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Signorina.

Signora Rosa. Such a delicate name. She must be someone’s grandmother, stout and soft with a halo of white hair; this had tricked me into thinking that she would be soft with me. But she is all hard edges. No sooner have I closed the door than she is there on the stairs with that same side-eyed look. Why? It is almost September. Almost a new month. Only cash, she’d said when she agreed to rent me this bright apartment, even though it was caro, caro, caro. Only cash. Up front.

BIGCITY-COVER-frontCharlie Debunk drops two lead balls, plunk-plunk, into the flared mouth of his flintlock Blunderbuss. The balls tumble down the rusty barrel like fishline sinkers. He sets the antique weapon across his legs and picks up a red clay jug of cornjuice. He takes long happy drinks that scorch his gullet and muddle his head.

Charlie Debunk has been loading his Blunderbuss for a week and has yet to pull the trigger. He is waiting for something special to shoot. Five days and a hundred miles ago he and his two partners made a trade with a big lunking Polack who calls himself Big Polack. Big Polack gave Charlie the gun, along with a pouch of lead balls, a pouch of powder, a pouch of flints, a twenty-inch ramrod, and a pouch of gold nuggets easily worth five hundred dollars. Charlie and his partners, Eddie Plague and Skunk Brewster, in turn, gave Big Polack a ten-year-old aborigine girl they had liberated from a starving tribe of Chickasaws. Charlie figures they got the better end of the deal. The girl had not even been old enough to noodle and had whooped like a warrior when Charlie noodled her anyway.

Sanderia Fayes MOURNERS BENCH CoverIndoor plumbing was the last significant change in Maeby, Arkansas, before my mama left town. For as long as I could remember, my family and other colored folks kept our pigs, chickens, cows and all other animals in our backyards, and a little further back, always from the gardens, sat the outhouses. The all-white city council threatened to take the animals away from us if we didn’t clean up our yards and do something about that horrific smell. We didn’t pay them no mind, talked about it after they drove off in their city cars. Reverend Jefferson may have brought it up in one of his sermons, but generally, we went on back to minding our business and so did they until the next time they felt up to performing their civic duties. Then one day the city council members decided to make good on their promises. They bucked up and passed an ordinance that required us to remove all the farm animals outside of the city limits, and to get it done in no time flat. Just for the sake of it, they told us that we must tear the toilets out of the outhouses and replace them with flushable ones. All the grown folks were in a huff about it, especially over the toilets, but since I’d never seen or heard of one, I reserved my passion for when I would know what I was getting upset about.

0SAM FINSTER

 “Hey hey, guys,” Mr. Whitlock crowed, and motioned Sam and Trina inside the house with the spatula he held in one fist. Toad’s uncle was a big man with a handlebar mustache and any number of blurred and explicit green tattoos lacing his arms. They looked like they’d been drawn there by a child, quite possibly a drunken one, and Toad had long ago informed him it meant his uncle had done various stretches of county time. “Back before I came into the picture,” Toad said. Mr. Whitlock had, over the years, insisted that Sam call him by his first name, Stacy, but somehow Sam just couldn’t do it. He looked fearsome, even more so than Sam’s dad, and like a man who brooked absolutely no shit. But a Stacy? No.

elyb_7Bob Boland is surrounded. Yuppies everywhere. Goddamned professional women with their blunt cuts and power suits, their wimpy men, pale faced and narrow shouldered, their PhDs, MDs and JDs on proud display in their book-lined studies.

The neighborhood has always been full of snobs — half of it belongs to Harvard, the other half to Harvard professors, grads, and wannabes, the type who donate buildings and gymnasiums, who endow symphony chairs in perpetuity — but there used to be room for the little people, who deliver the mail, plow the driveways, clean the teeth, fix the burners. Now the new rich are crowding them out, throwing around so much money that the neighborhood is barely recognizable. Slate roofs, copper drains, specimen trees, heated driveways — nothing is too good for them. If there’s a beautiful front yard, they put up a fence. If there’s a fence, they tear it down and put in a hedge. Blacktop becomes lawn; lawn becomes groundcover; groundcover becomes brick. And God forbid the house should peel. Bingo! An army of painters descends, airlifted from the latest Third World country in collapse, sanding, scraping, hanging like bats under the eaves, risking their lives to try out matching trim colors.

China_Final_2_BleedsOriginally published in 1937, And China Has Hands, the final published novel of literary gadfly and political radical H.T. Tsiang (author of The Hanging on Union Square), takes place in a 1930s New York defined as much by chance encounters as by economic inequalities and corruption. Tsiang shows us the world of 1930s New York through the eyes of Wan-Lee Wong, a newly arrived, nearly penniless, Chinese immigrant everyman who falls in love with Pearl Chang, a biracial Chinese and African American woman who wanders into his life.

And China Has Hands editor and Tsiang scholar Floyd Cheung writes in his Afterword: “H. T. Tsiang, like his characters, sometimes seems like a man living at the wrong historical moment. He wrote about the double-consciousness of the Asian-American experience before the category of Asian-American was invented. He depicted a half-Black, half-Chinese character before the rise of multiracial consciousness or mixed-race studies. He performed the role of a trickster critic during a time when audiences wanted a native informant. He railed against Chiang Kai-Shek at the very moment that Chiang was being named Time Magazine’s “person of the year.” In addition, he endured Chinese exclusion, the Great Depression, World War II, and the McCarthy era. In short, Tsiang sailed against the wind and tides during his time in the U.S.”

finalcoverTess hung up the phone and fought against an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. She wasn’t willing to accept her inability to help, to do something. She had pulled it off four years ago, the last time Ellie was sick. She’d done the research and found just the right medical team to blow away the odds and usher Ellie into remission. But that same team had now told her friend, her dearest friend, that she would be lucky to get another six months—nothing much they could do. And in her desperation, Ellie had already decided that flying off to Ecuador to work with shamans, or medicine people, or whatever they were called might be her only chance at survival. How had she failed her friend so completely?

“Jonathan!” She yelled from her chair.

another-place-youve-never-been-275x413A kid answered the door. He wasn’t wearing pants. He had on a white Buffalo Bills T-shirt over light blue boxers, and a pair of men’s suede slippers that hung two inches beyond his heel.   He was skinny and sandy-haired and pimply. His eyes were small and the whites were cloudy and yellowish but the blue iris was very bright. The warmth of the house met Tracy’s face and softened it.

“Hola,” Tracy said. She was shivering from her waist and her lips wouldn’t meet.

The kid stared at her.

She took her hand from her pocket and jerked her thumb backward over her shoulder in the direction of her truck. “I’m in a ditch,” she said.

The kid wasn’t tall enough to see over her shoulder, so she stepped to the side so he could gaze out around her.

“I don’t have my phone on me,” she explained.

mperks-whatbecomesus-coverDear Reader,

Previously in our story, our parents had failed five months in a row to make a baby, and Father had grown frustrated. He couldn’t figure out what our mother was doing wrong. For his Christmas/Chanukah present she gave him a skiing vacation in Steam Boat Springs, Colorado. She secretly thought it would give her a break from him, but he insisted she join him, so he could continue his spermatazoon campaign.

On their second day out, Mother was buried in an avalanche. She waited for our father to rescue her, and when he failed to do so, she thought she would just give way for the last time. But then she remembered there might be life inside her. She bucked and shook her head and arched and reared up into blue, blue sky, gasping and crying, covered in powder.

And not alone. Because that is the moment we came to consciousness in an explosion of bright, bright blue. Not one, but two mouths opening in perfect synchronicity. Twins startled into being, we immediately knew every thought our mother ever had, her past, her present, everything that is, except our future.

cbw-coverLucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat. She’s downstairs in the kitchen, and Iris has the TV on. The weather guy, his skin golden as a cashew, is smiling about power outages, urging the elderly and the sick to stay inside, his voice sliding like a trombone, and as soon as she hears the word “elderly,” Lucy glances uneasily at Iris.

“He doesn’t mean me, honey,” Iris says mildly, putting more bacon to snap in the pan. “I’m perfectly fine.”

the-sleeping-world-cover-originalSpring 1977

Our final university exams were in two days. Grito would probably pass because despite everything, he’d been staying up and studying. La Canaria was sure to fail, and she’d get sent back to the Canary Islands, where they were rioting, and I’d have to deal with a blubbering Grito. As for myself, I just didn’t know.

We’d spent all semester protesting, gathering in the plaza and marching for the Communist Party, for democracy, for the legalization of divorce and abortion, for jobs, for anarchy, for anything except what we’d always known. Our dictator general finally dead and there would be democratic elections soon, the first in more than forty years, but we didn’t really know what they would mean. We’d stayed out all day, screaming and drinking, pinning the Communist Party’s hammer and sickle to our bags and jackets. La Canaria walked around with safety pins she’d stolen from her part-time job at La Reina Tailoring, and a couple of potatoes cut in half, offering to pierce anybody and anything.

rituals-of-restlessness-cover-photoSimple. Engineer Kamran Khosravi would die in a car accident. Easy, done. He finished smoking his cigarette with chilling calm, so that for the first time in all the years he had smoked, he could enjoy lighting one cigarette with another and, without wetting his palate, not taste the foul tang in his mouth.

“Does the smoke bother you?” He rolled down the car window.

“No, sir.” The man’s sharp Mongol eyes were darting from side to side, unable to remain fixed on anything. Just like the way he talked, with all those annoying questions.

“Where are we going, sir?” “We have work to do.” “What kind of work?”

He felt less anxious when he talked. He did not want to stay quiet for even one second. Just to talk, about anything. It did not matter what.

beneathcoyotehills_cover-copyI had a normal childhood until Pop lost his job and took up the bottle. Mom became depressed soon after. My brother Zack and I would arrive home from school to find her lying glumly on the couch watching TV in her nightgown, too blue to greet us. Still, I got good grades, made the junior high varsity baseball team, was popular enough. Though nothing compared to my brother Zachariah: two years older, first in the state in the 440 yard dash, class president, ladies’ man. Zack was still big brotherly in those days; he showed me the correct way to slide into base, advised me on my swing, helped me with algebra. He seemed to know everything, born like a computer with many gigabytes of information pre-stored in his brain.

summer-she-was-under-water-front-only-for-screenSam’s parents leave early the next morning to float down to the marina and fill up the newly repaired motorboat with gas. From the screened porch Sam and Eve drink coffee after their breakfast and watch the older Pinskis take their positions on board. Sam’s father turns on the motor and fiddles with the choke, a cigarette limp and unlit in his mouth. Pat and Karl Pinski seem to operate from some unspoken code, one in which the past is never mentioned, one’s current desires are never articulated, and allusions to the future are always vague but predictable. The only reason Sam can think of as to why someone would want to live in a minefield after a war is that they’d know where all the remaining mines are buried.

bertrand-courtRIPE

Phil Scott, January 20, 2005

 

I’m hungry. But that’s not why I’m standing in front of the McDonald’s on Columbia Road at 4:37 on a freezing cold Tuesday afternoon. I’m waiting for Amy Solonsky.

A week ago, I watched her fall on her heart-shaped ass trying to get off the #42. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years, but I recognized her hair — miles of black curls — and her glasses with the tiny purple rectangular frames. Graphic artists sport hip eyewear as a rule.

I was standing across the street, so I couldn’t help her up. She put her hand on her swollen belly right away and smiled with her eyes closed, as if she’d just heard some good news. She didn’t notice me until she brushed off the tumble and was about to cross the street. I let her decide whether or not to come to me, and I was so glad that she did. “Phil,” she said, and hearing my name coming out of her mouth moved me. Ever since I saw her, I’ve wanted something, but I don’t know what it is, as if I’m kicking back on my couch after a grueling shoot, my bones aching, an ice cold beer in one hand, remote in the other, clicking and clicking, searching for a ball game, an old movie, a Law and Order rerun, anything that will unlatch me from myself.