unexpectedly broad shoulders emerge from behind the
Where she’s weeding. She’s flipped up her tee shirt
A tank top because she’s worried about her tan
When she goes to the wedding she has no date for.
She bought a dress a size too small, hoping she’ll
fit into it by then.
I can’t see why she’d bother. “They invited you,
“If people weren’t such assholes,” she replies,
“You wouldn’t have to work so hard trying to figure
out how to talk to them.”
She jogs two-and-a-half miles after doing hard
gardening for me all day.
She wants to have muscle definition. “But you’re a
woman,” I say,
“You can’t have muscle definition unless you—”
“It’s no good arguing with me,” she says.
“Thanks for the heads up,” I reply, and shut the
I used to have a problem when she bent over in my
Showing the cutest little big round half-moons.
After a while,
She stopped wearing low-cut tee shirts. Out of
mercy, I think.
“What was your favorite age?” she asks me.
“In the womb,” I say. She laughs like a truck
“All that gurgling. What, you don’t remember?”
She rolls her eyes, says, “I can’t remember
She’s 26. I’m 54. She has deep brown eyes but
She’s not behind them all the time. If I got too
close to the
Emptiness she carries around inside her
Promise, cuddle would be the same as collide.
She heads for the trolley, dirty as an urchin, with
Stalks, and strangely seeded treasures in her arms.
She forgets me like yesterday.
I remember her like Wife.
by Studio One Literary Magazine 2005 issue.
GOD’S COFFEE SHOP
is cold; my novel, boring. Squeak, slam! goes the
I look up. An angel is standing in the bright
flooding through the doorway. In a voice as smooth
as glass he says,
“Are you willing to give up your sanity in order to
become fully human?”
I was so surprised I floated above my head while I
The question. Being stuck in a body was like having
Hangnail: an irritation to the spirit. Being fully
human meant thinking
My body was me. To choose that, I’d have to be
This was my last life. With no karma to haul me
When I dropped the flesh this time, I’d be out of
jail for good
Unless I said yes. Then I would be so fully human I
might even lose
Memory of sitting in this coffee shop and deciding
I listened to the susurrus of cars smashing the
Into dust. People went in and out the screen door
Like reincarnations. Squeak, slam! Squeak, slam!
Right here was the last time I would be asked this
“Yes,” I said, for no good
Reason. I looked up. Clouds
Grayed out the sun. The
A few months later a manic episode arrived like the
I needed medication—depakote, lithium, risperdol—to
get me through
the day, and even then, the nights could be bad
without a shot of whisky first.
Ten years later, a psychiatrist removed my
diagnosis, told me to throw out
all the pills. Now I’m only crazy about babies,
the New York Times, death, the concept of
oranges, falling leaves, old age, and everything
else about being human.
It’s a good thing I love it here, because I’m going
to be coming back forever.
be published by Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio,
in issue # 25,
black turbans and certainty
they sat here in this hotel
where now I sit with Néscafe
and watch an American Army major
speak slowly to a Mr. Wang of the new border
the people of China will build for the people of
the major’s aide gently holds
a large black handgun
on his lap. The sign
in the lobby says
two years ago they hung men
upside down by their ankles
from those lampposts
heads purple like grapes
because their beards were too short
sometimes they would break the backs of the
then toss bread far away and laugh to see
if they would crawl or starve
an Afghan refugee arriving
in Moncton, New Brunswick
asked the first people she saw
the only important question: “Is it peaceful here?”
they didn’t even know
what she meant
by the Texas Christian University, Fort Worth,
got irritated because I was helping her carry her
but in the wrong way she sounded so much like my
who was just like my mother
I nearly dropped her TV
on the way up to her new third floor flat.
“This house reminds me of the one I grew up in,” I
same age, same floors.” And the same danger, I
looking at her turn my mother’s broad back to me to
in a sweet voice while looking away from me,
“Can you do me one more favor? Will you drive me
and my TV
back to the old place? I want one more night curled
with a video just the way it used to be.
Alone,” she added,
in case I had gotten the wrong impression.
Which I had.
I said okay, walked downstairs, sat in my truck,
and listened to the news
about the war in Iraq, which reminded me of my
It took her fifteen minutes
to realize I wasn’t coming back up her stairs
to carry her TV back down.
She stumbled out the door with the huge thing in
arms, hoisted it into my truck bed. I drove her
back to her old place,
let her heft the damn thing out by herself. I
her reluctant thanks like a husband,
To be published by Pig Iron Press, Youngstown,
Ohio, in issue # 21,
Family: the Possibility of Endearment
DREAM OF MAKING LOVE TO GOD
A Memoir by Daniel John
“No,” said the old
lady, “I won’t come over for tea. I can’t walk, and
you young people don’t want me around.” Her face
was a car wreck of wrinkles, flesh flapped on her
upper arms, and her eyes glinted with the
irritation of a pharaoh. I had just moved in next
door to her in Tucson, Arizona. I loved her cranky
sparkle. I vaulted the chain-link fence between our
houses, picked her up like a sweetheart, and
carried her out her gate, down the sidewalk, up my
steps, and into my house for tea. That’s how I met
Helen. I was thirty-seven. She was ninety-three.
I started Orts! Theater of Dance with some friends.
It worked like a car full of monkeys fighting over
the steering wheel. I brought Helen to every dance
concert. Soon she was my only constant, the safe
yellow line down the middle of the road of my
I planted a prickly pear in the front yard to
celebrate the first house I’d ever owned. “You
don’t want a cactus there,” Helen said.
“You should listen to me.” I didn’t. In a month it
was twice as big. I loved its spiny exuberance. But
in less than a year that cactus was a greedy giant
looming over the yard, falling over from its own
weight, rooting where it touched, stealing water
from all the other plants in the garden. It took me
a whole day to wrestle that beast out of the earth.
It was as spiny as a porcupine, with roots as big
as arms and as tough as hooves. I wore a long shirt
and pants, work boots and gloves. I was lucky to
survive with both eyes. The sun was setting in a
pile of fire and I was dusty and cactus-bitten by
the time I stacked the hacked-off pieces next to
the garage. That thing had grown from a novelty in
a plant pot to a monster that filled three
wheelbarrows. In the metallic glare of the sun, the
heap of dismembered chunks didn’t look dead, just
rearranged, like danger from a different
perspective. As the hell-fried days of late summer
gave way to the relative cool of fall, the fleshy
green pods wrinkled, turned brown, then withered to
a grayish white. By Christmas the shards were
bleached like the bones of a shipwreck.
A year and a half after it began, the dance company
ripped itself apart in an orgy of recriminations
and bile. I was so devastated I sold my little
house and moved back East. Six months later, near
Christmas, I flew to Tucson to visit my best friend
from those days. Helen put me up in her back room.
Everything in her house was older than me, even the
sheets. In the middle of the night I was woken by a
dream that lifted the ancient, threadbare blanket
up into a little tent throbbing above my belly with
every pump of my heart. My body went flat with a
fear so cold there was only one sane thing to do:
surrender to God. I padded naked through the soft,
dry dark, terror sticking out in front of me like a
flashlight. I stood next to Helen’s bed and asked,
shivering wildly, “May I join you?”
“Oh . . . all right,” she said, waking up. I
climbed in next to her, and easy memories of
telling stories and laughing together arched back
and forth between us until we lay like newlyweds
under a golden tent of kindness. I fell sweetly
asleep next to my dear old friend. A few minutes
later I woke up, erect and in a panic. Helen’s
husband had died of old age a few years before I
was born. My mouth filled with fright like cotton
balls—then I remembered: fear is not a stop sign;
it’s a door. “Look what I have,” I said, and placed
her stiff, arthritic fingers on my end and my
beginning. Slow surprise spread out from her touch
like light from a candle in a long-deserted room.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh,” she said again. She paused,
then said, “Oh my.” Her dry, wrinkled hand was the
hold of heaven on the earth . . . and it put me
right back to sleep. A few minutes later she nudged
me awake with her elbow.
“Do you think we can do this?” I asked. She’d
broken a hip a few years back. I felt her smile in
the dark. She gently tugged my head close to her
face to kiss her soft, wrinkled lips. After a long,
delicate time of barely moving together came the
time of the cleaving of spirit to flesh. We both
cried out at the same time. I was suddenly too
dizzy to hold up my head. I fell onto my back, then
opened my eyes and nearly screamed. The room was
filled to the brim with the astonishment of angels.
I flew out to Tucson every now and then. We were
secret lovers until she died, a few years before
she turned one hundred. She’d made me promise not
to come to the funeral. She was afraid her
children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren
would guess the truth. A few days after her body
was buried, Helen came to me in a dream.
She’s in her prime, in her mid-forties, powerful
and in control. She stands in front of her little
house and looks piercingly at me, like a pharaoh
demanding answers. I remember the promise I made
soon after I met her, that I would help her “cross
over” to the other world after she died. I quietly
open the gate in her chain-link fence. She swiftly
walks past me up her sidewalk, through her front
door, and into . . . God’s house, the one Jesus
talks about in the Bible when he says, “In my
Father’s mansion are many rooms.”
Performed as a monologue Dec 11,12,13, 2006, by
Jeff Gill at the Boston Playwrights Theatre. as
part of “Family Beef: Lover’s Edition” produced by
Published by Passager, a literary journal, in issue
# 45 Winter 2007/2008
In 1969 Carol’s parents
refused to see me when she and I showed up in
Pasadena after hitchhiking across the country
together. Carol was the youngest child of a wealthy
and conservative California family, and her father
was sure I was a secret Negro. There was no other
explanation for why his daughter had turned into a
hippie and shamed the whole family. When I met him
at our wedding, he eyed my curly brown white-boy
afro and looked disgusted but proven right.
I felt terrifically flattered. Someone was finally
taking me seriously. I was barely 21, a Canadian
from the bland nothing of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who
frequently got asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
Being taken for Black was a promotion.
Carol and I had been openly living together for a
year, alarming both our families. We weren’t just
breaking the taboo on premarital sex, we were
flaunting a dangerous permissiveness, both
culturally and politically. The only one who didn’t
know we were co-habiting was Carol’s father.
Everybody was too scared of him to tell him.
My father, a United Church of Canada minister,
officiated at our wedding. He didn’t know that
Carol’s father didn’t know, so he preached on how
he’d found Christian tolerance of a different
lifestyle in his heart. “This union,” he said
gravely, “is different than most because it was in
full bloom before the wedding.”
Carol’s father started horribly weeping, with a
long groan on the inhale. My father had to raise
his voice to be heard over the sound of an old
man’s jagged, bitter sobs. Carol’s father was over
70, and it was the first time she’d seen him cry. A
funeral would have been happier; the presence of a
corpse would have lightened things up considerably.
Then everybody would have had something to look at
while they listened to an old man’s agony as he was
informed in public of the humiliation of a
We’d only invited her family—parents, three
siblings and their spouses— because we were sure
they wouldn’t show up. But our invitations were
riveting, with a square of Carol’s handmade batik
cloth glued to the front, and inside, her exquisite
calligraphy announcing, “At Leon’s Coachhouse.”
That must have been California for “fancy
restaurant.” They probably thought Carol had
finally come to her senses and was doing her
wedding the right way. The truth was we had a
friend named Leon who lived in the attic above a
decaying garage that had originally been a stable.
All of our friends thought it was funny, to be
going to a wedding in “Leon’s Coachhouse.”
Carol’s family didn’t. I watched the looks on their
faces as they climbed up the rickety stairs and
walked into the shabby firetrap of a loft. Our
handmade decorations that glowed with love and joy
when we put them up now looked like a juvenile
attempt to disguise the hippie headquarters for
drugs, disease, and interracial sex.
We wore our best clothing, but that meant the most
riotously colorful, tie-dyed, batiked, handsewn
raiment we could make. We took our vows seriously,
but we’d written our own New Age ceremony based on
Ecclesiates. And there weren’t enough chairs. The
few we had looked like they’d been snatched from
the jaws of a garbage truck. Which they had.
My parents did their Canadian best to mollify and
commiserate. Thanks to them, and I think in
particular to my father lending an aura of
respectability with his full-dress minister’s
robes, Carol’s family stayed for the whole
Ten years later, we didn’t have much contact with
them. They didn’t know how to relate to just about
anything about us, from our New Age beliefs to the
facts of our life, such as how we could live in
Nova Scotia—so far from California and so close to
the North Pole—and raise our three little
mulattoes, presumably among the Eskimos.
Published by The Snake Journal, Tennessee, 2002?
I stepped out of the shower, dripping wet. An angel
flew through the walls and stood in the doorway. He
was holding up a banner labeled, “Hero.”
“No! Call me by my name or nothing!” He lowered the
banner, surprised. He was so enormous he filled the
doorway. His great wings extended into the hallway
behind him. “I mean it. One step closer and I’ll
take medication.” The banner fell away. He examined
my lack of awe like a scientist. I grabbed a towel
and dried off.
“Can you see me?” he asked, in a huge, soundless
voice that was both caring and magnificent. His
manner was cool and articulate.
“Yes, but not with my eyes. What’s your name?”
I hung up the towel and walked through him,
surprising him again, and climbed into bed. He
followed me to the bedroom and stood motionless in
one corner. I slipped into the borderland between
sleep and waking, then suddenly left my body and
flew into his arms like a baby. “I love you,” I
said, putting my arms around his neck and
surprising both of us.
After a while I drifted back to my body, deeply
happy: I was loved by an angel. I tried to sleep,
but he kept looking at me with the eye of a clear
blue sky that grew more and more intense until I
had to sit up. When he had my full attention he
opened his cloak. “This is my lore,” he said,
showing me runes of stark simplicity painted on the
lining. He pointed to one, a childlike drawing of a
hand with the index finger extended. “Ever since we
came to earth, a prophecy has guided the angels: ‘A
human hand shall point the way.’ It’s your hand.”
“Which one?” I asked, holding up one hand and then
the other. He smiled and pointed to my right hand.
I went to sleep.
He was gone when I woke up. I googled him. Raphael
is the Archangel of healing.
Published by Opium
Magazine of San Francisco, Sept. 2007 at