Teri Garcia-Ruiz is a Texas native who enjoys both reading and writing poetry, historical and science fiction. Her work has appeared in The Windward Review and in the Poets Facing the Wall Anthology.
Like the eye of a storm, the mirador is a quiet moment
within the swirling sea of passing cars, sailboats and swooping
laughing gulls that fill the rushing
salt air with the lively song of coastal living. Just stop.
Look around. Breathe in
Sometimes it’s small, but every scientist knows –
every swirl must have a center.
and it’s here
at the crossroad of pulsing
streets, pedestrians, and serene Selena standing watch
Right here, in the eye of the city
Where the charred mesquite scent from City Diner makes the air over Starr Street almost drinkable
Where you see, in the distance, a giant tanker towering over its halo of tugboats
Blustering mightily up the harbor
then silently sliding away
disappearing below the brilliant, flashing lightshow
of the Harbor Bridge at sunset
Where the wild winds calm to signal the coming of night
in a quiet moonrise over indigo waves
that shines like our dreamy hope for a new tomorrow
when the setting stars will clear the sky for a brilliant Gulf of Mexico sunrise
But for now, standing still in the moment
still in the dark,
this quieting city downshifts into dreamtime
yet joyfully bobbing to the tune of today even as it’s mellowing
into yesterday’s music
the midnight marina party rolls on,
keeping the lights on in the slip space
between Green Light
Yo soy carne y hueso
sangre y luz
Soy de aquí
El sol y la luna juntos
dan luz a mis días, mis sueños,
mi alma entera
I don’t dream in Spanish
I’m not quite there. But I can see
in Spanish. Like a tall green cactus rising from the flatness,
it calls me, still keeping its secrets safe
from the wide open
flat middle of the desert.
Safe from the scorching heat, from el sol de junio
Locked deep in the cracked, bleached white earth
that still finds a way to feed the living desert
Scorpion, snake and coyote
Spanish swirls like an underground river, joining the lost
languages to pulse in a murmur under my feet. Nourishing
the short grasses, silvering the sand covered purple verbena
Sweetening the syrup of the honey mesquite I am still
forbidden to drink
But somehow I know I belong here,
the whole universe holds me in place
the arm of the Milky Way arcs over the plain
lulling me into sweet sueños
under a velvety sky of
darkening cobalt studded by millones de estrellas,
An owl calls in the distance, reminding me of the long ago
days I lived near a railroad. Its soft horn passing
through the small hours
made the empty nights feel even
The mournful sound would draw my mind along
with its line of rusted out boxcars
to the place where el sol was already clawing
though the ragged edges of la noche.
But for a few more hours it remained trapped
like me. Still hanging quietly and without words
Controlled and burning
just below the horizon.
Theresa Kuhl-Babcock has worked for over two decades as a Masters Level School Psychologist (LSSP) in Texas. More about Theresa at the end of this section
Staying in the present drains the life right out of me. The current negative moment is that our son Corey is going off to college, and I am about to be an empty nester. My chest aches with the knowledge that while I can create a new truth, my past represents the best of times and the worst of times.
He walks in the door. “Hey mom. Did you make anything for dinner?”
“No. I figured you would just grab something.” I’m not lazy, but both of my kids have preferred quick meals for some time. I’ve learned that the effort isn’t worth it.
“Okay. Can you cook something tomorrow?” He’s a charming eighteen-year-old with wild curly red hair and smile that just warms my heart.
I would love a family meal, even though he’ll likely make a a plate and get online with his friends. Still, I take the bait. “I can make fajitas.”
“Perfect. And I also want beef tips before I leave.”
He lopes away, and I follow him to his dirty musky-smelling room with clothes and fast-food wrappers strewn everywhere. None of this is acceptable per our house rules, but unless I nag or do it myself, the mess is my reality. But not for long. Soon the room will be a hollow shell, just like the room across the hall. Chloe left for college two years ago. To distract myself from these thoughts, I begin picking up his things. “Did you turn in the check for your cap and gown?”
“Stop mom! I don’t need you to clean my room.” He rushes to pick up his clothes.
He is a sweet boy. I mean man. “Okay, I can make you a little something.”
“Thanks.” He gives me a peck on the forehead while towering over me to shut his door.
Tears nearly roll down my checks as I think about only having one more week in my parenthood journey. Chloe told me when she was 16 that parenthood doesn’t stop when you graduate. She reassured me she would need me forever. Now that she is 21, off in college, I hear from her every few months. The phone calls are like a jolt of electricity, that depletes me to zero when the connection ends. The connection ends, yes, that is how it feels. When they go, the connection ends.
The dogs begin barking. My husband, Ryan, walks in with a stack of who knows what in his arms and puts them on the front table. “Hey!” he says, but he’s already walking into the bedroom to change and does not expect an answer. Our lives are so routine, predictable, lackluster. When you mold your life around your children, that is what happens.
While I contemplate my emptiness, Ryan comes in wearing his tight red Aero Jersey ready for cycling. “I should be home around 7:30.” He kisses me on my forehead. I remember when we use to give passionate kisses before parting. I remember so much. I miss so much.
“Have fun.” I smile and goose him playfully.
“You know, you should really join me.”
I want to say that this is the last week Corey will be here, and he should spend the time with us. But I don’t. “Go.” He means well, but he also knows that I hate cycling and would need years to gain the stamina needed to keep up with his riding group.
Our life together has been exactly this. Ryan filled his life with hobbies, while I took care of all the details. The kids over the last 21 years were the bulk of that burden. A burden that filled me with love, exhaustion, pride, and, at times, frustration. Regardless of good or bad moments, those moments were meaningful and became the clothing I wore to present myself to the world.
In a week, I will be naked. There is nothing worse than landing naked and full of shame. Shame that I am not stronger, more independent, more fulfilled within myself.
One week later, Chloe arrives to drive up with us to University of Texas. The Tahoe is full and my life is officially empty. Today may actually be the death of me.
“You’re going to love it in Austin,” she says. “I bet I’ll even run into you at the drag.” She looks like a model with her long flowing strawberry blonde hair billowing across her forehead. She is wearing a moss green crop top and baggy mom jeans with a large belt working hard to keep them over her non-existent hips. I used to have that figure.
“Don’t cramp my style. Let me know before you creep around.” He pushes her with his shoulder.
“Whatever, loser. You wish a girl as gorgeous as me wanted to creep on you.”
Corey makes a gross face, “You are my sister!”
While they talk a big talk, they are actually very close and will be there for each other. Every part of me wants to sell the house and follow them, but I have been expressly forbidden from moving within 100 miles of UT.
“This is it,” Ryan says as we pile into the Tahoe. “Our final road trip as the Charles family.”
While my soul recoils at his words, Corey and Chloe begin chanting, “Road trip. Road trip.” No part of me wants to begin the end of my life as I have defined it for twenty-one years.
Despite my silent emotional protest, the drive begins.
“Do you guys remember our road trip to Tennessee?” Ryan asks the kids, I mean the adults in the backseat.
“Yeah, mom read us Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Corey goes on. “I read that whole series after that trip. Did you bring a book today, Mom?”
“Not today. I wish I had thought of it.” The mommy of 15 years ago would have thought of it. But today I allow this moment to pass uneventful. Focused on tomorrow. Focused on the loss. No longer focused on the journey.
“I remember the cabin in the Smokey Mountains. Adults upstairs and kids downstairs. I had such a crush on your friend’s kid. What was his name?” Chloe asks.
“Jeffrey. He was four years older than you.” I respond.
“He was hot. That is what I remember.” She was always a little boy crazy. Interestingly enough, she has grown into a very independent woman and has not yet brought home a serious boyfriend.
Corey changes the subject, “We went ziplining for the first time. I was the first one to go.”
“You were scared. I think you just wanted to get it over with.” Ryan is as nostalgic as the rest of us.
“True. I hated all the camping and exploring we did in boy scouts then, but now I love it. Lake Travis has a great zipline. We plan to go in few weeks after we get settled.”
I imagine Ryan is feeling much like me. The exploring that used to be Daddy-time has transformed into the prerogative of a young man and his friends. I reach over and hold Ryan’s hand. He gives me a knowing glance. My heart wrenches. Never have I wanted to turn back time more than today.
“We should plan a family trip over Christmas.” Ryan offers.
Chloe looks guilty, “I already have a plan to go to Houston with Desi. I do plan to come down for Christmas Eve, but I have to be back the day after Christmas for work.”
Desi? She has mentioned him a few times, but evidently he is a serious boyfriend—the first. Ryan and I exchange glances.
Corey joins in. “I don’t want a big trip. That will be my first Christmas away. I want to take it easy and decide when it gets closer.”
His first, coincides with my last. My last Christmas with parent authority passed without my really noticing. From here on out, my holidays will be at their will. Why did I let them become such independent healthy adults?
“I guess Mom and I can just take a trip by ourselves.” Ryan gives me a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrow.
My chest tightens. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy a trip with Ryan, but because I am in mourning. Mourning the death of my immediate family. Ryan and I are now extended family. How many times did I choose not to visit my parents? Instead, I happily created my own family. Would Corey and Chloe do the same and visit less and less? Leaving me waiting for the few and far between visits. I turn my head to avoid anyone noticing the lone tear running down my cheek.
Before we know it, we are at the dorm. Corey’s journey into adulthood is starting. Sending your first off to college is hard but saying goodbye to your last is unbearable.
I focus on the tasks of the day. Unloading the car, decorating the room, eating lunch, and picking up the last few items from Walmart. The inevitable moment approaches. Slowly the wind dies, the streaks of sunshine disappear, the dark cloud rolls in, and the ominous truth enters without invitation. The time has come.
“Well, I guess this is it.” Corey is excited and ready for us to leave. The juxtaposition of his happiness and my distress creates tension.
Ryan pats me on the shoulder. “I guess we should leave. We are so proud of you. Don’t forget about us and remember if you need anything, we are a phone call away.” He hugs Corey enveloping the six-foot-tall man in his arms.
Chloe chimes in, “Don’t worry. I am ten minutes away.”
I can’t speak. My body feels heavy, and my eyes are filled with sadness. Corey and Chloe look at me. I stick out my lower lip and mom up. “I love you, both. I wish I could take you home forever, but I did my job. Like Dad said, I am here if you need me.” After a group hug, Ryan and I get in the Tahoe and drive away. I turn to look back but as quickly as the day started is as quickly as the moment ended.
In the empty car.
Theresa Kuhl-Babcock has worked for over two decades as a Masters Level School Psychologist (LSSP) in Texas. Living a full life traveling, adventuring and raising a family in addition to experiences gained through her professional life are all in the scope of her creative pursuits. Not Quite Broken is her first and only published novel, set in Corpus Christi. The short story contributed in this compilation is another emotional and insightful piece meant to touch the heart and raise empathy of readers.
The author is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and a former newspaper columnist long
retired. Originally from Florida, he has now resided in Kingsville for almost eight years. He and his wife
Jill own and operate a small used bookstore located in historic downtown.
It was a blistering hot, windy, and dusty day when the glistening brand new black Cadillac Escalade pulled up to the address that the GPS had indicated. The driver advised the half-snoozing, exquisitely dressed gentleman in the backseat, that they had arrived.
Mr. M. J. Rizen, utilizing a cane to steady his gait, stepped out of the SUV. Much to his surprise, Charles H. Flato Elementary School on West Santa Gertrudis Avenue in Kingsville, Texas was still standing. Not standing very sturdy mind you, but it was still there all the same.
As he walked into the old hulking shell of a building, his mind swept back to 1952 to the first day of the fourth grade. Of all of the places that he’d lived and attended school, that one year in Kingsville had a profound effect on his life.
Young Jimmy, upon arrival at school that day had been very thankful that he was actually starting the new school year on the very first day. He was just another regular student, and not one who had shown up new during the school year like in other locations. He’d hated the undue attention that it had always brought upon himself.
Prior to moving to Kingsville, which is near Corpus Christi, the boy had attended schools in Florida and Virginia and was destined to move on to several other locations around the country before eventually graduating high school.
The life of a “military brat” was tough and many of the kids oftentimes developed deep-seated anger. At such a young age, he’d already grown tired of the constant moving, and the making of new friends and then the leaving of them quite suddenly.
He’d already begun craving a normal life, which meant having the same friends and one place to call home.
The best thing about his new school was his fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Irene Atwood. She was dedicated to her pupils and had a sensitive nature and was able to pick-up on emotions from her many students, even those who were very withdrawn and had very tough exteriors, such as Jimmy.
Try as she might though, she never could crack the hard, outer surface of the boy. That is until one day when he was due to read an assignment he’d written, in front of his class. He’d shown up that morning with a look of absolute dread on his young face. In his left hand was a wadded-up batch of notebook paper.
“Jimmy, what do you have there?” Mrs. Atwood calmly asked.
“My report on Paris, France but it’s ruined, ma’am.”
“What happened to it?”
“I was getting ready for school and I took it into the bathroom to read it to myself while I was brushing my teeth. My little sister was in the tub, and somehow my papers fell into it. I grabbed them real quick-like, but you can see they are ruined.”
“It’s alright, Jimmy. I can tell that you did the work. It’s not a big deal,” Mrs. Atwood replied.
“It’s not? I won’t be able to read it in front of the class, though,” he replied.
Jimmy had always hated not measuring up to expectations and not getting everything perfect, which seemed to be things that his father was always able to do quite easily.
“I’ll tell you what, Jimmy. How about you just write down a few things that you remember that was in your report and then you just talk about them?”
“OK, I think I can do that,” he replied with a relieved smile on his face.
What followed that afternoon in Mrs. Atwood’s classroom was remarkable to everyone present. Without realizing it, Jimmy had been able to recall almost every detail that he’d included in his earlier report. More remarkable than that, though, was how well he had presented the information to his classmates.
“Jimmy, you are a natural performer. You are also intelligent and creative. You kept everyone interested in what you were saying and for a while there, you just didn’t seem as angry and frustrated as you normally seem to be,” Mrs. Atwood showered those compliments on the boy as he was preparing to leave the classroom for the day, after everyone else had already left.
“Thank you, Mrs. Atwood. I sure appreciate how you took the pressure off me. I almost always feel like I can’t keep up with how everyone wants me to be.”
“I can understand that Jimmy. As you get older and wiser though, you’ll be able to figure out what it is that makes you happy and you’ll worry less about what everyone else thinks.”
“Now, I’m just a stranger to you and I don’t know that much about you and your family but I have been around for quite a few more years than you have and so I’ve learned a few things.”
“As in what, ma’am?”
“Like, just because we find ourselves on a certain course in life, it doesn’t mean that we absolutely have to stay on that course. Right now, being young, you don’t have that many choices that you can freely make, but someday, when you’re older, you’ll have that opportunity and I hope you’ll make good choices. You have to be true to your own spirit, Jimmy. That means doing what you really want to do and not what others want or think you should do.”
“Thanks, ma’am, thank you very much for those words.”
“You’re quite welcome, young man, it’s my pleasure. Now you get on home and I’ll see you tomorrow. By the way, I don’t expect you to remember everything that I’ve said to you today but I am hoping that the words will come back to you someday when you need them the most.”
“Thanks, again,” Jimmy replied as he left the room with a very rare smile on his face.
The rest of the school year went by quickly and many a day transpired along the same lines with Mrs. Atwood providing the young man with little snippets of wisdom and encouragement. Every time that he’d thank his teacher, she would almost always reply with “my pleasure,” which was a response that Jimmy had never heard anyone say before he had moved to Kingsville. It had always seemed to ring true with him though and he’d never doubted the sincerity of that reply from his much-adored teacher.
Jimmy had also learned to enjoy Saturdays in Kingsville. Regularly, he and a few of his buddies would walk downtown and watch an afternoon matinee at the beautiful Texas Theatre and then follow that up with delicious sundaes at Harrel’s Pharmacy, which had been in existence since 1916. The boy had learned to appreciate the slow and easy pace of small-town life.
And so, it was a sad day when Jimmy’s father announced that they would be moving on once again. Jimmy was able to finish the school year before they departed for Albuquerque. From New Mexico, the family moved to San Diego and then eventually to Alexandria, Virginia where he’d graduated high school. Jimmy eventually graduated film school at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1965, but not before attending a couple of colleges in Florida.
Then came those few years of fame and celebrity.
After that, he spent forty-two years in Africa turning diamonds into a fortune that he used to better the lives of the impoverished. He’d finally found a place to call home and he’d stayed. His health had taken a turn for the worse, though, and he’d decided to do some traveling in case he couldn’t in a few more years. His doctors had recently told him that it was a miracle that he was still alive, considering all of the drugs and alcohol that he’d consumed as a young man. He was surprised by that fact himself.
He’d always thought that if he could become famous by sharing his creativity with others, that both the recognition and the many acknowledged accomplishments would somehow soothe the savage beast within him. But, they hadn’t. In fact, with an almost cult-like following that sprung up and with an ever-increasing expectation from his fans for some new greatness to be revealed, it had all blown up in his face. The drinking and the drugs had almost killed him one day back in 1971, and in of all places, the city of Paris.
A few days prior to that, and unbeknownst to Jim’s friends, he’d made a new friend. This Frenchman, Pierre Bernard, resembled him at the time. Both men had grown their hair long and had gone unshaved for almost a year. Pierre was even overweight by some twenty plus pounds, almost exactly the amount of weight Jim had put on over the several months prior. Neither man at that time had looked like a famous icon, whatsoever. Pierre had recently found himself without a place to live and so Jim had invited him to stay at his place. They drank and did drugs together and swapped true and false tales about themselves, and no one came around during those few days.
One morning, Jim discovered Pierre’s lifeless body in the bathtub. The man had mistakenly snorted a dose of heroin thinking that it was cocaine.
As Jim stood there, looking down at his friend’s body. It could easily have been him lying there dead and staring up into nothingness. He remembered the day he’d shown up for school with the soggy report and how Mrs. Atwood had told him he could pick a new path.
“I can pick a new course,” Jim had said out loud as he stood above the bathtub. “Right here, right now.” Mrs. Atwood’s words kept repeating themselves over and over in his mind.
No one else was in the apartment at the time of Pierre’s death. Jim had had no idea where his girlfriend was at that moment. She’d been almost totally out of her mind on drugs for weeks and Jim had figured that she’d probably not even notice that it was not he who had passed away.
All he’d have to do was to leave his American driver’s license behind, gather up some clothes and his passport and make an anonymous telephone call to the authorities. He could go somewhere else and start fresh. No fans would be constantly following him around and watching his every move. No one would be worshipping him any longer. He’d detested that aspect of his life. He’d be giving up potential millions of dollars in royalties over the coming decades. Was it worth it?
Could he actually get away with it?
He’d pondered that question. A few minutes passed, the silence was surreal, and his mind was racing. There could be no more drugs and alcohol and that was for sure. It would have to be that way for the rest of his life, or he’d end up just like his dead friend Pierre.
And so, he’d left Paris undetected and he’d allowed the French authorities to believe that it was his body in the tub. Pierre had no family and had run out of friends, so Jim had realized that the man would not be missed whatsoever.
The quickly-thought-of plan had worked out perfectly, much to Jim’s amazement. For the next several years, he’d constantly looked over his shoulders but eventually he stopped worrying about being found out.
Jim had used his passport to get to Africa, a place that he’d often told his friends and fellow band members that he would maybe someday ‘disappear’ to. He had also told them that he would change his name to “M. J. Rizen”, the initials standing for “Mojo”, another joke that he’d often tell people that if he’d ever decided to disappear into anonymity, that he would change his name to because it was an anagram of his real name.
While making jokes about a possible future disappearing act, Jim had always assured his friends and band mates though, that if he ever actually carried out such a plan, he’d write to them and let them know where he was and what he was doing. Of course, after Jim had been gone for a few years, he didn’t want to ruin his secret, and so he had never written to any of them.
How he had become a successful millionaire was a whole different story and one that might be told someday, after his death, he supposed. Neither his wife of thirty-nine years nor his two adult children had any idea of his true identity. He had not told them in order to protect them from crazed fans and the always intrusive media. But he had been writing a journal for years, which they would eventually see.
He had shared his secret only with two other individuals: his mother and father. Back in the late 1990’s he’d reached out to them and had mended a great divide. They’d both sworn themselves to secrecy and had promised that they would take the secret to their graves. It was a promise that they had both kept.
It was time to go to his last stop. He’d already visited California. His parents had been cremated there and their ashes had been scattered over the Pacific Ocean at a spot just off Point Loma and he’d paid tribute to them there a few days earlier. Prior to that, the elderly gentleman had visited Paris as well.
As they were leaving Kingsville, he was pleased to see that renovation work was going on at the old Texas Movie Theatre. He was also pleasantly surprised to see that Harrel’s Pharmacy was still open for business and, in fact, still had a soda fountain in operation. Also learning that the King Ranch, which had been established in the late 1860s, was still thriving and prosperous and in addition, that the Naval Air Station was still in operation as well, touched him deeply.
After paying the admission fee and wandering slowly through the many exhibits at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum the day after arriving in Cleveland, Mr. Rizen found the musician’s display that he’d been the most interested in viewing.
As a way of paying tribute to the musician, various documents from his past had been put on display there. As the old man slowly scanned the exhibit, he was suddenly taken aback by the sight of a simple little piece of paper. He’d immediately remembered that artifact and chills had instantly run down his spine.
Posted there, for every visitor to see was his fourth-grade report card from Charles H. Flato Elementary School, in Kingsville, Texas. And, emblazoned on that document were the handwritten words of his former teacher, Mrs. Irene Atwood. The words on the card read “It was a pleasure to work with Jimmy”.
By the way, Jim Morrison of The Doors is supposedly buried in Paris and his gravesite is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Believe it or not, his gravestone contains a phrase on it that is engraved in the Greek language.
The words translated into English read, “True to his own Spirit.”
Author’s Note: This is a fictional story based on historical and documented information as well as popular rumors and lore. The information about the report card on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is absolutely true.
Tom Murphy was the Corpus Christi poet laureate 2021-2022. He has several books and has been published in many publications. See more at the end of this section.
In this God forsaken Bible
Rust Belt, Margaret Screws
Lived 98 years before going
To the Lord on November 19th
2016 at Mount Carmel CC.
A dedicated nurse, who
Learned her asses and lube trade
In the same hospital, she was born,
St. Paul’s in Big D
As Margaret Ann Thurmon.
Moved to Kermit with her friend Janie
To nurse that West Texas big sky
At Robinson McClure Hospital
Where she gave a shot of penicillin
To her love, George Dewey “Pete” Screws.
Humble Margaret screws
Pete’s Fitz-Willie and pops
Out eight children before
Sun Oil Company shipped them
To San Isidro Sun Oil Field.
A school nurse, then a quick in ‘n out.
The Kingsville Record’s headline
“Margaret Screws Bishop
Now Screws in Premont.”
Nurse of Brock County, humble, butt-proud.
Oh, Saint Teresa of the Infant Flower Catholic church of
How do we know Margaret Screws?
The eight kids’ 19 grandchildren
Their 39 great grandchildren
and their 3 great great grandchildren.
Her boys weren’t all that proud or humble.
After childhood torment, teasing and torture
Two of the sons changed their name to Crews.
The five girls all married, thus taking their husbands’ name.
Except for David Screws in Stephenville.
Remember, when you’re pressing the button
While you’re lying in that hospital bed,
mainlining meds and saline solution,
plus, filling up that colostomy bag,
remember, “Oh nurse?” Margaret Screws.
copyright Tom Murphy
I remember Terry Martin, Terry Martin.
His father was a longshoreman, had tattoos.
He lived just up the street, on Barron Avenue.
We were never really good friends,
Probably the better of friends.
Like when we were in second grade
I remember being in his home
With the big huge tree in the front
And the big huge tree in the back
The short small step into the house
And out of the house out in the back.
And then we had the fight,
The fight where I used wrestling moves
When I was in fifth grade—sixth grade—
And I kind of choked him
And I won.
Crowning achievement probably
In education in any sort of way
was the pitch
The pitching he did
In our game versus the faculty
in elementary school
And he pitched
a great game
And Rusty Berthiaume,
When I asked him
“Can I pitch?”
“No, I think Terry’s doing really good.”
And I have to agree
Terry did really good.
And the years went by, we really drifted apart
And there was a seething hatred
When we’d see each other
Terry with his white t-shirt
And his plaid long-sleeved shirts untucked
Dangling about his body
And the hatred in his eyes,
I don’t think he ever graduated from high school
But I remember on his birthday
Which was always April twenty-second
Five days after mine
I remember seeing him
And this really said a lot about us
Since I was in the car with my mother driving,
Getting off Barron Avenue onto El Camino de Real
And I saw him—with his woman.
And I saw him walk away from his woman
And his child
Who stood there
Who stood there
Looking at mother and father
Going in opposite directions
Caught in the middle,
Not sure where to go
What to do,
And the child stood there
And this reminded me
Of Terry and his family
His brother Alan.
Well I have an older brother Alan as well.
Terry’s brother Alan
But with polio,
He limped up and down the road
And he was a
In fact, the county sheriffs came
And arrested him
Who were breaking into the house across the street from them
And arrested them and put them in jail.
It was his sister,
And Alan’s sister,
I don’t remember her name
Linda, I think
But she had red hair like her mother
And she had actually called the sheriff.
Since we didn’t have police where we lived
We had to get the county sheriff.
We were in an unincorporated area
In Palo Alto
And they came
And they arrested them,
And Alan Martin
And took them off to jail
And that was how the family was
A longshoreman for a father.
Trying to keep it together.
And Alan Martin was one big character.
When he was on LSD once
He drove his motorcycle
through Woodside High hallways,
Driving that motorcycle.
He was a character
I don’t know whatever happened to him
As he limped along
Down the street
And then there was Terry
When I was in Floyd Salas’ class
And we were eating pizza
At the Round Table pizza
On University Avenue in Palo Alto,
The one that Tom Barry used to work at
Where he would have flour all over his pants.
You could pat TB’s pants and flour dust would rise
Just like the pizza crust.
As we were sitting there
Eating our pizza
After our Monday night class
And having a beer
And I pointed to Terry
As he was coming in
And I said, “That guy hates me.”
“You back me up if something happens?”
Floyd being the boxer he is and was
Said, “Yeah, sure.”
And he could see it
As he said to me later,
He could see the hatred in Terry’s eyes
As Terry looked at me
And stared at me
And saw me
Right there in public,
And the hatred burned in his eyes
That hatred going all the way back to that fight
That hatred going back to
The advantages that I had
Financially and stability
And my family
But he didn’t know what was going on with me
As much as I knew of what was going on with him.
And then, ironically
As Tom Barry and I
Digressed even further into our
Cocaine and crack habits
We ended up hooking up with Terry
And going back to Terry’s old home.
His parents, the longshoreman
And his redheaded wife,
I don’t know where they were then
Somewhere else obviously.
I didn’t know where his woman was
Where his child was
I having none of those at the time
And so we ended up at his house
Smoking crack together
Maybe we had crank
I can’t remember
But we were doing some type of white powered imbibing
And he talked
And he told us
Tom and me,
A wonderful scary tale
About him and his buddy
When they had stolen a car
And they were driving on Bay Shore Freeway
Down by San Jose
And they were on PCP
And they started having delusions,
Delusions so bad
That they had to park the car
On the freeway.
They pulled off on the left-hand side
Of the fast lane
In the middle meridian of 101
And they were there
Having these delusions
Ran across the freeway
The buzzing traffic as it came at him
Barely making it
And as he got up
Over the overpass
Was actually walking over the overpass
Seeing the stolen car parked on the meridian
Down in front of him
Crossing highway 101
Trans the actual freeway
The vein of Silicon Valley
He watched his friend
Stumble through the lanes
And get hit by a car
As if he were a pinball
Until he was down
And run over
That was the last time
I saw Terry Martin.
And we hung out
And partied at his house
And had a good time
Like we did playing in his backyard
Playing games like tag
Or other things
But we had this magnificent tale
That Tom Barry would bring up
Again and again
About Terry and his friend
“That was a good tale,” I said.
Where are you, Terry?
I have no idea.
Tom Murphy reads "Endurance" from Corpus Christi Writers 2020
si mi voz muriera en tierra if my voice dies on land
llevadla al nivel del mar take it to sea level
y dejadla en la ribera and leave it on the shore
heart-broken shark's teeth rattle with grief in the belfry
Jean Arp (translated by G P Skratz)
Gulf Sunrise — like mercury
leaving the larger glob with a waver
Blue Heron perched upon the dunes
Beak faces the spread of light
Across the warp and woof
That weaves wet sand
to dune undulations
Garbage bag and garden gloves
Kneel and squat
Root out washed up trash
plastic in any form
Like a pig snuffling for truffles
The sea expanse
ripples to roar
The beach line open
Cool salt tang on the tongue
Recognizes the rubbish
Both shoved into wind blown
— inland view
Foredunes of blown sand
under a mantle
dropseed & sea oats
the tangle of railroad vine
and gulf croton
on the ridge, forbs
purple morning glories flutter
as ragged warp or broken fill
Foot sluggish step towards the heights
Slowed to watch the unsymmetrical v —
Seventeen gliding brown pelicans — low
over the thundering surf...
Tom Murphy recently retired, is the 2021-2022 Corpus Christi Poet Laureate and the Langdon Review’s 2022 Writer-In-Residence. Murphy’s books: When I Wear Bob Kaufman’s Eyes (2022), Snake Woman Moon (2021), Pearl (2020), American History (2017), and co-edited Stone Renga (2017). He’s been published widely in literary journals and anthologies such as: Corpus Christi Writers 2018-2023, Poetry is DEAD: An Inclusive Anthology of Deadhead Poetry, Boundless, Concho River Review, MONO, Good Cop/Bad Cop Anthology, Odes and Elegies: Eco-Poetry from the Texas Gulf Coast, The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology, Outrage: A Protest Anthology for Injustice in a Post 9/11 World among other publications.
Tonāntzin Rodríguez is a poet, spiritual healer, and curandera
If you grew up without the protection of a father and were raised by two powerful women, Mi Madre y Mi Abuela, you knew a little chingona was in the making.
Leaving your country and loved ones behind y tener que cruzar el Rio Grande de chavalita. Night had fallen en el monte and we hid from La Migra. Frightened, staring up at the heavens and luminous stars. The only protection was my mother’s warm arms.
I didn’t know the language and was a stuttering scared child in school. I had to work harder than most kids. Overcoming a speech impediment, earning good grades, and becoming fluent in both languages by
the age of ten because I disliked how some folks ignored and discriminated against my non-English speaking mom who couldn’t read or write. Our struggles have always been my motivation. I went to school for both of us. I was her secretary, helped fill out forms, and send payments. I also became her personal translator. Then she would volunteer me to translate for total strangers. At the schools, clinics, hospitals, washeterias, you name it. Not knowing then, she was already developing my public speaking skills. I was an active girl who liked the outdoors. Some called me a tomboy cause I preferred to play sports and could play better than some of the boys. Freshman year, I was picked up by varsity coach to be the point guard. That was a big chingona moment for me.
Then the boy problems began. You see, I’ve been blessed with many gifts. But most men only see the outer gifts. When they get to know me and don’t get me, they will try to control me.
I gave seven years to the first husband. Love can make you act like a pendeja at times. You give him your bank card and allow him to drive your car. He was in and out of jail for unpaid tickets and couldn't hold down a job. When I bared my soul and told him about my battles with depression, he says to me, "so now I have have to pay for someone else’s broken plates."
Within the first year of dating I was already going mad. And still, I married that mulato merenguero, sweet talking culero. Like I said, love can make you do some stupid shit. He was insecure and intimidated by my independence. Didn’t understand my creative nature and told me I was too old to become a writer, at twenty-five. Worse was dealing with his passive aggressive techniques.
I began to die inside….I couldn't be me
Years kept passing by. I couldn’t create art and I couldn’t create a life. The baby he desperately wanted. I underwent many procedures and sobadas that would leave me in physical and emotional pain, but he wouldn’t allow me to complain. When I said that I wanted to adopt. He said, "no, I’m not raising anyone else’s child, tiene que ser di mi sangre." That would be the last time he’d break my heart. I always knew that I would be a mother and realized at that moment that it was not going to be by his side.
Y como dice Mi Jefa,
"se me va mucho a la chingada!”
That pelado had to go
and La Chingona returned!
She will not hide or be silenced again. And to those who beat her as child and as a young woman, you didn’t get to brake this cabrones. You only made me stronger. Taught me how to take a stand and fight back. No man will ever lay a hand on me with anger. I can be a lamb or I can be a lion.
I will no longer be ashamed of who I am. I’m an artistic mujer. Proud to be a Mexicana. I will speak my language and wear my cultura with pride. Reclaiming my indigenous roots in this country which sits on sacred lands.
I will not be manipulated by society. Material things don’t define me. I come from the world of souls and during my stay I will not be a slave to any government, money, or religious institution. Because a good Catholic woman doesn't get tattoos, drinks, smokes, and swears. And, I’m not supposed to practice yoga, meditation, or masturbation. C’mon! How am I supposed to elevate?
Not here to meet anyone’s expectations. I chose to come to earth to fulfill Creator’s goals. You can fly with me or let me be.
I don’t like labels
You can call me Chingona
I don’t mind
I've earned it
Is the gift of self-love
I was 18 years old the last time I traveled alone. I took a bus to Monterrey Nuevo Leon, Mexico to stay with friends. Memorias nunca olvidadas….
I am 45 and will be traveling on my own again.
I've booked a flight and I'm fucking proud of myself. I will be staying with friends in the mountains outside La Capital de Mexico.
I must say, that I'm excited but a little afraid to explore the world on my own. But I get to be in my home country again. I cry just thinking about it. To be connected to the land and the ancestors. To work and learn with the indigenous communities. To be able to photograph and document. Y escribirle
poesia a la montañas y a la vida....
"You afraid, my child?"
You're a traveler
A soul adventurer
Do you forget, you were 5 years old traveling with coyotes on your arrival to The States. Do you forget, that your ancestors have been migrating these lands for thousands of years.
If I am sending you to the unknown
Trust, that I'm also sending support
You have dual citizenship
You know both languages
You are a Bridge
You don't know fear
Fear, knows YOU
de los vientos
y los mares
y llena de vida
Como Mi Madre
I come from
and the oceans
I want to be
and full of life
Like My Mother
Trev Trevino writes poetry and short stories that explore themes of love, the search for identity, and the LGBTQ+ community. More on Trev at the end of this section.
The name that was given to me was never mine but rather belonged to a classmate of my mothers with blonde hair and blue eyes who was a cheerleader and sweeter than cherries
my brown hair and brown eyes could never fit that name
I wanted a name that would fit in the boys so that I could get dirty and not have to wear dresses instead i was trained to turn when her name was called
I took the first chance I had to change it in any way possible I learned how great nicknames are how much better they sound when that name can be abbreviated or shortened to a single letter it was a way to stray further away from who I was supposed to be some didn’t see her name within me instead they called me Alex Lexi(e) Ashley Trevino Trev Sandee Val TÚ
I later became accustomed to turn when any name was called though I still longed for a name that is mine one that maybe was neither he or she but just me just recently I asked myself who I was because I knew that I wasn’t the blonde cheerleader the softball star or the straight A student they were not me I then thought
am I the nameless boy who had no problem sitting quiet in the corner was I supposed to be the third Daniel my fathers son I thought her name was too feminine until I met a boy with the same name and I thought that it could be possible I first didn’t want to lose the name that was given to me but the more I heard it the more I disassociated from it most people like me despise their deadname and as much as I wish I could hate her as well
I could not be who I am now without her while I am still my mother’s child a friend a student a writer and a person living without a true name I hope to one day find the name that makes me want to turn around one that looks like me one that can play in the dirt a name to fit my brown hair and brown eyes a name that is not hers
because it is late at night you listen to the trees and close your eyes
the suburbs that are surrounded by mountains are the quietest
you realize no one is around to make a sound
only the wind that pushes through branches and leaves that make it sound like rain
the pink house that is surrounded by the eastside is the most dangerous
the child sleeps to the city’s lullaby of heated arguments and fireworks
only the clinks of beer bottles and laughter over Tejano fill the streets on the weekends
silence just is not what it used to be
The student never sleeps through slammed doors and wind whistling through the hallways
college was calm as crashing waves was only a window crack away
silence was the only thing that was missing
people having muffled conversations and bursts of laughter just outside the door
downtown was desperate for attention at all hours of the night
sirens scream to let you know that the city is being protected
people yelling at someone and no one
the heat suffocates you into soaking the freshly washed sheets
silence screams nothing at you as you lay under the window
because it is late at night you listen to the trees and close your eyes
the chilled breeze covers you like a blanket under freshly washed sheets
feeling less afraid as you realize no one is around..
Trev Trevino, is a 22-year-old, San Antonio native. They are currently an undergrad student at
Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi and is studying English along with teaching and TESOL certifications. Trev has been actively and independently writing poetry and short stories for over five years non-academically with themes of love, searching for one’s identity, and being part of the LGBTQ+ community. Most recently, they have been published in the Windward Review and spoken at the graduate symposium at TAMUCC back in 2019.
Trish Koval is a citizen of the world. She posts her thoughts on Facebook.
Was on the road, and as I'm driving down swoops a dove from the overpass bridge and lands smack dab in my lane. I was traveling down a steep slope a two lane throughway, clipping along about 50 mph/80 kph. The throughway was quite empty, and I quickly looked in my rear-view before braking to see if there was anyone behind me... there was not. Could only slow down just so much before I was literately on top of this bird (those doves usually take off in flight as a car approaches them...this one didn't for some reason.) I thought, oh crap, I smashed him/her! Looked in my rear-view as I passed, the little bugger was fine, yet continuing into the next lane (no cars coming that I could see.) Maybe it was dehydrated, for it could fly. Hope it made it!
Funny how events suddenly jog the memory of another, for just after this as I continued to drive on I recalled an incident dating back to when I was around 10-11 years old. My father was working a job all the way down in Santa Cruz, CA. Remember well he was constructing a huge sewage plan down there. Anyway, he was on the long drive back home on the coast highway 1 at dusk. As par of the course, it was socked in by fog. He said, suddenly a wild pheasant hit his truck. He pulled over to see the condition of the bird. Its neck was broken, and it was lying dead on the side of the road. He picked it up and put it the back of his truck. When he came home he told he had a pheasant down in the basement, and told me what happened, however he never mentioned it was dead. Guess he assumed that that was understood or he felt bad that it had died and knew how I would react. I went racing to basement to see our new exotic pet! He had laid it out on his work bench. I got all emotional and turned to him and said, 'dad, it's dead!' He said, 'Trisha, of course it is dead sweetheart, it slammed into my truck!' I cried at that point, that I recall so well. My dad felt awful, and was hugging me wordlessly. Then he calmly explained to me that even had the pheasant survived it would have not survived in our care, wild birds rarely do. Nevertheless, him being a country boy, he knew all about plucking, and preparing a bird for cooking.
Naturally, I did not attend the feast, but my mother and brother did. Soooo... to conclude this bit of small history, he was right about all of it... just took me a bit longer to come to terms.
My beloved spirits were on a roll at 3:45 AM. So downstairs we trotted, getting closer to a ~lovely~ sound. There's a cricket chirping away in my kitchen pantry. For thousands of years, it has been considered lucky to have a cricket on the hearth ... I do believe in this! I got the coffee brewing ... and the glorious aroma commenced to penetrate the air! A big inhale .... ahhhh!! Now out in the dark garden of still silence, the only thing that's at all audible is the peaceful trickling of water running down under the street through the pipes that have taken on the sound of a babbling brook. What a nice touch this morning! It's 58°/14°C out and doesn't feel cold at all! That's due to the fact of no rain yesterday or during the night, a higher temperature than yesterday ... but how the dampness makes such a difference in how it feels, regardless of what the thermometer reads.
I'm one year older today, which I consider a win! This is not necessarily a thought I've begun to consider this year, no, it has time. But, perhaps this year's win is special compared to others ~ ~~
Anywho, all you fine folks have a great Saturday and weekend!! Make it worth it, make it count Peace out ~~~
In coming home and pulling up to my driveway, I encountered after a good long absence, my neighbor who often did pass by on his way to taking his long walks around the park. This would be the fella that suffers deep depression and found that a regimen of Prozac had helped him immensely, and the one that owns a telescope to obverse the skies that also helps him in his battle of insomnia. We got chatting (he's a very talkative and friendly person), going on to tell me he had stopped the Prozac (never said why), but went on to say that he had recently resumed taking it. He went on to tell me about his stargazing with his high-powered telescope and the conversation became intricate, as we spoke of the bright full moon on the 20th, how he has shifted his gaze to observing the volcano in the last months, and politely asked me if he could tell me in Spanish (he always speaks to me in English from the get-go, his choice, not mine.) I told him, as I've told in our last conversations, for he has always asked me if he could do so, 'but of course...adelante (go right ahead/please do.) And as our many previous conversations dealing with astronomy, he takes a deep breath, and continues in English like nothing!! Lol!! He does this every time! I just let him rip. He's a deeply religious individual, a Catholic of course, and grabbed my hand as we spoke blessing me too many times to count, but I feel like I'm covered!! ¡Si señores! He's a man no one would notice, but he's a good guy, with a good heart I think. After 20 minutes of chatting, and many blessings had passed he departed to the park and I was very glad to have seen him out and about once more.
I'm ready to retire from here to other 'things,' and I've got a query. Are good memories no longer something that brings a breath of fresh air into the present? I mean, even the bad memories serve a great purpose in one's life if you permit them. Are the bittersweet memories of the nostalgia now passé?? I'm hearing this out here, but am in disbelieve. I will go hold my nostalgia and fond memories that have already written, etched in stone, and cannot be undone. What are people missing when they choose to forget or erase such events?? I really don't understand this, therefore I will ponder over it with hope to find an answer.
Taken up through the trees from the front garden a little after sunrise, it is clear, the sunrise intense, and you can clearly see the half-moon in the sky this morning. Only once in a while do I see the moon out in broad daylight and today was one of those occasions.
My sleep time is really something! My son and his father slept like Dracula...with almost ZERO movements in their crypts the entire night. Isn't that wonderful?! I thought so!! However, I've got a wholly distinct thing going on! My bed looks neatly made when I hunker down at night, and yes, I make it every day, I must!! At 4 AM what do I have? A true rat's nest of disorder, As crazy as it sounds, the spirits visit me in the night! And I will further say that they finally rouse me between 3:30 and 4, and yes, I am awakened immediately, and don't feel the need to linger! I feel something around me in those hours, and no, it is not the comforter strangling me!! So, it's the spirits most likely hangin' out, for I've no other explanation as to the sensation I feel! Yes, the bright sunshine in my room can be blinding for one!! It's crazy love brightness! Mexico's sun is seriously illuminating!! The altitude is relevant to that, in between its very southern proximity. Anyways, my bed is made for tonight's nightly wrasslin' event of the Spirits Vs. Kovalsky!! I happen to love it!!
The month of September is a truly a menacing month in Mexico. The alertness in a general way is high for quakes. My groups here, and on my phone app are loaded with apprehension all through this month. Of, course, who could blame us after Sept. 19th, 1985 quake (8.1) flattening this huge city within 60 seconds, and then once again, but not once but twice in 2017 within a mere 10-day span...the 7th of Sept we were hit at minutes away from midnight with an 8.1 out from the coast, yeah, it was more than felt, woke me up from a dead sleeps with furniture walking away for the walls. On the 32nd anniversary of the '85 quake unbelievably so, we were struck by a 7.1 near 2:00 PM that was much closer to the valley of Mexico, shallow, an unusual break in the plates had occurred (for they didn't shift and move which is more typical, but exploded from within the plates---rare occurrence with little known as to why) and wreaked havoc within the city. Frankly, I thought my number was up that day as I fled my house to the park in front, I really did, as did many!!
So, now the tension is clearly building, and people write/message these apprehensions ever since September began, and only grows as we near the 19th. Ironically, this date is my mothers' BD, and at the time in '85 when my family had contact via a ham phone radio of a friend of my then brother-in-law bypassed the downed lines, yet could call my house phone, to let me know that my mother was terminal, and to come back to SF...recall my sister Sue was speaking to me in a 3 way conversation if I remember correctly) I did go to be with my mother for 2 and a half months, though it took another week to be able to fly out (airport damaged and closed down.) The world news at that time (as we could not be contacted in any form due to the heavy damages) said Mexico City seemed to be gone from the map...yeah that bad at that time!
Nevertheless, this month represents the 'black hand' over us. We all feel it, how could we not? Fingers crossed that we have a calm month, even though in the heart of hearts nobody believes, nor trusts in that!
Well, to my surprise I received a message from my x, and him wishing me a Happy Mother's Day, (con un abrazo fuerte) with a strong hug. This was a pleasant surprise of sorts, for in the 20 years in our marriage, and 17 of them as a mother and him a father, he always told me he couldn't make a big deal out of mother's day with me, for I wasn't his mother!! Lol! His take! Ohh, boy!! He may have found wisdom, and hope he has. However, there was one year, and many ago, that he hugged me and thanked me on this day, and went on to say, 'who wouldn't want you as their mother?' Oh, he was so honest in that moment, and I felt bad for him reflected on his family history, never forgot that moment and he was brave to express such a feeling I thought. Though his mother, whom I really cared for over the years, she was a stay-at-home mom as was the cultural norm when he grew up, she left her 5 children in the hands of a live-in nanny and went off to help the poor in the Catholic church in arts and crafts. Him writing to me today seems to be a revelation.
Wayne Hankins lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. He studied creative writing, painting, architecture, computer science; he worked 25 years as a systems & software engineer in flight simulation trainers.
Seventy laps around the sun seemed enough when younger.
Now done, I’ve become greedy and want many more:
because I still find all of this intensely interesting.
Everything about it still fascinates me:
the art of everything, culture, food/drink, life forms,
the vast universe with all its celestial bodies and our small planet,
science, math, life, living,
with our amazing minds, hearts, souls.
These Rainier cherries are small
my enjoyment of them large.
Drinking coffee may seem a small thing
I assure you it is not.
Birthday wishes may also seem a small thing
but were not received that way at all.
Savor your days
and the people that have been in them.
William Henneberger is the publisher, “editor”, graphic designer, salesperson, and writer for The Vent Daily: A Monthly Publication. More about Wil at the end of this section.
I love Tom Cruise. So what if he’s nuts or part of some religion crazier than all the other crazy religions? When I look at Mr. Cruise I see a go-getter, a winner who conquered dyslexia and Katie Holmes. Say what you will about the zealous movie star, but I will always be a fan, and not just because of my family’s odd connection to that charming man.
If I had to praise one thing about this Federal Prison camp it would be the individual showers, but if I had to praise two things, the second would be the Recreation Department. Some long-time guests of the Federal Bureau of Prisons say that Rec is better behind the fence at the larger, low-security prison down the street or even at other camps, but for a short-timer like myself it’s hard to complain. Sure, the Trivial Pursuit set was from 1995, but any later edition might put those who have been ‘down’ (incarcerated) for the last 20 years at a disadvantage.
My favorite leisure activity on the inside was playing pool, which accounts for my early purchase of this 1980’s hit by Warren Zevon. There is no Google in prison so I’m operating by memory alone, but in my mind Werewolves of London was part of the Color of Money soundtrack. Specifically, played over one of several Scorsesian montages of pool-hustler Vincent (played by, yes, Tommy Cruise) doing his thing. His thing being sinking shot after shot and swinging his pool-cue around like a certain reptilian-martial-artist-inventor. I listen to Werewolves of London on repeat through my headphones while I play the sport of criminals. Now if I could only make a shot.
According to my mom, once upon a time my old man was a fairly successful pool hustler. She speaks fondly of the times she would head out of the bar just before a game concluded to position the car for a quick getaway. I remember my dad first introducing me to this geometric art in the bar owned by his mother. During an early 80's Christmas visit to my Depression-era Grandparents double-wide trailer home, dad and I walked the fifty yards to Penny's Place where I stood on a crate to reach the velvety green plane. My old man gave me my first English lesson before the professional drunks arrived. The novelty of this adorable scene must have worn thin because I don’t recall playing much pool with my dad as I grew older. If he was trying to avoid his misspent youth, he could have at least given me some pointers in that too.
In the month between finding out my prison date and turning myself in, my top priority was to spend as much time as I could with my children, especially my 8-year-old daughter. We watched all 6 Star Wars movies (my picks) plus Ponyo, Spirited Away and Annie (hers). We practiced pitching for kickball and I took her to her first Pool Hall. I'm sure it is the prison-time talking but one thing I’ve decided in here is that when I get out I'm going to turn my daughter into a billiards prodigy. She seemed to enjoy the game and took to it well. I’m also pretty sure I’m the only idiot father sending her letters from prison, explaining the rules of 9-ball. I can already imagine the Color of Money reboot with Tom in Paul Newman’s role and introducing Suri Cruise as Lillian, the young pool shark hustling for enough cash to bail her dead-beat-dad out of the slammer. You’re welcome Hollywood.
In 1985 my dad was an extra in Top Gun. The Tony Scott adrenaline rush was filmed in part, at Miramar Base near San Diego, CA, where we were stationed for the greater part of the 80’s. Toward the end of the movie when the crew of the Aircraft Carrier surrounds Maverick to celebrate whatever vague mission he had accomplished, one of those unidentifiable sailors is the man who squirted me out 30-some odd years ago. The background role was no big deal, certainly unpaid and nothing that would qualify him for S.A.G. membership, but dad did bring home an autographed photo of the actor. That leads me to believe that under the right circumstances he might actually express some appreciation for the Arts, specifically if his dead-beat son was to ever write a book or maybe a Top Gun remake starring Suri Cruise as a young hotshot fighter pilot, taking on the rogue nation that has her daddy locked up (I'm in a very particular headspace these days).
Most likely, my apparent daddy issues are part of the reason I've always wished to excel in the art of sticks and balls. On the outside my allotted billiards time diminished, due to the distractions of everyday life. I never practiced enough to get great. I could win 7 out of 10 games when I played anyone in my circle and I was content with what my dad might call mediocrity. Surely he can still easily put me in my place over that green felt, if he ever took the time to try… (one tear).
In prison camp I spent 2-3 hours a day playing pool. The winner held the table so a good portion of these hours consisted of waiting for my next game. To get in line you knock on the table and find out who is last in line. There are two worn-out but functional tables and about twenty inmates who played regularly (ten who played daily). I learned in my skateboarding days that if you want to get good at something it's best to practice with people who are better than you. With this in mind I had no problem getting destroyed by a big black inmate named Ross. (I’m still talking about pool, sicko). I could beat Ross about twenty percent of the time but my dormant geometric skills were awakening, and he could see that I was no joke. He started to give advice at a ratio of one tip for every three insults. Ross was a good friend and while we ended up here through very different criminal ventures, we had a lot in common, like watching independent films, political views, and misguided intelligence. A couple of months into my sentence, Ross broke his arm, yet continued to run the table on me regularly.
If prison pool isn't your preference there are plenty of other options from board games to ball games to leather play, I mean leather craft, even spinning. The recreation department for someone with a relatively short sentence seems bottomless, but I understand how these activities could stale over the years.
Sedentary time killers include Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble and my personal favorite, Risk. No Monopoly—I heard that was because the money could be used as some form of prison currency. No game of Life, probably since we've already lost at life—no need to rub it in. Just remember when you check out a game, those dice better be in the box upon return. The recreation boss cop does not take kindly to bathroom corner crap games. There are also some random 1000 piece puzzles. You can assemble the one of cute little kittens and get a sorry excuse for a YouTube fix.
Dominoes, chess sets and playing cards can be purchased through commissary. Pinochle cards can also be brought at the store but since I don't have the slightest idea what pinochle is, I'm not going to mention it any further. Table games are only allowed after four pm. By 6:30 it's almost impossible to find a flat surface not being used for some kind of play. If a locker is empty, turn that baby on its side and shuffle up. After some new friends taught me how to play Gin Rummy and spades, among several other games, I realized how quickly you could burn through four or five hours. Anything you can learn to eat up the month/year is very much appreciated in Prison camp.
Health conscious prisoners have an even greater selection of activities to maintain weight and physical condition. The track and exercise equipment are available all day long. If your prison camp job only takes an hour or two you can take advantage of your free time. Most of us, however, work until three p.m., which is when the Rec Yard explodes like an inmate at a conjugal. (Sorry that was uncalled for. Conjugal visits don't even exist anymore; that was just gratuitous sexual imagery. I have a problem.)
Prisoners look at you strangely if you opt to stay indoors in the afternoons or weekends. Even the guys who don't participate in team sport will at least go walk the track once in a while. Then you have the guys who really walk the track— ten to fifteen miles a day. However, much like in the Old West, not many people run for fun. With hours and days and months and years of exercise time, it's common knowledge to go for a low impact routine.
Another link in the Tom Cruise connection chain: my younger brother was an extra in the War of the Worlds reboot. He was in a group of background actors who, along with Tom and a Fanning progeny, were running through a field to escape death by alien laser-beam. I don't want to infringe on a story that isn't mine, but you get the point: my family must be cosmically bound to the greatest actor of most Tom Cruise movies.
Aside from walking/running you can also pick from a variety of sports according to the season. Basketball is mostly six on six pick-up while football, volleyball, softball, and futbol are more organized. With only 200 campers, the sport leagues usually consist of about four teams who go 'round and 'round with one another. Handball is the most popular sport, basically racquetball without the racquets and against only one wall. I tried it a few times but wasn't willing to callous the palms of my prissy little creative-class hands. There were racquets available but getting by in prison requires one to fine tune the art of minimalism.
If you prefer a little less cardio you can demonstrate your hand-eye coordination at the horseshoe court(?) field(?) sandbox(?). I'm going with sandbox. If tossing footwear still stresses your heart rate, you might need to take it easier and roll some bocce ball, the only game with benches incorporated into the court. Not to brag, but those benched ballers say I'm a natural, a real bocce phenom.
For anyone who hasn't yet given up on his bodies, working out is a big deal. Some campers build their entire routine around their regimen. I get it; if you’re losing years of your life inside, you want to make the most of the time you will have in the free world. Staying healthy and living longer is the only way some inmates can gain back the five, ten, or twenty years some guys have paid for their crimes. I'm lucky enough to have dropped weight simply from the lack of fast food. Either that or the couple of times I went to softball practice really paid off.
I've never been in a Tom Cruise film, but I’m darn sure going to try and keep this odd new tradition going, and hopefully even pass it along to my son. Still, if missing Maverick is my lot in life, maybe getting Goose is a good enough consolation for this gander. When I was 11 years old, watching one of my dad’s softball games on Naval Air Station Kingsville, one of the young sailors next to me asked if I had seen Top Gun. Of course I had. He informed me that Goose from the movie happened to be in the stands, spectating. Amazed, I scrambled for pen and paper and politely approached him for an autograph. He signed my scratch piece of paper. I was ecstatic. What were the odds of Goose being in Texas and at my father’s softball game? I gave it about as much thought as any kid with just over a decade of Earth residency would. Cut to, one divorce and two custody battles later I was almost an adult, properly jaded and much more cynical about life and all of its serendipitous celebrity sightings. I found myself wondering about this bizarre encounter and figured I now had the where-with-all to find out if that really was Maverick’s co-pilot and Meg Ryan's beau or if 11-year-old me was just being pranked by a couple of trashcans. It didn't take much detective work. I dug the autograph out of the bottom of a drawer and immediately felt my first ever dose of mortification as I read on the torn-edged slip of paper, not the signature of actor Anthony Edwards, but instead the printed word; “GOOSE”.
William Henneberger is a first amendment advocate and borderline-diabetic liberal with $43 dollars in the bank. He used to go by Billy but is now called Wil – yes, with one “L”.
For a hot second, he was a television newswriter and producer for Corpus Christi’s CBS affiliate.
A baker’s dozen years ago, he professionalized the zine he started in college, to its current newsprint version. He has since acted as publisher, “editor”, graphic designer, salesperson, and writer for The Vent Daily: A Monthly Publication, which consists of highbrow satire, lowbrow comedy, and (unibrow?) celebrity interviews.
He is also the Creator of and Writer for ventdaily.com and deadtomeobits.com
Wil’s favorite suicided writer is David Foster Wallace, even though he has only read his short stories. His favorite living (at time of print) writer is Chuck Klosterman.
He has impregnated his legal wife twice, in 1998 and in 2006 and is very proud of the results. Wil’s life is defined by a constant struggle with the fact that he has a younger, thinner, more successful brother.
Dr. Bill Chriss is a trial and appellate lawyer who is also a historian, political scientist, religious scholar, and published author. More about Bill at the end of this section.
World War II changed the world and Corpus Christi forever. Locally, the big changes were obvious: the military presence in Corpus Christi, gas rationing, post-war prosperity. There were also smaller, subtler byproducts.
The large influx of military and support personnel (and their families) and a shortage of civilian teachers put quite a burden on the Corpus Christi Independent School District. Eventually, some public schools were forced to run "half sessions." Half of the students in each class attended in the morning and the other half in the afternoon, with the teacher pulling long hours and "double duty."
Many worried about how this stopgap necessity would affect the education of children, particularly younger ones. One local educator did something about it and thus unwittingly founded an institution many local residents fondly remember.
When she married and moved to Corpus Christi, Dorothy Blasingame thought she had left teaching behind and become a homemaker. She had no intention of running Corpus Christi's only non-parochial private school for two decades, nor did she realize in the 1940s that soon her kindergarten would provide hundreds of children with their only "headstart" in the days when there was no Headstart program. All she wanted was to be sure her own children and their friends got the fullest education possible at a time when teachers and equipment were in short supply.
So, she decided to end her retirement and start her own school. She and her husband Charles, who was a principal at Wynn Seale Junior High and later at Austin Elementary, lived in a one-story house on Austin Street near Incarnate Word Academy. When he got home from school, Mr. Blasingame worked on filling in the backyard with sand for a playground, and later he added a second story to the home. Meanwhile, Mrs. Blasingame began teaching a few neighborhood kids in her living room during the day. Soon, unexpected demand created the need for more expansion. A kindergarten room was added to the back of the house, and a first-grade classroom was added behind the detached garage (with Mr. B. doing most of the work himself). By the late 1950s, the Blasingame home had three classroom additions, one for 1st grade, one for kindergarten, and one for pre-kinder. They housed two full-time teachers besides Mrs. B. and a part-time teacher of music and Spanish (which were both mandatory). The kids just kept coming.
Gradually, Mr. and Mrs. Blasingames' little home turned into an entire junior academy. There were trees to climb and swings and slides to play on in a sandbox as big as your backyard, and there were midmorning snacks and orange juice from Mrs. B.'s kitchen.
It was here that many of us learned colors and letters and numbers. It was here that we made our first friends and had our first experiences as pupils. In fact, the first time I ever had my picture in the paper was when a Caller-Times photographer came and took photos of my little kindergarten class climbing trees in Mrs. Blasingames's backyard/sandbox. I was five years old.
I'm not even sure that schools like this were "accredited" in those days. I do know that there was never a problem transferring to public school after completing the course of studies at "Mrs. Blasingame's." CCISD Superintendent Dana Williams and most of the school board members were quite familiar with the quality of the school. With its small class size, its mandatory Spanish and music programs, and its high-quality teachers, Mrs. Blasingame's was ahead of its time. It wasn't expensive, and it wasn't exclusive. It was just a good school where everybody cared and where you could always get an emergency hug or peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you needed one.
Mr. and Mrs. Blasingame have passed on now, but the house remains. The sand is gone, but the trees are still there, silent witnesses to the childhood follies and foibles of some local adults you probably know, adults who, in quiet moments of memory, see themselves in an old station wagon, carpooling to school. As we thought of the recesses and the orange juice to come, gleefully we sang our silly little anthem: "We're blasting off to Blastingames!"
I can’t sleep. Sirens whine and pulses of light flash red on the walls of this dingy hotel. There are only ten channels on the television and no wifi, and I’m stuck another night. All the flights home had departed by the time those New York lawyers finished interrogating the witness. Their hourly rates are higher than mine; certainly their cost of living is, so I understand. It’s a long time since our firm, too, had more than enough work, a long time since the days when practicing law was an adventure and billings were mere bookkeepers’ annoyances. I remember trying ten or fifteen cases a year with files only two inches thick – comp cases, fender benders, divorces, DWIs, and occasionally the more complex civil case or white-collar crime.
But maybe more than the law practice has been transformed. Maybe I was different then, too. Maybe I’m just growing old, inexorable change befuddling my calcifying brain. Maybe everything was wrong. Maybe I just took the wrong path. Maybe I’ll never rest, never feel that I can go up to my house justified, never, like the prodigal son, come to myself and return where I belong. Maybe that place where I belonged is gone.
This kind of racing inner monologue keeps me awake more and more these days. The last in a long string of failed relationships ended two years ago when Jennifer stopped taking my calls or acknowledging my texts. We started out well enough, but like several before her, she eventually came to pity my failure to conquer the world. I used to be afraid to die alone. Now living, and even dying, alone is the only liberation I know of or hope for. I have grown used to the idea. I pronounce it good. What choice do I have? I’m tired of being hurt.
I must finally have dozed off. Awakening to find a grey dawn peeking through the curtains, I figure my partners won’t begrudge me a long trip back. And maybe the client won’t flyspeck the travel time charged for this deposition on the next invoice. I should be able to drop by the museum before heading to the airport and still get back to North Padre by dark. I’m not crazy about museums, but Michael told me of a painting here. In my current state of mind, any suggestion might bring an epiphany, so I shower, shave, and set out into the icy morning.
The museum down the street is small and old. Most of the art is uninteresting. “Where is the painting of Odysseus?” I ask an usher in a silly red coat.
“In the next gallery to the left.”
And there indeed it is, surrounded by a heavy wood frame with a small brass plaque reading: “Odysseus and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, 1909.” I am struck by the image of Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship, straining against the ropes, head thrust forward in anguished longing for the evanescent female beings flitting along the rails of the boat. They are singing, chanting, moaning, songs of home.
“It speaks to one, does it not?” The accented voice startles me from behind. French? Austrian? I turn to see its owner, a bearded man in oddly formal attire.
“I guess,” I mutter.
“Yes, well, I would judge that you are old enough to have been taught such stories in school before they were deemed irrelevant. It must have been quite a test for poor Odysseus, don’t you think? Ten years of war at Troy; ten years of wandering after; cursed by the gods; far from home; captured by the Cyclops; seduced and enchanted by Circe and Calypso; drugged by the lotus eaters; and yet somehow never losing the desire to return home… home to his long suffering wife Penelope. And so when he entered the waters inhabited by these lovely nude creatures, as Draper depicts them, isn’t it strange that he did what he did?”
“I don’t know,” I answer, “And I’m not sure there ever was a Penelope, then or now.”
“Yes, but think on this part of the story. Odysseus knew the siren song was irresistible, that …ah…it had lured all the ships before him onto the rocks, and so he tells his men to fill their ears with wax and to row for their lives no matter what they see. But here is the interesting part: he needs to hear the song himself; ah…he accords to himself the privilege of hearing the song, and so he does not plug his own ears. Instead he has the men tie him to the mast so he can do nothing to stop the progress of the ship. He is the hero, the adventurer, but he is also the wise man. He thinks ahead to protect the crew…and himself...from his need for mystical experience. Without the wisdom, the experience will ruin him; he will never get home.”
“Whatever that might mean.”
“Yes,” the old man says, “whatever that might mean, and I suppose it acquires a more difficult meaning when one gets to be Odysseus’s age, about the same age as Hemingway when he died, and, I would think, perhaps about the same age as you.”
I turn my attention back to the painting. Odysseus’ eyes are agape, almost crazy. The sirens appear pale, ghostlike, mesmerizing. They hover close to Odysseus’s oarsmen, who are looking directly at them without expression, apparently oblivious. Is the crew blind as well as deaf? Or are the sirens somehow personal to Odysseus? When I turn back to ask the old art critic, he is gone.
The ride home is uneventful: the TSA lines, the usual change of planes in Houston. My little Lexus waits where I parked it at the Corpus Christi airport, and the drive over the causeway is, as always, an exercise in decompression. My little first floor condo is undisturbed and I toss my stuff onto the bed, change into my shorts, and throw a woven Mexican “drug rug” hoodie over my shirt. I slip into my “aloha slap” sandals and step out toward the beach for a walk, locking the door behind me. It’s chilly, but not frigid like it was in New York.
I like winter at home: no surfers; no Spring Breakers; few humans – mostly old snowbirds from Illinois or Minnesota who claim to be fishing, but who are, in reality, worrying over their various ailments and wishing they had the money to be in Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale. And hardly anyone walks the beach at dusk this time of year. Most of the tourists have gone inside to warm up by now.
I leave my slaps at the edge of the pavement, my bare feet hitting the cold sand. Waves roll in like muffled thunder. The falling sun streaks orange trails to the west, and a yellow moon rises over the ocean as I trudge on. I like to walk in the wet no-man’s land between the ebbing and waxing waves. Here the starfish and sand dollars live and die and the tiny subterranean bivalve crustaceans filter their food from water they suck down the little chimneys they blow in the sand.
The beach feels almost deserted; just a few oldsters with ice chests or chairs ready to be packed up. I wave as I pass.
The next stranger is farther distant. The sun is almost gone and reveals only the outline of a lawn chair occupied by a figure with one knee crossed over the other: male or female? The top leg kicks in the air, a burnished silhouette of arched foot, pointed toe, slender ankle, and long calf. The form and the motion betray the truth even at this distance. I’ll probably keep my head down. No point in making conversation. But at fifty paces the woman waves a greeting, and for reasons that are still unclear to me I veer up the sloping sand toward her. Maybe it just made sense to approach any sign of welcome.
I open with, “Do you like watching the sunset?”
“Yes it’s beautiful.”
“But you’re facing the water. The sun’s behind you.”
“Doesn’t matter; it’s still beautiful,” she says. “How about a beer?”
I haven’t had an invitation like this in a while and I’m leery, but “sure,” I say, even though I’m not crazy about beer. And when she hands me the bottle I tell her the half-truth that I am a writer. “I collect stories,” I claim. “Tell me yours.”
She introduces herself and shakes my hand, then invites me to sit in front of the shallow pit she has dug where a few small logs burn. The sand is cold, but soon the fire envelops us in warm pungent smoke.
“Where did you get the wood?” I ask.
“I bought it down the road. I try to think ahead.”
She is plain and fortyish but not unattractive, visiting from Wisconsin, half German and half Japanese by ancestry she say, with short dark hair and almond shaped eyes. Two hours later, I feel I know her. Both her parents died young and she cries about that. She says she is happily married with three sons. By then we are lying face-up in the sand on opposite sides of the fire, gazing at stars in the indigo dark, and she has come to know me, too.
“Can’t you relax?” she asks after I have finished both the beer and my complaints about life.
Am I shaking from the chill or my anxiety, or both? She downs her third glass of wine and moves closer. “Why are you so jittery? It’s a beautiful night, and I’m not coming on to you,” she promises, even as she reaches out and touches my shoulder ambiguously.
“I’m sorry; I’m afraid of everyone,” I admit. “I don’t trust anyone anymore.”
“You aren’t afraid of me, are you? We’ll never see each other again.”
“Yes,” I say, “I am.”
The full moon, now silver, hangs directly above us, encircled by a halo of cloud that expands outward in a spiral. My heartbeat and breathing begin to slow.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” I whisper. “It’s incredible…dome-like…makes me feel like I’m in a church.”
“Hey,” she responds, “pick a star, any star. Pick a star and make a wish.”
I do, and we talk about it, and about our respective wishes and dreams, as the fire slowly burns out.
At some point the smoke begins to dissipate and I realize we have been here for hours, alone in the dark. Fear, an old friend, rises again within me. What if she has some scheme to entrap me or accuse me of something? How can I explain what we are doing here, even though it’s totally innocent? What would I say if cross-examined by her husband? What would I advise a client in this situation?
I stand. “It’s time for me to go.”
She rises in response and I reach out to shake her hand again, this time in parting.
“Let’s do one of these instead,” she suggests, laying her arms around my neck and leaning her torso into me. I glimpse an inquiry or invitation in her eyes, one I ignore. Instead I hug her closer to hide my face behind her shoulder, but she pulls back and kisses my temple chastely. “I hope you find what you are looking for,” she says.
“Goodbye,” I reply, already walking away toward my empty room. As the building’s outline grows in the moonlight and I near the sidewalk, I can just hear music coming from the bar down the beach, Steely Dan:
Well, the danger on the rocks is surely past.
Still I remain tied to the mast.
Could it be that I have found my home at last?
Home at last?
Read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology. BUY NOW.
Dr. Bill Chriss is a trial and appellate lawyer who is also a historian, political scientist, religious scholar, and published author. He was nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship and holds graduate degrees in law, theology, history and politics, including a J.D. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in history from The University of Texas. Dr. Chriss has taught Political Philosophy, History, and Constitutional Law and has written several articles for scholarly journals. His first book, The Noble Lawyer, was published by Texas Bar Books in 2011, while his second book, Six Constitutions over Texas, is currently being edited for publication.
William Walton grew up on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. He graduated from Bandera Texas High School, then from Yale University. His collected fiction is available in Madmen and Fellow Travelers. More about William at the end of this section..
Casey was very drunk. He leaned his forearms on the cold, sticky stern rail and hung his head over the side. The sea was rough, and every time the ship rolled so did his stomach. His drink sloshed over, soaking his wrist and sleeve, but none of this distracted him from the memory of stone-faced mortuary people, condolences from friends, his wife in a body bag, nights alone, and whiskey—lots of whiskey.
Casey stared down into the dark turbulence of the ship’s prop wash, its trailing wake beckoning him. It would be so easy…
Shaken by his dark impulse, he jerked upright and gripped the railing hard with his free hand. He struggled to gather himself, to erase all memory, all thought.
As the ship plowed through the night roiling Casey’s stomach, the lights of another ship came into view. Casey felt strangely warmed by the lights of this passing vessel, even though the night was too dark and it was too far away to tell its name or even what kind of ship it was.
At least it has a destination, he thought. That’s worth something.
His sickness and despair eased, and all night he gazed into the blackness hoping to see the lights of still another ship that, if sighted, would pass from view just as surely and swiftly as the one before.
Embracing his solitude, Casey was soothed by the sound of the water rushing below.
Just before dawn, an over-friendly passenger found him, very hung over, still at the railing, the warm remnants of his drink in his hand.
“Up a bit early aren’t you?” asked the passenger, a big, imposing man.
“No, actually I'm up late,” replied Casey, looking up at him.
“Howdy. My name is—”
“I don't care what your name is.” Casey turned his gaze back to the water.
“Let's try again. What's your damned name?”
“Casey to my friends, but you’re not one of them.”
“Friendly son of a bitch, aren't you?”
“Yeah, well, you got it half right.”
“Hey, listen. We got off on the wrong foot. How about we start over? This is my first cruise. How about you?”
“Please just leave me—”
“My wife, Molly, and I think it's great. Our favorite spot so far is Cozumel. We plan to go back and learn to dive. Molly always says—”
“Look, I don't want to talk, okay? I'm looking for ships.”
“I don't see any ships.”
“There aren't any right now, but there will be.”
“I think you’re wasting your time.”
Casey turned and faced the man. “No, you are wasting my time.”
“And you are really being an asshole,” the man replied, his eyes narrowing.
“You know, you’re absolutely right. How would you like to go down to C deck and have some breakfast?”
“Fine idea,” the man replied, relaxing.
“Good. Why don't you go have some then” Casey suggested, “and leave me the hell alone.”
“No. I think I’ll kick your scrawny ass instead.”
“Look, why don't we just play a nice friendly game of 'toss 'em into the sea'?”
“And just what is that?” The man asked, balling his fists.
“I think it's self-explanatory. We try to toss each other over the rail and into the water. One of us goes for a swim and the other goes for a drink. My drink could use replenishing. So could I. Works out for me either way.”
“You’re one crazy son of a bitch. Good thing I’m in a good mood or your ass would be shark bait. I'm going to give you a pass. Consider yourself damned fortunate.”
“Not playing isn’t an option. I just hope I don't spill what's left of my drink,” Casey replied, stepping back slightly, turning sideways toward the man.
“You're a nut case. This is over nothing.”
“No it's not. I am looking for a ship. It's over everything.”
“I'm having no part of this, you sick son of a bitch.” The man's fists un-balled and he moved back a step.
“Okay. I'm going to give you a pass,” said Casey. “Consider yourself damned lucky. Turns out the game is optional after all.”
Maybe for me as well, he thought.
The man moved quickly away. Just as he disappeared from sight Casey shouted after him, “Say hello to Molly for me.” The man did not reply. And do it for yourself, man, thought Casey, every chance you get.
Casey remained at the rail until full daylight, hoping to see another ship. None came into view.
The next night found him standing at the railing again, but this time on the side deck of the ship, not at the stern. The moon, which the night before had been shrouded by clouds, tonight cast a silvery glow to the sea.
If only I could see a ship tonight, he wished.
He did not see a ship that night. There are, however, nights when Casey does see ships. He lives for those nights.
Jake sat on the shaded porch of his Texas Hill Country home well into his second six-pack of the afternoon. The porch overlooked a lush green pasture, backed by a thick grove of trees where half a dozen cows grazed lazily in the shade. Putting his feet up on the rail, he leaned his rocking chair as far back as it would go, crushing one of several empty cans strewn about the porch floor.
“Hey, Ellie!” he shouted. “How about bringing me a cold beer? I'm almost out.”
“Oh no, not out of beer. Anything but that,” Ellie answered from the kitchen. “I'll bring you one when I've finished what I'm doing. Or you could just get it yourself if you can still walk.”
“Okay, fine, just bring it after you do whatever is so damned important.”
“I'm preparing your dinner. Is that important enough for you?”
Great, but why do you have to give me such a hard time about bringing me a friggin' beer? He took another swig.
Turning his attention back to the field, Jake noticed a white light, distinct even in broad daylight, emerging from the trees. The cows began milling around, bellowing fitfully. As the light drew closer, their commotion ceased as abruptly as it had begun. The cows, lowing quietly, seemed drawn into its glow. Docilely, almost in formation, they kept pace as it continued its slow, steady movement toward the house, expanding as it came.
When the light moved so close it obscured everything else from view, Jake saw a figure standing in its midst. He closed his eyes and tried to compose his thoughts, focusing on the smells coming from Ellie's kitchen.
Crap, I've had way, way too much to drink.
When he opened his eyes, he fully expected to find the vision to be gone, but instead it appeared nearer, much too close for comfort.
The figure wore a white robe, which merged with the surrounding light. Its face was that of an older man, but one whose posture was very erect. His long hair and beard were shaggy and unkempt, and he wore a straw hat with its wide brim turned down in front. In his hand he held a gnarled staff with what appeared to be a Harley-Davidson logo on the handle. Despite the almost four foot elevation of the porch, the figure towered head and shoulders above Jake.
“Howdy,” said the apparition.
Jake sprang to his feet.
“No, don't get up,” said the figure, thrusting his arm forward, the palm of his hand toward Jake. Jake sat back down.
“Who...?” he asked incredulously, his hand trembling so badly he was barely able to hold onto his beer. “Who or what are you?”
“I'm God. Who else?”
“You look more like an over-sized Willie Nelson to me.” Jake immediately regretted his remark, hoping he hadn't angered the apparition.
“How'd you get to be such an expert on how I'm supposed to look?” the figure replied. “Besides, now that I think about it, you look a lot like John Belushi. Hey, just joking with you, fella.”
“Yeah, very funny. And why should I believe you're God? You could be the friggin' Wizard of Oz as far as I know.”
“Well, for openers, who else could appear before you bathed in a bright light? Not your Aunt Emma I'll bet. You ever see a light brighter than this?”
“Okay, yeah, I'll grant you it is pretty damned impressive,” Jake said, regaining his composure. “Great special effects. Got any other miracles up your sleeve?”
“Well, it just so happens I have a few. Here's a very minor one, just for illustrative purposes. Better put your beer down.”
“Just take my word for it.”
Jake set his can down on the table next to his chair. The chair began to vibrate, slightly at first, then more roughly.
“Well, Jake, what do you think about that? Not so good on the old hemorrhoids, eh? Yeah, I know you've got them.”
Jake burst out laughing.
“Who put you up to this crap?” he said, looking under the chair. “Okay, I don't see any wires. I'm curious how do you do it, but it doesn't really knock my socks off.”
Suddenly the chair started rocking so violently Jake had to grip its arms with all his might to keep from being thrown out.
“Yippee! Ride that sucker!” the apparition shouted.
Just when Jake was losing his grip, it stopped.
“I call that my 'Rodeo Cowboy Deluxe,' simple, but effective. Not feeling so skeptical now, are you?”
“N.., no,” replied Jake, struggling to catch his breath.
“Good. Unless you want to experience another of my little attention-getters, and believe me I've got some doozies, maybe we can get down to business.”
“What do you want from me? Am I in some kind of trouble? Oh, crap, I'm not dying, am I?”
“No, you are not dying, Jake. And you are not in any kind of trouble, unless you've done something I don't know about. Oh, wait a second, I know everything, don't I?”
“Then why would you appear before me?” Jake asked, oblivious to the joke. “I'm nobody special.”
“Quite the contrary, you are very special. I have chosen you to demonstrate a love for me, a faith in me, so absolute it shall be spoken of with reverence until the end of time.”
“Until the end of time? You gotta be kidding.”
“No, not at all. The Book of Jake, your book, will be the first one in the Third Testament of my Holy Bible.”
“Book of Jake, my ass. Now I know you're messing with me,” Jake said, relaxing slightly. “How are you doing this white light thing anyway? And why aren't you doing it in Vegas for big bucks instead of out here in the boonies? You're every bit as good as that ventriloquist guy who won America's Got Talent. Better maybe. You really had me going there.”
“Oh, you think so, do you?” The apparition, without warning, tossed Jake his staff. Jake grabbed at it, lost his grip and fumbled it, but it remained in his hand as if affixed by glue. Jake tried to shake it loose, but could not.
“What the— how the hell did you do that?” Jake asked. The handle of the staff had transformed into the image of a snake's head, turned up with its mouth opened wide. The roof of its mouth was as white as the surrounding light.
“Never mind. Just toss it down on the ground.”
“Uh, okay.” To Jake's surprise, it fell easily from his hand onto the grass where it turned into a living snake, a very big one. He didn't know what kind it was, but it moved menacingly toward him. Its tail vibrated so rapidly that it made a rustling sound in the leaves. It appeared fully capable of climbing the porch steps. He leapt to his feet.
“It's a water moccasin,” the apparition told him. “Cottonmouth. Every bit as poisonous as a rattler.”
“Holy friggin' shit, that's...No, I mean, crap, that's one big mother snake.”
The apparition chuckled. “That might actually be an understatement.” he said.
“Sorry. I was just caught by surprise.”
“Forget it. I had to do this with Moses when he doubted his ability to lead his people out of Egypt at my command. Believe me, it got his attention. Have I got yours?”
“Freaking-A, I mean, uh, darned right you have!”
“Good, now grab its tail, pick it up, and toss it back to me.” The snake's tail started vibrating again.
“Pick it up? It's a friggin' snake for God's, sake!” Jake caught himself, realizing he had taken the Lord's name in vain. “I'm sorry, I, I didn't mean to blaspheme.”
“That's okay. Almost everyone blasphemes when asked to pick up a snake.”
Jake smiled feebly. “But you're kidding, right? About picking it up?”
“No, not in the least,” the apparition replied. “I’m deadly serious.”
“Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of.”
“Jake, I command you to pick it up now! I don't think I can put it much more plainly than that. Now!” The air became warmer.
Heart pounding, Jake descended the steps, grabbed the snake by the tail, and it immediately reverted into the rough-hewn wooden staff. He lobbed it back to the apparition who, he was beginning to believe, might indeed be God. Weak-kneed, he stumbled up the steps, and sank into his chair. He gulped down the remnants of his beer, and dropped the can to the floor.
“Ellie,” he shouted, turning his head toward the door. “How about bringing me that beer now? Please!” Not only did he badly need one, but he hoped her presence would wake him from this delusion, if that's what it was.
“For God's sake, Jake, I'm trying to fix dinner,” Ellie hollered from the kitchen. “Why don't you get off your butt and go fetch it yourself? Not that you haven't already had enough to drink.”
“Damn it, Ellie, I don't need you ragging on me right now!”
Ellie came and stood in the doorway. “I'm not ragging on you. I'm working my tail off cooking your meal.” Without taking any notice of the apparition, she stepped onto the porch, picked up several beer cans, then walked back into the house.
“Okay, don't get all bent out of shape,” Jake shouted after her. “I'll get it myself. Sorry for asking.” He didn't know whether to be heartened or shaken that she didn't see the apparition.
Jake reached down, picked up his can, and turned toward the visage. “I gotta go get myself a beer. I suppose I'll have to get you one, too.”
“That won't be necessary,” the apparition replied, waving his staff. Jake's beer can was instantly full. The unexpected increase in weight startled him, almost causing him to drop it.
“Nice recovery, Jake. Didn't spill a drop. Pretty good reflexes you've got there.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
“Don't mention it. I've been filling your beers for years. Haven't you noticed how long it takes you to get through them sometimes? And how you drink better quality beer than you used to?”
“I thought my taste in beer had just evolved. I suppose you were teaching me?”
“Yes, and I am still teaching you. Now maybe we can get down to my business.”
“Okay, but first tell me if Moses led his people out of Egypt. I think the Bible says he did, but I'm not sure.”
“He did as I instructed. And even when my chosen people strayed and worshipped a false god, I forgave them and delivered them to the promised land. You, too, shall do my will.”
“What are you asking of me? I don't have anything in common with Moses,” replied Jake, confused.
“You are being way too literal. I only related Moses’s story to make a point about certainty of faith. So before I tell you what I require of you, we need to talk about the strength of yours.”
“It's pretty strong, I think. I believe in God, I mean you I guess, and all.”
“And do you believe that God would ever ask you to do anything wrong?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Suppose I asked you to steal food from a convenience store to feed some starving homeless people living under a freeway?”
“Then, I guess I would do as you tell me. But what about the Commandment 'Thou Shalt Not Steal?'”
“I see things that you don't, Jake. You would just have to trust me. Do you think you could do that?”
“I think so, but I wouldn't be comfortable with it. Is that what you want me to do, steal to feed homeless people?” Jake shifted in his seat uneasily.
“No, Jake, but I do require you to demonstrate that your faith in me is absolute.”
“I don't have to explain myself to you. I'm God. Just trust me. Now, are you ready to demonstrate your faith?”
“How?” Jake asked, warily.
“I command you to sacrifice your wife, Ellie.”
Jake bolted upright from his chair.
“Holy shit! You want me to what? What do you mean, sacrifice?”
“I want you to slay her.”
“Slay? You mean kill her?” Jake began trembling uncontrollably.
The apparition waved his staff and a large knife appeared on the table next to Jake's chair. Jake flinched.
“Yes. Do it now. You can use that knife right there.” Jake recoiled from it, backing away several steps.
“Why, in God's name, would I do that?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“To demonstrate the absoluteness of your faith and that your love for me is limitless, as mine is for you.”
“I just said I have faith. I never claimed it was like Moses and all those big Bible guys. I'm just a regular person.”
“Not anymore. Your testament of faith, as inscribed in the Book of Jake, will be remembered and venerated for all time.”
“I don't want to be vener..., venerated.”
“Well, you shall be, Jake. Just do as I require of you.”
“Please don't ask me to do this!”
“Ask? Did I say ask?” The air got warmer again.
“No. No, I won't!” Tears welled in Jake's eyes.
“You would defy me?” The apparition's tone was now quiet and menacing. It got still warmer, and Jake began to sweat profusely.
“I don't want to disobey you, but I can't do this.”
“Yes, you can, Jake. Have faith that God would never lead you astray.”
“No, I can't. I'm not killing anybody, and Ellie is the last one on earth that I would harm,” Jake said, his eyes narrowing. “The Bible is supposed to be your word, and it says 'Thou Shalt Not Kill.'”
“Yes, and it says 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' too, but you were willing to do that. You either have absolute faith in me or you have none at all.”
“Then I have none. No, that's not true, I do have faith, but I don't believe you are God,” Jake said. “God would never ask such an awful thing of me.” He took several gulps of beer, then set down the can.
“Haven't you read your Old Testament, Jake? When I asked a similar sacrifice of Abraham, the life of his only beloved son, Isaac, he did not refuse. He did not hesitate. He was certain in his faith.”
“I don't give a rat's ass what Abraham did. You're not God. I don't know whether you're Satan or just voices in my head, but you sure as hell aren't God. And, if it's voices in my head, I'm not crazy enough to listen to them.”
“Abraham had the faith to do as he was told. Now, you shall do the same!”
“No, I won't do it!”
“Jake, obey me now! Your life depends on it. Your eternal one as well.” The heat became so intense Jake's shirt was instantly soaked.
Although the sky was perfectly clear, a bolt of lightning struck the ground a few yards from the porch, followed immediately by a tremendous clap of thunder. The pungent smell of smoke filled the air. It was then that Jake had his epiphany.
I'd never do that. I'd rather die than kill Ellie.
Immediately, his fear was lessened to the point that he was almost unaffected by the lightning strike.
“No way,” Jake said, picking up his beer. “Get off my property. Now!” Without realizing it, he'd squeezed the can so hard he’d crushed it.
“Defy me at your peril,” the apparition said in a quiet, ominous tone.
“Obey you at my peril, you mean, for I would surely rot in hell, or at least state prison, if I did as you command.”
“I'm going to say it one last time.” The apparition paused. “Trust me,” he urged in a less threatening tone.
“Well, then, you have determined your own fate, Jake.”
The apparition put on his hat and began walking away. A few yards from the porch, he stopped, turned back, and tipped his hat to Jake.
“Know I shall always love you, Jake,” he said in a gentle, almost sad, tone, then resumed walking toward the woods, the light receding with him as he went, until he disappeared.
The light continued to fade until it, too, was completely gone, the air cooled, and Jake could see his surroundings again. The cows grazed contentedly, the sun was low in the treetops, and the sky was beginning to pick up the colors of the immanent sunset. He was relieved to see the knife was gone.
Jake needed, really needed, another beer. He stared at the ground where the apparition had stood.
“Okay,” he said, picking an empty beer can off the floor and hoisting it. “Make it a Guinness this time.”
Nothing happened. Jake realized he'd have to get it himself, that he probably wouldn't get any more freebees. He was fine with that, and got up on wobbly legs to fetch his own. As he opened the front door, Ellie called out to him.
“Honey,” she shouted, “dinner is ready. We're having my mother’s chicken stew, your favorite.”
“Okay, that's great. I'm coming.” He struggled to control his trembling as he made his way into the dining room.
“Dinner looks, uh, really good,” he said. He held on to the edge of the table, steadying himself for a moment, then, sat down.
Ellie sat down, unfolded her napkin and placed it in her lap. “Do you want to say grace, Jake?”
“No, not tonight.”
“I just don't want to tonight.”
“Are you drunk again?”
“I don't know, but that's not it. I just don't want to. I can't.”
“Honey, what's wrong?” she asked, her brow furrowing. Jake noticed her eyes were glistening and regretted his earlier unkind remarks had hurt her.
“Nothing I can talk about right now. Just bear with me. I'll explain later.”
Jake knew he wouldn't explain later, but with the passage of time he'd be able to say grace again because he didn't believe the apparition had been God. His was a loving and forgiving God. But it might take him awhile. He also knew he would do what he had to if what he experienced had been voices in his head. If they returned, he'd get his shotgun, go into the woods, and shut them up for good. Nothing was ever going to hurt Ellie. Not on his watch. A wave of tenderness washed over him, and he looked across the table at her as though for the first time.
You are the only grace I will ever need, Ellie.
Jake gingerly took his first small bite of her special chicken stew, but his encounter with the apparition had left him with little appetite.
You, Ellie, not any damned chicken stew, are my real favorite dish.
He had hurt her feelings enough today. Things were going to be different from now on.
Jake took a few more bites, pretending to relish them, when he noticed tears running down Ellie's cheeks.
“Ellie, sweetheart, what, what's the matter? Are you, are you...all right?”
Jake felt a sudden tightness in his chest. He struggled, gasping, to catch his breath.
“Ellie, something is, is...very...wrong. I...” Jake stumbled over each word.
He couldn't breathe. The tightness in his chest became a searing pain. His fork fell from his hand, clinked onto his plate, and bounced to the floor. He tried to reach down to pick it up but couldn't move.
“Oh, Jake, I'm so, so sorry,” Ellie whispered, wiping at her tears with her napkin. “Please forgive me. I had no choice. God commanded me.”
The colored rays of the sunset streamed through the dining room windows and reflected against the opposite wall. The colors seemed first to envelop him, then fill him, and his breathing became less labored. He closed his eyes, a calm came over him, and the image of Ellie's face filled his consciousness.
It’s, it’s okay, Ellie. I forgive...
THUS ENDED THE BOOK OF JAKE.
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
William Walton grew up on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. He graduated from Bandera Texas High School, then from Yale University. A dissolute youth, William tried later to become a deep, sensitive person. It was a waste of time. He spent the rest of his life getting in touch with his innate superficiality, a surprisingly easy task. Except for his work with troubled adolescents, voyaging under sail, and his writing, William never deviated from that path. His stories have been published in An Honest Lie, vols. 2 and 3, anthologies of short stories by Open Heart Publishing, and in Angels on Earth. His collected fiction is available in Madmen and Fellow Travelers
ZER was born and raised in Corpus Christi. They study chemistry and creative writing at Texas A&M-CC. They have been a poetry editor for the Windward Review since 2016. Their work has been featured in the Switchgrass Review, Sink Hollow, and the Sagebrush Review. They were also awarded a 1st place prize in the 2018 Scissortail undergraduate creative writing contest. Their latest work (in progress) is a multimedia zine which pays homage to social media culture and its impact on communication styles.
We are under the trellis of Nueva Vita, a garden that murmurs with heaves of impatiens. From somewhere, the scream of autos tears at the plum of gingersnaps. They coil and fold their leaves into boats. I hold your hand while leaning, watching passerines blowing kisses to one another. This is just as you like though we are not llamas gemelas; we are the stems of an allium shooting off in diverging directions, never to touch but always close, borne from the same fruits. We swell from the heat of that glowing suspension and the sun is singing. It singes your skin into milky champurrado. Liberated winds hold their shining ends as if a vessel. And hummingbirds bait and stick us as we turn to sap all over the tree scenery. An SUV bares its teeth across the way to remind us that we are machinery. You cup your hands into buds and hold them over these ears. Your words are soil to me with my ligaments of buzzing bees and veins rippling with honey. “Suelo bueno, tomar este corazón y comerlo.” The cherub fountains of flushed marble cry themselves onto the floor. Brown translucence melts into creases between planets, with our shoes dripping into softness, wasted pollen stolen on fingertips. Now, we no longer stand but float atop the white and scarred swing, still creaking back and forth like the hands on a clock. Usted toma estas flores picante como el suyo en su boca. I give you my roots and you give me your flowers.
copyright Zoe Ramos
Here's this trouble, she always thought too much of me. i am a
bug-utterchaos entrails with no anatomy
that’s ever been known
the worse animals are immortal seeming just wont die
i was 21 years old when i told my mother that i was dating, the first human being i had ever dated, someone without gender, but black white black and white black white black white black white or another ‘comprehensible’ ‘color’. the selfishness,
what i did
e very thing
no. i was dating what parents would call a woman. shield your eyes
a girl-thing that knew themself better than themself. i don’t blame you for your anger
to get to that place
and still know
the real you?
tapered, skimped peeling off
from the teeth guts falling out guts falling
out why wont you die ?
obscurefutile efforts of becoming,
becoming becoming what? at war with
the nothingness, insensible sensibility
incapability of expressing
what thou whilst.
she didn't know what to say
just be careful where you step
not today not today.
remember i was young
and we used to watch rated r movies
together like what all the world said
about profanity, parenting meant
when a sex scene came on, mother
you would tell us to look away,
older sister and me only 9 or 10.
we would giggle and think little of it
the moaning the gasping the feverish
way you would want us to fail to see
pixels on a screen in oscillating colors
red blue green
colors i once knew
that i now know are struck
into a brain electronically
imaginationorgans sensory pressures,
body saying what things are
before you do
eyes turn over, there are always
where people love you
Here's this trouble, she always thought too much of me. i am a
bug-utterchaos entrails with no anatomy
that’s ever been known
the worse animals are immortal seeming just wont die
i was 21 years old when i told my mother that i was dating, the first human being i had ever dated, someone without gender, but black white black and white black white black white black white or another ‘comprehensible’ ‘color’. the selfishness,
what i did
e very thing
no. i was dating what parents would call a woman. shield your eyes
a girl-thing that knew themself better than themself. i don’t blame you for your anger
A sample of ZER's visual poetry will be included in Corpus Christi Writers 2020.
“white shadows in the dark”
is a collection documenting the experience of schizophrenia. Handwritten poems were used in order to bridge the gap between chaotic magnanimity and childlike ineptitude. Conceptually, the poems are dark and often unscrutable, so as to capture the threat of the unknown or the unconscious for one whose fears can be materialized, seemingly, into the world before them.