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Posts from — April 2010

Myra Sherman

Leaving Lamu

I wake up at 4 a.m. It’s December 29th, the day I leave East Africa. I’m at the end of a disappointing exhausting writers’ conference. I expected white sand beaches and superb seafood. I hoped for a tranquil transforming experience.
After five days on Lamu Island I can’t wait to leave. At 2 p.m. I’ll be on a dhow headed for the airport. Ten hours is too long to wait. I want to go now.
I’m exhausted, soaked with sweat and irritable. My $50.00 tomb-like room is unbearable. I feel trapped in its dark close dinginess. Dead insects are stuck in the grayish mosquito-netting enclosing the bed. There’s no closet. The bathroom is narrow and minuscule.
The shower worked when I first arrived, a trickle of cool water against the stone walls. There’s been no water in my room for three days. There’s been no power in my room for three nights. Without electricity the fan doesn’t work. One small window opens in the room.
There is another window in the bathroom but I leave it closed. A local family lives on the roof just outside the window. They cook, do chores and sleep there. They talk excitedly and laugh a lot.
The two adult men look like father and son. They wear white kanzu robes and kofia caps. The three women are swathed in black bui-buis. Only their eyes are visible. The barefoot children wear western shorts and tees. Several donkeys share the living space. They wake up before dawn, braying. Everyone seems happy.
Lamu is a Muslim city. People are religious. One of the many mosques is across the alley from my hotel. The mosque is shabby with crumbling walls. The call to prayer is haunting and beautiful.
My hotel was arranged by the conference. I’m in Old Town, miles away from the air-conditioned expensive resort hotels, surrounded by looming coral-block buildings with peeling paint and narrow muddy alleys. This was a mecca for the slave trade. Now tourism supports the island.
Before we arrived the conference staff told us the island was like going back in time. That during the ’60s and ’70s, it was a hippie refuge. There are still some long-haired weathered men hanging around, especially at Petley’s bar, drinking beer and negotiating with the teenage prostitutes.
Lamu’s streets are winding dirt paths. The intricate and old sewage system drains into them. Donkeys with carts are everywhere. On the shorefront donkeys walk alone and at night sleep unattended in the dirt. There is no escaping the donkeys. Donkey shit is everywhere. So are hovering glistening flies. The smell is nauseating.
My first night at the hotel the donkeys scared me. I had no idea what the sinister, distressing, discordant sounds were. The donkeys’ braying is why I’m awake so early. That and stomach problems. The cramps and diarrhea started after last night’s lobster dinner. It was supposed to be a celebration.
I ate with Ellaraine, a poet from Sunnyvale, who traveled with me from San Francisco.
“To my sister survivor,” she toasted.
“To surviving,” I said.
Then we parted and I left for my inland hotel, carrying a flashlight in the dark, heart pounding as I fearfully navigated narrow alleys, rushing by shadowy robed men hovering in entryways, until I arrived at Janat House, my hotel with the attentive staff and picturesque roof terraces, proudly promoted pool and bar, but horrible room.
I check the time again, 4:30 a.m. I’m facing thirty-six hours of traveling.  My stomach’s messed up. I rip aside the mosquito netting and rush to the bathroom. I need Imodium. The toilet doesn’t flush. When I try the sink there’s no water.
I’m having breakfast in the hotel dining room. It’s a lovely open space overlooking a garden. But with no electricity the fans don’t work. At 8 a.m. the air is already oppressively hot and humid.
The staff person assigned to me is inordinately cheery. Habib cleans my room, cooks and serves my breakfast. He’s young and constantly smiles. I tell him I just want tea and toast today.
“No omelet, fruit?” he asks. He reminds me there is gas to cook the eggs with. “Doesn’t matter the power is out,” he says.
“My stomach,” I tell him, shaking my head.
I’m already packed and ready to go. To lighten my luggage I’ve decided to leave things I don’t need behind, to let Habib have them. My gym shoes encrusted with mud and donkey shit, bags of peppered cashews from Nairobi, sunscreen, body lotion and insect spray. I leave my loose Kenyan change on the table.
After breakfast I go to the hotel desk.  “I’ll be checking out this morning,” I say.
“But you must wait for the porters,” the receptionist tells me. She wears slinky silky western dresses and has long braided hair.  Like all the hotel staff she works twelve hour days. “They’ll be here for you at 2:00pm.” She smiles a lot too.
“I can carry my own bags. Besides, I want to leave earlier. The dhow leaves at 2:30 p.m. I don’t want to miss it.”
“No, it’s been arranged by the people you came with.”
Arguing seems pointless. I leave my bags and tell her I’ll be gone a couple of hours. I head for the shorefront. I’m sweating. My clothes are already wet.
I stop at Bush Gardens Restaurant and take a table by the street. I’m the only customer. There are several men behind the counter but they ignore me. After what seems like too long a wait I go to the counter and ask for service.
I don’t know why I’m being ignored. Does my tension show? Do they think I’m strange, an aging wrinkly woman with a gold nose ring and burgundy hair, wearing a black camisole and yoga pants?
Twenty minutes later I order a banana shake, hoping it will settle my stomach. It takes almost an hour to prepare. I tell myself I have nothing else to do. I’m better off killing time here than at the hotel.
I stare at the Indian Ocean. Now that I’m leaving I can admire the brightly painted red dhows, small children playing in indigo water, the sound of an unseen woman giggling, the pungent smell of cumin and sewage. I try to take it all in, figuring I’ll never come back.
I want to be positive but a lot of this trip has been hard for me. I feel old and tired. I’m not as flexible as I used to be.
When I traveled to Israel in my twenties everything was an adventure. I met a brown-skinned sabra whose family came from Yemen. I didn’t care that he gambled away my money. We slept on the beach in Eilat. We had exciting Dexedrine-fueled sex and guzzled Maccabee beer. Sometimes we smoked hashish or opium. I lived on falafel sandwiches and Turkish coffee. I lost weight and loved being skinny.
When he left I should’ve been devastated but wasn’t. Thirty years ago, with my life ahead of me, it was easy to be flexible. Now I’m more rigid and need control. I don’t have time for misery or mishap.
I don’t notice the waterfront hustler until he’s standing by my side. Uninvited he sits across from me.
“I have a special for you, special for ladies staying at the Lamu Palace,” he announces with a suggestive smile.
The Lamu Palace is one of the fancier waterfront hotels in Old Town. It’s where several people from the conference stayed and for the extra $15.00 per night I was sorry I hadn’t.
“I’m not at the Palace,” I say.
“No problem. You want massage?”
“But this is special massage. You understand, just for the ladies?”
“I’m not interested,” I tell him. “And I don’t want company.”
“No problem. Don’t worry,” he says, and saunters off.
He’s young enough to be my grandson. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry but I’m glad this is my final day in Lamu.
When I pay the bill it seems like the waiter is leering at me. I feel myself flush with embarrassment. Then my stomach cramps and I don’t care.
“Where’s the toilet?” I ask. He directs me to the rear of the restaurant, across an open storage room. The toilet is clogged and the floor is wet. I have terrible diarrhea.
I leave the restaurant and head one block inland to the main street, hoping to find a drugstore. After walking up and down the crowded alley, jostled by donkeys and strolling three-abreast men, I find a pharmacy. The clerk takes me to a side room and reaching into a large bin shows me a handful of capsules.
“For your stomach,” she says.
When I ask what they are she shrugs.
“Do you have anything in a sealed package?” I ask.
She takes me to the main part of the store and brings out a local equivalent of Imodium. “This is more expensive,” she says.
I buy the medication but don’t take it. I don’t know what it is. I’m afraid of the side effects. I’m afraid, period.
By the time I return to my hotel it’s noon. Habib is waiting for me with the receptionist. They both seem upset.
“You left your belongings,” the receptionist says. “We need the room.”
I look at Habib.  “What’s left is for you. Take what you want and throw out the rest,” I tell him.
He doesn’t thank me. He doesn’t smile. His face is a mask.
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” I say.
I’m embarrassed by my thoughtlessness. The cliché Ugly American, assuming he’d be grateful for my garbage.
“I’ll get the things from my room,” I tell the receptionist.
“Habib will do it,” she says. Her voice is cold.
“I’m sorry,” I say. My voice is shaky.
Their eyebrows lift with mistrust. Their smiles are gone. They disappear behind the receptionist’s counter.
With the conference over, the hotel has emptied out. I wish I’d left the day before, with everyone else. But a few of us had flights scheduled a day later.
With no place to go I head for the pool. A man and woman who arrived last night are the only ones there. They’re in their thirties and wearing full safari gear. Her large silver hoop earrings have turned her skin black. I wonder if she knows. They both look hot and uncomfortable. The pool-waiter brings them a menu and they decide on spaghetti.
I call the waiter over and order a glass of white wine. It takes a while. When I drink it my stomach feels better. I order another. I feel light-headed. I can’t wait to leave.
At 2 p.m. I go to the hotel desk. There’s no one to take my bags. I decide to carry them myself.
“No, the porters are coming for you,” the receptionist says. “No reason for worry.”
I’m too tired to argue.
Ten minutes later two porters arrive. They’re streaming sweat. They take my bags but say we have to wait. The couple by the pool is coming too. They pay for their spaghetti. They go to their room. I’m afraid of missing the boat and. pace anxiously around the courtyard. Finally at 2:20 p.m. they’re ready.
The porters put our bags in a wheelbarrow and we leave. The porters are jogging, telling us to rush. By the time we get to the shorefront and the dock we’re all dripping and breathless.
A crowded dhow is at the floating dock. We rush down a rope ladder to the boat. The porters come too. “For your luggage,” they say.
There is one person from the conference on the boat. I don’t see Ellaraine who’s also leaving today. We speed along the water getting sprayed as the boat tilts from side to side. Finally we arrive at the Lamu airport.
The porters insist on carrying my bags. The dirt road is hot and dusty. When we get to the outside waiting area one porter asks for 500 shillings. When I give it to him he wants another 500 for his friend. I don’t see the couple from my hotel paying but hand over another 500 shillings. It’s only fourteen dollars. I don’t want to argue. I just want to leave.
I finally see Ellaraine arriving. Her fancier hotel had a private boat. I’m the only one from the conference flying Air Kenya. The others are on Safari Link and go to a different area, leaving me alone.
Chattering vacationers surround me. One middle-aged woman is covered with mosquito bites. Others look tanned and relaxed, dressed in expensive resort clothes.
My stomach cramps. I go to the outside toilet. I’m dehydrated but afraid to drink. I have a headache. Probably the wine wasn’t a good idea.
The waiting area has narrow wooden benches and an open thatched roof. I hear people talking about the weather, saying the heat is unusual.
“Thank god for the hotel air-conditioning,” one man says. He has a British accent.
“That’s so,” his friend answers. “Old Town was hard hit. No power to most places, rolling blackouts at best.”
“Why we never stay there,” the first man says.
I didn’t know the weather was abnormally hot. Would I have felt better, knowing? The staff at the hotel, the waiters at the restaurants, the shopkeepers…were they all suffering too? While the resorts used up their power. Didn’t the locals care?
What do the Muslim families think of the tourists who vacation in their city? Do they resent our money and privilege? Flaunting our wealth, buying clothing and trinkets we don’t need. In and out of the main street stores, bargaining over pennies, buying, buying.
Before giving up on shopping I went to Ali’s, the most popular store for clothing. A musty cubicle of bright fabric crowded with western women waiting for the handsome young proprietor. He had curly hair and wore a black Rolling Stones t-shirt with gauzy white pants. He smelled of cigarettes and sweat.
“I make you Swahili dress. Sexy, beautiful,” he told a well-preserved American blond.
She ordered four dresses in sheer gold-threaded fabrics—turquoise and scarlet stripes, purple, emerald and lime. She took a handful of his cards.
“I’ll give them to my friends,” she said.
He shook her hand and smiled. The two older men sitting in the shop nodded. Were they his relatives? Or maybe the real owners, watching the charismatic Ali work his magic.
I bought two shawls I didn’t need. I felt nauseous from the heat. The big toe on my right foot was blistered. As I left I heard Ali and the old men laughing.
My whole time in Lamu I felt sorry for the locals. I pitied their poverty. But maybe I was wrong. Their families are intact, they have religion and tradition. They seem content, even happy. Maybe they felt sorry for me.
Perhaps with time I’ll think about this trip differently. Without the blinders of culture shock, be able to appreciate the place and the people. Maybe return someday, with the confidence of a returning visitor.
But I’m not there yet. I won’t be for awhile. I can’t wait to leave Lamu.
When the plane arrives I want to scream with joy. Instead I get my bags and cross the dirt field to the plane. I can’t wait to be home. I’ve had enough adventure.

About the author:
Myra Sherman was a finalist in the 2006 SLS-Kenya Fiction Contest and the 2006 Moment-Karma Short Fiction Award. An excerpt from her novel in progress, “Mother Mary”, was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Best Start 50 List for June 2009. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and her non-fiction in Ars Medica and JMWW.

April 22, 2010   Comments Off on Myra Sherman


By James Palombo

More food for thought…

In this month’s edition I want to reference several articles that appeared in the news over the past few weeks. Although each one stands on its own relative to the issues raised — some interesting things are going on these days — they are indeed interconnected, and also tied to concerns noted in my previous columns. The following piece then presents this interwoven review, hopefully demonstrating the practical significance of what was previously presented for your reading. I trust this will be of value in advancing thought on our ever changing American experiment, but as always, I’ll let you be the judge.

The first article, “The new mortgage revolution: walk away” by Alyssa Katz. ( succinctly captures the essence of the “strategic default” phenomenon. In general, this strategy suggests to those who owe more on their mortgage than their property is worth to simply pack-up and move on. As Ms. Katz points out throughout the piece, there are a variety of elements that have been offered in support of the idea:  the actions of the big real-estate developers seem to reflect it, i.e., they do it all the time; real-estate agents feel this might re-invigorate a sluggish market with “short” re-sales; a number of interest  groups  propose that large scale defaults will be a revolution of sorts, justified in addressing a system that allowed the banks to screw the lender in the first place; that default, in such hard economic times, will not really effect what  future borrowing may be like; and defaulting on the mortgage will actually free up money which can be spent on/put into the market for other items.

Ms. Katz’s also quotes Connecticut Realtor Minna Reid who said “I know many will consider strategic default wrong or immoral, but as for me, I stopped passing judgment long ago.” And this seems to mirror the sentiments of many who are involved with the process.

Being perfectly honest, I can appreciate how one could arrive at such a feeling — almost all the logic tied to it makes economic and self-interest sense. And in terms of any moral or ethical questions, or the idea that two wrongs really don’t make a right, well, in short, and especially given today’s moral climate, one could easily say, “give me a break.”

Yet, it just doesn’t seem right to leave it at that. In other words, there should be more to consider. For example, one might want to know to what extent the cynical, morally callous attitude displayed in terms of the “strategic default” strategy is reflective of the overall nature of the instincts developed in our society? And how did these “instincts” become so prevalent?  I mean have we always just been this way?  Or is this type behavior part of a larger phenomenon, one that is affecting the changing cultural instincts of our entire country? Is it in fact tied to the same instincts that fueled the financial crisis itself?

Clearly, if there is more to all of this than human nature, and there surely must be, then we must inquire as to what has been motivating such behavior — behavior that makes America appear at odds with its own democratically principled identity? I think you would agree that although the answer includes elements of our nature, it has to also include elements connected to the environment in which we live. And to this point relates one that I have stressed to some length in previous columns — that in order to understand things like “strategic default”, or the financial crisis, or all the other economic aspects that tip the scale of our perceived morality, we must consider the effects of living in our advanced system of capitalism. Without this, it is hard to understand that beyond pure human greed, there are things at work which may be pushing us to act in ways that seem inconsistent with the principles we want to lay claim to, principles that seem to be slipping away from us as we speak.

It is no secret that we’ve reached a form of economic rationalization, where it becomes more likely that when the dollar versus morality decisions come due, the scales of choice will tip more and more in favor of the dollar. How far this will go, well, who knows? As the articles previously presented imply, however, this appears to be a situation we seem to be looking away from rather than into. And certainly this doesn’t bode well for rectifying the serious problems at hand.

In speaking of the “dollar tipping the scales” theme, the next article references similar considerations relative to our “scale of justice.”  In his piece, “No-dollars-barred campaigns” the Washington Post’s David Broder highlights the Supreme Court holding in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In short the decision provides corporations the opportunity to spend unlimited resources on election campaigns. For the most part (legal decisions are never easy to relay to  “lay public”), Broder expressed the inherent worry related to this decision — that it could well result in an even more money/profit tilted process than we currently see in action. In this sense, he offers the dissenting opinion of Justice John Paul Stevens who along with three of his colleagues objected to the decision, saying that it confronts “the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate engineering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense.”

I certainly have no objection to Mr. Broder’s approach, or to the dissenting opinion offered by the Court — that unfettered capitalism does not work well at any level, particularly in relation to the political principles tied to the nature of democracy, and it does certainly seem like a “strange time” to take this course of action. (Could there ever be such a time?)

But in order to fully grasp the nature of this decision, wouldn’t it seem necessary that the reader/the public have adequate knowledge of the political and economic principles tied to this decision? In this sense, wouldn’t having information as to the Conservative/Republican nature of this decision, as well as how such a Conservative/Republican dominated court came to be, be important? And shouldn’t the public also have adequate knowledge of how things might be different in regards to a Liberal/Democrat decision, and what a “stacked” Liberal/Democrat Court might result in? Moreover, shouldn’t the public also have an adequate understanding of how both these political parties, as well as the governmental processes themselves (including the judicial, executive, and legislative branches) are affected by the nature of the capitalist/profit driven system in which we live? In other words, regardless of what political party is in power, can we ever attach to the principles related to democracy and self-government as long as the capitalist system goes on without real notice and/or understanding and/or altering?

Once again, and like with idea of “strategic default” these type questions as well as their answers would seem to be required ingredients in making any informed rationalization as to what has been happening relative to such significant considerations.  And I think that as you listen, read and watch what is going on, you would have to agree, no? (As a little side note, how would it be to see corporate logos worn by those in government? One can imagine the result, although it would seem that corporations wouldn’t really want to overtly place their tags/identity on the foolishness that would ensue — things may well be better just as they are.)

The last article of note “Google negotiating ways to keep its presence in China” was syndicated by the Associate Press. In essence, the article references the struggle involved as Google’s interest in the enormous potential of the Chinese market, i.e., profit, meets with interpretations of the Chinese government in terms of the “free-flow” of information, i.e., principle. In other words (and like with issues pertinent to human rights interpretations and profit), what should a corporation do? After all, any political censorship should not be tolerated in relationship to the principle of free-speech – isn’t that what we Americans stand for? Yet, the market is just so immense, and, well, isn’t that what we stand for?

There is no doubt that Google will reach some form of compromise, which will most likely be formed in the context of it being mutually beneficial to both countries. However, the situation itself is indicative of not only the ongoing struggle of principle versus the dollar, and the cultural instincts developed within the context of  a corporate/market milieu, but also with the issues that were raised in the November column regarding my experience at the G-20 in Pittsburgh PA, particularly the reference to what was described as the on-going struggle between western and eastern capitalism.

In other words, one can see that what is developing with the “Google and China story” speaks to this contest of western versus eastern interpretations of economic, political and social policy. Moreover, it demonstrates the power of China to strongly influence and even dictate policy in terms of its burgeoning producer and consumer market, as well as its nexus to other developing countries. This is so irrespective of technology innovations or anything else that western corporations bring to the table.

With all this being said, the fact remains that to understand today’s international strategies and policy decisions, an understanding of the process of capitalism is a must. And in recognition that the world is clearly at our doorstep, we must ask if we are doing enough to actually make this happen.

* * *

I think it’s clear that most of what is happening in and around the American experiment demands particular attention to how we manage our political, economic and social selves. And it only makes practical sense to include our ties to the nature of capitalism. To this end, I would encourage you to ask your favorite columnist about his/her thoughts on the matter.  I imagine you would like to know what they might say, and I would certainly be interested in their response as well.

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Politics

Robert Mustard

New Port Richey, Florida

“A Camera Is No Substitute For Vision”

I had a strong interest in photography from an early age, and while I studied English literature at Ohio State University (B.A., M.A.), I was continually drawn to the work of favorite photographers (at that time Diane Arbus and Gary Winogrand). I took an undergraduate photo class and learned to process black and white film and make prints. After teaching Freshman English for ten years, I returned to school and majored in Advertising Illustration at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. From there I assisted many photographers in Los Angeles for two years before starting my own commercial studio in 1989.


I always look for strongly graphic elements in the subjects I want to photograph. I look for strong primary colors, background negative space, and a subject with some sort of story. It doesn’t have to be a narrative story, but it has to convey an atmosphere or feeling. Sometimes just a beautiful graphic is enough. I prefer to shoot from a tripod simply because the tripod offers more control. You can slow shutter speeds down, and there is less chance of the subject being soft even at faster shutter speeds. I like the fact that a tripod slows you down and makes you think harder about what you’re trying to accomplish. Of course, using a tripod is not always possible, and many of the shots here are handheld shots, but if at all possible I use the tripod.

Because I pay a lot of attention to shutter speed and aperture, I usually keep the camera in its full manual mode. Unless the subject is backlit, I also try to use a handheld incident meter instead of relying on the camera’s metering system. The incident meter will tell you how much light is falling on the subject and give you a reading based on the light hitting the subject in the scene. A correctly exposed scene is often drained of all drama because the camera’s meter is trying to compensate for a dark background. The “correct” exposure is not always the best exposure. I have learned to see the subject the way I want it to look in the photograph, which is often not the way it looks in reality. The incident meter helps with this assessment. While the meters in today’s cameras are very sophisticated, they are no substitute for your vision and how you see the subject and want it to be seen in your photograph.

While I have good equipment (especially lenses), I try hard not to fall into the trap of thinking that good photography is about good equipment. Good photographs are the result of the photographer’s knowledge of light, not so much the result of how expensive his or her camera is. I once assisted a very successful photographer in Los Angeles who said “Equipment is not the answer.” That has always stuck with me. I try to think outside the box. I think hard about how the subject would look when shot with different lenses and at different apertures.


Red Gate

The shot of the red gate, for example, was shot with a 300mm lens on a tripod about twenty feet from the subject. This focal length produced the foreshortening that gave the gate a look I couldn’t get with anything else. This shot was taken right at sunset when the light is especially warm and made the red in the gate really pop. Because light and how it behaves is so infinitely complex, we will never exhaust its possibilities. I learn something new every time I shoot, and I always try to remember that there are new things to be learned. Many, many times I have gone into the studio thinking a shot would take one or two days only to still find myself shooting five days later. The shot of the martini glass was like that, with many problems to be overcome before I finally arrived at the simple, graphic shot I was seeing in my mind’s eye.


Rob Mustard

View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.



Rob Mustard is retired from teaching, and from professional photography. He lives in El Segundo, California, with his wife, Deborah, and these days finds his time consumed by riding bikes, playing guitar and taking pictures  for fun, not profit.

All work copyright 1990-2010, Rob Mustard.
For contact information, see

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Robert Mustard

Christine Grimes

Missing the Mark

* * *

It was clear to me from a very young age that I would bond with my father by hunting.  He took no interest in dance recitals or even softball games.  I would come home from practice or a game and he’d nod absently with a faint smile while I demonstrated a shuffle step or told him about a caught pop fly.  My mother once said that when I was born, my father told her that he had raised the three boys; it was her turn to raise me.  She said this matter of fact, without pursing her lips or frowning and without a faint smile to let on that it was a joke because it wasn’t.  My brothers were all in high school when I was born and well out of the house and into their own lives by the time I was in grade school.  I heard stories about Dad as the scout leader, Dad taking the family on camping trips, even Dad’s larks exploring for gold along the Gulf coast and drilling for his own oil pipeline but those days had all passed by the time they had me, their “happy accident.”  My parents had mellowed and aged when I came along.  Dad’s thinning hair and growing waist on his short frame had left him a bit hunched and Mom had begun giving up on dying the grays and struggled to keep up with taking me to my scheduled activities.  But if Dad wasn’t interested in my world, I was still welcome to enter his.

Growing up in my family meant that we would spend almost every weekend from September into January with my father at the deer lease.  For over thirty years, my parents leased hunting rights to a six hundred acre cattle ranch near Cuero, Texas.  My family usually used less than a third of it, hunting only a few choice fields, fence lines, and pastures where the cattle weren’t feeding.  The land was rugged and filled with mesquite scrub brush, with feathery bunches of leaves hanging from spiny, thorned limbs; bunches of cacti with prickly pear; and scattered cattle with the occasional Brahma bull.  Against the back fence line, the hunting cabin sat with a pitched corrugated tin roof, knobby posts holding up a small porch and mismatched white vinyl siding.  Before hunting season he made the four hour drive to prep the cabin, fill the deer feeders with corn, and get the stands ready; but once season hit, it was to hunt.  Dad always drove a little faster on the highway from October to the end of year.  Then he’d patiently wait through the holidays to begin preparations for turkey season in the spring.  Summers were brutally hot in central Texas but he still found projects to pull him back to the lease.  Mom was a casual hunter.  She would go along, read some good books, and let Dad take over the schedule for the weekend.  When he would get up at four a.m. to prep for a morning hunt, she’d roll over and snuggle into the covers perfectly happy to walk out around nine to see whatever luck would have it or even to stay in bed and just look out the window from time to time.

I was free to enter Dad’s world but I had to earn it.  He would spend hours with me while I trained the end of a bb gun on my mark and tried again and again to hit it.  He was patient when he taught me how to line up my shot, safely load and unload my weapon, and spend time with me, teaching me and talking to me.  When he thought I was ready, and old enough at ten, he gave me a Winchester .22 mag.  It was a lightweight rim-fire rifle, illegal to use for deer hunting because without a strong shot to the heart or head, the deer wouldn’t fall.  Since he had given it to me, I never thought I should use a bigger gun or that I was breaking the rules by not using an approved center-fire rifle.  I only knew that the bullet was the width of my pinky finger and the small shell that tapered with a tiny copper end was much different than the longer cartridges that my mother and father ejected from their guns.  Dad knew that it was light enough that I could steady the thick stock in my fingers and maneuver the rifle easily.  I could snug it to my shoulder and handle the recoil without wincing like I did after trying my mother’s .244 bolt action.  But he made sure I could make a kill shot over and over before I actually got to try.

Even after a full season of target practice, I knew his eyes followed the clumsy movement of my thumbs when I loaded the small rimfire shells into my .22 mag and listened to them slide until they clinked together, stacked neatly in a row within the chamber.  After I loaded my gun, he moved behind me and waited for me to adjust my eye to the scope and locate the target in the field.  I leaned against the rusty hood of the Jeep that we used to get around the lease and shifted the small sand bag under the end of the barrel before taking a breath and slowly pulling on the trigger until the echo reverberated against my eardrum and I blinked involuntarily.  Then I lowered the hammer and shot again and again until I had used all of my bullets.  I straightened and left the gun lying on the hood.  Dad was standing behind me and still looking through binoculars at the target.

“Not bad, we’ll go down and look in a second.”

His voice was tinny and muffled through the ringing in my ears and heat flared in my chest for a minute.  I knew I had hit the bull’s-eye twice and that two more were still in the red.  Only the second and fifth shot had strayed an inch or so from the center.  At fifty yards it was not just “not bad” but pretty good.  He rarely told me it was good, always leaving me a bit more to work on, and I always kept trying.  Target practice was something I had to master on my own.  The rest I could learn from going with him as long as I could stay quiet while we were in the stand.

Saturday mornings Dad would have us up by four-thirty, wanting us in the stand and silent by five-thirty.  We’d leave the cabin and I’d stumble in my too-large rubber boots, the beam of my flashlight bouncing.  The morning was full of rustling trees, twigs breaking, things moving in the brush.  I huddled close, trying to keep my .22 mag rifle from swinging on my shoulder.  Dad was stocky but he could dance across dried crackling leaves and broken twigs invisible in the dark without a sound while I clomped behind trying to place my feet carefully, rolling heel to toe, walking in cattle ruts, hoping to slip through the darkness quietly.  The wind cut through my layers of long johns and sweats.  He stopped in front of me, listening.  I would try hard to hear a noise, perhaps the sure steps of a buck walking ahead of us.  Later, Dad explained that he often stopped not just to listen but to imitate the careful starting and stopping of an animal.  When we reached the clearing, I climbed the flimsy ladder into the small stand.  I sat down on the hard surface of an upturned bucket, propped my rifle in the corner, and scanned the darkness, waiting for light to help Dad get a buck.

I had earned the right to hunt with him, to sit next to him and wait for my chance to prove myself.  In the beginning I could only watch for bucks, then I was allowed to bring my own gun.  By the time I was twelve, he had promised me I could take the shot.

At first I was eager but after three weekends of hours sitting on hard plastic in the stiff cold, I was weary of waiting and spent more time reading my book than watching for my chance.  Besides, I knew that Dad was alert.  Midmorning, chilled and sleepy, I jumped when he nudged me and tilted his head.  At the edge of the trees next to the fenceline, a buck slowly picked its way down.  Still a couple hundred yards away, it stopped every few feet, sniffing.  I was afraid of knocking the gun over and shooting a hole through the stand, but I reached out and wrapped my fingers around the smooth barrel and pointed it through the window, inches at a time, until metal scraped against the ledge.  The buck paused facing us.

“Freeze,” Dad whispered.  I held still.  The buck came closer, now fifty or sixty yards away.  I pulled the gun to my shoulder, fingers rigid and tight against the wood stock.

“He’s coming ‘round.  Find him.”  Dad’s voice was steady and gentle.  I slowed my breathing to match his as I looked through the scope.  Only black.  I adjusted my head and pulled back from the scope.  The circle trained on the tree, the feeder.  Antlers came into view:  eight points.

“Aim for the front shoulder.  Just in from the neck, up from the stomach, through the heart.”

I followed a shoulder of brown fur through the scope and fumbled with the safety; it clicked loudly.  The buck’s head turned, then it sniffed the dirt.

“Slowly now.  Don’t jerk.  Slowly pull the trigger.”

I started to squeeze, tense.  I carefully curled my finger towards my palm until the gun recoiled against my shoulder.  The jolt of the shot jerked my head away from the scope and I focused my eyes on the spot where I had just aimed to see the buck race into a thicket.

“Did I get it?” I asked, excited but anxious I had missed.

“You got him,” he said, taking off his hunting cap and running his fingers across his bald head.  “Great shot.  Now we wait.”

“Why? Can’t we go and see?” I stood and stared intently at the brush where I had last seen the buck.

“Just sit back down and wait a sec. He could still be running, and we don’t want to chase

him or we might not find him.”

I sat on my hands and rocked a bit on the bucket.  I had put meat in the freezer, had my own antlers to put on the wall.  Best of all, Dad looked proud.  He looked at me with a smile, sitting with his back straight and his shoulders square and nodded once, then chuckled.

“You did good.  Let’s get this stuff together and ready to climb down.”

My father’s office at home is covered with trophies.  When someone enters there is usually a sharp intake of breath –appalled shock from a nonhunter and awe from someone who appreciates size, variety, and rarity in mounted specimens.  There are a series of mounted whitetails of course, the thick necks stretching out from the wall holding up heads with serene looks, wide set antlers stretching up towards the ceiling; nothing that would make the Boone and Crocket record books here, but still solid racks, points, and tines.  A fourteen point and a couple twelve points, each large enough to hold a ring, but most points which curl around the buck’s head are thicker than my fingers.  There are two plaques of feathers, tom turkeys that my dad got, the frayed, coarse beard of the turkeys protruding the middle of the arranged and shellacked feathers.  Three boars’ heads are on the next wall.  Two fierce-looking javelinas, their short stocky heads framed by their dangerous tusks, and the third, a huge black Russian boar.  The boar mount dwarfs the others, sticking out a solid three feet of all head, tusks, and bared teeth.  The coarse hair is jet black and I won’t leave my eyes on it long.  It is intimidating even in death.  Then there are axis deer, fallow deer, and other exotic mounts he took from special hunts and ranches.  It is his display of skill, manhood, and even wealth, as each mount must have cost at least five hundred dollars or more just for the taxidermy, to say nothing of the money for the hunts themselves.

Underneath these imposing mounts and on a shelf, there’s a picture displayed prominently of my first buck.  It’s in a faded cardboard frame, never removed from the free gray Kodak outline that it was slid into when it was developed.  I am twelve, wearing a bright red shirt and blue jeans, and facing the camera, my left arm extended to my fresh kill.  My hand is wrapped around the small rounded horns and I tilt the heavy head towards the lens making sure that the eight points can be seen.  My skin is flushed and ruddy and I’m glad the picture was taken when we got back to the cabin and not at the kill site when I almost threw up.

When we climbed down from the deer stand after I had killed my first deer, I rushed over to the tree where the buck had been when I hit it.  Small drops of blood spotted the dirt.  We followed those tracks thirty yards into the brush to where the buck was tangled in the air, its front hooves hanging from vines where it had kicked and thrashed.  Dad pulled out his buckknife, cut it loose, letting it drop to the ground, then motioned for me to step closer.  The deer had long lashes and a beautiful face, but its tongue hung from its mouth caked in dirt.  The buck’s rack was small and curved, eight points.  It was young, only a few years old.  I felt guilty, but Dad was beaming, his cheeks screwed up and crinkling his eyes like I imagined a proud papa would look when handed his newborn child for the first time.

“Good shot,” he said. “Most boys don’t even get a buck the first time out, much less an eight point.”

Dad knelt down and handed me the knife, pointing to its neck.  “One side to the other.  Get the windpipe.”

This was the way it was done.  Cutting off any last air, letting it bleed out.

“You do it, Dad.  I’ll watch.”

“If you want to be a hunter, you learn how.  Next time you might be on your own.  You can wait to gut it, but not to cut the pipe.”

I sighed, dropping to the ground.  I poked the blade into the skin and missed the windpipe, the blade slicing out of the skin easily.

“Watch that other hand!  You’ll take your fingers off.”

I moved and tried again.  The blade struck something stiff and I jerked it through.  Blood pooled on the ground and clotted with hair on the blade, and I rolled onto my feet, stumbling back.

“Good ‘nough.  Come on, let’s drag it out to the road so we can gut it.”

I reached out and grabbed one hind leg while Dad took the other.  We hauled the deer towards the road, its head flopping in the grass.

When we stopped, Dad moved to the end of the deer, spread its legs, and deftly split its belly with his knife.  He sliced the skin easily, pulled it back, then dug his hands in, emptying the gut.  A ripe, sour scent filled the air as the stomach splashed onto the ground.  Bile rose in the back of my throat and I swallowed it back down, pulling my coat over my nose and mouth.  Dad was working intently, his arms streaked with blood as he dumped the large intestine onto the ground, then reached up into the deer’s throat and ripped out the windpipe.  I backed away as the steam rose off of the guts lying on the ground.  I stood behind him, out of sight, and stared at the dirt while I focused on the saliva in my mouth, my tongue flat against my teeth and the sudden tightness in my throat.  Dad rubbed his upper arm against his face, trying to get the beads of sweat from his eyes.  He wiped his hands with a small rag, then stuffed it in his back pocket.  Then we loaded the carcass onto the back of the jeep and headed back to the cabin for Mom’s photo op.

I was part of the club now, an official member of the Grimes family, since I finally had a story of my own about my first deer.  I had gotten a buck on my first kill, something that I began to proclaim loudly to other hunters after hearing Dad mention it so many times.  My friends at school weren’t hunters and I never got the same effect telling the story to anyone but my family.  I would bring it up often, then ask Dad to tell it instead so I could enjoy it over and over.  It would often lead to other hunting stories; depending on the season, it could turn ugly.  Dad and my brothers would taunt each other relentlessly about a bad shot in the gut or even the ass of the deer, which would waste the back strap or the best steaks.  When one of my brothers came home with a spike, they called him “baby killer” until he gave them something better to talk about.  I only had one story so far but it was a good one and I knew that, in that comparison to my brothers, I had held my own, even one-upped them.  Dad mounted my small horns on a plaque and gave it to me.  I held it up to the dusty mounts on his wall where it was dwarfed and then hung it above my dresser.

Sometimes we’d take family drives around the lease, always “looking for deer” but effectively road hunting on the lease, something that I later learned that most avid hunters think is unsporting.  I can’t actually remember a single time that we took a deer in that manner and we were often lucky if we glimpsed one escaping to the other side of the fenceline.  Our deer lease vehicle, the thirty-year-old open jeep with rusted floorboards and folded down windshield ,meant jaunty treks down winding paths, under low branches and sometimes even over small trees while I tightly gripped the roll bar in the back, my feet braced against feedbags of corn.   A long drive would take us past the back and front feeders, through several wire and post fences, past the fenceline and hillside stands nicknamed Slaughterhouse and Waldorf for their kill sites and outfitting respectively, and around the small pond.  We’d patrol the lease in the jeep with a loaded rifle riding on the front hood within easy reach, held steady by an old rug so it wouldn’t slide around.   It was my job to watch for movement as we made the rounds.  I was good at spotting animals, a flicker of tan in the brush, a flash of white tail, or just a moving shadow in the trees.  Of course, I’m sure there’s many times I led us down a longer way just to extend the ride, enjoying the dust kicked up by the tires and the wild landscape around me, while tossing out kernels of corn behind the jeep to draw animals towards our overgrown roads.

Once, when we reached the bottom of the hill, Dad saw deer tracks following a cow trail.  He turned off the rutted path and began following the animal trail instead to see if he could set up a new stand or see where the deer were crossing from one property to another.

He started slowly, squeezing the jeep between mesquite trees and straddling cacti while he and Mom grabbed the front branches and pushed them out until we were past.

“Larry, do we really need to follow this now? Can’t you walk it tomorrow or something?” she asked as she caught another branch just before it whacked her in the face.  Dad was stubborn and she had learned that if she posed a question, she got farther than if she just said what she thought.

Dad muscled the wheel as the jeep slid through muddy ruts without responding.

“We’re getting all scratched up,” Mom complained again.  “Look,” she pointed to a scratch on her arm.

“You tired of these mesquite trees?” he asked as he gassed it straight towards a small one about three inches in diameter.

I gripped the bar tightly and gasped.  “You’re going to hit it,” I told him, secretly thrilled by the thought.

He laughed as we struck the small tree at about fifteen miles an hour, the front grill of the jeep cracking against the wood, breaking the trunk easily thrusting the tree forwards and sideways as we easily cleared it.

“You happy now?  No more trees hitting you from the side.” He yelled as we plowed into another small mesquite.

“Ok, Larry, you’ve made your point.” She said.  “Watch it!” she yelled as she reached out to grab his arm.  I braced my body tightly between the roll bar and seat, my thighs flexed against the jeep’s lurching.

We hit a third mesquite tree, this one much more solid.  Its base had sprouted several limbs forming a disjointed but wide trunk supporting three seemingly separate trees, each growing up and outward.  The jeep hit the tree with a jolt and slowed as Dad shifted into a different gear and pressed his foot to the floor pedal, refusing to be beaten by a tree.  The end of the jeep pitched upward, the front tires losing footing on the ground as the jeep pushed against the side.  Mom gripped the tattered edge of her front seat while I held onto the metal seat in the back.  Dad stopped, reversed, and we sighed.  Then he laid on the horn, laughed, put it in gear, and floored it, ramming the jeep into the tree.  We crested the top of the truck and the front of the jeep hung for a moment in the air, tires spinning, before the base of the tree cracked under the weight and the grill pitched downward again, the wheels finding purchase as we raced forward and Dad guided the jeep back between the trees.  Mom and I leaned inward, so we wouldn’t be scraped, and she didn’t complain again but Dad, having proved his point, quickly turned us around and headed back to the cabin claiming the tracks had disappeared.  I sighed and settled back onto the corn, both relieved and disappointed that it was over.

There was always anticipation on weekends at the deer lease, the suspenseful tightening of belly muscles imagining how many deer or what kind we would find, what type of wildlife would spring from the bushes, what discoveries we would make.  From the moment the car turned onto the gravel road, my anticipation would begin building as Dad maneuvered the car’s wide tires in and out of the formed grooves of the rutted road between fence posts and cattle guards on the way to the cabin.  When we weren’t out in the jeep exploring or sitting in the deer stand, Mom would take me exploring.  We rarely took guns with us, though she might take her camera, and I followed her lead as we wondered behind the cabin and past the first fence to the  washed out gully and sand pit.  One end of it had been transformed into an old dump.  There were the remnants of an old metallic Christmas tree, scattered pieces of wood, and bits of scrap metal, anything too big for a barrel or that couldn’t be burned.  Further up the gully, the wash out turned from mud to pure sand dappled with rocks, tracks and discoveries.

As we made our way up the sand pit, she let me collect rocks, petrified wood, and, if we were lucky, sometimes an arrowhead or fossil.  I could bring back the things I had found and show Dad once he woke from his nap and before we went out again.

“What do you think that is?” she asked me, pointing to a thin row of scratches close together.

“An animal?”

“What kind?”  She motioned me over and we squatted down next to them.

“A bird,” I declared and she nodded

.           “Remember the roadrunner we saw on the way in?”  she asked with a smile.

This was our guessing game as we walked the sand pit.  Armadillos, roadrunners, rabbits, skunks, foxes, deer, cattle, and various birds would leave behind tracks, scuffs, or sign and Mom would help me identify it so I could report back to Dad.

She’d also test my ability to identify deer scat or “sign” as she liked to put it, which always reminded them of a joke they both loved to repeat.  Apparently Dad had brought a customer and his wife up to the lease one weekend and the man convinced his wife that deer shit, the tiny bulbous drops scattered around on the ground, were called smart pills and were just little berries and if she ate one, she’d get smarter.  Dad swears that she did and then gagged and spit and the man laughed his ass off saying, “Look, you’re smarter already.”  I always wondered if it was true, and if it were, how that woman could possibly have stayed married to such a man or how my father could stand there and watch him do that to her but he never talked about that part of it and I never asked.

Mom and I would return from our walks by two-thirty or three when Dad liked to get ready to go out for the evening hunt.  Although some hunters, including my brothers, would sit in the stand most of the day, Dad had decided that lunch, an afternoon nap, and a more relaxing schedule would still let him be in the stand at the most promising times of the day – just after sunrise and before sunset.

Dressing for the hunt would later remind me of preparing for a game.  The weather in Texas in the fall was unpredictable and one day I might wear a pair of old jeans with a ratty shirt and the next I might be layering long johns under sweats to try to stay warm.  Regardless of the clothing, there was a uniform to hunting.  Mother insisted on bright clothing over camo for safety.  Deer are color blind so blaze orange or even red or pink will stand out against the birch and mesquite to a hunter but not to a doe or a buck.  Each layer of clothing, the belt with extra bullets, my flashlight and bucknife, my rifle, brought me one step closer to hunt and excitement would build as I patiently prepared and wondered what I might find, dreaming of walking up to see trophy bucks grazing in the field like someone scratching the thin film of a lotto ticket and hoping for matching symbols.

But I was always scared of the dark.  When I hunted with Mom or Dad the fear abated because I had protection but now that I hunted alone, I dreaded the darkness.  Mornings alone, I rushed through the woods, carelessly noisy, hoping to scare away any unknown creatures lurking in the woods.  I was fine with scaring the deer, boars, or even rabbits away.  They could come back in the daylight.  In the afternoons I tread quietly, hoping to see wildlife before twilight so I could bleed the deer and be in before nightfall.  In the dark, the beam of the flashlight was my only guide, a twig snapping that wasn’t my own would prick the hair on my neck, tense my fingers against my gun, and call up a prayer from deep in my bones that if I heard another sound it was a small rustle moving away from me.

Morning was my favorite.  Tucked up in the stand safely, there was nothing to do but wait for the first graying of the impenetrable darkness, the rat-a-tat shudder of the feeder slinging corn, and enough light to see if deer were eating below.  Once the glow of the sun crested the trees, I enjoyed the shrill caw of a crow, the coo of doves, or even the noisy antics of an armadillo below the stand.  Sunrises and sunsets were appreciated in quiet meditation as I waited with nothing else to do but enjoy the color bursting across the sky, my senses heightened yet calm.  A cardinal’s flurry of wings as it alighted on a tree, a squirrel’s chatter, or a raccoon’s bumbling waddle across the dirt were all entertainment that I rarely had the chance to enjoy in the world outside of hunting.

In the kitchen of the cabin Dad had tacked various pictures of hunters in orange on the wall.  In one, a hunter’s legs are spread as he pisses behind a tree while a large buck picks its way behind his back.  In the second, the hunter is asleep, his head tilted and tucked against his shoulder while the deer walks directly in front of him.  I often wondered as I sat on the rickety chairs waiting for dawn to break, fighting the heavy weight of my head and the cold in my fingers and toes, how many times before others had fallen asleep.  Often, though, I was awake and alert, excited to see what the day might bring.

When we got back to the cabin after hunting, Dad would go to work on skinning and quartering any deer we had killed or, if we’d all come in empty handed, he’d cook for us.  He’d make S.O.B. (or shit on a biscuit) his old army standby for breakfast or stack the grill with downed mesquite and smoke steaks and tin-foiled baking potatoes for dinner and we’d play cards or sit around the table and talk while Mom settled into the battered yellow recliner and read a romance novel, enjoying the rare break from the kitchen that she only got at the lease.

I brought in a couple of does to help fill the freezer over the next few years, each with a solid shot, but I was fifteen before I got another buck and my first trophy.  I sat in the hillside deer stand alone staring into the last hour of darkness.  When I’d climbed into the stand, I had briefly used my flashlight to set up everything within arm’s reach.  My loaded two-twenty-two rifle on the short ledge to the right, my thermos between my feet, and to my left my backpack holding some saltines, a paperback, and a buck knife.  The two mile hike from the cabin had stirred my blood; only my hands and feet were cold in the near freezing temperatures.  I blew on my fingers, then reached between my feet and quietly unscrewed the thermos.  Steam trailed out of the small opening as I poured myself a cup of hot chocolate and took a sip.  It was scalding; I ran my tongue against the roof of my mouth, feeling the new raw spot.  At least it kept my hands warm.  I settled back into my chair as the wind blew against the slats in the stand, whistling and rattling.

Light crept in.  The black mass to my right became an oak with long tendrils of Spanish moss blowing in the sharp wind.  The clearing in front of me revealed mesquite trees and cacti.  I could make out the treetops, then the feeder.  Usually, it was a safe bet to see deer down this hill.  Tracks and rubs surrounded the feeder, in the brush and by the pond.  I scanned shapes in the brush, watching for shadows to move, to change.  A few crows and a squirrel scavenged.  This was my favorite time of morning.  The promise of daylight brought with it the chance of a twelve or fourteen point buck, a suitable trophy for his wall.   

The sun was showing on the horizon, and the frost on the ground shimmered.  A spider’s web in the corner glistened like a kaleidoscope.  I sipped more cocoa and shifted in the ratty swivel chair.  I had a novel in my pack, so I could escape into adventure while I sat in the wooden box, high off the cold ground, but it wasn’t light enough to read yet.  Twigs snapped, branches swayed.   A crow cawed and ventured down when the feeder whined, corn striking its metal legs.  The sudden silence after the whirling startled me.  I shifted and looked into the clearing.  Some doves flew from the brush, drawing my eyes to the left.  I waited quietly until a small cottontail hopped from the brush, then shifted my eyes to the open field before pulling out my book.

As long as I stopped every few pages to slowly scan the trees, I didn’t miss anything.  Besides, I was always listening.  I stopped my book in the fifth chapter and saw a bobcat walking underneath my stand.  The cat was the size of a thin cocker spaniel and had a beautiful coat, speckled brown and black with golden undertones.  Pointed black fur lined its ears and thin black stripes rippled through its fur.

My breath caught in my throat as I thought of the trophies in Dad’s office.  Coyote skins covered the sofas like quilts.  Boars, turkeys, and fallow deer lined the walls.  I thought of Dad displaying the cat, bragging to his customers about his daughter.

My torso remained still while I stretched my arm out for the rifle, the same .22 mag I had used for three years.  The bobcat, now thirty yards away, picked its way through sparse grass.  I clicked the safety off and looked through the scope.  The cat stopped momentarily, listening; it was still, ears perked, front paw still off the ground in mid-step.  I breathed quietly.  The bobcat stepped into a half crouch, shoulders tensed, its head scanning the ground.  I waited. The cat still faced away from me.  Through my scope, I ran the crosshairs from its tiny stubbed tail up to the perked ears, thinking it would turn broadside.  A crow flew by the stand, its shrill caw fading.   The cat took a hesitant step, then started on its way again.

Ease back on the trigger, keep it steady, snug to shoulder.  I couldn’t aim for the heart because it was in line with me.  Instead, I aimed for the base of the neck, a tough, narrow shot.  At fifty yards, I pulled the trigger slowly.  The gun recoiled and the bang reverberated in the tiny stand.  The cat fell, clawing with its front paws, tearing the air.  A shrill cry punctuated the pain of dying.  It writhed on the ground and began convulsing.  I chewed on my lip, thinking it would only take seconds for it to stop breathing, stop that noise.  The crying went on, piercing, like a baby’s tremoring wail.  My chest tightened.  I wished I could take it back, let it walk past.  I looked through the scope, thought of taking another shot, but all I could do was shoot it in the head.  I gathered my rifle and bag, afraid of watching any longer, and made my way down the ladder.  My boots clomped across the dirt at an even pace.  The cat had stopped crying, but its body shuddered.  I stepped closer as its head lifted, and it mewed, eyes wide.  Placing the tip of my rifle close to the base of its skull, I fired and it was still.

I reached down and smoothed my hand across the limp body.  The cat bled only a little from its back but I found only one exit wound through the chest.  My first shot had lodged too low into the spine, making the second necessary.  I gathered its legs and hefted it onto my shoulders, surprised by its light weight.  It was warm against the cold air, and it buffered my neck and shoulders from the wind. The trail was two miles back to the cabin.  I adjusted my sling underneath the cat, the rifle wedging it against me, and started in.  My neck and shoulders quickly grew sweaty during the hike and the bobcat’s hair stuck to my skin.  After the first mile, I stopped, shifting it from my shoulders into my arms, cradling it like a child.  Its fur was coarse, but the coloring was stunning.  If it hadn’t walked across a frozen field, I never would have seen it in the autumn leaves cluttering the brush line.

When I got back to the cabin, Mom and Dad were both out hunting.  I draped the small body on its side across our picnic table.  If I stood a few feet away, it looked as if it were still alive, maybe sleeping.  I was shocked at how much it resembled a house cat.  I smoothed the hairs on its coat, feeling the muscle and bone underneath.  Its paws were callused on the bottom, claws thick and sharp.  I sat down on the bench and stared at the tiny hole in its neck.  The blood had clotted into thick clumps caking the fur.  I rubbed one between my fingers; it left a small smear across my finger and under my nails.  This was a true hunter, living off what it killed.

It was still early and I turned and hiked back to the stand to wait for deer, knowing that was what Dad would expect me to do.  Thirty minutes after I climbed back up the ladder, a large four point strode out to the feeder and I shot it in the heart.  It dropped to the ground and I approached it carefully, then slit its neck and windpipe and walked back in again for help.

He was proud.   I think they both were, although perhaps Mom felt bad for the animal that was killed for the sake of killing.  Dad immediately called the taxidermist and found out how to preserve it for mounting.  I got to pick the shape of the cat.  They could fix it in various poses, fighting with teeth bared, perched over a dead bird with claws extended, or leaping through the air.  I choose a simple walking pose.  It sits on top of a bookshelf at home collecting dust just like any other trophy.  Every time I look at it, I imagine it walking by me beneath the stand and picture myself appreciating its grace and movement, savoring a momentary glimpse of the wild, without the shot, without the blood, without this furry shell.

I never asked Dad to put it up in his office and, perhaps because he thought I wanted it for myself, he never asked to have it.  Another time, my brother killed two bobcats at once and had them mounted, then loaned them to Dad to display.  They are displayed in the middle of a ferocious fight, one frozen in midair leaping onto the other from above.  Now it strikes me that perhaps no one wants the cats.  Coyotes are still treated as a nuisance; the hides still looked at as a blanket or a drape.  Turkeys, deer, even wild pigs are all used for food.  But the bobcats are killed for the pleasure of the kill, nothing more, and I think maybe I’m not the only one a little uneasy with having the cat’s dead marble eyes staring back at me.

Of course there are plenty of other reminders of those days scattered about.  There is a dark watercolor which Mom painted that has the cabin cast in shadow against the faded light of the sky.  To the left is the windmill, fenceline, and oak tree, where I swung from a tire and played countless afternoons.  Their photo albums are filled with pictures where deer carcasses are lined up on the ground with my dad and brothers smiling next to them.  In another, Dad is standing next to the deer hanging from the tree, ready to be skinned and quartered.  Some of the photos have captured memories that aren’t even mine, yet I still look at them with nostalgia.  I miss those times with my family; I want to sneak back across property lines and trespass my way in to see the cabin but I know I can’t go back.

Around the time I graduated from high school, the owners of the ranch, Leroy and Lollie Angerstein, were put into a home.  As their children took over the ranch, my parents noticed the cattle growing gaunt, their skins stretched taut over protruding hipbones as they’d run at the sound of our car, hoping for more food, some salt or hay.  My parents couldn’t stand to see the cattle and the ranch go this way, so they let the lease go and started looking for their own land to hunt.

They settled on 58 acres outside of Nixon, less than an hour or so from the original lease, where it’s still good whitetail and turkey land complete with a small creek. The first year Dad cleared trees, set up a small camper and watched closely for deer.  He saw lots of does but few bucks.  He decided to let them breed a bit before hunting them out.  Within a couple years though, there was a game fence nearby, the creek dried, and after ten years there has still yet to be a deer taken from the land.  I was off at college and unwilling to spend Christmas hunting when I could see my old friends.  The real reason though is it was never the same.  There wasn’t the boundless land that went on and on.  I could walk to the fenceline in ten minutes instead of it taking hours.  There is still a certain rawness to the new place but it is closer to town, other families, and the call of the land is mysteriously absent to the rest of the family.  My parents go alone to hunt or my brothers will stay for the weekend with their friends.  At most it is used a few times each season.  It is no longer our family place, built out of the old stories and memories.

There are still ways for me to hunt.  I could get a license and try public land but I’m too worried about the dangers of drunk hunters I don’t know and even getting lost on the unknown land.  In my new home 1500 miles from my parents, I have a few friends with land choked with deer but neither my husband nor I want to skin the deer, chop up the meat or even gut the animal.

My father no longer hunts either.  A few years ago he had an accident with a saw and severed three of his fingers from his right hand.  The index finger remains but is so badly damaged it is immobile and he’s unable to pull the trigger on a rifle without moving it off sight and making a poor shot.  We’ve all tried to give him a variety of tools to help him adjust to his disability but he chooses to go it alone and muscle through what he can with his mangled hand.  Now he’s resigned to watching out the window when he goes to hunt and signaling my mother when he sees something.  It is rare.

Now that we no longer hunt together, our conversations are framed by Happy Birthday or Happy Father’s Day, a short conversation about the weather or home improvement over a family dinner.  He often falls asleep in his chair while watching the news.  Sometimes I will buy him Doe in Heat deer urine for Christmas or a new turkey call as a way to bridge the gap, give us something to discuss or to prompt a memory.  I still bring him trophies—degrees, new stories, and pictures of my new house—but I’m always met with the old faint smile from the days of dance recitals and softball games and nothing has ever joined or replaced the picture in his office.

Years ago my mother started a painting of me based on a picture taken at the deer lease.  In the photo, I am young and in a field of bluebonnets, centered in the frame, bundled flowers clenched in my left hand as I bend over and reach for another with my right.  Our beagle, Peppy, stands next to my knee, alert for bugs, squirrels, or armadillos rustling in the field of flowers.  The wind is blowing my hair a bit; a few strands sweep across my face and I am caught, frozen, in my quest for a larger bouquet.  In the painting, the blues are slightly more muted than the photo; dappled cornflower blue is tapped around the base of the canvas with sprinkles of white as my mother tried to capture the indigo petals swaying around me.  Peppy’s brown and white frame is drawn with tight, sure lines.  She has rendered my loose cotton pants and t-shirt, my dirty blond hair dusting my shoulders, but my face is a blurry oval.  She painted it several times, putting it away for awhile then returning.  Once she thought she had it figured out.  My nose was crooked in the painting, my head at too odd of an angle.  After she discovered this I thought she might return to it, sketch in my features, give me eyes and a determined smile.  Instead the painting is stacked with other discards in the attic, with a pale ghost child picking pieces of blue.

Christine grimes has published in Big Tex[t], Harpur Palate, Permafrost, and Passages North. She was a finalist in Gulf Coast’s Fiction Contest and in the Association of Professors of Creative Writing Graduate Fiction Contest.  Her work is included in From Where You Dream, a collection of lectures by Robert Olen Butler.   She received an M.A. in English from Florida State University and an M.F.A. in fiction from Texas State University.  She is a doctoral student in Binghamton University’s creative writing program.

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Christine Grimes

Levy & Miosek

Feeding the Starving artist 



Sometimes the best title for your work happens to be a relatively famous one that has already been used. It may not have been used as a title for a sculpture or an oil painting, but maybe as a title for a song or a name of a famous person or even a brand of toilet paper.

Titles cannot be protected by copyright. The Copyright Act clearly states that names, titles, short phrases and expressions cannot be registered in the U.S. Copyright Office. (See  In other words, no matter how clever (e.g., a play on words), novel, or distinctive a name, title, logo, or short phrase (slogan) is, it cannot be registered in the U.S. Copyright Office. Therefore, at least under the Copyright Act, you can use an existing title or slogan for the title of your project or work of art.

But wait! Intellectual property protection is more than copyrights. It also includes trademarks for identifying the source of goods and services. When it comes to titles, it is the trademark law that can apply. If someone else has used the title or any trademark on his or her products or services, and you wish to use that exact title or a slight variation, you will have to investigate the circumstances carefully.

Trademark law is similar to copyright law. As you know, copyright law allows a user to prevent others from copying his work without permission. Trademark law also deals with an exclusive right that gives the owner of a mark the right to exclude anyone else from using the mark — or a confusingly similar mark — on goods or services in the same channel of trade. In other words, a trademark owner can prevent others from using the same trademark — regardless of whether the mark is registered — or a trademark that is close to the owner’s mark and is likely to cause confusion as to the source of the goods or services.

However, as long as the goods or services are in a different channel of trade, two or more parties may use identical trademarks. That is why certain trademarks used by different parties can coexist, such as UNITED AIR LINES® and UNITED VAN LINES®; and DOMINO’S® pizza and DOMINO® sugar.

The general rule, then, is that you can use a trademark that is being used by another party as long as your channel of trade is different from the trademark owner’s. But there is always an exception: be careful about “famous” marks. These are marks that are so famous, anyone’s use of them on any goods can be actionable by the trademark owner. You know a famous mark when you see it: McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, SONY, etc. If you call your photo “Home of the Whopper,” you may get a nasty letter from Burger King’s attorneys.

Some movie titles have been registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), since product tie-ins with novels and movies are common nowadays. In fact, the tied-in products can generate more income for a movie company than the box office.

For example, STAR WARS® was registered in the PTO by Lucasfilm, Ltd. to cover not only the production and distribution of motion pictures and other entertainment services, but to identify paper goods and printed matter, like address books, comic books, notebooks, children’s books, paper doorknob hangers, printed invitations, paper table cloths, trading cards, book marks, checkbook holders and covers, as well as pencils, pens, paper gift bags, greeting cards, napkins, party hats, postcards, stickers, cardboard figures, temporary tattoos, and school and office supplies.

STAR WARS is also used to identify athletic shoes, slippers, children’s footwear, hats, masquerade costumes, masks, pajamas, rainwear, sweatshirts, ties, T-shirts, underwear, wristbands and suspenders.

Trademarks can be searched at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office web site, to determine whether another party is using a word or expression as a trademark.

As long as a mark is active (i.e., being used continuously on products or services), it is enforceable. In other words, there is no expiration date for trademarks. Coca-Cola®, for example, has been an enforceable trademark for over 100 years.

Since trademarks are in a gray area of law, it makes sense to avoid using an established mark for your title or to seek legal counsel if you are unsure about your rights or the rights of others.

Mark Levy & Ryan Miosek are attorneys with the Binghamton-based law firm of Hinman Howard and Kattell. They specialize in trademarks, copyrights, and the general protection of intellectual property. You can telephone Ryan Miosek at  (607) 231-6804 and Mark Levy at  (607) 231-6991, or contact them by e-mail at and

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Levy & Miosek

Michelle Gabel

A girl attends a ceremony in Duk Payuel in December 2009. One out of every seven children in southern Sudan dies before his or her fifth birthday, according to United Nations' "Scary Statistics -- Southern Sudan" report.

©2009 Michelle Gable

Lost Boys returned to Sudan


In December 2009, I traveled to southern Sudan with former Syracuse Post-Standard reporter Maureen Sieh, who won a World Affairs Journalism Fellowship administered by the International Center for Journalists. We spent three weeks following four former Lost Boys, now living in Syracuse, N.Y., who returned to their home villages to build clinics, schools and wells.

Villagers greet former “lost boys” as they returned to their village in southern Sudan.

In 1987, John Dau, Gabriel Bol Deng, Daniel Amet and Angelo Kiir were among 27,000 boys sent fleeing across the East African desert when northern government soldiers ravaged their villages during the civil war in southern Sudan. Thousands died of diseases, gunfire, and attacks by wild animals. Dau, Deng, Amet, and Kiir made it to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, and eventually found a home in Syracuse in 2001. Everything they have done to build a new life in Syracuse has been devoted to the cause of helping their communities back home.

As adults, these former Lost Boys of Sudan, named after the fictional characters in “Peter Pan,” are bringing hope to their homeland. Here are some photographs from my travels.

— Michelle Gabel, Syracuse, N.Y.  April 2010

Michelle Gabel

To view larger photos from the gallery, please enter the FS button.


A link to the multi-media piece that appeared at the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper website: Lost Boys Come Home.


Michelle Gabel is an award-winning photojournalist who has worked for The Post-Standard, the daily newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., since 1993. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and the Detroit Free Press, among other publications.

She has documented a diverse array of human interest stories in the U.S. and abroad, including following the battle of a breast cancer patient during the year leading up to her death; the effects of environmental pollution caused by IBM in its birthplace of Endicott, N.Y.; the closing of a long-time, family-owned dry cleaning business; and the day-to-day reality of a couple raising 15 adopted children. Her recent international work includes a trip to Ghana, West Africa, to photograph a community’s efforts in furthering girls’ education, the building of a local library, and a Liberian family in a Ghanaian refugee camp preparing to resettle in Central New York. In December 2009, Gabel traveled to southern Sudan to photograph four young Sudanese men, now living in Syracuse, N.Y., who are helping to rebuild their homeland.

She has received honors from the National Press Photographers Association, the Associated Press and Gannett newspapers.

Michelle can be contacted at:

© 2009 Michelle Gable

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Michelle Gabel

Ivelisse Rodriguez

The Light in the Sky


         We board a boat, one I don’t think I would step into in the U.S., but I am on vacation and like all the other tourists crowded on a creaky dock in La Parguera, I trust.  La Parguera is a small tourist town on the southern coast of Puerto Rico known for its phosphorescent bay.  Tour companies run trips of $5 per person and on moonless nights you can see how the water burns.  My mother hasn’t noticed that I’m pregnant, and I haven’t told her.  Why speak of things that will never come to fruition?  Instead of being at an abortion clinic, I came to Puerto Rico.  Every day when I was home, I said I was going to do something.  To make a decision.  But the only move I made was to get on a plane to come here.  At the last minute I told my mother I wanted to go to Puerto Rico, and my mother, just reaching retirement, quickly agreed.  I let her plan the rest of our vacation, but La Parguera is the one place I had to come to.  Everyone I see on this dock is Puerto Rican; the white or Asian tourists don’t make it this far south into the Island.  They like to stay near San Juan where the policemen are everywhere, making sure they don’t make a wrong turn into La Perla.  Even though everyone in Puerto Rico says there is crime everywhere, everyone still leaves their doors open.  We go from house to house and sometimes have to wait minutes before seeing a human face.  But, I wanted to come here because everything about Puerto Rico makes me feel safe. 

            There are about ten of us this late at night — I think we are the last boat of the night — and the small boat seems just right.  This is not the ferry going to Oak Bluffs where we are 10 million miles above the water.  Leaning over with one knee on my seat, I am confident I could touch these black waters.  I don’t know how to swim, and I am sure that I am not the only one.  A pile of life jackets that have lost their orange luster rests in the back of the boat.  No one so much as looks at them, except for me, and I am keenly aware that I will look like a jibara if I put one on.  So I hope for the best as the engine turns on and we slowly start to descend into the bay.

            As soon as we are a few feet from the dock, my mother pats my leg and points to the sky.  This woman who sits next to me is not the woman I know on U.S. soil.  This woman in Puerto Rico peels fruit with her bare teeth, picks fruit off the ground and checks it for edibility, even though it seems like anything she picks up she deems edible, while I cast a wary glance on all the fruit put before me.  Some of the fruit I have never seen and can’t name in English.  She can’t translate it into English, so I don’t have a comprehension of what the fruit is.  I have to take her word for it.

            Tonight she surprises me again: this normally sound woman points at the sky and says, “Look, I think there is a UFO.”  Something that she would never entertain in her sleepy town in Massachusetts.  I look up at the sky, never having thought about UFOs.  I have been prone to irrationality all my life, believing in the impossible, the seldom, or the other.  I know it is not a plane because the position of the light is steady.  The light in the sky blinks and blinks.  So, the longer I look, the more UFO seems like the only sensible option.  I think that if this were several hundred years ago, and I were a religious peasant always on the lookout for an apparition of the Virgin Mary in any incarnation, I would believe that this was some sort of sign from God.  I don’t normally believe in the Virgin Mary or God, but because I am three months pregnant and the last thing I want is to be pregnant, I wish this time only that the Virgin Mary would come and take my baby.  I feel none of those inklings toward motherhood.  I side with those post-partum mothers who drive their children into the water.  Give them over to Yemaya.  Let her have those children. 

            There is a young mother on the boat with her boyfriend or husband or whatever who sits next to us — she could be 18 or she could be 24.  I notice her because she is unremarkable.  She is the girl my mother warned me against being all my life — the girl who gets pregnant.  Her man is loud and bombastic; in short, an asshole, and an asshole on vacation must be unbearable in real life.  His voice overtakes her, and the baby starts wailing.  She tries to rock the baby within its carriage before she realizes she has to hold the baby so that it will stop crying.  When she starts to pull the baby out, her man starts to yell, “Watch what you’re doing.  Damn, be careful with the baby.”  This breaks everyone’s merriment, even my mother turns from her UFO conspiracy babbling to turn and look at him.  She whispers ueeewww to me.  I whisper ummhmmm to her.  I can imagine the years ahead for this young mother.  Dismal years of being overshadowed, sullen, on the verge of death and having someone else telling you what to do.  As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I broke up with my boyfriend.  All of a sudden, I turned him over in my head and found him wanting and didn’t want my life to be irrevocably linked with his.

            My mother pulls on my arm, so we get back to the UFO.  My mother starts speculating that maybe when we get to the phosphorescent part of the bay there will be a UFO there ready to take us away.  She starts to recount every story of UFO sightings that she has heard of in Puerto Rico.  Even though we were in El Yunque last week, known for alien abductions, at least for those people who seem incapable of staying on a hiking trail, and there wasn’t a UFO in sight.  The more that she talks, the more her case is solidified.  And I start to think that if the Virgin Mary doesn’t come to take my baby, maybe the next best thing will be an alien abduction. 

            I wonder if this couple is from here or there, Puerto Rico or the U.S., but I don’t know if that will make much of a difference, if her lot in life somehow improves.  This is a place where a man will build you a house with his bare hands.  Every piece of the wall, every piece of the floor you touch will be built by his hands.  This is the loveliest of reality.  When I go into these houses built by these men,  I wonder what it is like to live your life indoors, tending to the house that your man built and the kids your man made.  I sometimes imagine this as the easier life, doing what you are supposed to do — getting married and having kids.  But like any place, this is a place of contradiction, this is also a place where men beat their wives, not different from the U.S., but on an island so small, the stories are packed in. 

            But these same wives ask me when will I get married, when will I have kids.  My answer is never to both.  And after they have asked me what they have asked — and each woman who I have run into has asked me the same two questions, and to each I have given the same answer — each one has said: good, don’t do it.  Not one has advocated it and gone on to tell me about a life of happiness.  And I think the only way to be happy is to be alone.  A life without compromising, without having to share.  I wish someone had told this young mother that.  Instead, she will be one of those women, after she has divorced, who will tell girls like me not to do it.  Of course most won’t listen, opting to not notice her unhappiness or anyone else’s and think her unhappiness is a rarity in the same vein that the grand love they will have is also a rarity. 

            My mother and I turn our attention to the other couple, the teenagers.  We comment on how they haven’t taken their lips off each other since we were on the dock.  I wonder on which side this girl will end once the desire to kiss for hours has fizzled.  Which rarity will she ultimately believe in?

            A speedboat passes by us and makes our rickety boat wiggle in the water.  The people in the speedboat hoop and holler as they race away.  And my mother starts to follow another line of speculation:  “You know, this boat was late to pick us up, but there wasn’t anyone on the boat when it arrived.  So, if there wasn’t anyone on it, why was it late?  I don’t know, what if that speedboat is full of thieves and they’re going to kill us all.  I mean I’m just saying.”  My mother was raised in Puerto Rico, but for some reason she does not feel the safety I feel here.  It’s like we have switched places once we disembarked — she is now the authoritative one.  She speaks fluent Spanish and only a few words of English and somehow she has become the irrational one.  While I find this amusing, I do my best to show concern.  I respect fear.  I know what it’s like to be scared.  So, I employ logic to calm her down, while in my head, I relish her theories.  There will either be a UFO.  Or the speedboat that has passed us is part of a murderous theft ring.  These people on the boat will meet us, steal our money, and dump us in the water.  Maybe that is the best end for me after all.  This wouldn’t be such a bad place to die.  My mother looks from the UFO that is still hovering above us, to the fleeting light of the speedboat.  I ponder this choice against the UFO option.  The speedboat seems like the most viable option.  There is a human face at the other end of this.  Human hands that can alleviate my ambivalence.  I feel the boat start to slow down and I want to stand up to get a glimpse of what is indeed ahead of me. 

            The boat comes to a stop and the captain announces that a crew member will jump in the water and swim around to stir up what makes the water phosphorescent.  The captain explains that due to pollution the phosphorescence has become harder to detect.  All the people on the right side of the boat dangerously rush to my side of the boat to see the water shimmer.  They are enraptured with the lights.  But I am not.  I can hear the people from the speedboat and one of them is in the water and it looks like she or he is walking on water.  Me and my mother watch and watch, finally seeing a miracle, but then my other senses kick in and it becomes clear they are just out here partying.  Then I overhear someone ask the captain about the light in the sky, and my heart lightens.  But he says, “Oh that light, it’s a blimp put up by the Coast Guard.  It’s to catch drug dealers coming in from the Dominican Republic.”

            My mother exhales relief. 

            One by one, as the lights turn off, I grab a life jacket and decide to swim toward, to catch, that last image.  In the dark, I see him walking back towards me.  He knows I’m coming.


Ivelisse Rodriguez has published or has work forthcoming in the Boston Review, Vandal, Kweli, and the Bilingual Review.  She has received fellowships to attend the Writers of Americas Conference in Cuba, Voices of America (VONA) workshop, and the Summer Literary Seminar in Kenya.  She holds a Ph.D. in English-Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College. She has finished a collection of short stories titled “Love War Stories”.  Ivelisse is currently working on a novel about the African Diaspora and a novella about Salsa music.  She is an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Ivelisse Rodriguez




From the photography studios of

Photographer, videographer, artist. Brent Williamson. Teknari.

The imagery speaks for itself.

From the blog:
“Up until this point with my photography, I have been mostly shooting for the sake of learning how to shoot, so I have not minded doing all these “one off” model shoots.  A model comes in, and I shoot her with a concept in mind, or I just do what inspires me at the time.  Nothing more was in mind other than learning how to shoot, and get the best pictures possible.”

“I first heard the term Teknari in the years after the Berlin wall came down.  In the Soviet Union after that time, not many people did very will economically, but young technically savy people did well, and the slang to refer to those people was ‘Teknari’.

“For some reason that word stuck in my head and I kind of adopted it.

“Interestingly, I can’t seem to find any documentation backing up my memory of this word and what it’s meaning was.  I am now just making it my own.  I am claiming it :-)”

Williamson works out of JungleScience Gallery and Art Laboratories in Binghamton, NY. He is currently developing new projects that will document the process of his work.

Images from his series, Edison


View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.


▪    Current Residence: Binghamton, NY … The Darkest City
▪    Interests: Creation
▪    Favourite movie: Secretary, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction, Donnie Darko
▪    Favourite band or musician: NIN, Le Disko, Datarock, Daft Punk,
Ministry, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, She Wants Revenge
▪    Favourite genre of music: Industrial, Gothic, Darkwave, New Wave
▪    Favourite photographer: Take a look at my friends to see!
▪    Operating System: All of them


See also:

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Teknari

She and Him, Volume Two

By Jeff Katz


“… Socks it to you so hard”


Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward

Who doesn’t love Zooey Deschanel? Big blue eyes, cute little nose, a kewpie doll framed in killer bangs. And she’s a great songwriter with a beautiful voice? As George Harrison said, “It’s all too much.”

Most of us first caught Zooey’s singing in Elf. Her delightful duet with Will Ferrell on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was a knockout scene. She met musical maven M. Ward during the filming of 2007’s The Go-Getter. A pretty good indie film, which suffers mostly because ZD appears via her cell phone for much of the flick, it maintains a solid place in history as the origin of She & Him. M. was working on the soundtrack and hooked up with Zooey, who, it turned out, was a secret songstress. They turned out She & Him, Volume One, the absolute, hands down best album of 2008. It’s no celebrity ego-trip. (For one of those, go here: (

With Volume Two, the pair builds on that solid foundation. Zooey’s voice is sweet, a bit of a country twang and a hint of breathiness. There are moments when you can hear her inhaling; it’s precious but not cloying. The songs are irrefutably fresh, indisputably retro, utterly timeless. The Wall of Sound that greets you on the opening cut “Thieves” sets the Phil Spector-y tone, with a dash of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” thrown in.

It’s impossible to recapture that first hearing and discovery of Volume One. Zooey’s writing is not as strong on this sophomore effort, though her “Over It Over Again,” is one of the three best songs on the album. Only Zooey Deschanel can sing “Why do I always want to sock it to you hard?” and get away with it without sounding dopey. The other two highlights are, “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” and “Ridin’ In My Car,” both written by outsiders. The latter showcases M. Ward as a vocal equal. On most songs he is decidedly lower case. That tune also has a very nice quasi- “Dear Prudence” riff. The only drag is the final cut, “If You Can’t Sleep,” a creepy sounding lullaby with background droning that made me think of the hum surrounding the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

On my initial go-round, I found the songs not as immediately catchy and memorable as the first batch that appeared in ’08. I don’t believe that any more. It’s a great album, nearly the equal of Volume One. There’s a line in “Me and You” that grabbed me. “You’ve got to be kind to yourself.” Words to live by and something I seriously need to hear once in a while.

Go buy both She & Him CDs. It’s one way you can treat yourself well.

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on She and Him, Volume Two

Roy Grillo


A face is just a mask


A face is just a mask, a covering to protect the soul.  The mask is a disguise to hide what one is by appearing as something else.  Inherently we are all the same inside and out.  Regardless of race, creed or color of our skin, we are all human beings.
I consider myself to be a human being and a student of the human condition. I am a barometer that measures the relative pressure of society.  As a result, I am an Artist.
My purpose is to be an observer of life, to better understand myself and my place in the world, to touch others and allow myself to be touched by them and to create deep spiritual connections to myself and those around me.
I investigate these themes through mask-like portraiture, stylized landscapes, woodblock and monoprints.
My work explores a desire to communicate effectively. Most often with great frustration I fail. Sometimes I have moments of soul to soul connection. 

— Roy Grillo 




The eyes, from top to bottom: Roy Grillo, George Clooney, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins.

Other works…


I ask the question “Where are we going?”  My answer is “Home.” The Landscapes are the journey and the destination.

 Road Home III Oil pastel on paper 16″ x 20″ 

Road Home IV Oil pastel on paper 12″ x 20″ 

Road Home Oil pastel on paper 12″ x 20″ 

Untitled. Pastel on paper.  











“Why do we create art? What does the artist see that the viewer is unable or unwilling to see? The answer for me is to encourage people to exercise the courage to open their minds and not be afraid to feel and to reach out to your neighbor. Who am I? Where do I fit in? What is really going on? These thoughts are what drive’s my journey. I am not trying to master my craft as it pertains to mediums which are the reasons why my techniques are varied.  I am trying to master life and to be a master of my own destiny. Each medium has a life and a direction that it wants to go. I simply let it be. Depending on the subject, the ideas and feelings I want to convey. I have been influenced by Picasso and his business acumen. By Van Gogh and his struggle. I have studied the German expressionists and their mastery of so many genre. I have read Machiavelli and can relate it to our existence now. Mostly I am moved by my own thoughts, past, present and future and my relationship to those in the struggle to survive.”  

-Roy Grillo 


Roy Grillo’s website:
Grillo can be contacted at:  



April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Roy Grillo


 Biograph: The Southern Tier

Andrei Guruianu, Poetry

John Brunelli, Photography



Artist-Photographer John Brunelli and poet Andrei Guruianu recently teamed up to produce a book documenting with poems and photos the present state of being of the upstate New York area around Binghamton, known collectively as The Southern Tier. In a forward to their book, “How We Are Now,” Guruianu writes of engaging “in artistic dialogue that benefits both artists and audience,” in other words, a collaborative effort in which one and one make three.

Many of the depictions, in both word and image, characterize changes taking place not only in the aging rust belt cities of the northeast, but also in communities around the world. Here, the new has become old. but there is also the moment of silence or longing captured that in and of itself becomes monumental.



The Last Man Standing

 I am tired of living in a dying village
counting what hasn’t been lost yet
until I am withered and I fall asleep

 … tired of looking outside the window
at dust of the past and plow of the future
kicking up choking on even more dust.

 I am tired of always opening
my two swollen eyes in an empty white room
from which I am conspicuously absent.

 … tired of my inflated non-being
standing there taking up too much space
like a reflection in a hall of carnival mirrors.

 I am tired of distorting the truth
to satisfy an-already-come-to conclusion
writhing in the strangle hold of consequence

 … tired of sweeping the trail day and night
Eternity complicit in the crumbs I find
between the guilty pages of a red carnet.







Perfect Blue Houses

This could be the poster town of uncorruptable good.
The old scent of coffee chasing a distant memory.

 This could be the river screwed into a time and place,
the lights unharvested and steady covering the rust.

 This is silence housed in layers of paint and clapboard,
falling leaves that muscle in on the turf.

 This is the formula for hiding what is empty.
Nights of many matches burning down to your fingertips.



Where I Lay My Head… 

 When I say girl I am referring to an ideal. 
It crumbles like a weakness in the face of standards.
Impossibly perfect alignments— 

flesh and stars 
steel and patent leather 
hair the color of your own perspective

When I say girl I mean the roundness of blue,
the soft angle of shoulders. 
Two arcs of light folded over the edge of darkness. 

When I say girl I wish to seal a forgotten promise,
begin telling the story whose ending is yet to be written. 
Under a requisite black sky; everything veiled and out in the open.




“How We Are Now” was published by Split Oak Press, Vestal, New York, with financial assistance from the Chenango County Council on the Arts. Copies are available for $10.00 each from the press, and from Brunelli or Guruianu. See also, and

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Guruianu-Brunelli

Chip Willis

©2010 Chip Willis

Painting with Light

The art of motion in still photographs

Chip Willis

Chip is based in Columbus, Ohio. We first saw his work in an exhibition at Jungle Science Gallery in March. It was too good not to ask if he would mind sharing. Chip doesn’t say much about his work, or the way he approaches it, allowing the images and techniques to speak for themselves. With this in mind, visit his website at to see other work and to read his blog.

April 21, 2010   1 Comment

Jill Okpalugo-Nwajiaku

Run, Yesterday is a Ghost!


   Arinze said that Yesterday must be forgotten for it is a ghost appearing with dimness and melting with luminosity. That idea stood close to my heart until he called on the phone and said he was in Abuja, nestled against his clean bed-sheet on the ninth floor of a prestigious hotel, absorbing a pretentious view of Nigeria. Arinze was eating mangoes when he called. It showed in his lip-smacking and hurried way of talking, and flat eagerness as he requested one of Chimamanda’s books. It was our ritual in London; this reading of African literature before siesta; and after we rolled up the soft blanket like a mat, we’d read portions of delicious African books till sleep came and possessed us. Arinze’s theory is that siestas are ephemeral, like youth’s passing beauty, and must be spent in the coziest of ways. I was a composite part of that ritual — a thread interwoven in his cloth of ideas — because I sought an aroused mind that could pen the laughable trivialities of life, like how Mama’s jumbo fowl crowed whenever the clock struck five.

   I knelt on the carpeted bedroom floor like an infant listening to stories of naughty Mbe or the tortoise, and flipped through my pile of books. I picked memories not worth remembering and dropped them when they grew hot in my hands. I ran a palm over Purple Hibiscus, wiped its dusty cover on the floor, and prayed the storyline wouldn’t be easily misread by a man in love with a woman. But I was nothing like this in London. I never wiped dust on the crimson carpets my Hoover walked over till they shone like new grassland. I tucked the book into my handbag wondering if we would ever get to read it. It stuck in the bag’s throat like fishbone and slipped in after I hit it on the mahogany desk.

   I scratched my legs prickling from insect bites, unsure if the moistness on my palms was due to the humid weather or fear. My little isolated cosmos was shattered by piercing thunder as the rain sprayed on sizzling hot shingles. Just to keep thinking, I fantasized Arinze’s reaction if he ever discovered my chance meeting with Nnamdi eight years ago. I was a sweet sixteen learning to ride a bicycle in the solitary parts of Zone 6 when we met. Fresh out of cleaning the charcoaled blackboards of the secondary school, I was returning from the bank where I had gone to buy a university matriculation exam form when he spotted me and carried me in his sleek car that smelt of talcum powder. After he slid down the car windows mirroring my reflection, I slipped in because I read in Mama’s beauty magazine — the one with a bare-skinned fashion model on top of the bookshelf — that exposed skin suffers when it sunned. So I entered the car out of concern for my skin and not to listen to his advanced sweet-talk.

   I recall caressing the leather seats just to be sure they were genuine leather and not personas in my daydream. I remember reliving my favorite fantasy in which I rode my bicycle down the neatly tarred roads knocking down the shocked passersby. Other reveries were a bit more colorful but not as expressive as that one and yet, I couldn’t ride my bicycle in the afternoons because too many cars sped along the tarred roads. And the February sun, I imagined, was hot enough to bring a potful of clean water to a boil in a matter of minutes. We exchanged cool pleasantries, pulled into Herbert Macaulay way and joined the long queue of cars on the tarred road. The dialogue began as a drizzle then progressed to heavy rain. I don’t recall who said what, but I remember rolling my eyes when Nnamdi said that he was a thirty-year-old banker in search of a homemaker.

   Nnamdi’s amorous glances melted like butter on hot bread after I said that I was questing after encyclopedism and not romanticism; and he managed to look serious when he warned that the university is an intense institution that will give you knowledge you may never need. Freshly mowed grass perfumed the air as we drove past the manicured gardens. Their scent was deeply delightful, like the perfume of newly opened pomade. On stopping at the traffic lights, his dimpled cheeks collapsed into a smile when I said that his skin is the color of the coffee Mama made on Saturdays before she added milk to it.

   “I don’t see the university as negatively as you do,’ I argued with lukewarm pomposity. ‘You sentence it as if it was a filthy criminal, yet it has produced the best minds of our time.”

   Nnamdi’s face crumpled into a melancholic smile when he said that I had a romantic view of the campus that will change when I discover it simply nurtured my craze and suppressed my practicality.  He laughed at my confusion, then at himself for confusing me. One way or another, his laughter merged with the air and made the masquerade trees chuckle with bent heads. Nnamdi’s tie laughed too, pausing on his chest occasionally to catch its breath. But after he said that females believed he was such a good catch, I smoothened out my short skirt and arrogantly pointed at the green signpost leading to my destination.

   Nnamdi rushed out of the car and raced after me like a sprinter amusing the idle bystanders with his fake theatrics. I didn’t turn when the bus wheels screeched, when the sound of his split bones whooshed up pity from the mouths of passersby and splashed it into my ears.

   “You didn’t even turn,” Arinze said without looking as I opened the door and handed him Purple Hibiscus. I couldn’t imagine how he unearthed me so quickly. “Ojugo, can I ever forget that my brother Nnamdi was reduced to a limbless man in a wheelchair, and you didn’t even turn?”

   ‘I didn’t know that craze could also mean a type of fashion,’ I said walking away, glad that he didn’t call me back.

About the author

Jill Okpalugo-Nwajiaku writes whenever she can. She studied pharmacy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband. Okpalugo-Nwajaku is interested in African creative writing that focuses on female gender issues. She has been published in online literary magazines, including Snap! All Things Girls, Identity Theory, Poetry and Writing, Word Catalyst, St. Something, Splash of Red and Glint.  She is working on an MFA in creative writing, and her first novel.



Herm Card, Poetry, Rebecca Benedict, Illustration. From the Syracuse Poster Project, 2010.




April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Jill Okpalugo-Nwajiaku

Casual Observer

Fear of Just About Everything


By Mark Levy 

I don’t always look up interesting topics on the Internet. Honest! Sometimes a web site finds me. For example, the other day I was minding my own business when a web site called came to my attention. To be truthful, I may have provoked the event by googling “fear of running out of topics for Ragazine.” In any event, I now have a list of about 600 phobias in alphabetical order. I’d like to share some of the more obscure phobias with you and leave the mundane ones for another day. No need to talk about fear of floods, fear of wet dreams, or fear of vomiting on an airplane right now.

Did you know some people have a fear of frogs? That’s called betrachophobia. You can have a fear of being tickled by a feather, in which case you’re pteronophobic. I suppose you might have a fear of being tickled by a frog, in which case you’d have betracho-pteronophobia, which is easy for me to say when I’m not being tickled.

Looks like many people have fears of other people. For example, you might have a fear of young girls parthenophobia), a fear of teenagers (ephebilphobia), or a fear of old people (gerontophobia). So you can move easily from one fear to another as your relatives outgrow your fear of them.

For every occupation, there seems to be a fearful word. If you don’t like your dentist, you may have dentophobia. See how easy this can be? And if you must walk to your doctor’s office across a side of town that beggars and hobos inhabit, I hope you haven’t developed hobophobia. I once had a dentist with breath bad enough to be a hobo’s breath, but lucky for me, I didn’t have hobodentophobia.

Scared of foreigners? In general, that’s xenophobia, although there are separate words for fear of the French, the English, the Chinese, the Greeks and, of course, the Germans. You might know these words if you attended more parties. That wouldn’t be easy if you’re an enochlophobe, fearing crowds or mobs.

There’s always a silver lining: If you avoid crowds, you won’t be visiting the circus, so your coulrophobia, fear of clowns, won’t act up.

I think a number of people fear childbirth, but I wasn’t aware there are actually four words to identify that phobia: maleusiophobia, tocophobia, parturiphobia, and lockiophobia. Those are run-of-the-mill childbirth phobias. But if you’re unusually concerned about delivering a deformed baby, you’ve graduated to teratophobia.

One of my favorites is the word that means an irrational fear of chopsticks. It’s consecotaleophobia, which seems harder to say than to use the darn things, but then again, I’m no psychiatrist.

If you suffer from enissophobia, you may decide not to be an essayist for Weekend Radio, because enissophobia is the fear of criticism —— not that Robert Conrad would ever criticize anyone.

Here’s another cutie: the fear of everything. It’s known as panophobia, which is not exactly what I’ve been developing myself —— a fear of phobias. Oh wait. There’s a name for that, too. It’s phobophobia.

You can find all these and more online, if you don’t have cyberphobia, a fear of computers, that is. The web site, again, is


New Orleans


New Orleans, Woven Photo, Copyright 2010, Valerie Brown

April 21, 2010   Comments Off on Casual Observer

Leslie Heywood — CNF Editor’s Notes

A Note from the CNF editor on March-April contributions:

     This edition of Ragazine features the work of poet and ecocritic J.D. Scraffenberger, whose piece “My Few Experiences of Mountains” reflects upon the different psychological states conjured by different geographies, and the way those geographies reflect our relationships and life patterns.  For Schraffenberger, a mountain is a vertiginous place that reminds us of our own precarious positionalities, the fragile surfaces of our lives that can turn and dash us down at any moment, a place of extremes that invokes the similar possibilities of our emotional makeups.  Getting older, now settling in with his own family, he finds the rolling plains of Iowa a better fit, where “we see things coming, we brace ourselves, we get ready. Iowa is a place untroubled by mountain wilds, where no one seems to panic and it’s easy to be in love, where the deep quiet at night is only matched by how calm and far away the horizon convenes with its sky.”

     In “The Wrong Season for Survival,” Mark Montgomery, a poet and creative non-fiction writer, similarly explores the emotional extremes of place with a tale of his survivalist father, who drags his children and friends into the California wilds on a he-man quest of self-reliance in the 1970s, inspired by Euell Gibbons and the later twentieth-century version of environmentalism.  In his story we see the limits of a quixotic quest for self-reliance, and an eerie foreshadowing of some of the struggles that await us if the dovetailing crises of climate catastrophe and peak oil manage to topple our twenty-first century technological prowess and send us all “into the wild” without a Walmart in sight.  Taken together, Schraffenberger and Montgomery provide a reflection on landscapes that terrify, inspire, and sustain us, leaving each to calculate and settle in to his or her own circadian and other kinds of rhythms with an ear always turned toward whatever blindsiding changes might come.



A Note from the CNF editor on January’s contributions:

A native of the Southwest, Jose Rodriguez’s “Burning Garbage” explores the theme of American consumerism from the outside—the perspective of a young child born in what in a material sense would be construed as poverty in Mexico, but whose migration to Texas brings a sense of deprivation of another sort.   The categorical arrangement of people according to status, with distinct valuation being assigned according to what one has or doesn’t have, is bewildering to Rodriguez’s amazing narrator, who nonetheless appreciates whatever small beauty comes his way.  Finding pleasure in a toy car wheel he plucks from a heap of burning garbage, lyrically reflecting on the existence of spaces like garages and furniture like sofas, the story provides a whole new perspective on what most of us take to be commonplace.

Reflecting on our situatedness  in relation to the natural world in a different way, James Guignard’s “What Would Rachel Carson Do?” takes place during a long bike ride in which the narrator imaginatively converses with Carson and David Gessner, author of Sick of Nature and Return of the Osprey.  Guignard uses his response to the nature around him and his imagined conversation with these two luminaries of environmentalism to try to figure out what his position as an English professor who teaches environmental literature might really mean and what its possibilities are.  The dialogue vividly articulates some of the current themes of and stereotypes about what it means to be an environmentalist and have a relationship to nature in the twenty-first century, presenting these ideas with rare humor and verve.  Taken together, Rodriguez’s and Guignard’s stories allow us to think about place, our location in the world and our responses to that world, in highly original ways.  Enjoy!

April 19, 2010   Comments Off on Leslie Heywood — CNF Editor’s Notes