Zumba Class

zumba dancersThe gym houses ten rows of ellipticals that stretch back from the water fountain to a carpet of fake green turf. It’s where people self-sort in front of monitors broadcasting three types of shows: CNN for the news junkies, ESPN for the sports fans, and one of those maniac cooking shows where guests laugh nonstop from one commercial to the next. The monitors stretch across the floor.

I’m coming from zumba class. Jan stands near the sanitizer and pulls out a few towels from the dispenser. She scans the floor. Could be looking for anyone—a girlfriend, trainer, maybe trying to decide which monitor to stand in front of—but I think she’s looking for me.

Jan and I began zumba at the same time, jostling to get a  spot not too close to the front of the mirror, but not too far in the back either.  The instructor was a big woman who wore her hair piled on top of her head with a flower climbing up the side. We were always afraid that the whole thing would come toppling down. She hardly spoke, mostly just waved her hand left or right and expected everyone to follow.  Even if the instructor did say a word, the music was too loud for anyone to hear. So getting a good spot was important, especially if you wanted to keep up with the class.

One day we showed up wearing  identical black and white-patterned leggings and red sports bras, which was the first time we talked.

“We could be twins,” Jan said, except I was older and thirty pounds heavier, which is why I had signed up for zumba in the first place. High blood pressure. Cholesterol. She’s this little thing, a ponytail pulled so tight, I think her eyes are going to pop out of her head. Secretly, I thought if this girl sweats too much, she might disappear altogether.

“Twins,” I said, looking once again at our matching outfits. “Easier to be one than to raise two of your own.” I should know.

She started to tell me a story about her aunt who’d raised three sets of twins before the instructor put on her music. I wasn’t sure I believed a word. She said I was her best friend. Every week before class she had another fantastic story like the one about a guy from work who’d sailed in a balloon to Mexico because he was writing a book about hot-air balloon vacations, or some other relative with two tiny uteruses squeezed right next to each other who was going to sell her story to People magazine. Sometimes she’d come in with a bruise on her face covered with make-up. I didn’t feel right asking her about it, especially before class.

“Is that the aunt who had three sets of twins?” I figured with all those kids, she probably needed money. Old Woman in a Shoe.

“What twins?”

It wasn’t worth it. I was having a hard enough time keeping up with my health. The doctor said that he’d heard a heart murmur, a sound repeating itself. I stopped standing next to her. She stopped coming. But when she’s out there on the floor, I get a queasy feeling she’s looking for me and I keep wondering what it is I need to tell her.

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My Toyota Corolla

2011 Toyota Corolla
There have to be at least ten other white Corollas lined up in the mall parking lot. Doesn’t matter. Something in my body responds to the curve of its fins, even though fins on cars are about watching Saturday Night Fever. My eyes move over its rear-end, its round curves end in a license plate. Fit like a gym workout. My car and I are imprinted on each other. I am her duckling who sails over the water in the morning and comes back in the evening; I cross a bridge twice a day and return to her, can find my car without making its parking lights flash. In the distance, I recognize a square sticker on the window shield and a string of bottle caps that hang on a thin wire over the dashboard, a souvenir from another time; she senses my foot on the gas, how close to the wheel I sit, what it takes to start over. My car’s name is Johnetta. She holds my memories inside her trunk. Johnetta says we are going for a ride. I feel safe until he crawls out from the trunk, plops next to me and grins.

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An Extra Hand

Felix stared at a tree before the next kid invasion. The tree must’ve been planted when they first built the community center, past being a sapling and now growing branches. Pick up kids from school and bring them back to the community center five days a week. Easier than being a home aide and emptying bedpans. Better than delivering pizza to unmarked storefronts. Driving was regular. Pick up bus. Pick up kids. He had a Class C driver’s license. Nothing to it.

They pulled his beard and called him Santa’s Mess. Stepped on his boots and yanked his leather laces. One kid even tried to tie them together. Felix escorted him to a seat nearest the door. Make sure you get out of here first before I get angry. The girls were worse. He could see them in the rear view mirror point to the back of his neck where there was a tiny hand. It slipped outside his collar wriggling its fingers, outside the black turtlenecks he wore in every weather as a kind of concealment. They called him the Alien from Another Planet.

For a time, he used masking tape to straitjacket the hand, graduated from that to electrician’s tape hoping to immobilize its squirms. But it always wanted to be a part of the action, part of the conversation like his other two regular hands. The big boys, he called them, and the little girl. He had to sympathize. The little girl needed exercise. He couldn’t pretend she didn’t exist. How could he kill a part of himself? Felix felt the tape fall down the rabbit hole of his back that gave the kids even more reason to tease him. He lectured the hand at night. Please can’t you stay still just while the kids are in the bus? I need this job. The hand didn’t cooperate.

The kids became bolder. They threw things. It wasn’t safe, plus the janitorial staff started to complain since it took longer to clean his bus. Felix was afraid he’d lose his job. He knew he had to do something, which is when he faced the kids in the parked bus. His head almost touched the ceiling. His hands hung past the seat cushions. I’m gonna show you something you’ve never seen before. He turned around. It became quiet. The kids put down their backpacks and cellphones. They held their juice boxes unsteady in their laps.

Felix rolled down his collar. The little hand stretched out. Reached further up his neck and scratched the top of his head. Then it put a finger inside one of his ears and drilled around for a quick moment; then did the other. The hand took a bow and fanned its fingers, inviting applause. The kids laughed. They fought amongst themselves to be the first one to shake Felix’s extra hand.

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From the Lower Depths: for Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange

A living room in the street
beneath the freeway
where a dog barks 24/7
tied to a clothes line
a sawhorse corralled
near a barbecue pit
pallets and bedspreads

rescued from last year’s
construction site
a chair missing one arm
but still good enough
to relax
on a summer’s evening
and listen to the sound
of commuter traffic.

He said he used to be
a Shakespearean actor
tall with broad shoulders
salt and pepper hair
people in the audience
used to call him
now he’s missing
most of his front teeth
couldn’t understand
everything he said
about a stage
how he wanted to build it
beneath the overpass.

Dorothea Lange showing
at the Oakland Museum
Dust Bowl photos
how engineers dammed
Lake Berryessa.

If she were alive today
I bet she’d open her wallet
show him pictures of her kids,
explain where she grew up,
went to school,
what she did for a living
then quietly ask
if she could take pictures
of him in his living room
Just sit in that chair,
she’d say, it’ll do fine…

she might even ask him to recite
a scene from Hamlet, or better yet,
get the actor to introduce her
to his friends
let us see
what it is we won’t.

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Pecanland Mall: Monroe, Louisiana

God’s Infidels we drive to Pecanland
on Sunday morning
everyone else is in church
it’s the new blockbuster
Star Trek into Darkness purchase tickets

wait inside a 450-seat food court
eerie as a Klingon vessel.
Only one other group
sit in brown plastic chairs
a couple and their two sons

crew-cuts anointed
with turquoise and orange-spikes
a long time ago this used to be
a pecan orchard converted into
936,000 feet of 100 specialty shops

wait in front of the
Gourmet Chinese Express and Yummy
Japan Take-out an alien
arcade shoot-em-ups
no points redeemed oh darn

the movie clock ticks
inside one of 10 cinemas finally
Kirk and Spock take a wild ride
through a spacey continuum
orbit out

as the turquoise and orange kids
hold on tight to their Gameboys
listen to the prime directive walk
across the archway with parents
back to their convertible.

Pecanland Mall: Monroe, Louisiana

Pecanland Mall: Monroe, Louisiana


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The Art and Heartache of Losing a Cat

CatMy cat went missing. The same day I lost my car keys. These things happen in pairs. Which is why I’m anxious. On the bus I check my backpack a dozen times to make sure my money is in the same zippered pocket, or I enter an address into my GPS twice just in case I don’t catch how the app slyly inserted the wrong city when I wasn’t looking. It’s enough that I’m doing everything I can to stay ahead of the curve, eat right, exercise, take vitamins. Other things have gone missing, but that’s on me. After all, what good was my holding on to a memorial program for the city’s first Asian councilman, or a certificate naming me as one of the first to ride beneath the San Francisco Bay, even though both would be worth bunches today on Craigslist or eBay? I threw out the documents a while ago, had no appreciation for my being a witness to local history, one of the reasons why hindsight can be a pain in the ass, which is the same reason why my friend has saved everything since she was eight years old and rents a storage unit hoping she’ll never have to be sorry for tossing a scrap of paper that turns out to be the find-of-the-year on the Antiques Roadshow—part of her personal history, her scrapbook. I understand the urge. My friend is an only child who doesn’t have siblings to recall her stories. Instead, she has boxes filled with paper. Don’t get me wrong. I also have collections. There’s my bookmarks, for example, ones from all over the country bearing slogans, sketches, and quotes from famous authors, and some with my own scribbles about page 9 or 56. Then there are the unofficial bookmarks: receipts from the post office, someone’s business card, a card reminding me to subscribe to a magazine for a special discount. Along the way, I collect things like refrigerator magnets, each with its own story. But none of this can tell me where my cat is, my favorite cat in the whole world with a face that is all about pure love and adventure and the joy of being a cat. Where is he? When is he coming home?

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even the crazy ones sleep

She stood in the aisle dancing, her hands undulated in rivulets. Earbuds in, pencil thin jeans. Later when a bunch of people exited she sat down next to me and admired my rings. Said she always had trouble getting rings. “I never liked my hands. I think they’re ugly.” She had graceful small hands like a Balinese dancer’s. “It’s because my knuckles are so large. It’s hard getting a ring over my knuckles.” When she exited, she accidentally spilled tea from her open backpack onto a woman near the door.

She stood in the middle of the subway car, ear bud wires tangled around her waist. Her hands undulated above my head. I couldn’t tell if she was high or listening to music. Maybe too much organic food. Didn’t matter. It’s what I do in the morning on my way to work. “What are you listening to?” People don’t talk much on the subway. Even the crazy ones. They sleep.

The young woman of lanky, long hair had a story up her sleeve. A large honeybee sat on the sepal of her hand with outstretched wings. Like a mosaic. A wolf hunted at the bottom of a mountain, a dark silhouette of a moon cast shadows on her shoulder. There was a house and a door. I couldn’t see where it ended.

She pointed to my ring, the lapis lazuli and silver one that I’d got on vacation. Extended her hand, her hand with a story running up her sleeve. I now saw how it began with a green stone wrapped in gold filigree. “My grandmother’s ring,” she said. “It’s the only one I ever wear.” By this time, the train had pulled into her stop. The doors opened, then shut. She looked back at me and waved her ringed hand. I watched the doors bow open.

When she exited, she accidentally spilled tea from her open backpack onto a woman near the door.

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No Orange for Julius

black busI always told him no one would ride in a black bus. Wouldn’t listen. Threw away his money to redo the fleet. Told him the bus came off like a hearse or some prison transport. Julius blamed the sun. Said he’d tinted the windows amber because people wanted to sleep between transfer points, cities where the railroad line dropped people off and where he picked them up. Places that were off the beaten track, someone running away from a deadbeat husband or on the way to rehab. None of that changed how the bus almost looked like a shiny beetle without wings. It was a free service. Julius was being paid by the county. Making peanuts. He kept telling me COB. I thought he had a disease, but he said, no, you idiot. It’s the cost of doing business. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I said, I’m telling you the truth, but he never listened, not until some guy bought a fleet of school buses from GreenValley District. The guy painted them bright orange and started to compete with my brother. That’s when Julius got another idea. He was going to design T-shirts so they looked like sweat was dripping beneath the armpits. I told him that was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard of. He said, no, you’ll see. People don’t want to work hard; they only want it to look like they do. Long story short. Julius sold the buses and made a fortune. Everyone thought the shirts were funny. The money lasted for a while. He never knew I had his back.

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Sept. 18, Berkeley (Poetry Express)
Oct. 14, Alameda (Frank Bette Center)
Nov. 12, SF, (Jewish Community Library)

Eunoia Review is an online literary journal committed to sharing the fruits of ‘beautiful thinking’. Each day, we publish two new pieces of writing for your reading pleasure. We believe that Eunoia Review can and should be a home for all sorts of writing, and we welcome submissions from writers of all ages and backgrounds.

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Discovering Hungarian in Budapest

Chain Link Bridge, Budapest

Chain Link Bridge, Budapest

1. At West End Mall
Up Radnoti Miklos utca, street named after the Hungarian Jewish poet
who died in labor camps months before liberation
in a city that volunteered Jews to Nazi death
ancestral home to parents who squeezed their way
past two World Wars to meet in New York City’s immigrant hot-house.

I am looking to answer a question I have carried in a stone sack
within me for  years, ransack a pastry shop and allow
poppy seeds, sugar, and lemon peel to fill my mouth, and like a moth
drawn to the lightest of things move toward West End Mall’s three floors
of stores sit next to a statuesque ice-cream cone adorned with a red cherry
finish pastries and watch men and women belong to each other as I

try to break the code of this strange language
whispered in my infant ears.

2. Near the Chain Link Bridge
I wear a badge of pure white,
a strand that expanded to a tell-tale swatch,
my grandmother Lenke’s mark on me,
not the yellow star pinned to a sleeve.

She did not have to wear that, entered Ellis Island
pregnant with my Aunt Clara, bastard child
who revealed the secret on her death bed,
how Lenke was stranded alone

banned to the United States
to give birth to a baby, her sister’s bindle
tucked inside a sewing machine.
Lenke’s parents saved three lives, but not their own.

They say by the time she reached 30
her hair gleamed as white as enamel,
and when she baked, she set out her cakes 
with cloth and napkins.

I looked for her, my namesake,
my missing chain link
suspended over the Danube
running down my spine

and when the pot-bellied waiter
came to my side and winked twice,
my mouth opened up in Hungarian,
and he knew what I wanted.

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July Fourth Meditation on Love

It was July Fourth and early enough that most people were still sleeping in their beds unless they’d decided to get up to stake out a spot at a local picnic ground for their family’s festivities, spreading out the blanket or assembling the portable barbecue. It was quiet. Even the cats that usually jump into my bed were nowhere to be seen and I didn’t go looking  because that would’ve meant I’d have to fill their bowls and change their water, which I wasn’t ready to do, still drinking my coffee with its sweet taste of Half & Half and watching hummingbirds buzz the feeder on my patio. Tonight my daughter was leaving for Latin America. My condo would once again revert to single occupancy, not that I was broke up about it; we’d already said our good-byes following a European trip that brought us to Spain, Italy, and Hungary, spending if there is such a thing,  too much quality time together. A few weeks back I realized that she reminded myself of someone I knew, and that someone was myself as a young person: obstinate and opinionated. But there was something else about this July Fourth: something about a confession that bubbled to the surface. Maybe it wasn’t a confession, more like a question that I needed to answer, clear the way for a new energy path or some such woo-woo that I was willing to allow in a world that needed help from wherever it came. I’d already responded to an online astrologer who’d predicted that I was embarking upon a “transit period” where many miraculous things were about to happen. I had walked seven miles a day with my daughter to righteously earn the role of tourist. Several days ago I scrubbed my couch cushions clean and allowed them to dry on the patio, full-sun. In Europe, people hung their clothes out on the line, the way my mother did back in the days growing up in the Bronx, pinning each shirt and moving the line forward with a screech of the pulley’s rusted wheels. I wanted to return to a more primordial, essential time. And what was that question? It had to do with love.

For the past several years I’d been online dating. I can chart that time through certain phases, like Picasso’s “Blue Period” or Joan Miró’s “surrealism,” except mine had more to do with data collection, not art. I met each date in a café, restaurant, or bowling alley; my initial impressions gathered from a “profile,” the online calling card offered to anyone who cared to look. I provided a fair summary of my likes and dislikes and what I was seeking, and pressed Send. What followed were several responses. But you see, I was healing a broken heart, and during those first several years, I was seeking a replacement—his replacement and I sought out a certain kind of man, and each time I met with someone, sized him up hoping in my fretful way, that he would “be the one.” He never was. How  fair was I being to all those lovely men? Hopefully, I’ve changed. I have moved on in life and still continue to date. But I am puzzled. What is love and how will I ever be able to recognize it? I thought I had. Is it just about “chemistry” that sine qua non that we can’t spell out until we feel the heat?  Should I be looking for fireworks?

My daughter calls from her room. She needs help packing.

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