“Mr. Percodan” by David H. Katz

Light is the anomie of poetry
Mr. Percodan, please let me be you
breed from me your steely fingers
crystals of a blighted blue

When the pale dead sight of day is gone
your pale dead voice lingers on
stretched softly through a pillowcase
of sweat, eggshell and yawning dregs

Lace squeezed through most suitable hands
dull is the mist at masquerade ball
the metal detector grunts and scrapes,
as I bolt through the lens of your shiny floor

Now the lifeless branch droops
fantasizes megaskin
between the stumps, between the root
life betrays its sleepy self
the quaint bouquet meant for someone else

Saturated, I break my fall
this toxic lock so faint, so kind
triage for two on sunburnt sand
Mr. Perco D, I bow to your call



David H. Katz is an artist, photographer and writer based in New York City. His writings on art, politics, entertainment, and conditions humane and inhumane have appeared in High Times, TANK, The Village Voice, Jewish Quarterly, The Villager, The East Village Eye, and elsewhere. He lives in Chinatown, under the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge.

“The MacMurray Method” by Juleigh Howard-Hobson

First thing I do is check the television. They said it had cable.
Yep, punching the remote from the dark orange quilt on the
queen size bed, it’s got cable. Fred MacMurray stares out at me
from TVLand for a split black and white second before I click it off
again.  I don’t need to watch.  I just like knowing Fred and his
family are still there.

This time, it’s the Desert Moon Motel with its strange
unwrinkleable quilt; the air crisp – the way motel rooms always
get once the air conditioner starts. Hell, it’s still like 90 degrees
Fahrenheit at least outside, but in here, in here it’s just fine.

Like the All-American TV dream come true.

Then, right before I know what I’m doing—dozing, thinking,
whatever—it all comes back to mind. Summertime. 1976. I was 13.
There was no cable yet, but that was okay—the re-runs were still
on from 3 to 6 every day after school. All day, on some channels,
during the summer vacation…

Hot afternoons soaked in warm stale sticky cheap empty cans of
beer come floating back through my mind. The stump of wood I
crushed them on, crushed them with an eroded sledgehammer
that used to be my grandfather’s. The stump stunk like a bad old
drunk.  My hands stunk. And my t-shirt, where quarter-full cans
sprayed up lukewarm—sometimes hot—dregs, stunk. The big
black garbage bag I dragged out from the hot garage, full of
empty Lucky Lager or Black Label cans, stunk.

The cans on the bottom were sweaty with the stuff that dribbled
out of the cans on top. Those were my grandmother’s cans. My
father drained his dry. Every son of a bitch’s got one decent thing
to be said for them, right? My father drained his dry.

The blasting heat of those California July days worked like some
sort of unholy incubator: the cans emerged wet and warm, like
little alive things. Little alive belching dripping slimy hot things that
came back day after summer day to be crushed.

Hit straight down on top was the best way to crush them.  Struck
on the side still meant the edges had to smashed in –that took
three swings as opposed to one, but the sledge hammer –it stunk
of hot beer, too—was heavy and there was less of  a chance of
missing that way. When I was done with the bag, I could go in and
watch TV.

I got exactly nothing for doing that, I remember. That was my
keep. My duty. My work. Everybody had to pull their own weight—
even if they never asked to be there. Even if my father kept
saying ‘shut up’ with a backhand when I asked what weight he
pulled. Kept saying ‘mind your own business, you don’t know the
first thing about jack, why … don’t … you …just … shut … the …
hell … up’. That was his keep.

My father had more important things than weight to pull.  He was
an artist, which meant that he was special, even if only him and
my grandmother knew it. He could draw tattoo flash of both the
Jimmies: Page and Hendrix, and the Hank Williams Jr. logo too.
Freehand. So special.

That is, that’s what he did when he did anything. Like all great
artists he could only work when he was inspired—to expect him to
get a real job (not mailing art to tattoo magazines and hanging
with some guy who airbrushed pictures of Jesus on lowriders, but
a real job like the real dads did on the shows) would be an insult.
And to insult him was to insult my Grandmother.  Because
Grandma believed in him.  Loved him.

I figured if she loved him, she would have wanted the best for him.
Maybe even for his kid. Yeah, right.

She called me a stool pigeon when I told her about my father
smoking pot all the time.  I was 13, I figured she’d make him stop,
make him better, make him like the other dads I knew, the way
dads were supposed to be.  The dads on TV.

I saw them every day.  Dads were like Mr. Brady. Sheriff Taylor.
Mr. Douglas. Even a dad like plain old Ed Johnson who wasn’t on
TV but who rented a light blue-sided ranchette across the street
from Grandma. She said that the whole Johnson family was just
plain white trash because they didn’t own that house. But I
watched Mr. Johnson go to work every morning.  His kids wore
real Levi’s and got driven to school in a clean tan Malibu station
wagon, with bumper stickers.  They had a color TV too.

But, after I told her, she didn’t make my dad stop smoking pot;
she just stopped liking me, instead. Put her television set in her
bedroom, where I wasn’t allowed to go.

I’ve got to stop laying here, on this cold bed, and try and get
some rest now.  Because I have to stop thinking now and turn on
that TV — any channel – find Fred MacMurray,  and my
Marlboros, and what’s left in my coffee cup or I’ll never make it to
that meeting in the morning.  And I have to make it.

I have to keep making it. That’s what I do.  I make it.

Like they do on TV.



Juleigh Howard-Hobson‘s writings have appeared in various journals, including Flipside Magazine and the anthology Undertow.


“Someone May Answer” by Arlene Zide

You may knock at all their doors-
the president,  your senator,
the landlord
Even your own dead mother’s
they may not answer
Won’t answer

they say in Aleppo
in the folded caves of Afghanistan,  beneath
the black crow coverings of Tehran
If you knock at God’s
door,  at some holy gate without St. Peter standing guard
will answer
God or devil
Golden angel or light-bearer

The Catholics offer up their suffering to it
Jews sorrow before its ragged broken stones
Hindus hold grudges about it
make an art of not caring
about it

God or devil
Golden angel or light-bearer
Those who play at human lilas of pain
at tsunamis of corpses littering the beach like seashells
Indifferent clockmakers
Or sexless forces of light
may answer



Arlene  Zide is a poet, linguist and translator whose poetry has appeared widely in numerous journals both in the US and India, including Rattapallax, Meridians, Rhino, Xanadu, Women’s Review of Books, and, Primavera.


“All Quiet in Western Kabul” by Judith Koffler


It’s an ordinary summer night in western Kabul. Or so it seems to me on this ten-day “Reality Tour” of Afghanistan.

The brilliant adolescent moon pours out light above the ruined habitations, bombed out
mosques, and twisted wreckage that testify to 24 years of war here. The stars pulse against a cloudless sky swept clean by the night breezes. The mountains seem to hug the horizon on all sides, and there seems to be a settled tranquility in the neighborhood as if it were deep in the countryside. Perhaps it is the lack of electricity.

Abdul Amid, a tall twenty-something Afghan with gentle eyes, a moustache, and a shock of
thick black hair, sits on the back patio of the guest house cradling his AK-47 rifle.  He scans the perimeter of the six-foot high wall with its four rows of barbed wire. At the far corner of the dusty back yard is the neighbor’s latrine, where the grandmother, the three sons, daughter, and three grandchildren traipse as Nature dictates. Midway between the patio and the latrine is the water pump, which the cook had been priming earlier this evening. To the far right sits the ancient truck engine they use as a generator. Tonight it had been loudly running and pumping fumes into the yard.

Abdul Amid’s eyes light on the scruffy circle of green spinach that the cook has been
irrigating. There’s a black and white rabbit hiding somewhere around the house; he comes early in the morning to nibble on the leaves. Abdul Amid is hoping to catch him for dinner and has put stones at the rabbit hole at the side of the house.  Food is very expensive these days.

He sighs. We don’t know what he is dreaming; he is too young to have experienced Kabul
before the war, before this spectacle of frozen bombardment stared back at him from the
adjoining houses.  Next door there is rubble, an empty kidney-shaped swimming pool filled
with broken bricks and rocks, a small cave with a unexploded rocket that the neighborhood
kids play with. Beyond the back fence the roof of another dwelling collapses over the second story, where children climb and play during the day. All these tumble-down houses, ruins with corrugated tin thrown up for roofs, have occupants, families with gaggles of small children, chickens running about, and occasionally a dog.   At some more pacific time, decades ago, they may have been dwellings of happy families, professionals and business people.

In the quiet, Abdul Amid’s eyes are drawn beyond the barbed wire and neighborhood rubble to the surrounding mountains and, briefly, to the stars.

He wears a dark blue vest with the words “Security” embroidered on the pocket and a sheriff’s badge imported from the U.S.  His job is to protect the guests, a group of six Americans on a ten-day “reality tour” of Afghanistan.  He wonders what they are talking about.  They seem to laugh all the time.  One of them, Ben Tupper, a former National Guardsman, comes outside and talks animatedly in a tongue that is foreign to Abdul Amid, but he can understand a few words and Ben is good with sign language.  An hour later, they are disassembling the AK-47 and cleaning its parts together by the light of the moon.  The other guests, like me, are inside reviewing the events of the day, a visit to the mine museum, where rockets have been turned into flower pots, and to the Red Cross prosthesis unit, where one-legged children and a few old shepherds, victims of landmines, were waiting to be fitted with artificial limbs.

Inside the spacious, three-bedroom house, Wahid Omar has just turned off the generator,
climbed the stairs and gone to bed.  He is a tall, pensive man in his forties, a professor of
French literature at the University of Colorado.  His wife and children are back home in the
States, but that home is an exile’s home. Wahid is here for the summer to teach French at
Kabul University, oversee the guest house, lead the group tours for the visitors, and work on his many projects as educational director for Afghans for Tomorrow. They have built several schools already in Kabul and in outlying provinces. Hundreds of children – including girls – are being educated again, some teachers have good jobs, and more Afghan professionals have been attracted to return to the country or to share their professional skills in the task of reconstruction.

Many things trouble Wahid tonight. He has explained to the group that the war is not over.
The real war continues:  armies of lawless warlords, poppies, poverty, ignorance. The money for reconstruction and security has been diverted to Iraq for no good reason.  Meanwhile, the Taliban and armed vigilantes regroup and terrorize citizens in their efforts to register to vote. Mujahedin have shot and threatened Afghans carrying registration cards.  UN aid workers have been killed by car bombs, two Swiss tourists have been killed in Kabul, eleven Chinese highway workers were shot in their sleep, foreign doctors have been killed, and the U. S. Embassy has just sent emails warning that kidnappings and car bombs threaten the security of foreigners. Even Chicken Street, the usual shopping district for foreigners, is not safe.

Earlier in the day, a young Afghan woman had been speaking to Wahid over tea at the dining room table. She is setting up a radio station in a southern province, despite death threats from the Taliban.  Two days ago, someone fired a rocket at her car.  It caused minor damage but did not deter her.

At dinner, Wahid again instructed the guests to keep the drapes drawn upstairs and down.
Taxed with the responsibility for their safety, he strictly confines us to the house whenever we are not out touring in the minivan. Another guest and I, eager for exercise and for adventure, have been chafing at the confinement. We have begun to wear down Wahid’s patience with a proposal to put on burqas and explore the neighborhood.  But tomorrow Wahid and his driver, Daoud, will take our group out of Kabul into the Shamali Plain, where the land is green with vineyards, there are gardens and flowering trees, and another school built by Afghans for Tomorrow.

On the way, we will pay a visit to a newly rebuilt mosque. After our planes bombed the original mosque, an American church group and a mosque in New York raised the money to construct a new mosque and minaret. Chloe Breyer, asleep in the next room, has shepherded this project. She’s an ordained Episcopalian minister, a feisty, attractive young New Yorker who knows how to grapple with the big-bellied contractor, who will doubtless demand more money when they meet up tomorrow.

As Wahid falls asleep in the darkness, /images of the Kabul of his recollection – a  thriving,
modern metropolis of 700,000, where women dressed in Western fashion and the people
were prosperous and well-educated, where he learned to love Zola, Hugo, and Sartre at the Francophone school – may visit him and give relief to the reality he confronts by day:  a dusty, choking, treeless city where three and a half million post-war Afghans crowd together in the search for work, water, and safety.

Across the street on this quiet night is a tiny booth painted pink and blue, shut up tight.   It
faces Wahid’s house. By day it is the equivalent of a 24/7 convenience store, with its dust-
covered cans of soda, crackers, candy bars, small paper containers of mango juice. From before daybreak until the stars come out, the proprietor sits patiently inside, like an omniscient ticket taker, and watches the neighborhood as if it were a theatre. Perhaps he had also watched the theatre of war years ago, before he fled for safety to Iran.

He is the actor Khoja Mohammed Najeer, a white-bearded, swarthy Afghan with noble wrinkles and a far-away expression. He played the role of the old man in the film, Osama, and earned $40 for his performance. Now he nurses a severely blackened and swollen right foot, injured from another movie set when he had to keep it in freezing water for a long period of time. But Khoja Mohammed is sleeping now, dreaming perhaps of the money that should have come to him from his performance in Osama. And of the fame that is due him. Tomorrow he will risebefore 4 AM, heed the first muezzin call, and open his little booth for business. He keeps a watch out for Wahid and worries about him if Wahid does not come home at his usual time.

All through western Kabul, the streets are dark, the houses illumined only by candles or with the help of generators, which are expensive to run. This part of the city is also home to Kabul University, one of the places to go for relief from the merciless blaze of the Afghan sun. On this night the moonlight falls over the university’s quiet lawns, trees sweep their leaves in the wind and the ardent songbirds are now asleep. In the afternoon, students had lazed here after class, the young women in their headscarves sitting together in a grove of filtered light among the trees and reviewing the lessons of their literature class.  Some had practiced their English on the American visitors and eagerly got their photos taken. Some had pulled back with a shadow of resentment in their eyes. Many wonder about their future.

Over a year ago, there was a student uprising here about living conditions and not enough
food; two students were shot to death by Karzai’s police. Rumors are that Taliban adherents among faculty and students have shaved off their beards but have not discarded their ideology. Professors, if they have been paid at all, earn about $50 a month; sometimes their wives put on burqas and go begging in the streets. Often the professors sell used clothing which they drape over railings to display in the busier parts of town.  What resentments brew here are hard to calculate.

Among students, there are many questions. Why is the US backing a corrupt government that capitulates to the warlords? Why hasn’t the US followed the Bonn agreement and disarmed the warlords? What happened to the promises to rebuild the city and its destroyed infrastructure, to resupply electricity to the rest of Kabul?   Why have 65,000 people been killed since 2001? Why did the US give $5 million to the Taliban in the first place? Who gave bin Laden his power and money? Why are the Americans promoting a culture of impunity with torture and sexual abuse in the prisons?  Where are the promised security forces? Why does the American army fire on civilians and bomb wedding parties? Do American people know that what Bush is doing is not good for the people of America?

These are the questions that plague some Afghan minds by day and that disturb their sleep at night, even as the stars twinkle indifferently overhead. They have not been questions that seem to disturb the sleep of Americans, even if the Taliban and al Qaeda were once the terror of our daily consciousness. If indifference is a celestial attribute, perhaps it is understandable that we mimic it. What can be said, on this velvety night in late June, 2004, is that all is quiet on western Kabul’s front – for the time being.



Judith Koffler is a mediator, editor and academic consultant in Santa Monica, California. She can be reached by email at Judithkoffler@yahoo.com.


“Cosmos” by John A. Ward

My back yard was a river fed by a spring in the sky. My boots filled with water. I opened
the big wooden gate to let it out, but it was flowing too fast and hard. I grabbed a spade
from the garage and ditched alongside the house to keep the water from the door. Digging
was easy because the soggy earth spooned up like pudding. Standing in the torrent was
hard. The side door was boarded up with half-inch plywood to stop burglars, but it was helpless against the prying fingers of water. Most of the boxes were stacked on boards over two-by-fours to keep them off the floor, but not all. Some got wet. I salvaged what I could, but I lost a lot of books that day.

The flood was a surprise because my house was on top of a hill. I bought one on high ground, because I had seen the Souris River crest in North Dakota, filled sandbags at the dikes, watched carp swim down Oak Street, and witnessed manhole covers blown into the air by back pressure. I knew that water flowed downhill. I had never expected it to run calf-deep along the ridge.All along the hillside, the storm massed its forces and funneled into the concrete culvert inside the Interstate loop. It rushed across the road, burst through the front windows of the brick apartments and crashed out the back walls. It shattered the plate glass of the corner Stop-and-Go and carried shelves of bread and magazines into treetops a mile downstream. It gripped the house of Ji-won Lee, my laboratory assistant, in a four foot fist of muddy bilge so fast, that had he been there, he would have had to swim out. Fortunately, he and Miju were visiting his sister in San Francisco.

He returned a week later to a neighborhood of water-lined houses cordoned off by the
police, with Red Cross volunteers lined up in trucks handing out cleaning supplies. I loaned
him my tools and showed him how to chalk-line, cut, hang, tape and float sheet rock. I
went over with Ken and we cut the lawn and cleaned the yard. He had no flood insurance
because the seller had insisted it wasn’t necessary, in spite of a notice in the finance papers that said if he didn’t buy it the lien holder would do it at his expense. He gave up for a while, trying to get the city to buy his house like others in the neighborhood, but they never did. He took a month of leave and worked on drying and repairing it to the point that his family could move back in.

I came in to work one morning and he had been there. Alongside the fax machine was a Cosmo, one of those long stem daisy flowers with purple petals and a sun yellow center, the colors of Easter and resurrection. He left a note, “When god made flowers, she first made cosmos, so simple and so beautiful. This flower bloomed under the flood.”  I made a copy to keep, to remind me that if we are enlightened and our deity is a nurturing being, we can find beauty even among destruction.

When he returned the tools, he gave me two cardboard canisters of Korean tea. One was
unpolished rice and green tea. The other was Solomon’s seal, brewed from a root. It has
the taste of the earth. It is quiet and unassuming. I am drinking it as I write. On that visit,
I asked him if he wrote much poetry.

“No,” he said, “none at all. Why?”

I said, “That poem you wrote about cosmos.”

“Was that a poem?” he asked.

We talked about poetry. Miju told me about Kim Sowol and Azaleas. After they left, I found
that and some others on a web site.

He once told me that the West and the East are very different in the way they deal with
adversity. If an American is not happy with his life, he is driven to acquire more. An Asian
learns to be satisfied with less.


John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early 60’s, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine for $10, and became a biomedical scientist.  He is now in San Antonio running, writing, and living with his dance partner.


“The Enemy’s Scent” by Barbara Zimmermann

Four hours after starting, Avril stuffed the last of the small cardboard boxes with tubes
of shaving gel, disposable razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Three layers of toiletries, including sanitary wipes and foot powder. Some day soon, her own brother would be stationed in Iraq, brushing his teeth then shaving with cold water in a canteen cup, swiping his left hand over his cheeks occasionally to check for wayward bristles. She imagined him lifting his chin, sliding the single-edged blade up his thick neck braided with bulging veins.  A perfect target for the crosshairs of a sniper’s scope.

“Avril, you get the last of the boxes filled?” Father Tom stuck his head around the corner of the door to the gym, his eyes sweeping over the parcels headed for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He meant well, she suspected, but he had a subtle way of seducing you into doing more than you’d expected. Two hours, tops, he’d said, and now it was almost noon.

“Just finishing this one,” she said, closing the lid and sealing the flaps with strapping tape.

“Some of the other parishioners will be here soon to load them in the truck.” Father Tom’s narrow fingers pressed against the tape of the box she’d just finished. Soon he’d be telling her they’d better skedaddle if they wanted to make it on time to the send-off picnic for Brian, same as he’d warn her to do when she used to ask to wait for Brian after he’d served as altar boy at mass. “Brian’s going to help me tidy up in back,” he’d say while her brother studied his tennis shoes before adding, “I’ll be home soon.”

She slid the finished parcel near the others on the table and grabbed her purse.

She still found it difficult to accept that Brian had enlisted a week after graduating from high
school, surprising the family.  And the Marines, no less.  Yes, he’d been one of the top
runners on the Evans High School track team, but he was also a bit of a nerd, scribbling
poetry into spiral-bound notebooks, including one poem he’d finally shared with her: “In
the valley’s shadow/ the buck lies on a soft mat of grass / mist from the lake shrouding
him. / He lifts his head, / eyes wistful and wary/ inhaling the enemy’s scent, /sweet and
pungent with longing.”  She’d asked him what it meant and he simply shook his head,
saying, “Someday you’ll understand.”

She’d dabbled in poetry a few times herself but gave up. Brian urged her to keep at it, but her attempts read more like Hallmark greetings. Besides, all she could hope for now from her brother was an e-mail now and then, maybe a call home to say he was fine when the commanding officer gave his okay.“You riding with me to the picnic, Father?”

“Yep, and so is Tony, if you don’t mind.”

The janitor who worked double duty for Saint Lawrence Church and the high school
hobbled into the gym and nodded at Avril.  She glanced away, her face flushed.  Tony
had always given her the creeps with his gelled flattop and a toothpick wedged between
his lower two front teeth.  He smelled of cheap cologne and peppermint.

“Father,” Tony stammered, “ I told Jimmy Sayre you wouldn’t be needing him any more

“I need to speak with him about serving tomorrow.” Father Tom made his way to the
door, frowning and muttering under his breath.

“I’ll be in my car,” Avril said, heading toward the door just as Tony maneuvered his way
between her and the threshold.

“Your brother’s gonna make it home, don’t you worry none,” he managed to blurt out,
his milky brown eyes focused on hers.

She shook her head and pushed past him, shuddering.  She’d once asked Father Tom
why he’d hired Tony and he’d told her, “He’s like a kid, harmless.”

Sure, harmless as a viper, Avril thought now as she made her way out of the front door
of the high school.  A moment later, Tony plopped into the back seat and Father Tom
slid into the passenger’s side. Avril made it a point to avoid Tony’s eyes studying hers
through the rear view mirror as she drove.

Twenty minutes later, they finally made it to the picnic. When it came time to give gifts,
Avril handed Brian a pocket-sized notepad.  “For your poetry when you’re in the field,”
she said, forcing a smile.

“Maybe. Send me some of your own, okay?” He stuffed the journal into a sack filled with
card games, chewing gum, and magazines, then hugged her.  “Everything will be just
fine,” he said.

She nodded, the familiar words of encouragement he’d told her over the years not
nearly as comforting in this moment.


Avril drew a beer from the keg, bored.  Music blasted from the portable stereo and
Father Tom had cornered Brian by the corner of the shelter.  Avril watched as Brian
nodded, then lowered his head when the priest put one hand on Brian’s shoulder and
guided him towards the baseball diamond.  No chance she’d get to hang out with her
brother for a while.  She sipped her beer and glanced around at the crowd: family, close
friends, and parishioners who’d known Brian since elementary school.

“Wanna dance?”  Tony stood beside her, sipping from a plastic cup that she was certain
was filled with whiskey and a splash of Coke.

“Uh, no.  I’m waiting for Brian.”

Tony laughed, his toothpick bobbing up and down.  Avril wished he’d choke on it.  He
set his drink on the picnic table and grabbed Avril’s drink from her hand and placed it
next to his on the railing.  He took her hand and led her to the open area where a few
older couples were dancing to rock-’n-roll.  She pulled back but Tony tightened his grip
and dragged her forward.

He was surprisingly graceful on his feet considering his usual awkward gait. She tried
her best to follow him, his right hand pressed into the small of her back as he swung
her under one arm and twirled her. He grinned at her chest, his eyes brimming with
tears.  When the dance ended, he mumbled, “Write to your brother, he’ll need that.”

“Okay, okay.”

He grasped her hand and squeezed hard before letting go.

She turned and bumped into Brian.  “Having fun?”

She grabbed her brother’s arm and pulled him to the side.  “He’s a weirdo. It
wasn’t my idea for him to come.”

Father Tom had drifted to the far corner of the shelter. “I’m glad he did. He’s the main
reason I enlisted,” Brian said as his eyes and Avril’s followed Tony shuffling up the trail
to the main path leading to entrance of the park, his body leaning to the left as if a
slight breeze would topple him to the ground at any moment.


That night, in her dream, Tony carries Brian to the rear, mortar and machine gun tracer
rounds lighting the night sky.  He is crouched low, Brian slung over one shoulder, his
boots dragging through the sand when Tony ducks incoming rounds.

“Hang in there, buddy,” Tony manages to grunt around the toothpick in his mouth.  He
wobbles under Brian’s weight.  Only a few hundred feet to go.  A grenade bounces in
front of them.  He shoves Brian up higher on his shoulder, swoops down with his free
hand and grabs the grenade, lobs it in the direction from which it came.

A moment later, detonation.  Sand and metal fragments rain down on them.

“See, you missed the big one,” Tony stutters, shifting Brian’s weight for balance.
“Those flesh wounds in your thigh, man, you’ll get over those.” He lays Brian on the
desert floor beside the armored tank and calls out for a medic.

“I’ll never forget you helping me and my two friends years ago. Now I owe you big time,
twice,” Brian whispers into Tony’s ear when he leans over to pat him on the shoulder.

“Like I told you then, keep the faith no matter what.”  He grabs his rifle and heads back
toward the fire zone.


The next morning, Avril waited for Father Tom after mass, the scent of incense still
clinging to his vestment. After she had described her dream, Father Tom shook his
head and stared down at his clasped hands. “You’re probably just worried about Brian
and remembered Tony was a hero in Vietnam.”

“Him?  I didn’t know.”  She couldn’t imagine Tony as anything but a janitor, boozing on
the sly and dusting the altar with one eye trained on the crucifix.

“He earned a Purple Heart, has a steel plate in his head from shrapnel that took a chunk
of his brain when it exited his skull. That’s why he stumbles over words and walks with
a limp.”  Father Tom glanced over his shoulder and nodded at Jimmy Sayre who stood
on the church steps still wearing his white robe.  He turned and went back into the
church. “When he ended up back here six years ago after living on the streets, I gave
him a job when no one else would.”

“Do you think maybe there is something to the dream?”

Father Tom’s lips pressed into a fine line, his usual signal to end a conversation.  “A
dream is just a dream, that’s all,” he muttered before scurrying up the steps of the
church, his head bent down and shoulders curved into a hump.


Tonight she is ten in her dream. Brian, two years older, waits beside the back door of
the car.  They’re running late and Brian is serving at mass today.  Her mom and dad yell
at her to hurry up.

At church a short time later, Brian offers the white linen cloth for Father Tom to dry his
hands before blessing the wine and wafers.   Father Tom isn’t ready; he washes his
hands again and again, while Brian shifts his weight from one foot to the other, his face
flushed red, his eyes burrowing into the floor of the altar.

Finally, the priest turns to Brian, accepts the towel and dries his hands, slowly sliding
the cloth between each finger, across the palms, and the backs of each hand.  He folds
the cloth, lengthwise, repeats, and then over and under until it is the size of a
communion wafer. He places it on his tongue and swallows.

Brian floats to the ceiling, waving down at them but only Avril is aware that he has
joined the cherubs high in the rafters, flattening himself into the ochre paint and
merging with the trio of pink smiling faces.


Her parents moved to one side when it was Avril’s turn to say goodbye to Brian before
he passed through security at the airport.  Last night’s dream continued to gnaw at
her. She wrapped one arm around Brian’s shoulders and stood on tiptoes to kiss his
cheek.   “Brian, did Tony talk you into enlisting?”

He hugged her tight.  “Not really, but he used to tell me stories about the Marines and
stuff.  This was my idea, Sis.”

She watched until he’d rounded the corner to Concourse A, and then headed toward
the window where she would wait until his plane took off.  As she pressed her hands
against the pane and peered in the direction of the jet’s postage-stamp-sized windows,
she remembered a line from a poem she’d read in school: “I have slipped the surly
bounds of earth and touched the face of God.”

She prayed that her brother would experience a similar blessing during his flight, and
that he would return safe and whole from the battle others had chosen for him. While
he was gone, she would wrangle with words, /images colliding until she worked into the
poem what-might-have-been and what-should-have-been, her heart finally
acknowledging what the mind could not fathom.


Barbara Zimmermann teaches undergraduate- and graduate level fiction writing
classes and directs the yearly Creative Writing in the Community project at Ball
State University. Her fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction have appeared or are
forthcoming in New Millennium Writings, Kaleidoscope, Pleiades, Rockhurst
Review, The Flying Island and other literary journals. Her nonfiction book,
forthcoming from McFarland & Company, is titled James Lee Burke and the Soul
of Dave Robicheaux: A Critical Study of the Crime Series.

“The Siege” by C. R. Resetarits

One who journeying
Along a way he knows not, having crossed
A place of drear extent, before him sees
A river rushing swiftly toward the deep,
And all its tossing current white with foam,
And stops and turns, and measures back his way.

–Homer, Iliad


Ten years past the Great War, Hubert, alone on the deck of a steamer, was en route
to another season’s excavation at Ur. The moon overhead was new, buttery and
round, rimmed in blue. Its light poured pure and bright through the dark sky, fell
iridescent but weak into the black Mediterranean Sea.

For Hubert there was everywhere the sound of satin moving, in the sea rolling
underneath, in the muffled turn of the ship’s engines, in the shy, sleepy “night, night”
of his young bride waiting for him below.

He couldn’t quite believe he’d taken her on. His marriage was as much of an arranged
affair as could be deemed decent in modern times.  It had seemed a reasonable
solution. Marriage was a prerequisite to so many things, especially among their kind.
Still, he couldn’t quite fathom it. Thoughts of his marriage made him anxious and
agitated. He knew she felt he had changed. Perhaps he had.  My work, he would
answer when she asked if anything were wrong. His work this year was pivotal.
Absolutely. Well, she’d need to learn to be patient.  Besides, such things usually
worked themselves out, didn’t they?

His marriage certainly couldn’t change the past, and it was the past that concerned
Hubert at the moment. He had this season’s exorcism to perform. His duty to the
dead. His attempt to keep the past in it’s proper place. He would stay on deck until his
mind was scourged and tired, until his war memories were, once again, overcome.
Coleridge’s mariner had that albatross trailing him at sea. Hubert had the war. His
marriage couldn’t change that.

How odd that Hubert should be haunted by memories of the siege of Kut only at sea.
One would expect that the desert or Baghdad or the confines of the burial chambers
at the Tel-sha-Annim dig would be more evocative, but he never thought much about
the war or its terror once in Mesopotamia. One of many there. He was one of many, as
was the siege, the war itself. The Great War indeed. How many great wars had been
fought in Mesopotamia? Civilizations and alphabets, monsters and myths, gods and
god-kings had been battling and dying in the region since the beginning of man.
Perhaps it was the enormity of this perspective at the dig that kept him free of his own
war memories.  Or perhaps, he reasoned, he remembered at sea because he felt
safest, freest afloat at sea. It was at sea that he first admitted any recollection. During
the siege, the surrender, and later as he fell ill in Baghdad, he had not allowed himself
to register the events–not until the hospital ship he was put aboard reached the
Arabian Sea did he begin to remember.

Bound for Bombay, for healing, memory, fear. As sick and stunned as he was in Kut
and later in Baghdad, he was never afraid. Anxious, yes, always anxious and agitated,
easily startled, yet increasingly outgoing, chatty, expending too much time
masterminding word games or pranks to play with his fellow officers–anything other
than wait–which was quite out of character for him. He was rarely so sociable. But,
he’d refused to experience the sort of terror that he’d seen on the faces of so many
of his men, refused to allow these men a glimpse of their own doom reflecting in his
face.  Men braver and more attuned to reality than he, no doubt, but they were
looking for fortification not empathy. No, not at Kut nor later in Baghdad.

In Baghdad he’d seen the damned, the already dead, walking on the other side of the
Tigris. They were walking away from him, up river, and he was headed down. When he
was among the sick and wounded chosen for exchange with the Turks, he allowed
himself a bit of fear. Only a bit though. No, it wasn’t until the medic aboard the
hospital ship anchored at Basra brought him rum and milk that he finally opened up.
Besides, it was all a dream anyway, like an old Arabian tale.  How could he have seen
what he’d seen and yet live to drink rum and milk floating the while on the dazzling
blues of the Arabian Sea?  How could he be floating now, headed back to the desert

He always had the same set of memories. His life-long friend, Paul, the older brother of
his child-bride, shot down in a barrage of heavy shelling on Christmas Eve, his head
and chest torn apart.  The next day the Turks dug in, stopped shelling, and the siege
began in earnest.  At the time Hubert had thought Paul’s death the ugliest, saddest
point of his life, but later, floating on the milk and rummy Arabian Sea, he saw it all so
differently.  Paul’s death had been instant, a grace-filled blow. The rest of the set were
not so sweet. There was the grounding and capture of the Julnar in its suicide run at
the Turkish blockade. Those of the Kut garrison that could came out of their holes and
hovels to witness the attempt. They watched the shelling force the ship aground,
watched two soldiers dive into the Tigris and be swept clear, watched the rest of the
crew summarily shot.  Show over, the garrison returned to their stations. Three times
as many died that night of disease as the night before: food had been depleted for
some time, now hope was too.  The siege continued.

Hope returned, briefly, at the end of April when Townshend surrendered. Ironically, the
floods, which had accompanied the siege and prevented any push up the river, fell
away as soon as the British capitulated. The morning of the formal surrender the sun
was merciless, but strong gusts of wind would occasionally clear away the swarms of
flies that had settled in with the siege and the stench of death. The living sought
higher, wind-spun vantage points from which to witness another scene on the river:
Townshend sailing upstream to meet Khalil. Cease fire. Both camps out of their holes:
standing on roofs, roosting in the palm groves, or just strolling the open riverbank,
watching the other side. Fear had sailed upriver with Townshend. Fear, death, the
damned, they all headed in the same direction.

The entire garrison–save the eleven hundred sick and wounded that went down river
in the first prisoner exchange–marched from Kut to Shumran, nine miles upstream.
Once there the officers were segregated from the rank and file and packed into a
paddle-steamer for the journey to Baghdad. The Turks approved of hierarchies, so the
officers sailed and the average soldier–poorly shod, siege-starved, no water, blinding

Hubert watched, again with the Tigris as proscenium, from the relative comfort of the
steamer’s groaning deck, within the silent, stunned circle of officers as the columns of
men, their men, were driven up the opposite bank by Kurds on horseback, by whip
and cudgel.  Those who dropped out of line were beaten motionless with rifle butts by
the passing rearguard and left to be robbed of their kit and clothing by marauding
soldiers or civilians, and to die.

Hubert fell ill in Baghdad. Hundreds of soldiers did, from cholera or dysentery or
enteritis: pale green skin, their mouths rigid, hostel for flies, eyes sightless, bodies in
convulsion. Twenty-two officers and 323 soldiers lived long enough to be shipped
down to Basra in a second exchange. The unlucky remainder, nearly twelve thousand
soldiers and non-combatants passed into captivity, sent by rail in open cattle cars to
Samarrah and from there began their 500-mile march to Ras al’Ain, another cattle-car
train over the Amanus mountains, and finally internment as prison laborers on the
Baghdad railway under the supervision of the Germans. Less than a quarter returned.

Hubert returned. Time and again, he returned, to the sea and its perpetual memory,
to the baked and blasted sand of the dig, to uncovering the ruins of man.

A light blinked off the port bow. Gone. Back again. A great shape was emerging out of
the sea: velvet to the satin. The Greek Isles or some long-sleeping sea goddess
restless and waking. It was, though, the image of his sleeping wife that kept rising out
of the inky depths.

Perhaps, he thought to himself, he should go below and wake her.  Wrap her tightly in
his mac and bring her up on deck. Introduce her to the wonders of Mediterranean
nights.  Reenter the ancient world with his arms wrapped tightly around her next-to-
nothing form, her compact gravity, the density of her looks of hope and care.  He
wanted to move but couldn’t, or perhaps he didn’t want anything of the sort but was
still frightened of somehow giving himself away.

And then all around him shadows began to rise and fall as the steamer moved among
the isles. He watched this landscape, remembered, mirrored it in his breathing, the
pulse of his blood, of his thoughts.  He’d been here too many times performing his
duties to the dead, keeping the living at bay.

He had tried to fortify himself against her with talk of duty, to cloak his siegecraft in
barbed-wire rings of benevolence, but he was, in this at least, anything but benevolent
and she everything but duty. She was a Trojan horse. She was Townshend sailing up
the Tigris. She was a siren at sea, an angel’s grace. She was a mug of rum and milk
out on the Arabian Sea.  She was there now, rising out of the black waters, a
shimmer, a threat, beckoning to break him down, to sabotage his quiet captivity.



C. R. Resetarits‘ latest poetry is forthcoming this spring in Parameter; fiction in Main Street Rag; essays on Emily Dickinson in Kenyon Review (winter) and on Milton in Fabula (spring).  She lives in a small village outside Winchester, England.


“After the Volcano” by Gail Folkins

We fly by Mt. St. Helens and watch the mountain spit smoke plumes. It’s murmuring again, repeating warnings from twenty years before. Spirit Lake, buried in the 1980 eruption, belongs to the dead, according to Native American legend. The mountain might not be finished reclaiming sacred ground. From a commercial jet, not too close, I strain to glimpse its ragged and powerful edges. I remember the time before, engrossed in my own life as a teenager, when I grew up here. Back then, I’d doubted the volcano.

A postcard mountain, Mt. St. Helens looked too serene to be a volcano.  It curved upward like a replica of Mt. Fuji, perfect in its inverted, ice-cream cone shape. About 100 miles south of our home, apart from neighboring peaks, the mountain stood alone in white calm. Volcanoes were the stuff of exotic places, like Hawaii and Pompeii. Natural disasters didn’t happen in Washington State. No tornadoes, no loud thunderstorms, floods a rarity despite all the moisture. The only emergency drill we had in school was for earthquakes, hiding under our desks yet sure nothing would happen.

The murmurs from Mt. St. Helens, which began on March 20, had that same vagueness.

It was a familiar oddity, nothing to get excited about. Geologists gave updates on these rumblings so often that they became ordinary, like rain reports.  It was something for adults to care about, like income taxes and the weather. While the mountain stirred, my teenage attention focused on horses. Their gentle power and sweet hay breath drew me from the structure of classes, the rules of home. When school let out during late spring afternoons, I borrowed the car and drove to May Valley Stable about two miles from my house. I  cleaned stalls and helped with the evening feed, earning rides on the bay thoroughbred  Oliver Twist or the scary-smart appaloosa named Moose. I galloped alone on nearby Cougar Mountain, staying on the trails to avoid coal mines and the mountain man said to live there.

Harry Truman, the man with a presidential name and an imposing outlook to match, didn’t let mountain rumblings bother him. The 83-year-old managed a lodge on Mt. St. Helens, his home for the past 50 years. Having outlived his third wife, he remained at Spirit Lake with 16 cats for company and a pink ’57 Cadillac for fun. His past included hunting, flying planes, and bootlegging booze from Canada. In Truman’s backyard, Mt. St. Helens shook with small tremors.  Like a fresh bruise, the pressure from within bulged against the  mountain’s northern face.

Truman attracted attention not for his life on the mountain, but because of his refusal to leave it. While I plotted my getaways from home, Truman fought to stay. He became a mountain mascot to both local and national media. Rather than becoming annoyed with the attention, Truman gave frequent interviews about why he chose to stay on his mountain despite geologists’ warnings. As the legend of Truman grew, it became more difficult for him to leave both home and proud words behind. The myth and man entangled in the lakeside setting. Truman was not alone in his desire to stay on the mountain. Other property owners who also wanted to stay grew restless with the geologists’ warnings, particularly given the quiet that spilled over Mt. St. Helens in early May. A few of them pointed out that in Hawaii, you could drive right up to the lava flows.

From the news reports I watched over dinner, I decided that Truman and his cats would be all right. Just like our weather reporters who tried in vain to find sunny days, the geologists  too would be wrong. Some of them predicted a large, sudden blast. Others favored a gentle eruption, something you could tour. No one thought it was a good idea for Truman to remain so close to the mountain summit, but he refused to form an escape plan. Although the point of science was to know things, none of the experts knew what the mountain would do, what Truman would do. I didn’t understand his steadfastness to the place.

“Do you think he’ll come down?” I asked my brother Ken.

“If he were smart he would.”

“So, you think something’s going to happen?

“I dunno. Maybe.”

My brother, the meteorology student, didn’t know better than anyone else. It remained an  issue for others to solve, something that didn’t concern me. I shrugged and went back to my room, thinking about which horse I’d ride the next day.


On Sunday, May 18, I drove to the stable in the morning, determined to spend as much of the day riding as possible. The crabgrass reached for the sun, clouds parted to open sky. I cleaned stalls, rode Oliver over a few jumps, and put away the tack, old leather smell mixing with the leg liniment. I even wrapped the gelding’s black legs in support bandages, just in case, while his muzzle explored the waiting oats. When I couldn’t find any more excuses to stay, mane to untangle or bits of straw to sweep, I drove back home late that afternoon.

My parents and brother stood in the kitchen watching television when I arrived. Their attention didn’t budge as the picture flickered. I watched the folded arms and grim  expressions, and wondered what had happened to keep them inside. Sunny days weren’t something my mom wasted. No one commented on my hours away from home, another surprise.

“The mountain blew,” my brother said, his face still aimed at the television.

I didn’t know if he was teasing, but my mom nodded agreement.

“Dad heard it first thing,” she said.

I replayed my version of the morning. The only loud sounds I’d heard were horseshoes clicking on concrete, the thump of my feet finding ground when I jumped off a horse’s back, a plane overhead buzzing into the clouds. A volcano had exploded somewhere between the hooves and sky, and I had missed it.

The television announcer’s voiced droned. “For those of you who are just now tuning in, Mt. St. Helens erupted at around 8:30 this morning, surpassing even expert predictions of what this active volcano might do. Since early March, scientists have been carefully monitoring seismic activity associated with the mountain…” The /images showed a raging mountain in black and white. Time-lapse photos depicted a blast that imploded in dense clouds of smoke and ash. Rather than erupting upward as predicted, the explosion burst  sideways, blowing off the mountain face. A mushroom cloud of smoke hovered in the final /images.

The station switched from the photo series to live footage of the Toutle River, which flowed at the base of Mt. St. Helens. The once calm water now gorged on mud, logs, and one house roof. It looked like the floods in Louisiana after thunderstorms, or one of the East Coast hurricane scenes. The station must have had only one piece of river footage, because it kept showing the same roof scene over and over. Yet another station kept following the structure as it approached a bridge. We cringed as the roof came closer to the cement supports, and then crumbled to kindling against the bridge. I turned away from the television, not wanting to see more.

“What about Harry?” I asked. My dad said nothing, just looked hard at the screen.

More than 50 people died in the blast of Mt. St. Helens, Harry Truman among them. With a 24 megaton blast equal to 500 Hiroshima atomic bombs, the mountain’s northern face blew off in the direction of Spirit Lake. Native American legend came true – the area belonged to the dead. As Truman’s lodge was located about four miles from the mountain summit, the lateral blast took about 90 seconds to reach him. Within a minute and a half, several hundred feet of mud covered his lodge and lake. Truman had little more than a few seconds to glance in surprise from his morning coffee, and then recognize the event for what it was. Although some speculated that Truman had planned to leave once he saw the lava flow, he never had a chance. He stayed with his mountain, as promised. Twin spirits, Harry and his lake, shared their demise.

Two others lost in the immediate blast zone, geologist David Johnston and news photographer Reid Blackburn, had followed the mountain since its early rumblings. Johnston, the young bearded geologist, left his final words on a radio transmission, “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it.” The excitement of the event reached him before the doom of the blast hit. Even in death, the eruption to Johnston was about discovery, not self.

Further down the mountain, 12 miles from the summit, a family of four perished in a Chevy Blazer. In the same campground area, eight people died trying to escape the violent mud flows. Several loggers, there for work, also died. The mud captured some mid-sentence, preserving them in poses that looked like picture taking. I hoped they never knew what hit them, preferring to remember them snapping their cameras in awe. Although doomed, they took part in something outside themselves.

Animals also lost their lives on the mountain, including 7,000 deer, elk, and bear. Countless birds and small mammals died from the blast. In the rivers, 40,000 young salmon were killed from the choking mud and fallen trees. In towns like Castle Rock at the foot of the mountain, some residents claimed to see fish trying to jump out of the hot waters. Their escape made my teenage flights to the stable seem trivial. I thought of those desperate fish and envisioned a net, large as the sky, to save them.

Along with ground devastation, scientists kept their eyes on the horizon, anxious to see where the three mile-wide ash cloud would spread. It had already drifted 80,000 feet upward from its mountain origins. I ran outside the house to search for ash. Having missed the blast, I could at least share the volcanic aftermath and feel as if I’d experienced an event. I peered south where the mountain lay, but the sky looked clear as before, the late afternoon sun unfailing. Only some dense clouds hinted at volcanic forces. It was hard to tell them apart from the usual rain clouds.

Meanwhile, three miles of ash, enough to fill a football field 150 feet deep, floated eastward after the lateral blast. The prevailing winds pushed it across the Cascades until it snowed down in thick layers over Eastern Washington. I watched the haunted scenes on television of darkened skies in midday, people in masks, cars with their headlights on. I wanted to be in those towns where the dust fooled the streetlight sensors, turning on the lights in Yakima, Ritzville, and Spokane. But I was west of the mountain, and safe.

I imagined myself into the science fiction scenes the television showed us, envious of the gray snow. In Southeastern Washington, 2-5 inches of ash fell. Traces of it traveled beyond the state, as far east as North Dakota and southwest to Colorado. A random portion of ash found its way to Oklahoma, settling in an oval-shaped region. It didn’t stop in the United States, but continued eastward, circling the globe in less than three weeks. The ash fall danced around me, skirting my life, not affecting it.

After the ash settled and the horizon came back into view, the main problem was what to do with it. Entrepreneurs from the eastern half of the state did not wait long to scoop it up and transform the breaths of dust into finery. Mt. St. Helens ash took many shapes, from sculptures and shot glasses, to magnets, coffee mugs, and pumice soap.  I bought a few Mt. St. Helen’s ash Christmas ornaments as soon as I spotted them in an outdoor stall at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, right between the vegetables and cultivated honey. I still had only experienced the volcano with the indifference of distance and youth. I might as well have been from New York, my involvement had been so little. These new ash figures, fired from volcanic rock, minerals, and glass, gave me a small albeit trivial part. The souvenirs and I, token players, remained peripheral to the event itself.
During a clear summer day two years later, perfect for weekend horseback riding, my dad suggested we make the two-and-a-half hour trip south to Mt. St. Helens. The mountain had cooled, the danger wasn’t as great. Although he didn’t say it, I also knew he wanted us to see the mountain on our own terms, free of television commentary and replayed footage. But I’d long since given up participating in the mountain tragedy.

“I’d like to go,” my mom said. She started looking for the right shoes, something between hiking boots and tennis shoes.

“Is Ken going?” I said.

“No, he’s busy with school,” my dad said. He dug through the hall closet, searching for binoculars. I hesitated, then set aside the riding boots and began hunting for my toughest pair of hiking shoes. Here was an opportunity to make amends for what I’d missed as an outsider to the event, a teenager lost on that wide expanse between self and remote concerns. I could always go riding another day. Two years after the fact, I had a chance to meet the mountain.

The three of us drove along I-5, the highway signs guiding us south toward the Oregon border. I watched the Aberdeen exit go by, our usual route for ocean weekends. Nothing seemed different along the way, trees filing alongside the car and a few clouds floating.

We aimed for Toledo, the town where my grandparents had once lived. My dad drove past the city to the foot of the mountain, as far as the road lasted. It was mid-morning, and we  were the only tourists wandering through volcano country. The landscape stood dry and alone, parched gray from ash fall.

The road ended near a former Weyerhaeuser logging station. We left the car and crossed what used to be a green meadow by foot, heading for the closest knoll. The wind gusted by in gentle tufts, with little vegetation to break it. Dust swirled up and made me sneeze as we hiked, but I ignored it as Mt. St. Helens came in sight. The uneven ice-cream cone mountain startled me. Its former science-fair symmetry now looked jagged, primeval. Nothing stood between it and our binoculars, no trees or hillside to soften its threat.

We wandered back to the car and drove along the Toutle River, following its path downstream from the mountain. Although the water had long since returned to a normal flow and was no longer brown with mud, we could still see the inland gouges where it had scoured new boundaries into the banks.  I remembered /images of the Toutle choked with trees, and the roof that smashed into a bridge. I thought of those who had experienced its fury firsthand. While I’d had a television set between me and tragedy, they’d had none.

“How would you like to fly over the mountain?” my dad asked.

“I’ll do it,” I said. We drove back to a sign that offered chartered flights on the outskirts of the town. With nervous energy I waved to my mom, who stayed behind, and climbed into the small plane with my dad and the pilot.

The pilot curved in an arc around Mt. St. Helens, which waited for us like a piece of the moon, rocky and dark. The airplane engine sounded small and thin in that vast quiet. We saw flattened trees, toothpick-sized, by the thousands.

They lay where they’d fallen, blasted in one direction by the volcano. The pilot told us that loggers were still cutting them into pieces in preparation for eventual harvest.

“Look at the ponds,” my dad said.

He pointed to craters of water, orange and green from volcanic chemicals. Maybe this was how the world had started, bare and fiery. Even a few years later, nothing grew on the ash turf that surrounded these pools. The pilot motioned us to look where Spirit Lake had once been, its contours filled with silt and logs. “Truman’s old home,” I mumbled to no one. I admired his conviction, even though it led to his death. He had settled for nothing less than full participation, refusing to look on from a distance.

The plane bounced as we came closer to the crater’s edge. The pilot steered us near the rim, but was careful not to cross it.

“Does the heat cause this turbulence?” my dad said. He looked more interested than alarmed.

The pilot nodded, circling the mountain but never crossing the summit lest we hurtle out of control, into the volcano rather than around it. Even on the outskirts, the plane shook. I gripped the seat to keep my stomach still. Although we didn’t cross the volcano mouth, our path wavered near enough to look down into it, open and deep. I watched it spit thin towers of steam, warning us.

Once the plane landed, we walked to the car in satisfied quiet, having met the mountain in its backyard. I felt closer to what had happened, no longer a bystander taking quick  glances from the safer boundaries of my own world. Just as I was becoming more aware of events around me, the mountain too was changing. Geologists predicted that vegetation and animal life would one day reclaim the mountain. Playing devil’s advocate, they cautioned in the same breath that the mountain would erupt again.

Mt. St. Helens disappeared from sight as we drove on the interstate, yet still followed me home. After the volcano, things beyond the immediate mattered, and being part of a place meant more than just living there. The mountain, whose early whispers I’d disbelieved, took lives and swept forest contours into a lunar landscape. Even today, when I fly over Mt. St. Helens on trips home, I study its flattened top line with humility. The broken Mt. Fuji looks serene in its deceptive quiet and wisps of cloud. Although the snow softens it, the volcano, silent for now, waits.


Gail Folkins
, a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at Texas Tech University, writes nonfiction. Her recent publications include an essay in an anthology titled Horse Crazy and a scholarly article in Lifewriting Annual. Her nonfiction manuscript Dance Hall Revival is under contract with Texas Tech University Press.

“The Names of the Dead” by Sarah Reith

Every day, she searches the names of the dead. Today, they are underneath the second half of a front page article about the gains in Iraq. Yesterday, they were bunched together in platoons. Tomorrow, they will be the length of a honey-do list, and there are days when the announcement of them is longer than they are.

The names of the dead, in small block letters, like a quiet, solid voice. The phrase has a magisterial sound, like someone very old and ceremonial, or maybe just a formal foreigner: the brother of Nancy, the sister of Sam, the names of the dead, and the sorrows they bear.

She doesn’t count them. She only sees the shape of them, and the length of the page they consume. She scans their pictures with her eyes half averted. Sometimes, the only available photo is from middle school, and most of the time, it is very, very bad. His last name starts with an S. He is a reservist out of California. Usually, because it feels like cheating to actively search for his name, like eating dessert first or skimming to the end of a suspenseful chapter, she will start sedately at the beginning: Aaronson. Barclay. And their first names, always cherished, always intimate. She cannot see a soldier’s first name without thinking of his mother, of his wife, or of naked little babies. It’s like she has a purely internal structure for personal pronouns.

Sometimes, her gaze will race to the bottom; and some days, someone with a last name starting with a Y or a Z has been killed. And then, because it’s too late, she’s already started her grim dessert, she trawls through the letters to the top. She almost thinks she would be relieved to find his name there.

She can still find his parents’ home. It’s in her mind, but she can’t tell you where it is. She has to drive it, take the exit off a quiet highway where the creaking of the country insects sounds as dusty as the air, as dry and bright as unrelenting sunshine. She will know the exit when she sees it. She will know the row of rural PO boxes, and the stretch of anonymous trees. This grass, these sunburned hills, this orchard of delicate fruits. This low-lying house, and this old man with his thick Nordic accent. This old dog named after his wife, still living, who snores.

“Would you like his email address?” asked the old man, smirking. “Oh, no, that won’t be necessary,” she replied, in a starburst of something that felt elegant, and fierce. She was wearing black that day.

The names toll on and on. The women wail and men weep, the way that children do, unceremoniously, because there is no safe convention for the tears of men, no formal way for them to shed their tears, only their blood and their sweat and their lives. She struggles through the names of the dead. She missed a day, she missed a weekend. She missed a three day weekend once, and when she got home, none of her papers were there. She thinks her landlady threw them away, or her neighbor. She thinks they threw away her three days’ newspapers to make the burglars think that she was home. She thinks they saw her darkened windows, that they shook their heads. ‘She could have left the porch light on,’ she imagines them thinking, excitedly, the way people are when they see someone going down the same old road again.

It could be over now. There were two whole weeks, when she only got the Sunday paper, because she spent two hours every day, poring over every line of every article, every correction, every back-and-forth battle on the Op-Ed pages, and she realized that she wasn’t reading anything else, or writing, or watching a movie or seeing a play; that she barely looked up from the paper on her way to work each morning: to see the snowy egrets in their nightgowns, with their black, unblinking eyes.

It could be over now. It could be over, all of a sudden. He could be interred in dust and lead, his mother weeping and his dad’s old dog forlorn with human sadness. There could be a sudden silence, an extended version of the silence after accidents, when the screaming and the screech of brakes is stilled.

She wonders if that’s what it was like, if it happened at all: or if there was majesty and grace. She wonders if there were screams and oaths and prayers, if there was a silence that expanded and then, one split-second of acceptance and maybe even gratitude, for life and a few years of love.



Sarah Reith has previously published her literary work in  The Village Rambler, Poetry
Motel, The Hurricane Review
, and Ecotone.

“Arriving in Baton Rouge” by Karen Miller

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second . . .
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open.
                       — Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been writing this article in fits and starts over the past year, each time with a slightly different introduction and angle, depending on the latest news.

First, the headlines linked music and movie piracy to terrorist funding. Next came the publication of the “9/11 Commission Report,” the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, the Madrid bombings and, most recently, London.

Each was another wake-up call about the tenuousness of life and liberty in an age of terrorism – a reminder that, personally and professionally, there are things I can do to try to change that or at least to feel a little less vulnerable.

Then came Katrina, and once again, I’m rewriting. This time it’s from the perspective of a Red Cross volunteer.

You see, I’m about to be deployed to Louisiana.

The gist of what I wanted to say is intact. My basic premise is that, as a country, we’ve all been profoundly affected by the events of Sept. 11. And lawyers, perhaps more than members of any other profession, have had to deal with some of the fallout’s hardest issues, not the least of which includes maintaining the fragile balance between ensuring our national security while protecting our civil liberties. Fortunately, we’re up to the task.

That’s not just my opinion. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy praised the legal profession’s contribution to maintaining security. At an American Bar Association dedication ceremony a few years ago, Kennedy urged lawyers to continue to promote democratic ideals.

Security hinges on “the acceptance of the idea of freedom,” Kennedy cautioned. And, he said, there is a “very important part for the legal profession, for the American lawyer, … to play in that struggle.”As if that weren’t enough, Kennedy called on lawyers to go the extra mile and “find ways to increase the resources you devote to this by at least tenfold.”

Lawyers were, and continue to be, a vital part of the post-Sept. 11 political and institutional landscape.

“The legal profession will be intimately involved and directly affected” in building homeland security, said Dr. David McIntyre, deputy director of the Anser Institute and former dean of the National War College, in a September 2002 National Law Journal article.

Three years later, his predictions hold true. Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a hundred lawyers have been hired to staff its new Office of General Counsel. The new secretary, Michael Chertoff, is himself a respected lawyer and former judge.

Of course, we can’t all go abroad to help spread democracy. If we could, we might participate in some of the American Bar Association programs, such as the Africa Law Initiative, Asia Law Initiative, Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative and Latin America Law Initiative, to help use the legal profession’s energy and commitment to helping build principles and institutions supporting the rule of law. And we can’t all move to Washington, D.C., to help the Department of Homeland Security, a work-in-progress, become a fully realized, well-oiled executive department. If we could, we also might check out the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security, which holds regular meetings and offers panel discussions for lawyers on national security issues.

But the majority of lawyers can’t. Most of us have jobs and families and other responsibilities that prevent us from doing anything on that kind of global-national scale. And that’s okay. There are opportunities to get involved locally, as well.

Today, for example, the Los Angeles County Bar Association is holding its “Dialogues in Freedom” program, which brings lawyers, judges, and high-school students together to discuss the basic rights and freedoms of Americans.

This program, like others begun after Sept. 11, probably will not be disbanded anytime soon. After all, Los Angeles continues to be a prime target of potential terrorist activities. Then there’s that little problem of earthquakes.

Which brings us back to Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster of confounding proportions. Whether it’s a natural or man-made disaster, the results – and needs – are the same. If there is anything positive to say about this horrendous predicament, it’s that it presents us with a too-vivid picture of the chaos and complexities that accompany mass care and recovery and, as it increasingly appears, the recipe for failure and ineffectiveness that can ensue without adequate preparation.

We don’t have to wait for another terrorist attack or the next hurricane, in order to envision what we can or can’t do better. We can’t even predict, let alone control, earthquakes. And it’s hard to trust our color-coded scheme for assessing the risk of terrorist attack. But we can start preparing for these or any other potential disasters.

The Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency and any number of other organizations provide materials and information on emergency preparedness plans and disaster kits. The national volunteer program known as CERT, Community Emergency Response Team, offers an eight-week training course in first aid, search and rescue, firefighting and other forms of disaster preparedness. (If you have a group of at least 20, they’ll even come to you.) It’s just one of five specialized partner programs, including the
Medical Reserve Corps, Volunteers in Police Service, the Fire Corps and Neighborhood Watch, under the umbrella of the Citizen Corps, that offers volunteer opportunities and emergency courses locally.

Twenty years ago as an attorney with U.S. Customs, I wrote an article for District Lawyer (now Washington Lawyer) titled, “Lawyers and Arms Control: Insanity Is No Defense,” in which I argued that lawyers have a special, perhaps even greater, obligation than others to defend and protect our right to a safe and ordered existence. I’m not sure I feel that way now. But I do think we lawyers have the same obligation as others do to defend, if not protect, or at least assist victims of natural and man-made disasters.

I know that some, particularly in the legal profession, consider me an idealist, or worse. Lawyers like my once-prospective boss who, during the last of our several interviews before I joined the aerospace giant,  said to me, “You can’t change the world, you know.” Actually, I do know. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try.

So I think I’m finally done with that long-pending article. I just heard an NPR report on new Red Cross volunteers, like me, and the trial-by-fire we’ll experience assisting the victims of Katrina. Some of us may  not have had sufficient training and preparation for this catastrophe.

So I’m thinking – should I not go? Ah, but then I’d have to change my beginning once again. And I wouldn’t have the chance to help change even a small part of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.



Karen Miller is a copyright and trademark lawyer, as well as a writer whose articles have appeared in The Washington Post and various legal journals. She balances her work on emergency preparedness and homeland security matters with designing and selling jewelry and handbags.