Tag Archives: California Quarterly

“At Nineteen” by John Sierpinski

On a Monday, July morning, Julian Whittaker
(at nineteen) works high up on a ladder, cleaning
fluorescent light fixtures in the English lecture
hall. He can use the money for the start of the fall
semester. He wipes dust, and then black soot off
the white covers. Mike Kessler cleans, too. He

tells Julian, “I’ve just been released from the county
psych ward, but I’m okay now. I’m studying
Mandarin.” To Julian, Mike appears unbalanced,
the shaky ladder, his exophthalmic eyes, the tick
of his right cheek. Another student, Richard
Longwell, has come to dust. He carries a boom

box the size of a small suitcase. At the sound
of the manic beat, Julian notices that Mike and Richard
dust faster. Then Richard declares, “It’s break time!”
and turns the lights off and the volume up. Distorted
guitars splay, plugged in to simple chords. To Julian,
it is too much. He thinks about how he has lost his

beloved Renee—she has walked away. He feels,
in the words of Pink Floyd, “comfortably numb.”
He drowns another soaped rag, wrings it out by touch
in the dark, and lets the water drip down his pant leg.
He listens to Mike tell Richard, “Turn that damn box
down.” Then Mike says, “You know, I had sex with

one of the other patients.” Richard says, “When I
dropped acid, last night, my entire body glowed. Just
think about it, my veins pumped light.” “Look man,
I don’t want to think about your drug-fueled shit,”
Mike says. And Julian, he doesn’t say anything at all.

John Sierpinski studies poetry at the Vest Conservatory for Writers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has recently published in California Quarterly, Curbside Splendor, North Coast Review, and Indiana Voice Journal. He has been nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. He has currently completed a collection.

 

 

“Of Things Past” by Lenny Lianne

A long time, too long, since we have done — this,
he said and plopped a fat bottle of Mateus
and two small paper cups from the bathroom
onto the table. He took out a maimed box
of Jolly Time Blast O Butter popcorn
from a grocery bag, and grinned at her.

She could tell that this was a campaign
to coax her to laugh, to forget
about the future. The distant past
would be the tactic tonight, the way
they used to take turns telling
each other about what had come before

— about those freakish Christmas gifts
from screwball aunts, sibling pranks,
his teen summer by a cirque-cupped pond.
And after a third refill of new wine,
they spilled out stories of lapsed romances
as though, by sharing their own secrets,

they’d earned whatever alighted afterwards.
Shag carpets, concrete block with wood
plank bookcases and black beanbag
chairs, each had departed by now,
passing away for better or worse,
like something familiar that’s lost its way.

     after a line by Lucia Perillo

Lenny Lianne is the author of four full-length books of poetry. She holds a MFA from George Mason University. Her poems have appeared in Rattle, California Quarterly, Third Wednesday, The Dead Mule of Southern Literature, and others.

Fault by Kit Zak

FaultSummer 2013 398

each other

like plankton on the tides
conversations mundane
          leftovers sound fine
I paid the mortgage bill

feelings trenched inward
no gulf stream warming
vast plains of deserts
(no path through)

unspoken … hidden
in our crusts

until Jan phoned: it’s Jim
we fold together outside intensive care

between petitions and sobs
we draw a cross on each other’s forehead
mutual pardon

Kit Zak, formerly a teacher, considers writing poetry a political act. Her main topics include corporate exploitation of workers and the environment. She publishes in the few protest journals like Newversenews, The Blue Collar Review, as well as Avocet, California Quarterly, The Lyric, The Broadkill Review and numerous anthologies.