griffin epstein

box full of yearbook outtakes and things that survived the fire

stare at the photo of sun on dog in squares of light        sun on light with dog in sun all over in
squares of light on a page of pictures in the archive that remembers me         always turning        dog
morning sneaking through the window of the basement where I hide what I refuse to eat in a box
of pictures         the best way to loop time        capture and destroy time         ease time away like lit
birthday candles reducing themselves to wax throwing shadow on the white rug the blue chair
and the charcoal stain behind There are too many COLORS in this house THAT’S why it had to
burn        give me a photo like a benediction          the plural swing of all our hauntings passing over
the substitute house like a fleet of men like a parcel of men like MOM there’s a flock of MEN
passing over the house        no one took any pictures of that        but look here’s one where I’m in 
the parking lot with pink hair        one outside the 1998 cooper union national youth poetry slam           
one at the public pool where I never get high enough to stay casual        the air prodding the edges of my 
skin        or        here        sitting alone in the bitter kitchen        downstairs by the stacked boxes with the 
custody papers I won’t see until later 
and in this one I am laughing.                             swanned out on the couch ready for the damage 
and in this one I am dancing        skinny limbs tossed around        and in this one I am staring
down calculating a dog’s lifespan on my toes the years between then and now divided in squares
of light on the carpet in lit squares  

griffin epstein is a non-binary white settler from NYC (Lenape land) working in education and community-engaged research in Toronto (Dish with One Spoon/Treaty 13). They have been featured in Glad Day’s Emerging Writers Series, and their poetry has appeared in Grain MagazineThe Maynard and Plenitude, among others. griffin is the author of so we may be fed, forthcoming from the Frog Hollow Press disability chapbook series. They play music in SPOILS, make games with shrunken studios, and develop multimedia work with poet Shannon Quinn and artist bryan depuy.

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Anonymous Philly Poet

THE ANGELS OF LOSS ANGELES

This is how you do it!

You strip the scales from your skin, the sunlight shines in, everything returns to its origin, wild from the womb, before the human domestication process, having a body…that’s the problem! and I have one so I stare straight into the sun so sublime it eats my mind fell out of an envelope addressed to who? you?  what does blue mean to you when your feeling… blue sky blue sky envelops my mind floating on a river of light entities glistening singing softly…I remember who I am again…I remember those sweet talking  sounds of my soul…I remember growing old…I remember being free again…I remember those sun seeing beams made of me…I remember being born…I remember who I am again…I remember those sweet talking sounds of my soul…I remember growing old…I remember being free again…I remember those sun seeing beams made of me…I remember baby… a message from god maybe? a melody for me? my spiritual destiny? The quest in me came to collapsed on the concrete sobbing at the source in secret  tears the fraud of my face, this is the part where a brain splits and the sun spits sweet on my cheek like a  creek in a dream, and through the crack comes a calling…

Selections from WHY SETTLE FOR ANYTHING LESS THAN TOTAL SPIRITUAL LIBERATION OF ALL THE BEINGS!!!

[...] [A]nd then I saw the present sharp in perspective, it cuts my guts, it leaks in a  cup and I drink
          It was the edge of experience it was the end of the lie my eye that we are not living in a  dying city on a dying planet. It makes me sad. It makes me so sad to see it. It makes me mad and me was  overcome by madness so me was evicted from the room me was rentin, and estranged from my family and unemployed so moved into the library of my college and slept on friends floors and eventually  stayed up for days and days in a daze reading and reading and reading made me a maze and Felix Guattari made me weep with love for madness maybe me Felix and fell asleep in my car and didn’t mind  besides was on a mystical mission to save the world save the world so could not be burdened by housing  or boss and stayed up for days and days in a daze and got kicked out of the market for a body zigging  and zagging in a maze and a head hit with hammer for sciences donkey brains oozing spilling sewage  

[...] 

They were  coming for me. Any minute now. imprisoned in a hospital. its all love. They don’t understand. Why are  you here breathing this air? Its all love. They don’t understand and so a hand on a gun, a gesture in my  body. It shakes. California could have been an earthquake, but it isn’t. So madness my muse why must  me messianic consciousness doing itself to me setting me free but what for? And The Empire screams why the FUCK are you here breathing this air? Sir I plead, I think they call it existentialism. I exist so I am  the enemy? Why are They trying to destroy me? Its my destiny blacked out backseat banging on the  cage blurry fragments of dreams struggling to scream I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING

And I could have been an aborted fetus but I was born instead, thrown from a womb, another body  belonging to this Evil Empire that never ends, and every body has to belong somewhere, so there I was,  where most of us are not welcome, shackled to a stretcher, pissing into a catheter, staring at the ceiling,  a white wall, that means nothing, but these blinding lights that desecrate my vision. When in walks a  white lab coat carrying a clipboard, it says here that it believes it was personally selected by the sun for a  magical mission. Check for magical thinking. Check for grandiose delusions. Hello there, we are going to  make you into a submissive member of society, how’s that sound? ….feeling shy today….well if it wants  to be a part of society it masters its animal with cruelty and it love dogs on a leash and it hallows out a  whole in its head and it lives there and it thinks it is there because it thinks it is a space and not a force  and so it is and it sits still or it doesn’t and it drinks the doctors potion and it sits still and it orders its  house and it calls it spring cleaning because spring is pleasant and it wants order to be pleasant too and  it struggles to turn its rhythms into elevator music and it tells itself it loves elevator music and eventually  it does and it always cooks itself by following their recipes precisely and it tastes itself and it tastes  disgusting and it is so ashamed of its failure but it never ever unwraps zion’s rotting bacon becoming a  beam of god unless it wants to be circled by The Empires army six guns and voices demanding to know  why it exists, and we wouldn’t want that would we? No, please, I can obey if I try. I promise. I can curl in  a crevice and hide in the whole of the horror. Please don’t murder me. Please don’t murder me. Good,  obedience is a virtue, it obeys in exchange for a gentle violence that it calls love and then it matures and  takes responsibility for forming itself and it trains a tongue and a lung to form a corporations public  relations department and it says GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! blessed are the Americans who can become  the apocalypse anytime but can’t stop dreaming about domesticity in this city that ate up their brains  and imagination a fascist dog barks I AM THE EMPEROR you brain diseased criminal its your nature  that’s the enemy is stabbing me with a needle now I fear nature and I feel nothing  

Selections from THE EARTH LOVES YOU AND ITS YOUR HOME!!!  

 Precious planet 
 where I sleep  
 seed of my dreams  
 temple of trees  

 talk to me sweetly  
 blessedly your child  
 welcome me wild  
 as the wind  

 swept away my soul  
 and gave me a new one  
 sunlight on my skin  
 its easy to begin  

 learning to be alive again  
 when you wake up  
 sleeping on the beach  
 weeping at the sunrise 
 
 you could die  
 one thousand times  
 for a love  
 they don’t understand  
  
 [...]

 the universe  
 is spilling  
 when I weep  
 for tujunga canyon 
 where
 love
 comes
 to die
 where
 the
 military  
 made the river dry  
 where a creek  

 could be a crack  
 comes a calling  
 my consciousness  
 washed in exstasy
  
 by our madness  
 my muse  
 for the messianic age  
 before the genocide 
 
 and I
 love you
 so much
 that I
 don’t
 want to
 leave
 you
 behind  
 so I’m drinking
  
 malt liquor  
 in this candy coated  
 day dream  
 to calcify my soul so  

 four loko  
 green apple  
 of my eyes  
 sobbing at the sky 
 
 we are all going to die  
 I cry 
 I’m going home  
 I’m going home  

 dew drops  
 on the moon  
 love fell  
 out of the room  

 so numb numb dizzy  
 waking
 up with
 the
 shakes
 can you
 save me  
 from becoming an earthquake 
 so them humans  
 don’t murder me  
 was
 just
 trying
 to
 make
 anoth
 er
 earth  

 [...]
   
 all I am  
 is these negations  
 make nations  

 of our earth  
 where
 the
 temple
 of trees
 still
 speaks to
 me  
 sweetly, says  
 I got put in my place  
 for the aesthetic  
 of a sterile city  
 and you  

 got put
 in your
 place
 too in a
 box on
 a box  
 with no windows  
 that you pay for  

 and you pay  
 and you pay  
 and you pay for  
 do you not believe? 

 in the beauty  
 of your nature  
 made of magic  
 could be the kindest cosmos…  

contact at [email protected]

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Jocelyn Patten

Lonely Diagnosis

And if my allowing myself to be brought here confuses you, if you think for one minute that I am singing one song and dancing to another, then you have not been following along. Stick to the facts. That’s what I have to tell everybody. They are clear and crisp and lay cold and unblinking on the snow banks that lined the drive here. I press my nose to the glass and nod at each, and as they pass they slip under the car and up into the backseat and down my stomach. I feel them still; they have not melted, despite the heat in this room. There are hundreds of them, and they tell the story of what has happened to me, what was done to me in the beginning, what must be stopped. I will open my mouth round and wide, and each fact will come slipping out, only to attach itself to the blank wall that faces our chairs; there they will remain hard and sharp and be beautiful and powerful and all-knowing. And all I will have to do is point and say, here, here is all that you need to know. Here is where my doctor refuses to look, and here is what my mother does not accept. But you can see it, I know you can, and you can understand what the truth is. You can stick to the facts. You will recognize the danger I am in, and order that I be removed outside the city limits, far from the grey grip of the pill-pushing death angels. Gone, wiped off their video screens, the metal disc in my brain growing weaker and weaker with every moment. Come spring, it will be mere dust, and one morning I will stand up and sneeze, and it will all be gone. 

Jocelyn Patten lives and writes in Ottawa.  

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Pamela K. Santos

Coconuts, Done Threeway

.isa.

one     time     my filipino ex      ordered
this dvd      in the mail you      know      back
when porn      had more      steps you      know      catalogs
&      shipping times      starring      this brown af
gorgeous      pinay      her name      long forgotten
playing      a maid      with the      other      hot brown
maids on      their knees      brown knees & asses &
yt men      & that      brown on yt on brown on
yt      again & again      are what      comes      to
mind when      i hear      people      called coconuts

..dalawa..

Sometimes (not often) I wonder if I
am just an impersonation of an
impersonation. Nanay wasn’t born
in the Philippines and neither was I.
She cooks food off of tutorials on
YouTube, IGTV, and Facebook groups.
Murmurs Taglish curses under her breath.
She calls me Anak. I pick up her words
like fallen coconuts and when no one’s
around, I crack them open—what a waste!
They are dry inside, husks double-sided.
No wonder I feel hunger late at night.

..dalawa.. [extra credit po]

Minsan (hindi madalas) ako’y nagtataka kung ako
ay isang lamang pagpapanggap ng isang
nagpapanggap. Hindi ipinanganak si Nanay
sa Pilipinas at hindi rin ako.
Nagluluto siya ng pagkain galing sa mga tutorial sa
YouTube, IGTV, at mga Facebook grupo.
Nagmumura ng mga pabulong sa Taglish.
Tinatawag niya akong Anak. Dinampot ko yung natak niyang salita
na parang mga niyog lang na nahulog at kapag walang sinuman
sa paligid, biniyak ‘kong bukas—SAYANG!
Tuyong tuyo na sila, mga bunot ng niyog na magkabilang panig, sa loob at labas.
Aba, kaya nanatiling gutom at walang laman ang sikmura ko buong gabi.

…tatlo…

// There was this dream I had / that I was an
Old West gunfighter / and somehow I knew
my name was Manila / Mae and maybe
I had just / read Pretty Deadly / where ghosts
are more deadly than people / but people
keep you alive / after they cut pieces
of / you so maybe let’s not judge / and back
to my dream I was /decked out in a mad
hot braid / under a bad guy hat you / know
the ones for bad / dudes or anti-heroes
or /reluctant revenge-seekers / or like
moral relativists / or villains with
a conscience / or repentant killers / or
redemption hunters It was / a black hat

and so like I / had enough guns to weigh
down my belt Violence is heavy / even
in packaged form The /Manila Mae me
was like / standing in a crowded / what do
they call it / thoroughfare /no wait / more like
an empty except for the dust / winds kind
of vast flat desert /no one there but me
black-hatted / iron-heavy / soul-weary
Manila Mae me / in Cinerama
widescreen 70 mm frame
looking out / over / the America
that hated / Brown skin / in spite of an / un/
forgiving sun / exposing / every / shadow / in the
West /

….tapos na….

“We say we are Filipino; we say we are American, so, who are we,
more so, what are we; brown or white; or are we still “other”?

— From “ Ang Kundiman ng mga Niyog sa Amerika: The Lament of Seven
Hundred Seventy-Four Thousand Six Hundred and Forty Coconuts” by Fred
Cordova, in a book you have to know (which is to say you can’t stumble across it)
to find it in a library or a bookstore called “Filipinos, Forgotten Asian Americans”

 

Pamela K. Santos is a Pinayorker writer and artist-scholar working with multilingual materials and archival embodiment. Pamela has received support from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Oregon Literary Fellowship, Caldera Arts, Mineral School, and Regional Arts & Culture Council, among others. Her poetry appears in Cultural WeeklyAnomalyStoked Words, Tayo Magazine, and elsewhere. She is working on her debut collection Secret Lumpia.

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Jason Overby

Chirality

  

A photo of a white man with a long beard and long hair. He appears to be getting a haircut, though the photo is ambiguous. A photo can be seen over his left shoulder, resembling Burt Reynolds.

Jason Overby lives in Portland, OR with his wife and two children. He has self-published a variety of mini-comics, including JessicaSolipsist’s Doodles, and Obligatory Artifact. His strip Apophenia appeared in Abstract Comics: The AnthologyThe Being Being, a book collecting some of this work, was published in 2015 by Gridlords. You can view many of this work at jasonoverby.art. He is currently finishing up a new work, which will be called The O.C.

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Tana Oshima

Pangea (An XXL comic)


1. i am a single-celled diaspora, a marine sponge. i am an exile born with no nest or noise and when i sing i howl like an Australopithecus

(i am a balloon
attached to a string
attached to a corner
attached to a past
that lies to me
gently)

2. from the bottom of the cave, my mouth open, my feet dancing on an earth that is still whole. i am pangea, a diaspora contained in an amphora in the singular form, a single body that swells into the intemporal, a sponge, strip away the salt, the waves trick me with their disparate tongues, their laughter in a haze: foam

3. my wandering is anchored in the ethereal language, architect of the future, raw, pure structure with no roots or clothing

4. i have the power to open all doors
(but never my cave)

  

A photo of a Japanese-Spanish woman wearing a yellow knit cap and a black shirt with a yellow shell. Part of her comic is displayed above her, as she occupies the bottom left-hand corner of the photo.

Tana Oshima is a Japanese-Spanish writer, literary translator and visual artist exploring the field of comics. She has self-published eight mini-comics, and has translated to Spanish female novelists from Japan, such as Yuko Tsushima, Hiroko Oyamada, and Yu Miri. She is based in New York. cargocollective.com/tanaoshima_art. Instagram: @tanaoshima.

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Rosaire Appel

Out There

  

Rosaire Appel (New York) is an artist exploring interconnections among reading, looking and listening. She draws writing, sound and abstract comics. She has created many kinds of visual books, both limited editions and commercially published. Her most recent book is “Corona Panic Score”, created with ink on vintage music paper. Her sound drawings have been exhibited widely. She posts regularly on facebook and Instagram. Her website is www.rosaireappel.com.

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Jenny Gillespie Mason

The Fruit

We grow the fruit in between rooted clouds of clover and fennel, redwoods. Those trees left standing, charred from some fire that nearly ravaged the hill years before we bought the house on the coast.

The fruit’s flesh is the color of cold bronze evening light. Reams of green, translucent pearls cluster at its center. The pulp quivers as you cut open the darker green skin, but there’s muscle to it, like a birth sac. 

I still lose my head in the mirror a lot. It’s my scar from the ceremony.

According to my teacher Leroy, the world’s expert on headlessness, who Skypes me from the UK, he calls it just seeing what is. None of us have any heads, actually. He writes books on the matter.

“I was intensely looked at, at home as a child, but when I went out into the world, into school, I was treated as a no-one and nothing. So this ‘gift’ has been confusing, to say the least,” I write to Leroy one night. 

He sends me back the plainest smiley emoticon.

“You can’t force a mouth open that doesn’t wanna eat,” Leroy murmurs. Behind him, a wall full of heads, pictures of his children and grandchildren.

Can you even see your own head right now? I try to ask others , in small gatherings, as Leroy has coached me. No, you cant see it, I explain, as someone itches his nose, or another smoothes down her hair. 

It happened the other day. I could feel it coming on at a playdate for my youngest son.  The mother was frantically scooping up the blocks, trains, and plastic food toys the children had left in their wake. “I’m sorry,” she kept muttering. “This is just my thing. I can’t help it.” 

The other woman at the playdate, a new neighbor with a three month-old on her chest, kept offering to help, even as her own bundle squirmed and clawed at her until the wailing began. I squatted down and did my own unnecessary share, but the presence of the screaming baby, the distraction of the host in her desire for order brought it on. Anytime it felt I was not meant to be in this world, or that others did not want to be with me, it came on.

Im not going to look, Im not going to look, I kept thinking. But when my son had to poop and I had to help wipe him, there it was in the mirror— a bare prancing flame above my shoulders, my son’s curly little head aping and cheesing in the glass next to “me,” splashing water all over the sink. “This is how I wash my hands, Mom,” he said, spreading foamy soap into the basin with his palms. 

Back in the playroom I kept touching my face. Yes, sensation is there, Leroy would say, but that sensation of touching your face is a mental object, not the true reality of who you are. An object, like all the scattered playthings before me.

“Is something wrong with your face?” the hostess asked. Our children, on opposite sides of the playroom, were no longer playing together, fixated on their own spontaneous framings of objects meant to look like cars, fruit. 

“Oh, just a bug bite or something.”

 

My husband has eaten the fruit seven times.

When we argued last night, about my lack of desire for sex, his head seemed to shrink. Would it turn into a flame as well? His voluptuous lips I’ve always enjoyed kissing remained about the same size. His eyes became large green marbles pooled with anguish. The flesh, what occurred around those seemingly solid, private portals into his own sensory experience, diminished, like a child’s balloon a week after her birthday party.

It happened just as the windows in the room we sat in darkened into night. Outside, I noticed the solar paper lantern I’d hung with fishing line now just sat on the grass—one of our sons had batted it down. Whatever the sun had rubbed off into its small battery now glowed through perforated blue paper.

Since first eating the fruit he’s wanted more and more sex, a few times a day if he could. I’ve wanted less—once a month would suit me fine. 

It seems so gratuitous to me, after essentially dying during the ceremony. After first seeing my headlessness in the mirror in the bathroom, in between puking, the guttural flame above my shoulders. 

“Are we dead now?” I remember asking Mim, an older woman who was once very beautiful. The juice of the fruit’s seeds—we had to eat it in big bites in order to get through the foul taste—had dripped all over her linen pants; her white hair lay in sweat-flattened strands on her cheeks. During the ceremony, I saw her take on the body of a very small child, but with her sixty-ish face.

Later, in the following morning’s integration circle, we discussed what we had all seen. We sat on the rug in the big room facing the ocean. That day the ocean was plaintive, silky, and grey, as if it too had taken too many drugs. 

When she was three years old, Mim explained, she had been left in a body cast for two weeks, to repair some sort of hip aberration. Those were the days parents were not allowed to visit children in the hospital. Instead, they sent in a clown who would grumble at Mim, then hurry out of the room as she screamed. She’d returned to that raw state during the ceremony, to that child’s frightened body.

 

I’d also seen the female shaman grow as huge as “the big man” statue, the one with the black beard and cartoonish muscles in front of the tire store, in the central Illinois town where I grew up. I had always pointed to it from the car as a little girl in excitement, and I did the same thing now—pointing, exclaiming, from my yoga mat. 

Once ten feet tall, she then spread her black wings over us and murmured in tongues. Skull cascades shimmered across my sight in a scowling chainmail swarm. 

One of the women across the room, a heavy chainsmoker with a son in prison, was making her way out of a cocoon of black vapor, grunting. 

Then, in the morning, we were greeted again by the ocean, the pelicans, a stubborn owl, coffee. Talking about nail colors, even. Normalcy was a god reborn to me that morning.

Mim and I would email each other throughout the year following the ceremony. She said she kept seeing angels through her window above her sink, floating above her grandkids’ toys out in the yard. But its odd, she wrote. They seem faceless. I cant remember any of their faces, just that gorgeous quality of light.

Like Jesus rising from the tomb—like a cancer suddenly disappearing—or a beloved friend somehow reappearing, after days of being lost in the woods without food or water. This is how our Earth will regain its strength slowly as each of us ingests the fruit, Hermes Igra wrote. But it must be all of us.

Hermes, extremely rich, heads the foundation for the fruit. My husband and I are two of the top funders, along with being crop-hosters. As the population dwindles, it seems possible a mass feasting could occur.

I’ve always enjoyed staring from his velvet couch into the folds of his oil paintings. They are mostly Pre-Raphaelite women, heaving against windows and walls. 

If it wasn’t for his age, his little tweed cap, his former atheism, his Oxford education, his parents’ deaths in the camps, we would have written off his vision as tomfoolery, just as the government has. 

Leroy would have laughed at me if I were to list these assets of Hermes’, these mental objects, as the trousseau of evidence inviting my trust. 

  “He’s not a guru, or anything,” I tell others, resisting my own squeamishness. “Just a deep soul who’s done a lot of drugs, responsibly, in order to expand his own consciousness, and to even save the world.” 

Hermes is extremely quiet. Once he offered me a Vitamin C IV when he saw me sneezing. Another time, he whispered to me on his balcony over the bay, at his eightieth birthday party, fireworks dirtying up the sky, “You see, my dear, it’s the ones who haven’t eaten this fruit who are going to kill us all. They would never permit themselves anything but a perp walk down the aisle—to marry the last ashes of mindless consumption.” 

Looking back, he was probably high that night. 

The male shaman was a balding, handsome part-time coffeeshop owner from Ottawa. He chanted for six hours, with the warbling, sweet voice of a deeply enlightened goat who has only ever known freedom. At the end of the ceremony, he handed out CD recordings of himself so that we could always remember, and would go back. 

The female shaman was beautiful. I’d worried about her when my husband told me, yeah, shes hot. I couldn’t quite look at her beauty, afraid it would make me judge her, but first her softness took me in, and then her devastating transformation into the angel of death while we are all puking and writhing.

Later I found out the shamans were a couple who broke up shortly after our ceremony. I don’t remember them interacting much, except to stand side by side in the morning in the kitchen, him handing her melon and strawberries from a cloth bag to chop up for our breakfast, and then, as we ate, sharing a hand-rolled cigarette outside.

Hermes says that if my husband wants to join a small group of them, they could summon, through an extremely powerful ceremony in deepest Peru, what is needed to exterminate those leaders who deny what’s happening, what the sun has in store for us. 

The crust of the sunset is scattering through stained glass windows, jewel-toned depictions of maidens, trumpeters, sheep, made all the more intense by the light. But it’s hard to remark on the beauty of those sunset colors anymore, as the sun grows closer, dangerously closer.

It may not solve everything, Hermes continues, but at least we could attempt to eliminate the spewers who declare all the science out there nonsense.

“All we would need to do is look at images of them. It would be a few of us fruit loopers in a circle. If we focused long enough, they would perish.” Fruit loopers are those who have eaten ten times or more.

“So it would be some kind of voodoo assassination?” I ask through a mouthful of cake. We stand in Hermes’ study, in front of a vertiginous De Chirico depicting a map of islands crammed under a jumble of right-angle tools. Hermes’ eighty-first birthday party, unlike his drug-fueled eightieth (were those fireworks for him, but he couldn’t quite admit it?), seemed at first to be more of a fireside chat fundraising kind of affair, now clearly a hitman audition.

“Please don’t do it,” I say to my husband after we get the children into bed that night. “It’s too much. These are fathers, these people, sons.”

He holds me and murmurs that he won’t. I trust him. And slowly, feeling his hands on my breasts, my cheeks, I become an animal performing the act of love again, however headless. Which I am again, later in the mirror, brushing my teeth, a bare flame above my bobbing, naked shoulders.

 

“It’s all just a movie, love. And you are creating it when you open your eyes! You! The One!” Leroy had sputtered a few nights ago, spit flying out onto the screen between us. A Mickey Mouse bandaid above his eyebrow. “Ah, yes, I banged up my head on the garden shed ceiling,” he explains.

It’s three o’clock by the ocean. I move to get the matches because that’s what my own mother had done—burned the tick off my scalp. The tic wanted my son’s flesh like a blanket to tuck itself under

Nate sees me on his way out in his truck, struggling with a crying child and a box full of matches. Then, after fetching his first aid kit, he tweezes the tic out of my son’s torso so effortlessly. My son hardly makes a sound, then runs off.

Nate lives up the hill, has grown up here, and as an EMT, has seen people die out on the cliffs after doing too many drugs. He’s never eaten the fruit, but, after signing the NDA, we pay him to help us prune and water it. 

We sit on the grass. Nate tells his own childhood parasite story. A sea urchin’s spikes, ejected from his skin over the course of a few days. There was no need to force it. His mother had waited, while mine had taken to frenzied action, as instructed by misguided wives’ wisdom, her own fear. 

I can barely be with the children if there are mirrors nearby. I texted my husband last week if we could take them down here and at home in the city. He encouraged me to face my fear. “Can’t do that, hehe,” I texted back. 

“Could I take a shower, hon?” Nate’s twenty-year old wife, who he met online and moved here from rural Illinois, pretty close to where I’m from—lazy eye, mild acne, but beautiful in her indifference to her flaws, appears on the driveway, in a fuzzy grandma robe. She is six months pregnant. Their house is close enough up the hill that she can pop by to ask.

“Gotta get propane in town, then you can, babe,” he growls softly back.

I don’t know why this simple exchange sends me into such a dark place. It’s probably also the new reports of those faint lesions in the magnetic field, readying themselves for the sun’s next punch.

Hermes has advised in his newsletter that children should begin eating the fruit. I remain adamantly against it. My husband still can’t quite say yes or no to it.

“It’s unclear who to really trust now,” he’s saying.  Tonight is our last night at the house on the ocean for a while. By the fire we know we shouldn’t have lighted, I feel the darkness surfacing in me, feeding off of the material of our tense conversation like a matted animal, coming around for scraps. It’s our tenth wedding anniversary. 

“My body’s falling apart,” he says sadly. His tinnitus has returned, a high pitch like a constant fluorescence when all you want is darkness. Hermes told him it was just tuning into the frequency of truth. But Mim, who works as an ear doctor, who stopped seeing her own residual angels a few months ago (I guess all spiritual experiences must fade, after a while, she sadly wrote) saw my husband last week. She told him there was really no cure for it. That he would have to learn to just live with it. 

Then he tries to find the word for something and can’t. “I’m losing my memory, too,” he sighs as we watch a thread of pelicans air-gallop across our view. I feel so glad to see them doing okay, still.

“Well, it’s not like the word for bread,” I offer. 

 

I still can’t sleep next to my husband, not really. His body generates so much heat. And that gives me comfort. 

So I go into my older son’s room. He will kick me less in the night than my younger son. I curl up beside him. But not before setting an alarm to wake at dawn so I can go tear out the fifty or so fruit, one by one. 

The young wife, after stopping on her way back to her house, agreed to help me. I told her—unlike Nate, she’s oblivious to the motives of our stockpiling—it was for a surprise for my husband, for our anniversary. To clean it all out, this inedible non-native fruit, for a new vegetable garden. 

I’ll blame it on a thief, whether human or animal. I’ll throw the answers into the ocean.

 

A photo of a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, red lipstick, and a black and white striped shirt, looking into the camera from a three-quarter angle.

Jenny Gillespie Mason is a writer, editor, musician and mother living in Northern California. She received her MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College. Her poetry has been published in Missouri Review, Meridian, Borderlands, and elsewhere. Her music project is called Sis and her most recent album Gas Station Roses was released in 2019.

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO

Sabyasachi Nag

Pumpkin Flowers

Visma Sen was short, dark, and sported a grey walrus moustache. He was sixty-five. Every now and often his heart would fire up without warning, he would wheeze and choke, swing his hairy arms, and gasp for air. He would feel sweat breaking out along the deep lines on his neck, trickling down his spine. The conch of his ear would crackle with heat and his earlobes would turn red. He would sense a shiver running through his head, face, and then his entire body. His eyes would draw down as if some invisible force were calling the curtains on him. That’s it, he would think, and just as suddenly the shivering would stop. Everything would return to normal.

Almost twenty years ago when the symptoms first showed, his wife Nila insisted they see a doctor. After a short commission in the Indian Army he was still settling into big city. Gomes, a quick-tempered Methodist in his early sixties, was the only doctor they knew in Calcutta. The doctor had a large forehead, listened impatiently, wrote lengthy prescriptions, and was quick on wit. 

“No coffee, no smokes, no booze. Cut the small sins out, if you want to make room for large ones,” he said. They would laugh at his wisecracks and all would be forgotten until the symptoms returned. 

Lately, with Nila dead, whenever his heart added an extra beat, Visma would drag himself to the dresser, pull out an old aluminium medicine box and chew down a couple of aspirins. Later he would talk himself back to his feet. But last night was different.

Last night Visma hadn’t slept at all and they weren’t the regular symptoms. It was late February. In North Calcutta where winters have become shorter each year, fans had started to purr from the high ceilings. The key-wound wall-clock had yet to strike five. Outside, the sky was lit up in patches, as the sun broke through unevenly gathered clouds. The crows were out, cawing. For a moment Visma sat at the edge of the bed; in two minds—whether to get started on his two-mile walk to the park or let it go. 

His knees were sore. He could hear the stray dogs out on the street. They had barked all night as if something terrible was happening to them as everyone slept. He felt the walls around him closing in. As the barks got louder, he thought of the walking stick he had taken to the cobblers to have a piece of leather nailed to the bottom. He hated the loud metallic sound it made when striking concrete. He couldn’t have the stick back until later today, he was told. There was nothing else, and he needed something, walking these streets this early in the day. The strays scared him. More than that, he needed something for his knees to stay straight. He thought of the umbrella.

The dogs shut up after a while. He could feel his heart slamming into his chest and then slowing down. He wasn’t sure if the pounding and fluttering would get any worse. It wasn’t the usual kind of racing. Perhaps he should give it a pass today. The two mile walk to the park might be too much for him to take. 

Tomorrow, he spoke out loud as if announcing his intention to someone out in the balcony past the closed rooms down the hallway. But there was no one. 

Sensing a tug on his bladder, he clambered out of bed and rushed to the bathroom. Back by the window on the south end of the room, he felt a chill touching his bare chest. He switched off the fan and slid back under the wool blanket his daughter had gotten him from Madrid when she came visiting last summer with Enrique, her Spanish husband, and Leo, their six-year-old child who didn’t say a word during their entire visit. 

For a while he thought about them and how it might be different living in Madrid. Then he thought about dying, and how he always believed he would know exactly when he was going to go. Nothing worse than being taken hostage, he thought, more so if you don’t know where the enemy is taking you. 

Visma took a drink of water and looked at the stack of books on the bedside table—Brothers Karamazov turned to Ivan Fyodorovich’s Nightmare. One thought led to another and in his drowsiness, he couldn’t make out thought from dream. 

He may have slept a little before he started up, worrying about the pumpkin flowers in the fridge. He had wrapped and sealed them last night. Would they last another day? Would the scents stay the same? Would the edges crimple? Would they freckle up? He could always get a new bunch, he thought. He knew where to find them. But flowers up in the bazaar weren’t the same as these, he thought. He felt proud—how bright they were and how big. He thought about his son and how persistently he had to pester him to have those pumpkin seeds sent from that farm in Cameron that grew those huge pumpkins he had seen on TV. He thought of the ugly spat he had with the couriers when the package was returned undelivered, and they couldn’t locate it for a few days. His son never called him back to find out if those seeds had ever reached him, or if they were any good. But that had been six months back, or almost. 

He kicked himself out of the bed. On his feet he felt better. He was going to go. He had no choice.

Do it, he said out loud to himself before going about a series of breathing rituals he had cultivated into a pre-dawn program since his time in the army. The habit had stayed long after the seven years of commission and then the thirty years of teaching high school history and then the four years into his retirement, before his wife died. She had suffered a cerebral stroke in the shower. He wasn’t home when it happened. He knew he could have saved her life had he paid more attention to what she kept saying about the throbbing ache in her head during her final days.

They had been married thirty-five years. At first, he didn’t understand if anything would be same again. For days he shut himself up, afraid of questions. Then he felt numb, as if he were recovering from an operation after an organ had been removed. He felt no desire to do anything. He rarely stepped out of home. He barely ate. His breathing got worse. That had been the summer last year when his daughter came home with her family and nursed him back. 

When it was time for her to leave, he didn’t stay up to say goodbye. There were a million strings pulling her away to Madrid: her son’s school, the job at the university, her husband’s business, the dog in their friend’s nursery. He became bitter the instant their taxi turned the corner toward the airport. Anyone with a good ear and spare time became the object of endless whining about how everything was stacking up for an imminent apocalypse. The sky was about to fall, and it would take everyone with it.

Pessimism is that peculiar worm that inhabits our entire clan,” his son had said over the phone one day, “first it takes your intestine, then it takes your brain.” Visma hung up and stopped calling him. He decided he would sell the house, move back to the country, take back to farming in the family acreage they had been leasing out for a quarter century, ever since his own father passed. 

He needn’t have thought out loud before a stream of realtors came calling upon him with countless proposals that would take minimum effort, yielding maximum profit. “It’s crazy being alone in this house of horrors,” one of them said. “Ask your children. See for yourself if they have anything different to say.” 

Those words struck Visma like a rapier on the face. The realtor, a bald man in his thirties, was smoking between bursts of fake laughter, his teeth almost brown, he had a paunch—the kind that would make you wonder if it wasn’t a half-trainer-ball that he had strapped to his belly. Visma sensed something click inside his head—the sound of a gun slider going back and forth. He rose from his chair with a start, without uttering another word, held the realtor by the sleeve of his white voile shirt and dragged him out the front door.

Between the laboured whistling of nostrils, Visma’s mind wandered over to that instant when he had slammed the door on that realtor. Could that be the apocalypse? He remembered how everything else unravelled after that, here in this same house. 

Everything he had, the burden of all his possessions, all that he had been so desperate to shake off a moment earlier, every piece of that life lived, became history and immeasurably precious. He decided he would restore the century-old ruin of the house back to its glory. That would be the blow on the heads of those waiting for him, like vultures, to wrap up and be gone. 

Soon he would find an accomplice in Rahim Ali, the do-it-all handy-man and his young apprentice bride. With their help, he would set about the task of recovery and revival—straightening out the plumbing and the wiring; fixing the floors and ceilings and stairways; painting the walls and doors and hallways. So obsessed he would become with the idea of restoration; he wanted it to never end. 

When Rahim Ali and his wife left, he pulled out whatever knick-knackery his eyes could find buried inside trunks and boxes, drawers, cabinets, and closets—spoons and mugs, seals and flags, trinkets, quilts and photo frames—from way past and near past. He found them and mounted them to the walls, each one at a time. Almost three thousand feet of wall space, spanning three floors in the entire house, all of that turned into a canvas, until all history was exhausted. 

By then Visma Sen, restored to his pristine version, had already found Ju Li, the Chinese Tai Chi teacher at the park. Those pumpkin flowers had been her bidding. Ever since he showed her one, she would always gesture as if to ask if he had any more. He had no idea why she wanted them or what she would do with them. The only thing he could ever think was making frits out of them to eat. He wasn’t sure if Ju Li knew how to make pumpkin-flower frits the way his mother did. Nila had never learnt to do it right; she would always sear them and they would be too crunchy and bitter for his taste.

At the park, her cohorts talked about Ju Li the same way anyone would talk about a red lacewing on a white wall. Widow of a wealthy shoemaker, long gone, she was about four feet and a few inches. About fifty, the bright skin on her round face had darkened around the raised cheeks. Her cheeks and the hair on her nape glowed from the sweat she worked up every morning. The few strands of white on her neatly brushed black hair flew about her face as she walked around the park, nodding at anyone that came close or crossed her path. She had an easy manner about her. To those that didn’t know her well, it was as if she had put on a mask to hide the shadowy dark around her feet. She always had red shoes on. She spoke in Hakka to the fellow Chinese that trained at the park. To Visma’s ear, the rounded vowels sounded magical. 

When he heard her speak, he thought of her in a different way—as though he were listening to a trapped river lap against real sand under a fluorescent sky, as in a photo studio. It didn’t feel real. Yet, Visma thought about her a lot after he left the park. In the park, he was drawn to her by a power beyond any he had known—the power of a temple bell—elemental and unshakeable. Watching the precise movements of her hands and enacting after her—behind closed eyes, under the rising sun—seemed to Visma an act of revival, something that gave strength to a lot of things he had stopped caring about. 

When Ju Li’s husband died in a road accident, Visma heard people in the park say all sorts of things. It’s a rough trade; she’s the outsider they would never let in; she should sell everything when it’s still worth something; leave. But then, the same folks said, she should perhaps hang on. 

When Visma observed her hands—past the perfectly shaped fingers, past the papery skin glowing in sweat, past the precise arc of her movements—he could see a wire-mesh casting holding her in place and yet giving her freedom. It added up to something precious—he knew it was precious—the way he felt, watching her. He felt funny thinking about that, but a tinge of sadness too would cross his mind, thinking about all the rumours about her.

They said she was the kind for whom, when it came to matters of business, no person could ever be too close and no price too dear. Visma wasn’t sure. That she had not merely survived the trade, but succeeded, single-handedly, managing to keep her husband’s Bentick Street shoe store still going —what does that say? they would ask. Visma thought they were plain jealous. In a world where men make all the difference, that she was able to hold on to the same cohort of trusted shoe crafters her husband had gathered, spoke of powers beyond the obvious. “Witchcraft,” they would say, and hold on to their bellies laughing. “But demand for hand-made shoes is no longer the same,” they would add and nod gravely. 

When income from the shoe business dried out, it seems Ju Li started cooking and selling Hakka ramen in the tiny room at the back of the shoe store. So, they said. Visma wasn’t interested. Still, they would tell him about the smells from her kitchen gathering speed, about word going around that Ju Li would sell the shoe business, about the doom impending. Her people, the same band of trusted artisans, are leaving her one at a time, they’d say and look into Visma’s eyes, expecting fear or praise at the fulfilment of a dark prophesy. At the very end, it would be just her, they’d say. Just her and dirty cases filled with unsold shoes; just her and a kitchen running hard to keep up with orders ringing through the phones all hours of day. 

Inside the fridge, the plastic bag containing the flowers had sweated overnight. Visma took the flowers out, one at a time, laid them out to dry and placed them inside a pink hemp sack. 

The crossing at Onrait Second by the butcher shop is worst for the strays, he thought. It was the meat shavings around the open vat. What dog would let that go?

Visma’s mind raced, as he looked for the umbrella to take with him on the walk. It raced as he stepped down the three flights of stairs, out his house, onto the street. Today he would use a different approach, he thought: past Onrait First and Best Cycle. 

The morning was chillier than the day before. It wasn’t much later than usual, but he felt the need to walk faster. He felt his knees were slowing him down, or maybe it was the brand-new walkers his daughter bought him. They felt heavier. He could feel a tug on the chest right in the middle of the thought, almost losing balance. He didn’t know when he would see her again or Leo, the grandson who never spoke. Or for that matter, his own son who never called back. 

The desire to see his children ached with the knee and he could make out one from the other only at certain intervals. A milkman biked past. There was still some distance to the park. It sure did feel chilly today, he thought. It was then that he looked up and saw the sky was overcast. He hadn’t followed the weather lately. Perhaps there was rain in the forecast, perhaps they were just passing clouds that the winds would eventually snuff out. 

Back in the park, Ju Li had already started her Tai Chi practice with the usual band of cohort—Hong, Chang, Hao, Liang, Mitra, Lawrence, Rupert, Fu. They all hung around her in a circular formation. He knew them all by the half names, just as they knew him as Sen. He pierced the circle and went straight to Ju Li with the package dangling from his left hand, umbrella on the right. Without ever pausing, without letting his eyes rise to meet hers, he transferred the pink sack automatically on to his right hand—the hand of good deeds—before holding it out towards her. 

She seemed startled. 

“Pumpkin flowers for you”, he said. 

Her face broke into a smile at the manner Visma held the sack out for her, as if it were a bag of lost treasure being restored to its rightful owner. 

As Visma looked up, he saw Ju Li’s rippled face. Untying the knot on the hemp sack with utmost care, she held it close to her chest. Dipping her right hand inside the sack, as if it were the dark, open mouth of a well, she brought a handful of bright yellow pumpkin flowers out in the open. Now holding them close to her face, she let the petals stroke her cheeks. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at the sky past Visma’s eyes. Visma could feel his ears getting warm; he could feel his heart had started to race again.

Some of Ju Li’s cohorts looked on, politely reining in the irritation at what they thought was much fuss over something quite commonplace. Others, who had never in their lives seen pumpkin flowers so huge, drew close to Ju Li, deeply inhaling the scent of the flowers right off her open palm. 

Eventually, everyone returned to their respective places in the circle around Ju Li and she dropped the flowers back inside the sack. Visma took his place on the fringe of the circle, looking up at Ju Li as she dipped into the sack again, taking the bright yellow flowers out by the handful, holding them close to her face, she put them back again, but not before taking a deep whiff and looking out to the sky. 

She repeated the sequence again and again as if she had enough Tai Chi for the day, as if she were in trance. And when the huge fig tree under which they stood seemed to swoop down at her feet and the skies shimmied with thunder, her trance remained unbroken. 

They smell just as good as they feel she seemed to say, gesturing with her hands. 

Her cohorts laughed. And they laughed even more as she repeated the act, as if relishing the power of her gestures. Then the clouds broke and it started to rain.

Visma came up close to Ju Li. He looked at her in amazement, perhaps even the kind of prurient joy one feels upon achieving consummation in the act of giving. She gestured at his umbrella, and without a word, he flipped it open. Holding on to the sack of flowers in her left hand and Visma’s arm with her right, she egged him on, toward the gates on the south end of the park. Fully aware that his usual approach back home was toward the north, Visma let himself flow freely to the soft tug of Ju Li’s wet arm. They kept strangely silent all this time as they walked, as if she were still caught up in trance and he, fully conscious, was only too careful not to nudge her out of it. 

Weaving in and out of blinkered lanes he barely knew, Visma soon found himself at the doorway of a brick house with a wood archway painted gold. The street sign, craggy with dirt and bird shit, pointed toward Kimber Street. Visma felt numb. The doorway to Ju Li’s two storey house was so narrow he had to fold the umbrella in order to squeeze through. 

Still holding him by the arm, Ju Li pulled him through the dark hallway on the ground floor. As he walked, he could hear the sound of heavy breathing. People were still seeping in rooms lining the passageway. Someone had put tea on the boil; he could hear the kettle murmur. Past the stack of shoe boxes, past the heap of raw hides, past the mound of old bills, Ju Li strode unmindfully toward the red cement stairway to the north of the house. 

The narrow landing at the top of the stairway spread out into a whitewashed corridor that ran the entire length of the second floor. Facing the landing was a room with a bright red door and a grilled window. Behind the black iron grillwork of the window the room was dark. Toward the far left on the corridor where Visma stood, he could see a house help mopping the floor with precise movements of hand and feet. The house help looked startled as Ju Li, facing the closed door, paused for a moment, as if to catch her breath. 

Still holding on to Visma’s arm, Ju Li pushed the red doors open with a delicate foot tap. Visma noticed the doors had been pulled shut, not bolted and locked like he always remembered doing in his own house when he had to leave it to the house help even for a few minutes. 

As he stumbled on the raised saddle of the doorframe, into the darkness of the room, yielding to the tug of Ju Li’s soft hand around his extended arm, Visma paused for a moment, trying to interrupt the flow, to make sense of whatever was happening to him, whatever he thought might follow. 

Familiar objects around the room sprung out of their contours; the bed by a second window far up on the left toward the balcony facing the street outside, a work table on the right, shelves of books with gold letterings, blue and white porcelain, a wardrobe with a red raincoat and embroidered purple boxes stacked on top of each other. 

The chequered morning slimed in through the window slats and lined up on the blood-red bed sheet neatly tucked into the mahogany bed frame. Everything in the room, even ashes from burnt incense sticks, seemed to have a form, a place of its own. In the far-right of the room, toward the balcony, away from the second window, a stone Buddha sat demurely under a red electric lamp inside a carved wood shrine hung up on the wall. A raw sapodilla and a coconut sat inside a wicker basket at Buddha’s folded feet as if set up to ripen in the light. 

Visma looked around the room. Tiny Buddha idols in all shapes and sizes, in wood, brass and china, looked back at him in every imaginable posture.

It was hard making things out in the dark, but Ju Li didn’t put the lights on. Instead, she strode through the breadth of the room, sat Visma on the bed, closer to the window on the far side, and pushed the window out into the balcony. 

The damp morning sun came rushing in. Blue gnomes and angels stared back at him from the balcony between rows upon rows of bonsai banyans, mango and figs and jacaranda, bell, bougainvillea, hibiscus, dahlia and rose-lily. Tiny drops of rain hung from the branches like glass beads. 

Visma looked around for Ju Li. She had been by his side a moment ago, looking out the window. Now, she was back dipping her right hand inside the pink hemp sack again and again. Taking handful of flowers out of the sack, she was letting them fall in a brilliant shower near the folded feet of the stone Buddha inside the shrine. 

Visma felt a tug on his arm. As he turned around, he could see Ju Li holding out the hemp sack towards him, her moist eyes gesturing for him to repeat the act. 

Outside, it had long stopped raining, but the sky was still overcast. The iron grillwork was shining as though it had just got a fresh coat of paint sprayed on to it. He felt he had come a long way to find this place. He was uncertain he would ever be able to trace his way back home.

 

A black-and-white photo of an Indian man in dark glasses with a close-cropped beard, looking into the camera.

Sabyasachi Nag is the author of Uncharted (Mansfield Press, 2021). He was born in Calcutta, India, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Could You Please, Please, Stop Singing (Mosaic Press, 2015) and Bloodlines (Writers Workshop, 2006). His work can be found in Canadian Literature, Grain, The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, and The Windsor Review, among others. He is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and the Humber School for Writers. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with his wife and son.

 

 BACK TO ISSUE

 BACK TO FOLIO