cold and burning superheated summer surface world to the lizards, we walked into the earth and entered the cool, endless darkness. Deep blue turquoise streaks lined the inside of the otherwise rough earth; perfect lines of oxidized copper led us deeper and deeper inside.
Like Plato's allegory of the cave, I wondered if my high-desert stories made sense to many city dwellers or the strictly social media savants. Would they see the value in the voids or the expanses of the desert? How might I convey the worth in the woe of an abandoned mine? After allowing our internal temperatures to drop, and our inner thoughts to cool and calm, we wander back to see how the sand of the summer had changed. Time is measured by the sun, and it waits for no one.
We were never lost following the cooing and whispering hints of the wind, then the allure of the light. Emerging from the mine, we were enveloped in a warm embrace by the two; the sky and the sun welcomed us again. Unlike a city, where the alleys at night should be avoided, this world would not punish me for walking into the darkness.
Regardless of the season, each morning my eyes were opened by the gentle kiss of sunrise, calling for me to come outside to face the rising Ra. These 2,700 feet above sea level are pure -- similar to starving the muscles for oxygen, so does the elevation strengthen the soul. There is little room for the toxic smog of my mind that I bring with me from the city each drive and soon it is all taken away by the very same wind the urges me forward. I must have followed that very wind to that Spring festival that took me away with Jay forever. Each day in the desert since then, we did as the animals did and looked to find shade at noon otherwise, we would be bake in that retro and aluminum camper. We had to move or risk withering away as I once did on the third day that I had met my Jay.
I was falling in love with a blue Jay, and distracted I forgot to drink water, to eat, or to sleep under the stars. So, I unknowingly was fading away until I finally fainted. Catching me, as if I were a seed, Jay took me under his wing and placed me in the shade of my desert realty; there is no room for toxicity, remember the lessons of the Joshua Tree; only take what you need, and he chose to take me, the rest was too heavy to carry.
While in that daze of those days, I remembered the day Jay firmly dodged the first time I reached for his chin. In a tent booth full of precious gems and crystals, he was the most captivating -- the most valuable thing. Resonating over the entire Joshua Tree valley, the festival music enveloping the tent seemed muffled and low to the mocking Jay’s song. Would he believe that we would spend so many sunrises together in this very desert? Or riding home each sunset before the darkness could envelop the two of us on our motorbikes? One day, although it was sudden, we would fly away. We were unlike the valley’s ephemeral blooms, destined instead to flower forever. Nothing was the same after that summer in the desert and, after a year of seasons, we flew away together, my desert Jay and I.
Brandon Cantu was given a school assignment in creative writing when he was 6 years old. He and his mother, Melinda Cantu, chose to use a porcupine as subject material based on a TV documentary they had seen.
This is a story about a porcupine named Quillan. Quillan was a very nice porcupine except he had one big problem. Quillan could not control his temper.
Every day he would play baseball with his friends. When it was his turn to bat if the pitcher would strike him out he would get so MAD! Quillan would arch his back, tighten his muscles and his quills would stand straight up. His friends were so afraid to get close to him for fear of being stuck with one of his quills that they would all run away.
This made Quillan very sad.
He went home and told his Mom, “No one wants to play with me.”
His Mom said, “Quillan you have to CONTROL YOUR TEMPER!”
“But Mom how do I control my temper?”
"Try counting to ten.”
Copyright Brandon Cantu and Melinda Cantu
Read the full story on Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
David Pinkerd grew up in Corpus Christi. He went to Driscoll Junior High. He also served in Vietnam in 1972. After returning home, he started several businesses.
Forty seven years ago this week, I returned from Southeast Asia. The "anniversary" kind of sneaked up on me. I guess guys who experienced that or similar, including our young troops now, get the same sense you no longer belong.
If I live another forty seven years, I won't lose that feeling. It's not really a bad feeling just the awareness you aren't the same person and the folks who stayed here are. Hard to explain but I can understand why guys who return from the Middle East (or the countless other places they are in harms way) do not readily assimilate - or probably even want to. It's not the killing or even the personal danger necessarily, but they are part of something huge and important then the switch is turned off and they aren't. I guess it's like a serious divorce. you can't go back to who you were before the marriage.
Forty seven years is a long time for a guy once voted "Most Likely to not Reach 21".
Esther Bonilla Read was born and raised in Calvert, Texas, a small town in Central Texas. She graduated from Baylor University and began teaching school in Corpus Christi, Texas. This became home for her and her husband Nolan K. Read and their four children. She writes on a variety of subjects: her family; school; and of various incidents that have occurred in her life. She has been published by various newspapers; Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul and several anthologies and magazines. Her Book From the Porch Steps is available on Amazon
My mother was a product of the Great Depression. People of her era know exactly what I mean. For those of you who are younger, allow me to elaborate.
Mother knew what it was not to have one cent in the home. She knew what it was to have a husband come into the home and say, “I lost my job, and so did everyone else at the business.”
Not only did Mother know what it was like not to have any money, but she also experienced having hungry children waiting to be fed and not understanding why a bowl of oatmeal was not forthcoming. She had neighbors who were also hungry.
But, she told me, she had friends (comadres) who lived out in the country and came into town in wagons from time to time and brought her vegetables and some meat from a recently slaughtered pig. My mother and father even moved out to a farm for a while during the Depression to try to make a living out there, but Daddy, a former city boy, couldn’t tolerate it.
And in a few years the Depression lifted like a dark cloud that mysteriously disappears.
Daddy was called back to work and life became normal for the small family. Then the war came and again, items were scarce, but at least everyone seemed to be employed.
But my mother never forgot her experiences. She saved all things every opportunity she had. And she was resourceful. She made her own lye soap. She saved feathers when a chicken was slaughtered and made pillows. We were taught to mend clothes. Everything was used and then recycled before we knew what the word meant...
Several years ago a nice woman wrote something like the following in the newspaper: Why do women argue for Equal Rights? Men place them on pedestals and there is no need to fight for equality.
Well, Folks, I have searched high and low for that pedestal, and I have never located it. Like the elusive "Fountain of Youth" for which Ponce De Leon searched and didn't find, so it is with me and the pedestal.
I am through looking.
copyright Esther Read
It was right before Christmas, and we fifth graders in Mrs. Pietsch’s classroom were an excited group of chattering students. WWII was over. It was now peace time, and it was a time to be happy.
Most students in our school didn’t have an abundance of material things, but we didn’t know that. And the students who had the least were the children of itinerant or sharecropping farm workers. Some came to school barefooted. Others wore the same clothes over and over. No matter how much starch the mother used before she ironed the girls’ dresses, they were the same ones worn week after week.
Suddenly midst the chatter we heard our teacher Mrs. Pietsch raise her voice. She told us to be quiet as she had an announcement. She asked, “Who took a five dollar bill out of my purse?”
Everyone was quiet. We looked at one another with questioning faces. Only the voice of two students walking down the hallway could be heard. Some students in our class whispered to one another. Two or three chairs scraped the floor. Then one boy laughingly said, “Ben took it.” I knew my brother Ben didn’t take anything from anyone. He never would.
From the Porch Steps tells brief stories or incidents that entertain the reader. The vignettes may make the reader smile or even laugh out loud. The author relates her experiences (and sometimes the experiences of others) as she sees them through eyes that find humor and lots of heart. Buy From the Porch Steps
Who is Johnny Jebsen, and why does he keep emailing me?
Florida is nice place to visit, but I never want to live there."
If you want to understand Florida, you have to first accept that anyone who lives in Florida is not from Florida. You're either old and running for a tax shelter or you're running away from something you didn't like. We're all castaways here. We're all pirates of some sort. Canadians and New York Jews abound -- a contact zone of cultures, Pittsburgh and New Jersey settlements. Lots of trailer parks fly Canadian flags.
I live in New Port Richey that is a bedroom community of the Tarpon area that comes under the heading of North Tampa, and whose town mayor was just arrested for practicing medicine without a license. He even fired shots at the police who came banging down his door to arrest him the other night.
Yeah. All pirates here! Here in Florida, they call me Papillon.
Every day Johnny drives to work in the long line of bumper to bumper traffic with other suburbanites of lesser neighborhoods making their way to work. Real Floridians love Jesus and kitsch but don't eat quiche. Real men love their guns, always sure to stroke it clean and keep it oiled. They imagine themselves "going in" and shooting "foreign invaders," too.
"Where is the sense of things?" Johnny often asks his radio, but the radio never offers solution. It only talks.
There are few things that make sense in the world, and one of them is just being with the ones you love.
My memorable remnants are few. Not so much for my lack of mental capacity but for the small and focused nature of my background.
As a 4 month old child I was left at the door step of a Monastery; hence, parent-less, without a history I was -- though I had never known it -- turned over to Monastery of the Order of Sanctus Sicario, or what is the Holy Assassins of the Holy Catholic Church.
That no history exists, that nothing has been recorded precludes not that it ever doubtfully existed, but that we were so well hidden.
Here now is my story.
copyright Johnny Jebsen
Jose Olivares was born in Corpus Christi. He graduated from Roy Miller High School, and the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&I University Kingsville, and Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. He worked as a secondary mathematics teacher, middle school principal and Corpus Christi Independent School District mathematics consultant and as adjunct professor of mathematics at Texas A&M CC. Jose and his wife Tomacita have three children who are also graduates of UT Austin. Their daughter Liana Gonzales is an attorney in Corpus Christi and daughter Mariela Olivares is also at attorney and law school professor at Howard University in Washington DC. Their son Jose Luis is a graphic computer artist in Portland, Oregon. They have four grandchildren.
“Please close the windows, the air is burning my face” my younger sister cried as we drove to California seeking work as migrant workers. My parents had loaded the family (five children ages 17, 15, 13, 10, 4) into the car and headed cross country to the Bakersfield area. Two older siblings did not join us—one was married and the other was serving in the U.S. Army. I was 15.
Our car did not have air conditioning, but the desert air blowing into the car was so hot that we alternated closing and opening the windows. My Mother would constantly place a wet towel over my Father’s head and shoulder in order to cool his body.
We worked picking grapes, peaches, potatoes and tomatoes. Our home was in one of the many labor camps in the area. Our shelter was a metal structure that felt like a furnace in the hot summer days. Our shelter had no electricity, running water or bathroom facilities. Group facilities were available for our use.
Read more of this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Juan Manuel Pérez, a Mexican-American poet of indigenous descent and the current Poet Laureate for Corpus Christi, Texas (2019-2020), is the author of numerous books. He is a ten-year Navy Corpsman/Combat Marine Medic with experience in the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the 2nd Marines and the 1992 Hurricane Andrew Relief Marine Air Group Task Force. This two-time Teacher of the Year, along with his wife, Malia (a three-time Teacher of the Year), is a co-founder of The House of the Fighting Chupacabras Press. Currently, Juan worships his Creator, teaches public high school history, writes poetry, and chases chupacabras in the Texas Coastal Bend Area.
God is Good! God is Great! God is Awesome!
Ladies, Gentlemen, Public School Teachers,
Wise Professors, Students of Poetry,
PHD Carrying Wal Mart Leaders,
Great Citizens of Nueces County,
All of you present here this very night
A man once said, “Come to Corpus Christi.
I will put you and your words on display
Among those I know here in this city.”
So eventually I came to this coast
Tonight, I am tasked to introduce him
I say of him, as Kirk would say of Spock,
“Of all the souls I've encountered on my
travels, his was the most...human.” Indeed
“But good words; that’s where ideas begin. …
Maybe you should listen to them,” I did
A greater poet among great poets
Grand enabler of versification
Facilitator of bards yet to be
The soul of Shakespeare in this century
Grand things and much more can be thought of him
But he will play it off as nothing said
For in this façade of a common man
Rages the poet against his machines
Like Scotty working poetic engines
Expecting finesse in understanding
All the right words in all the right phases
Going where poems have never gone before
That is this man, my friend, and my brother
Kindred poet of a different mother
I do love him, but this is no love poem
These are verses of honor, gratitude
Celebration of this prize of passage
For the best and first among us all here
Despite my rants of ethnic brown issues
Obvious tortilla alliterations
Chupacabras and pesky wall builders
Our bond has become stronger through the years
Yet we are the same despite differences
Like our love for great women and monkeys
For Mexican food, football, and cold beer
For soda pop, polkas, and poetry
With reason, I say these words to you now
In some fear that you might never hear them
One day we will be only memory
To this end, the poet is duly cursed
Yet our words left behind will outweigh us
Fulfilling needs of many who read us
Don’t bother to grieve, it is logical,
Like flowers: here today, gone tomorrow
Yet crafted words remain printed in books
Choose the right ones to say and take the rest
For now we revel in celebration
As we partake in this, a great honor
This city’s very first Poet Laureate
What a wonderful thing it is to witness
And with that I close as I remind you:
I have been and always shall be your friend.
Larry Zuckerman is from New York City. When Desi Arnaz died, they had a service for him at a church around the corner from his apartment on CPW. He walked by as the church door opened. He made this up seconds later and has been reciting it for years now. He has no idea why.
Maria Conchita Alonzo Juarez
Went to the funeral of Desi Arnaz
The limos were lined on Central Park West
to honor the man who sang Babaloo best
Lucy was there along with Bob Hope
They even had lunch plans with the Pope
A car door was open and I slipped inside
Fred and Ethel said, Larry, come along for the ride