Truisms

It’s not necessarily true that Italy has the best gelato and that every frame has to house a picture; however it is true that Italian men are conditioned by years of playing soccer to have broad shoulders and narrow waists, which can be said of Spanish men as well;

Footballs flying past outdoor tables can be pigeons, never parrots, as parrots are shy birds that take their camouflage seriously, and therefore, make the best ambassadors;

All great paintings depict two things: either faith or war while museum security guards are the most accomplished people watchers in the entire world;

It also could be said that there are no great paintings of security guards

or how the sun never sets on the Internet
in an airbnb without a window, coffee, or blankets.

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Keller Avenue Strip Mall

It’s a strip mall disguised as a plaza
where I used to take my cats to the veterinarian
on that one day when maintenance
inspected apartments and no pets allowed,
kept going back to the vet even after my place turned condo
we could keep dogs, cats, lizards, whatever else
we wanted. The pizza shop wasn’t very good and got bought
out by another pizza shop that wasn’t very good, but they
handed out packets of Parmesan and hot peppers
and made change for a twenty, if you really needed it,
something the Keller Market selling everything from beer to
sandwiches to Fruit of the Loom T-shirts
would never do, which the man behind the counter of the dry cleaning store
would do, especially if you were a regular customer,
and then an acupuncture office moved into a space
once occupied by an exercise studio, but that place went under.

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Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Sant Feliu de Guixols

Women made the fishing nets
valued throughout northern Catalunya
like the black lace
they specialized in knitting

fine and delicate.
Manuel Zalvide in charge of licenses
punished fisherman
if they were caught using any others

from this town on the Mediterranean
named after a preacher man
from northern Africa, Felix, who was
rescued by two angels from drowning.

Women performed their own miracles
worked in factories to manufacture
cork stoppers
for wine and oil but couldn’t stop

the town’s port from being bombed
repeatedly
during the Spanish Civil War
a gateway to the island of Mallorca.

Now tourists eat gelato
gather plates of tapas
late into the evening
swim at the playa

where the sea wall
looks like Jupiter’s child
had spilled her blocks on the way home
all the letters washed away in the tide.

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Desolation (after Josef Llimona’s statue at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)

I’m headed toward a terrible outcome.
How can I be sure? Ask anyone.

They’ll tell you. How my Italian marble
is too white and how I give in to myself

way too easily, slumped over my arm
without coordinates or any place to go.

A little understanding please
no finger-pointing or shaking heads

as though I’m guilty of some terrible crime
picking me apart

from your pillar of self-importance
snapping selfies with a dumb smile.

Stop trying to make me
into something I’m not.

I mean that woman drenched in purple.
Does her husband even have a dick?

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Playing Doctor

He strokes her hair
As she suckles his cock
A grown girl
At mama’s breast
Reaches inside
To taste
What he’s made of
For the sweet milk
Double-timing
In iambic
Pentameter
A hungry lick
Doesn’t let go
This lover man
Now her woman
Comes crying out
Loud his birth pang
A surprise ending
She drinks the rose
Thistle and hemlock
She gets it.

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The Amazonian

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Ballad of the Homeless Woman

She lived behind the cyclone fence a few blocks from the freeway going down to Silicon Valley, hers an intertidal zone with big box stores like Home Depot and a 24-Hour Fitness where cars skidded past platoons of day-workers in hoodies who waited for the call. Glad she didn’t have to stand there. Near her tent was a Shell Gas station that charged fifteen cents more than the High Street Gas & Food on the other side of the overpass selling burritos for $3.95. No car of her own. She walked or took the bus, knew how to turn a five-dollar bill into several meals at the Dollar Store on International Boulevard where she used a microwave near the bathroom to heat up containers of Top Ramen, got herself a free cup of coffee even though the manager said he was sick of her smelling up the place. She washed at the Mexican restaurant on the corner whenever Tatiana was behind the grill. Night-time, she heard the AmTrak on its way to Sacramento, looked over the fence to see cloudy faces. High in the sky, she watched airplanes take off from the Oakland Airport, but at this particular moment she came up short, a bulldozer as big as an elephant, remembered when her aunt brought her to the zoo after her mother had left; said she would send for them as soon as she found work. An elephant had reached into her hand to vacuum a peanut from her fingers. Inside the fence, the bulldozer knocked down everything; a man with a blank face told her to leave. She took off like an airplane on a run-way going home.

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UltraMicrotome Chekhov

I was arguing in the car with my husband about his best friend. His wife had cried to me over the phone. “Can you believe it? He said that making love to me is like caviar, but sometimes he wants herring.”

What a stupid fuck. Taking the side of a friend who’s been sleeping around is generally not a good idea, especially ill-advised if your wife is pregnant and getting an ultrasound. He laughed, “He complimented her. What’s wrong with tasting like caviar?”

I unbuttoned my jacket and rubbed my stomach. I’d already had two miscarriages. “That’s not the point, Wallace.” The doctor wanted to check on the baby’s development. “How can you laugh about what he’s doing? How d’you think you would feel if I were sleeping around?”

For the last fifteen minutes we’d been searching for a parking spot. I don’t remember why Wallace didn’t park in the hospital lot. Maybe we were running late. “That’s a joke! Not in your condition.” So annoying. He laughed again.

“As far as I’m concerned, she’s got more going for her in her little pinky finger than he does in his dick head.” Marta looked like a Russian Orthodox icon even if I couldn’t stand her unwavering devotion to designer brands. She also was a kick-ass accountant.

He spotted a parking spot across the street from the hospital and moved to grab it. “You’re wrong. That’s what Russian guys do. It’s a cultural thing.”

“You mean she should enjoy being treated like shit because it’s a cultural thing?”

“Things are never simple between couples. You never know what’s happening.” He was about to pull into the spot when a silver Lincoln cut in front. Wallace was pissed. He double-parked and got out of the car. He was an imposing man, over six feet. I saw him bend down to the driver’s window and then walk back quickly.

“What’s up?”

“He pulled out a gun.”

“You’re shitting me!” I turned around and gave the man the finger, grabbed a pen from the glove compartment and scribbled his license plate number on my palm. “I’m going to report him.”

Everything that day felt urgent. We found another spot and finally got to the hospital where the doctor rubbed warm gel on my abdomen and asked if I had drunk four glasses of water that morning; still shaking from the gun episode, a question to which I answered, “Yes.” I lay on a white sheet and watched the monitor over my right shoulder, a little fish attached to my umbilical cord, bumping up and down to the rhythm of my heart. Stumpy arms and legs. The doctor called them buds. Amazing how an embryo can breathe under water.

“Your baby looks healthy,” said the doctor. We’d already knew it was a girl. “No abnormality.” But I didn’t feel that way, wondering if I was wrong staying with Wallace even if I were pregnant, even though I knew I didn’t love him.

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Transcendentalists

Being that it was sandal weather and time for her feet to reveal themselves to prospective dating partners, Bernice wondered what color to paint her toenails. There were so many choices: reds and pinks were her favorites. Forget those navy blues and blacks those young girls liked; those dark colors were too dense to ride upon the insignificant weight of a nail. She thought a person should reserve black for funerals, that it was totally unsuitable to make appearances on a young girl’s hands, just like Vaneeta’s in her Sophomore English class, and certainly unsuitable for a white woman like herself in her forties.

During the school year, Bernice only wore clear. She didn’t want to distract her students from their discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson or Emily Dickinson. Transcendentalists like Bernice took their colors seriously. She knew about a great aunt in the family who had healed people through the laying on of color, an art that had been lost in the handing down. Even so, Bernice was a believer, had taken months to figure out the right swatches for her living room. After much deliberation, she had decided to paint her walls light browns and deep purples, but as for her nails; they were apple red.

Bernice congratulated herself on her sense of color coordination. Looking out on the patio, she felt like she was in the mountains, not in a town house facing a major highway with a dozen or so more units being built behind her. She’d even begun dating and was about to meet Jeffrey at the Starbucks close to the university in two hours. This was their first date. They had been corresponding for months. Neither of them had seen photos. She didn’t want her ex to know she was going out, even though he’d never know, let alone care.

She swung her bag over her shoulder and drove to the coffee shop, five minutes early, fiddled in her car listening to music. She wondered what she was going to say, but remembered how easy it’d been exchanging messages with him about almost everything. Jeffrey played the piano and worked at the local radio station. He said he’d be wearing a Diamondbacks cap. Bernice told him to be on the look-out for her nails.

She walked into the store and saw a man sitting to her right near the windows; recognized the cap. He was African-American, the color of warm coffee.

She almost knocked over the napkin dispenser with her purse, hated herself for it. “Hi, I’m Bernice.” She felt people looking at them.

“Jeffrey,” and he pulled out her chair. She sat. “What can I get you?” He smiled, but looked puzzled, caught her eye like a fish he was going to throw back in the water.

“Small coffee,” she said. “Cream and sugar.” Nothing else. A large coffee would be out of the question.

“Be right back.” But before he left, he looked down at her hands and said, “Nice nails.”

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Eddie Palmieri in the Bronx

First-timers expect to see Arthur Murray standing in a striped bow-tie, but all they see is me in my 501s and a black turtleneck, and a lot shorter than Mr. Murray, which is why I started to teach dance in the first place. I didn’t have much going for me except a strong center of balance.

salsa dancers

Baile!


I washed dishes, waited on tables, made calls for some loser trying to sell his jalopies to the rent-a-car business, while I dreamed about taking classes at the Hunts Point Palace, weekends danced to the music of Eddie Palmieri, who hooked up his truck around Third Avenue and Southern Boulevard and let the salsa roll before anyone knew it was salsa. At that moment, it was just a bunch of musicians who stood on the back of a flatbed, speakers wired to the railings with cords that looked like they’d been borrowed from someone’s brother-in-law that morning, sweat beading off their foreheads, people dancing around in a cloud of cigarette smoke; hips, feet, and arms, causing such a ruckus, you could see the truck bouncing up and down in the soft black summer tar of the street. A Red Sea of people opened up as I danced toward the truck, leaping over garbage cans and police barricades in time to the music.

Eddie invited me onto the flatbed where I danced under the lampposts past midnight—mother-in-laws with son-in-laws, husbands with wives, and everyone else not caring who stood opposite them as long as they were looking good and moving to the beat, and may my mother forgive me, forget about Christmas; it was a miracle that night. Everything had funneled into sound and came out laughing. Later, Eddie gave me a quote to print on my business card surrounded by red hot peppers.

The dance business didn’t pick up and I kept working dive jobs, but I had this cousin who kept his eyes trained on everyone’s business. “Alberto,” he said to me one afternoon. “You ain’t looking too good, brother. Don’t see your two feet dancing.”

My feet were too busy at La Isla Cuchifrito where crowds piled in every night for take-out. I’d moved up from waiter to being the host where I handed out menus and passed orders back to the kitchen.

“There’s a storefront,” he said to me, looking around to make sure that no one could overhear his big tip.

Claro.” They’re all boarded up.”

No, your oportunidad,” he said. My cousin was taller than I and had accidentally sprayed my hair with saliva. “You can rent the place. Build your own studio.”

Turned out that my cousin owned the storefront. I paid rent during the first two years until I could buy him out, installed hardwood over the vinyl flooring of what had been an old shoe store; once I tore down the shelving, the back room became the place for lessons, rented out the front for parties, anniversaries, birthdays, even a small wedding where the bride was expecting.

Over the years, those parties built my business.

These days people come to Alberto’s Dance Studio because they’ve heard about Eddie Palmieri and his boys smoking their hot stuff here on the dance floor before leaving for their first national tour. The studio is like a Bronx landmark.

All those high and stacked heels, oxfords, flats from McCann’s, and super-clean white sneakers.

They come to learn how to dance, but while they’re holding on tight to each other, they find something else.

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Drug Money Down Payment

by Sinthop Katawanij

A drug dealer gave us the down payment for our house. I was in the first trimester of pregnancy and we were renting a space that could’ve been listed as a closet, one staircase above a pizza parlor. Everything was expensive and we had no money. My husband thought of asking the only rich guy he knew, someone he’d grown up with in the post World War II track homes of Redwood City.

Marvin’s dad was MIA or at least he never showed his face. His mom hailed from a family of lace-curtain Irish, had spent most of her life signing in and out of mental institutions, but nevertheless, between visits found enough time to school her son.

She taught him things that only women know: ingratiating himself to people without groveling–handing out birthday cards to the town’s elite as a way of distinguishing himself from the riff-raff and doing whatever else it took to cultivate favor, a rule he used in reaching out to my husband, who played the lead in every high school drama production, but was dimly viewed by the administration for his refusal to pledge allegiance during the Vietnam War, which brought him to Marvin’s attention.

“Man, you get all the girls.” I’d heard this story many times before.

“Guilty as accused,” my future husband said. He’d already been impressed by Marvin’s clothing and white Camaro that he parked outside the school. My darling inquired, “Hear you work at the golf course? Guys standing around and hitting cow turds all day.” Marvin was making hay while the sun shined on his millionaire project, cultivating friendships with men who could afford the price of membership.

“Every weekend. Say, d’you know Mrs. Romano from drama?” Sneaky, like he didn’t know.

Mrs. Romano, the music teacher, had originally moved to Redwood City from the East Coast after a long and successful piano concert career and had connections with local officials. Her husband played golf at the club. My husband took voice lessons with her. Shortly afterward, Marvin began mowing her lawn and was offered a small scholarship to college.

For a kid with Marvin’s home-based education, dealing drugs was a natural.

He started out with the usual stuff, building a clientele at the edge of football fields: uppers, downers, red pills, blue pills, pills from his mother’s cabinet, no one too sure what they did, except they all had an equal opportunity to find out. A contact from the golf club recognized Marvin’s promise and tipped him off to bigger things: LSD, heroin, coke, and by the time I was introduced to his Lordship of the Peninsula, he asked me where I bought my underwear. Just to be a smart ass, I told him Walmart, but fortunately he didn’t hold that against me, particularly after my husband asked for the big favor. I saw a leather suitcase filled with bills. It was crazy, but I didn’t say no.

Sometimes he called our house at two in the morning.

My lovey guy asked, “What’s up man?” Marvin was convinced the mob was after him. “Crazy. Bug off. Get some sleep.” He became an insomniac and kept calling. As the years rolled along, Marvin’s mother died from an overdose and he had a brain aneurysm.

When we divorced, my husband told me that he owned the house.

“How do you figure?” I’d been paying all the bills for years, including child care.

“Marvin gave me the down payment. You had nothing to do with it.”

I handed him the leather suitcase that had originally contained Marvin’s drug money. “Fuck you,” I said.

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