Friday, March 24, 2023

Friday, March 24, 2023: Terry Wolverton's 'You Up?" and "Where you'll find me"


’You Up?

My ringtone is a song from my libretto,

“The Opposite of Fear is Love.” It’s the eleven

o’clock number, but I’m not used to hearing

it in the middle of the night. I often

keep the phone turned off. I’m relieved it doesn’t

wake my spouse; she gets up early, works long days.

But no, she hovers in her tenth dream as I

fumble the holler box to my ear. “Hello?”

my tongue clumsy. I’m shocked to hear your timbre,

stunned to realize I’d forgot its cadence.

So relieved am I to hear from you, I don’t

think to wonder how you’ve managed it. You weren’t

good with your cell phone here on earth, even one

with big numbers and extra volume. Even

the cordless proved too taxing at the end; you’d

lie in the hospital bed I’d installed in

the living room and howl my name, phone clutched

in your hand. What device have you mastered that

allows you to ring me now? In what time zone

is the Beyond? You don’t care about waking

me, as you didn’t those weeks when pain’s steel blade

slashed deepest in the middle of the night. You’d

cry out ’til the sound of my name pierced slumber;

I’d stumble downstairs to dispense a pill, rub

your legs until you tumbled into rest. Since

you left, my sleep is fitful anyway; I

ruminate on questions I forgot to ask.

Now in this waking dream they once more elude

me, scurry like roaches from my mind. But words

aren’t the point. It’s enough to lie in the dark

and breathe with you. At least, I’m breathing, night tucked

around me, pillow bathed in the phone’s soft glow.

© 2023 Terry Wolverton

Where you’ll find me

I admit, it isn’t easy. Around here

things are always changing.

Different roads bear the same name—

Cazador Street/Drive/Court,

winding into hills at a precarious pitch,

leading to dead ends or entirely other

neighborhoods, no room to turn around.

Some thoroughfares, like eager starlets,

shed their given names—a stretch of Sunset

becomes Cesar Chavez; Rodeo Road (not Drive)

is now Obama Boulevard. Second-hand shops,

the candle store, once landmarks, are leveled,

replaced by indistinguishable high-rises;

their poker-faced facades mask what’s inside.

Chinese priced out of Chinatown, punk clubs

and artists’ studios succumb to high-end galleries.

There was once a trainyard where hobos

camped under the bridge—remember hobos?

Now it’s a state park with landscaped lawns,

paths of decomposed granite, shiny restrooms

the homeless can’t use after dark.

It’s easy to get lost in this erasure. Googies and Blairs,

Tower Records, Atomic Café are but debris,

nothing to navigate by. I might once have said,

“Go past the laundromat and come up the hill,”

but now, I can only offer, “Follow the hummingbird,

the music of jasmine, the slanted shadows

of afternoon” to arrive at my front door.

© 2023 Terry Wolverton

Friday, February 24, 2023

Keiko Amano's "Boomerang Culture Shock"



At the end of last summer, a plume of smoke billowed from the bath when I turned it on. This is in Yokohama, Japan, and the water heater is instantaneous kind, which is popular here. Everything in the bathroom was more than 40 years old except the water heater, which was about 25 years old. I decided to remodel the bathroom and looked forward to seeing new white bathtub and tiles. 

To prepare for the renovation, I expected some bumping into people, which I call it boomerang culture shock. It had hit me before when I least expected it. So, to lessen some bumps ahead, I told myself to pay attention even if I disagreed with people. After I met the tile worker for the first time and heard his concerns and recommendations, I told him that I wanted the bathroom walls to be covered with common white tiles, which I have been used to, therefore I feel safe.

“There are different colors of white,” the tile worker said.

“The white I want is the white tiles that are still there in my bathroom,” I said. 

He had examined my bathroom when he first came to see me.

“I don’t like small tiles. I’d rather work with large tiles,” he said. 

From the way he talked, small tiles were out of fashion, so not many tile makers produced them nowadays. If that were true, I had to choose large tiles. Importing the tiles I wanted would be too heavy therefore too expensive. Local tiles should suffice. Anyhow, the tile worker would order some sample tiles and bring them to me.

Following week, he visited me with some samples. The tiles were thick and heavy with sharp edges and corners. I preferred round edges and corners, which made me feel safe. Among the almost white tiles, there were grayish white, pinkish white, and one was whiter than those two. He did not bring any catalog.

The tile worker showed me many pictures on his smartphone of various jobs he had done. Every photo appeared to be good, and I thought that showing own works with pride was also a good thing. I complimented looking at his photos, but none of them captured my imagination. I paid attention to what he was telling me.

“I dislike the pattern such as this,” he said, pointing to the shoji in my dining room. 

“Well, I like this shoji,” I said. 

He said nothing.

The shoji frames must be over 100 years old. I was born in this house, and I had seen my mother renew the white washi papers of the shoji doors growing up. The reason I am fond of white tiles must come from this shoji experience. My daughter and her husband in Sacramento, Calif. also used white common tiles when they remodeled their shower room last year. What is wrong with shoji or white common tiles? 

The tile worker told me about his first professional experience. After six months apprenticeship, he got a job, and his first customer gave him a go-sign to do whatever he wanted to get the job done. It was all up to the tile worker. 

“So, what was the color of the tiles?” I said.

“Wait a minute, I’ll show you,” he said and rolled the screen of his phone. “Yellow like this.” 

Wow! It was golden yellow.

“What did the customer say?”

“The customer told me, ‘That’s the only color I didn’t want you to pick!’” 

My goodness! That was a horrifying story I would avoid. 

A few days passed, but it seemed that the owner of the construction company and the tile worker did not know exactly what I wanted for the tiles, so I said louder, “The white tile I want is milk white. Milk white!” and repeated. We repeated only our own words in a loop without derailing.

A few weeks passed, but the tile worker and the owner of the construction company still said, "There are many different white tiles. Not the only one." 

I understood their concern, so I wanted to make sure they knew what was my preference. To me, white is white in crayons, watercolors, and oil paintings. If you added a little bit of red or blue to the white paint, then the color would be no longer original white. For the bathtub with a reheat option, I had to choose between mist white and moon white. Moon white was yellowish white, and mist white was closer to the white of my choice, but I imagined that it was translucent, looking at the bathtub catalog. I was unsure, but I chose mist white. The bathtub maker produced many models, but not all the models and sizes were in their showroom. 

Our exchanges about the tile colors and patterns went back and forth without coming to an agreement. Because I chose the traditional method for this renovation while most Japanese consumers nowadays selected the unit-construction method, so the tile worker was the only person I could rely on if I wanted the bathroom done according to the schedule. I preferred the traditional method, using tiles. 

 During the on-going discussion, I noticed the word “luxurious” and “looks more expensive” recited. I guessed that they were reluctant to point out that the color and quality of the tiles I preferred were cheap looking to them. I assured them that it was okay. I rather not regret my choice every time I take a bath. I want to feel calm while bathing. The only people who would see the bathroom would be my children and their family members. I was not going to invite many friends and acquaintances to look at my new bathroom. I assured the tile worker and the owner of the construction company about that.

My preference had not changed, and I learned that there were many tile makers still make small tiles, but I did research a little about thick and heavy tiles, which were recommended by both the tile worker and the owner of the construction company. 

Surfing the net, I found one large-tile pattern I liked. It looked simple enough, but more complex when I tried to draw the pattern. The fashionable Southwest designs I used to see had large tiles, and I love the Southwest and Spanish-style buildings, but I did not think they would suit my traditional Japanese house in Yokohama with shoji screens, fusuma sliding doors, and tatami mats. Maybe, I should put up a picture of a coyote with cacti against the bathroom window. My grandchildren might enjoy it.

By the way, my son is close to six feet tall, and my son-in-law is taller than him, so I decided to replace the original 90 cm bathtub with a 140 cm one. I would also replace the water heater to the American type since the instantaneous kind takes a long time to fill the tub. 

My daughter and her family are coming to visit me in April, and my son-in-law cannot take a bath unless the renovation is complete. The super public-bath-house near me shows a large sign at their entrance, which read, “We strictly forbid the entrance of people with tattoos.” Both my son and his wife also have tattoos. I have never strictly forbidden them to get tattoos.

Mother’s Funeral

In 1996, my mother died of liver cancer. A month earlier, I returned to Japan after 26 years of living in the U.S. although I visited her every November for a week between 1984 and 1995. 

After her death on Oct. 1st, I had to make many decisions about her funeral arrangement. This was my first time for such an experience. I needed help. My older brother lives in Nagoya, which is quite far. He and his wife were coming over the next day around 10 am. 

A funeral meeting was set up by the funeral parlor staff for the following day at 8 am. They seemed to be very organized so I thought I could handle the arrangement with their help. No big deal, I thought.

During the meeting with the funeral parlor employee, I was asked about the flowers. 

“Only white flowers, please,” I said.

“I think adding some colors to white flowers would be better. Nowadays, folks add some western kinds of flowers, too. That is acceptable. We recommend you to add some colors. Everyone does it,” the interviewer said.”

This sounded to me that they gave customers no option other than their seemingly pre arranged flower arrangements. But I confirmed that customers had a free option for flowers. 

“No yellow or purple chrysanthemums, please,” I pleaded. “No pink or red or other colored flower arrangement for my mother’s funeral. Please use only white flowers.” I emphasized “only white flowers” if some readers are unsure about it.

I entered the funeral parlor on the day of the funeral. I was stunned to see quite many pink flowers inserted among white flowers. I was very disappointed. If this happened in the U.S., I would have complained, but that probably would not happen as a lawsuit would follow.

Beside the flower’s color, the interviewer also asked me what kind of casket I would like and showed me a catalog. I spotted right away my favorite knotted pine. I love knotted pine. I feel safe and warm with it. If no one was helping me in this interview, it could be shortened, but the interviewer exited the room several times, and my advisor who was a student of my mother, chanoyu teacher, became like a rock. It was taking a long time, but I knew my brother and his wife would be late since I told him there was nothing I could not handle. I was glad I could be some help to him. They arrived with their two girls and his mother-in-law at 11 am. 

I had waited for my brother’s arrival before I made the choice of casket, but I could no longer make the funeral parlor wait. I chose the second expensive casket. I do not remember the name of the wood. 

“1 : 3”

Going back to my bathroom renovation, the tile worker brought me more samples. I learned that the small tiles (10 or 15 cm or so, and mostly square) come with round-cornered and various individual pieces for just corners and edges, which I liked. Those special pieces for corners and edges were only available for those small tiles. For that reason, I wanted to stick with small tiles. 

A while ago, I showed the tile worker a good-looking tile pattern using small tiles, which I found on a Web site. I was unsure of the exact size, but it looked 1:3, 1 being the width, and 3, height. 

The owner of the construction company said that the tile worker had searched for 1:3 tiles through more than a few tile makers, but could not find it. He found 1:2 or 1:4, but not 1:3. I was disappointed. Among the new small-tile samples that the owner brought to me, there was a large corrugated-cardboard envelope. Inside must be a large tile, which I was not interested. We were silent. I searched for words to say.

“What is in that envelope?” I said.

The owner opened the envelope and a large and thick white tile appeared. It was faintly grayish white. I stared at it to see if it was 1:3. It looked 1:3. The owner pulled the measuring tape out.

“It’s 20 by 60,” he said.

“But it’s a large tile. Only one or one and a half can be placed on the wall vertically. I don’t think it looks good,” I said.

“No, the tile starts right under the ceiling all the way down to the floor. We need at least three tiles...”

I forgot about the tiles go up all the way to the ceiling. The wall of the old bathroom was tiles up to my waist and plaster above that. It was not what I originally planned, but a different kind of simple design began to emerge in my head. 

“Okay, let me think about it,” I said. 

“The fourth tiles will be at the bottom, which need to be cut slanted,” he said.

 An image of a drainer and the bathtub next to it came to my mind. We wash our body on the bathroom floor, not in the bathtub so that the water must run towards the drain quickly.

For the round-cornered parts, I was told that small white aluminum pipes could be used although the color would not be perfectly match, and the tile worker had much experience using such pipes. 

This discussion took place at my former apartment, in which I used to live half of the year when I was in Japan. That was before I moved into the main house. The renter moved away about five years ago.

“Can I take a look at your shower room?” the owner of the construction company said.

“Go right ahead.”

He opened the door of the shower room, and we stared at the walls. Although the walls were not made of tiles, the pattern was vertical lines from the top to the bottom. The owner picked up the 20-by-60-cm tile sample and attached it against a vinyl-resin wall of the shower room.

“It perfectly matched!” he said.

“Living under a lighthouse!” I said. “I forgot about it, but that pattern was there since I remodeled the apartment 15 years ago.”

“When we feel comfortable, we don’t think about it,” he said.

I felt that the owner of the construction company understood me a little. To me, vertical designs often seem to be the Japanese style, and horizontal, Western, like our writing systems. 

“Let us settle on this tile,” I said to the owner of the construction company.

“So, is that your decision?”


© 2023 Keiko Amano

Keiko Amano was born and reared in Yokohama, Japan. She writes both in English and Japanese. Her first book, “Ocha Teacher” was published in 2015, and her short stories were published, from most recently, in the East Jasmine Review of Southern California, the Bicycle Review of San Francisco, Contemporary Literary Horizon of Bucharest, Romania, and Eye-Ai Magazine of Tokyo. She was an infrastructure systems programmer for large business computers for many years.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Friday, Feb 10, 2023: Three poems by Michelle Bitting

 Reporting Back 

When the men and women 

became bully monsters 

backed by bottom feeders 

bending to fetch golf balls

off the green, rolled 

in ink from the slough, when 

few read print anymore, 

scrolling nets and threatening

to take it all, including 

your baby’s milk bottle 

and last biscuit, we thought 

the headless horsemen 

riding our direction 

less terrifying. Who says 

decapitation is all bad, anyway? 

Those free-floating cabezas— 

ancient, adrift on song-strung 

shores are always ready 

to party. Their salvaged seas,

their mystical gowns 

sewn with so much 

to teach about 

disruption. The merit of dreams 

hauled back from. Aren’t 

we glad we didn’t 

almost drown this time? In

love with mystery 

and fish, the hero-ed dark

that keeps multitudes 

fed inside the risen lining, 

the blood tide

 climbing up the ceiling 

of the belly of the whale?

The Procession 

~ London, September 19, 2022 

Makes its way from Buckingham to Westminster. Nothing 

will halt the solemn coffin, the queen’s straight shoot, 

her carriage cloaked in Royal Standard: crimson-gold 

crowned by a hive of diamonds abuzz its velvet throne. 

Nothing to topple the stone facade of family, the princely 

troops, epauleted guards in bearskin hats and lockstep 

with military who wear their chests on their hearts in rows 

of colorful plots. Big Ben tolls, baffled birds cease flight, an 

echoing boom of guns shatters a muzzled sky. Even the mournful 

masses flogging their grief in bundled flags doesn’t break 

this patterned spell, this ordered hype. Except for the one 

wild creature harnessed to his team up front and center 

who keeps tossing his head, nipping his neighbor,

slapping the air with his dark bristled mane, refusing

 to mind the taut reins of a master. Horse unimpressed with 

the one direction of it all, tethered like this to a map stretching 

from a place he’s already been to where they think he’s going

I Should Have Known 

The way my brother went on about our mother’s cough 

it was his way of pretending to be tough— 

deflecting his own demise, his numbered days on Earth. At most 

seven, if my memory serves. The past. Yes, but never the cost 

of what’s severed in the present. My mother stirred eggs over a stove’s 

blue flame for my brother in the morning, then settled in to love

together his favorite flick about the team of misfit girls and brash coach who said 

There’s no crying in baseball! The spotless upholstery on our mother’s plaid

couch crisscrossing with cooked yolks & toast & undigested food 

blurring inside my brother who was smart and, at heart, so very good

but in that moment in a very bad way, turns out. Understand? I can’t 

begin, knowing how rust and mold can erode our most tender want 

too often in secret, shadowed spaces—doubt, a dark ballet 

of demons—their oily coins waltzing through the wallet 

of a mind’s rank folds—the hand that waves from afar but will prove unsafe 

for the wrist hoisting a HELLO! but meaning GOODBYE! outside the café 

where we sat laughing for the last time, talking life. When I pass by, years later, 

I see him smiling at me, quietly plotting to end it all, sipping a glass of water.

© 2023 Michelle Bitting

                                                                           ©  Alexis Fancher

Michelle Bitting is the author of five poetry collections, Good Friday Kiss, winner of the inaugural De Novo First Book Award; Notes to the Beloved, which won the Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award; The Couple Who Fell to Earth; Broken Kingdom, winner of the 2018 Catamaran Poetry Prize and a recipient of a starred Kirkus Review; and Nightmares & Miracles (Two Sylvias Press, 2022), winner of the Wilder Prize and recently named one of Kirkus Reviews 2022 Best of Indie. Dummy Ventriloquist, a chapbook, is forthcoming from C & R Press, 2023. Bitting is a lecturer in poetry and creative writing at Loyola Marymount University and in film studies at University of Arizona Global.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Friday, January 27, 2023: Miriam Sagan's "What I Forgot to Say" and "What I Forgot to Say to Mother"

 What I Forgot to Say

  I like your hair. I’m sorry I mentioned your hair. Hair is a dangerous topic between mother and daughter. If I notice you have hair, before I know it might I not be demonically possessed by an evil Jewish mother, saying: “pull your hair out of your face. You are so pretty, why don’t you…” and “you call that a haircut?”

  I forgot to say: keep away from junkies. Sorry. I actually know I’ve said this over and over. I myself failed. Once when you were a baby I found myself—and you too—in an SUV in a skanky part of Burque as a drug deal went down. The driver, buying the drugs, was a friend of your father’s, and a punk rocker. They were in a band.

  “Why didn’t you take the baby and just walk away?” my therapist confronted me. In that neighborhood? Before cell phones? I sat tight, but even now I feel bad about it.

  The Death Doula asked me, over a chai latte at Java Joe’s on Siler, if I was writing people letters. It’s odd—I’ve embroidered Grainne two pillowcases and I’ve written Rich a letter. But not you. Have I told you enough that I think you are brilliant and a genius artist and a great mom? Have I mentioned that your hair used to really annoy me, particularly the half-shaved head in high school? Maybe it is better for me to shut up, and just assume you know how much I love and admire you. After all, what is a daughter if not a letter, a letter to the future, a letter against the patriarchy, a letter on stationary embossed with mermaids and octopi. What is a daughter if not blue ink floating on water, ink that will make an incredible pattern, both predictable and completely new and mysterious.


What I Forgot to Say to My Mother

  Shut up and leave me alone. Stop telling me I am so fat I look pregnant. Stop telling me I look like a whore in my mini-skirt. Just stop.

  But I was too inhibited to say these things, too frightened, too pressured. My mother would scream and get hysterical and I’d just take it, suck it up, patch it up, smile at dinner.

  Some people leave the families they were born into and don’t look back. Yes, I could have done that. I ended up with an uneasy compromise. I left home the day after high school graduation. I told my mother only lies from my mid-twenties on. Yet there was some friendliness between us. I don’t regret that, but it also isn’t something I’m proud of. When she cleaned out the 17 room house she lived in for over fifty years she found all the cards I’d sent and all the pretty presents: the glass blown fruit, the vase embossed with lily pads and dragonflies, the amber beads. “You did care,” she said to me in a tone of nasty wonderment.

  Now that I’m old and dying I have no idea what she wanted from me. She one told me how she hated it when I learned to walk, and then toddled away from her. My natural curiosity was an insult, an abandonment. Mean as she was, I wasn’t discouraged from having my own child. I just thought it would be difficult, very difficult. I thought children would bring out the desire in me to slap, to hurt, to control. But I would fight hard against the desire to inflict harm.

Imagine my shock when my daughter was born and I felt no urge to hurt her. In fact, I just wanted to enjoy her, make her smile, and keep her cozy. This wasn’t just a good feeling—it was horrifying. I’d just assumed motherhood was overwhelming and beyond annoying. Then I found it delightful. It was therefore my mother, after all, who had indulged her own anger. Not my small helpless self that had caused it.

© 2023 Miriam Sagan

Miriam Sagan is the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and memoir. Her most recent include Bluebeard's Castle (Red Mountain, 2019) and A Hundred Cups of Coffee (Tres Chicas, 2019). She is a two-time winner of the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards as well as a recipient of the City of Santa Fe Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and a New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award. She has been a writer in residence in four national parks, Yaddo, MacDowell, Gullkistan in Iceland, Kura Studio in Japan, and a dozen more remote and interesting places. She works with text and sculptural installation as part of the creative team Maternal Mitochondria in venues ranging from RV Parks to galleries. She founded and directed the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College until her retirement.