Current Occupation: content teacher at an even better high school
Former Occupation: discontent teacher at an overrated high school
Contact Information: Daniel Romo teaches high school creative writing, and lives in Long Beach, CA. His recent poems can be found in Scythe, Fogged Clarity, and Bananafish. He is an MFA candidate in poetry at Antioch University. More of his writing can be found at http://danielromo.wordpress.com/

###

Mindful

It’s late October. School started in early September.

And I still don’t know all the students’ names.

The one’s whose names sound like they act are easy:

“La-carcrash,” or something like that,

constantly gabbing with “Sha-talkovereverybody,”

unabashed tongues explosive like Pop Rocks,

fighting over which flavor of the month

rapper’s baby momma’ they’ll be someday.

At least they can say they have aspirations.

But who remembers the monosyllabic, Latino boys

who sit quietly in the back,

staring off distantly into sunsets of assimilation and day labor.

Juan. Gabe. Jose, who becomes Joe in class.

Will things change for them when ten years pass?

“Amigo,” their clients might say,

go ahead and water the begonias extra this week.

The Mrs. noticed they look a little tepid.”

Because who doesn’t want to be someone else’s friend?

I’d love an electronic response from a prominent poetry publication

informing me,

Dear Amigo,

The White Lily Review is delighted to publish your poems. Your work exhibits a keen insight into revelations of the human spirit. The universal essence of your poetry captures man at his worst, best, and the simple struggle of day to day life. Congratulations Amigo, on a job well done.

But I’ll settle for an answer from the boy in the back,

a tight jeans, teenage, pierced Andy Garcia,

point to him because I don’t know who he is

and ask—

“What’s your name again?”

Current Occupation: exchanging a life for money and medical insurance
Former Occupation: exchanging a life for money and medical insurance
Contact information: M. F. McAuliffe taught technical writing, media analysis and basic TV production to engineering and applied science students in South Australia and Victoria before working abroad as a political pollster, technical editor, hotel-cleaner, and librarian. In 2002 she co-founded the award-winning Gobshite Quarterly, based in Portland, Oregon, where she continues as contributing editor.

###

Unemployed

(April 1974)

#

A couple of Keough’s friends vouched for her. Real estate agents smiled and she moved into a flat by the river. She stood and watched the surrounding hills ascend into brightness.

#

The lounge-room was rounded at one end, built into a slope. She laughed. The small round descending windows were level with the path outside; she’d be seeing her visitors feet-first.

#

The room was a cup of light.

#

She lent Keough five hundred dollars until he could get a job and somewhere permanent. He helped her buy bookshelves and left his number.

#

Beyond her big, long kitchen windows the hills rolled and dwindled to flat, black earth; the earth supported a group of fruit-trees and then dampened into river. From the footbridge at the end of the street a line of flaming ash-trees strode uphill like crowned priests. Off to the side, away from the asphalt, a tall, four-sided brick wall stood on the hill’s curve. The wall confined a line of cypresses. The cypresses confined a convent. With a shock and a sheepish grin she realized she’d landed in most Catholic Kew, that the air was both grey and shining with Pentecost, and that she was supposed to vote. Again.

She went to the nearest electoral office and found that she lived in Kooyong, that she couldn’t register there because it was too late, couldn’t get an absentee ballot from Grey because she didn’t know the address of the Electoral Office there, that Grey didn’t know her current address, and Adelaide couldn’t track her past Grey and she didn’t know the address of the Electoral Office in Adelaide, either. She was effectively off the rolls. “Bugger it then,” she muttered to herself. If she got a fine she’d pay it. Bloody politics. The Julian Langleys or their cousins still ran the place no matter what you did or thought, she said, owning their bloody companies, leaving bloody great holes in the ground where there used to be hills.

And Kooyong. She could’ve slagged on the footpath, right there, right outside the Electoral Office, if she’d ever learnt how. What was the use of voting in Kooyong?

“Shit,” she said, and went back home to the river, the light, her unfinished unpacking.

#

The ash-trees in their vestments hunched and strode.

She only saw the convent from the footbridge. The plain blank prison wall, the plain blank line of poplars inside, the plain blank inner square of air beyond the cypresses all murmured emptiness until she shook becaus she hadn’t married, couldn’t teach, couldn’t do anything, wasn’t anything; they murmured loss and emptiness until they opened a void in her and she was desperate and wanted to be sick, toothless, dead, done with it—

So she turned her head when she crossed the bridge, only turned back when she could see the ash-trees alone, burning, striding.

#

The election came and went. The Government stayed.

It was the end of May. She was cold. She bought a full-length leather coat, she bought a radiator. She bought a kettle and some dishes with wavering edges. She bought a couple of bean-bags. The flat already had a bed, she already had sheets and blankets. She bought a visit to the dentist, who said her teeth could be saved. She bought a haircut. The hairdresser said her hair could be saved. She brushed furiously at night, saving her hair and teeth.

She cooked, sh smoked, she watched the river.

The ash-trees lost their leaves and moved like calm, crossless Christs.

She bought a tiny fridge, and a clock. She bought a small telly to supplement the radio. Her phone arrived. She felt like an adult, knowing she’d be in the new phone-book. She felt like a fool, looking at the bill. Her account had to be saved, her bankbook said. Brushing at night wouldn’t help. She had to get a job.

She stopped watching telly. She bought the paper and applied for everything but sales and typing; she applied to the State and Commonwealth Public Services; she wrote to her parents to let them know where she was.

It was June. She rang Barry Keough a few times, but they said he was never there.

#

She finally shrugged and walked across the footbridge to catch the tram and see the sights. All through the pale winter sunlight trees arched leaflessly against the walls behind them, bone begging for flesh. She hunched in her coat and looked at buildings, streets, faces. The trees begged. She ignored the pulsing at the edge of her eye, shivered and walked, crossed the river, wandered to the National Gallery.

Bluestone masses reared up and back; walls floated, high and smoky and unscaleable a Kurosawa castles. As she stepped forward she tripped. At her elbows gold oak-leaves rustled and burned.

She got up. At the top and bottom of the dark blue water in the ornamental moat more red and gold leaves flickered, swam, glowed, flashed.

They were like rays, they were like fish.

They were almost plump, almost like hands, soft and brittle and melting.

The flesh the trees had wanted.

She took her coat off and plunged her own hands into the water because she, too, wanted them. She touched the shiny, slidey surfaces, touched the color of them until she remembered to breathe, held them cupped in water in her hands until she longed to become the water and the hand surrounding the secret amniotic sac glimmering with golden veins.

She looked at her hands and sighed and stood. Her sleeves were wet. Her fingers were swollen and mottled, cold and lumpish as raw sausages. She put her coat on, walked and shivered. She dozed in the tram. She got off at the righ stop, and began to climb the footbridge.

The cypresses murmured.

She turned to the ash-trees but they were leafless, skeletons nailed to their own ascensions.

She rattled in her coat like a nut in a shell.

At home she cooked herself in front of her two red bars until her legs were mottled with heat, but all evening she was fretful, clumsy, restless, irritable, furious, afraid.

#

In the morning she woke up grief-stricken, guilty, panicked. There were no golden hands.

In the whole dark flat there was no hint of gold or breath or life.

The light in the kitchen was grey.

When she opened the curtains the windows were rainsmattered; rain fell on the bare trees by the river. She opened the front door. Tight, round sacs of rain hung, then flattened, elongated, and trickled down the glass panel, inside and out, diminishing as they went. Raindrops dripped from the bottom of the door, drops elongating, touching, mounding on the cement at her feet, plump, momentary, gone.

Rain fell to the earth.

The earth flowed slowly to the river.

The river flowed slowly to the sea.

The world was liquid. Everything slowly flowed away.

She plunged into the rain but the drops smashed on her knuckles, puddled in her palms, seeped through the cracks between her fingers.

She felt ill.

She was ill with lack. She wanted whole drops. She wanted the golden wholeness of oak leaves and the rich, permanent, nourishing dark blue water.

She stayed outside till she was half-soaked and shivering, then snivelled and hunched back inside. She wanted to nail gold and living water to her walls, wanted to crucify the rain for telling her she was an empty sac falling to flatness, nothing.

She aimed her eyes at the wall, watched the hammer in her hand, listened to the nails go in.

She poked at her eyes with a Kleenex and blew her nose. She had a shower, spread her pajamas to dry, got dressed and went to the bank.

She bought the camera with the multiple manual controls, put it under her coat, protected it from the rain.

She smiled when she unwrapped it; it gleamed and smelt of precision-engineered cunning. Its back snapped shut with a ferocious and satisfying finality. Its cool, brushed metal edges warmed to her hands. But the lenses! Her heart leapt and melted for the lens and long-distance converters. The kitchen windows were nothing but tight, round raindrops.

She stalked and clicked. She had them, had them, the little sacs of them, had saved the outline and fullness of them from the distant, shapeless sea.

Back at the Gallery the Kurosawa heights floated like angels while she leant and stretched along the low walls of the moat. Her left hand dived under the lens-rings, softened and sharpened, caught the hands and leaves and fish made of furtive, flickering, underwater gold.

She could get the slides blown up, made into prints. She could have dark blue and gold in her room.

She walked home over the bridge, her camera in her hands. The cypresses were an oily, distant green. She poked her tongue out at them. The golden shapes were safe in the amniotic celluloid of her camera, her camera was safe on its strap, on her stomach, inside her coat, and she and it would both be safe in her flat, behind the lock on her door.

She smiled at the frozen ash-trees. She laughed on behalf of the fruit-trees by the river. Now they could all have hands, photos of leaves clothes-pegged to branches. She could make veins, leaves, life. She contained the hands to make them.

Current Occupation: Retired/Volunteer Work/Occasional Professional Training
Former Occupation: Public School Educator/Counselor and Public Health Educator
Brief bio, up to 100 words: Ron worked in public schools for 29 years as a teacher and school counselor and then 5 years in Public Health as Oregon’s Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator. Once free of punching the clock in 2003, he completed 2 semesters of an MFA in Writing program at Pacific University. Ron likes to hang out in coffee shops with other poets and is part of 2 poetry groups in Portland, OR. He enjoys the good life with his partner of 25 years in Northeast Portland.
###
Retired

Most days I go unshaven.

By noon, the mailman has come and gone.

By three, kids are on the street

on their way back home from school.

Tuesday’s, recycling gets picked up

and on Friday’s, Mexican yard crews

descend upon the neighborhood, their mowers

and weed eaters throwing up a terrible racket

and then—just as quickly—they, too, move on.

Eyes on the clock, I remember all the years

at work spent looking out a window

trying to imagine the life I am living now.

Current Occupation: Steelhead Stalker
Former Occupation: Composition-grading Robot for Large Urban Community Colleges
Contact Information: After 20 years of teaching college-level composition, Spey Rod uses the few brain cells he has left trying to trick big steelhead on Oregon’s Sandy River. You’ll have to find him on the river, but if you ask him if he wrote this poem, he will deny it.
###
Post-Tenure Fish in the Machine

Again, I woke up feeling like medical waste.

I know to be politically correct I’m not supposed say “fuck,”

but fuck,

I knew exactly how that dog at Trader Joe’s felt

in nearly hundred-degree-heat

barking at rolled up windows.

The condensation led me to see it as an aquarium

with the schnauzer sprouting fins and a fish tail

then suddenly becoming a dog-fish.

I stared at him.

He stared back.

And said he was tired

of breathing sulfuric acid,

feeding on crumbs through worn gears,

having fins and tail chewed,

chewing fins and tails of other fish,

facing unrecognizable eyes in surface film,

thinking life has always been this miserable.

Then he hovered in my reflection

and spoke his “Resignation Letter

to The Board of Trustees.”

Not for $80,000 a year.

Not for a good retirement.

Not for the title of full professor.

Not for security of tenure.

Not for pleasing family.

Not for respect of my teachers.

Not for being a good citizen.

Not to pay taxes on time.

Not to have summers off.

Not even for my ungrateful students

will I grade another stack

of quarter-hearted compositions

today

or any day.

Current occupation : English instructor
Previous occupation: Forklift operator
Contact Information:Contrary to popular belief (based primarily on his size and the tendency to refer to himself in the third person), Dan Mancilla is not a professional wrestler. Dan teaches creative writing at Kendall College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is pursuing his PhD in Creative Writing at Western Michigan University. His work has appeared in, or is forthcoming in: Specs Journal, The Pinch (formerly River City), New England Writers, and the Chicago Tribune. Most recently his fiction was a winner of the Chicago Tribune’s 2009 Nelson Algren Literary Award.

###

Gimmicks

Twenty years in the ring and you wonder what brought you to this point. Was it the first time you put on The Mask? When you took it off? No. It goes deeper than that. You’re twelve years-old, you and your mother are living in a flat above the taxidermist’s shop. That’s when it begins, the first time you risk body for money. For being brave you win fifty cents. The bet, proposed by Jack Juarez, your best friend, is to stick a hand inside the mouth of the raccoon for ten seconds. The raccoon more than any of the other more imposing beasts in the taxidermist’s is by far the most frightening. Everyone knows there’s still some life left in it. You can almost see it twitch from the corner of your eye, hissing its purple tongue through yellow teeth bared in a perpetual snarl.

You close your eyes and stick your hand into the raccoon’s mouth. Knuckles brush against the roof. You feel the ridges, you think you can feel its breath. Jack Juarez counts out the seconds—one Mississippi, two Mississippi—slower than the referees count when matches spill outside the ring. Ten seconds to get back in the ring, ten seconds to keep your hand in the raccoon’s mouth. Both seem a lifetime. Jack Juarez holds his count on nine. Nine and a quarter, nine and a half, nine and three-quarters. Ten. You pull your hand out as fast as you can and drag it across buzz-saw teeth. Show Jack your bloody hand. Proof that you’ve earned your dollar and a half. There’s a fang imbedded in the soft meat of your palm. You dig the tooth out, hide it in your shoe, and wipe the blood off on your jeans.

You’ve accrued scores of other injuries risking your body for money. Twenty years in the ring and there are stitches: 525. Six herniated discs, two missing teeth, three ribs cracked—all of them bruised at some point, concussions too numerous to count. There’s the separated right shoulder that occasionally pops out of place during matches. Bone chips float in both elbows. The fluid in your knees is drained more frequently than your hair is cut. A broken right wrist, a broken left thumb. Bruised kidneys make you piss blood for three months. Broken nose. Shattered cheekbone. Torn meniscus. Cartilage in your body has been worn away; bones and joints are free to grind together, to cannibalize themselves. But you work through the pain as best you can because the show must go on. You eat pills and inject serums not to cure, only to patch. Duct tape for your insides. There is no off season in wrestling. No time to rehab. You become your own practitioner.

Twenty years in the squared circle and you’re a walking pharmacy. You eat Vicodin, Lorcet, Percodan, and Percocet like they’re M&Ms. Demerols remind you of Pez. You spike up Cortisone injections with the same indifference as a diabetic pumps insulin. You take all this knowing the best you can hope for is to numb the pain. What you need is a body transplant. Sometimes, even your hair seems to hurt.

Pain requires medication, but so does success. You’re a hotrod and your body is the cherry paint job. It’s your armor and your billboard. It’s your life. It’s the difference between mid-card and main event. To tare down and rebuild your muscles faster, to get bigger, to get monster big, you stack Dianabol, Anavar, Halotestin. Deca and Depo. You mix and match, whip up testosterone cocktails. You get legitimate prescriptions when you’ve got the cash, but you’ll take what you can. You buy some Teslac from a guy at the gym, trade one of the Cannonball Crew a few grams of coke for Maxibolin. You start dating a ring rat even though she’s balled more wrestlers than you’ve pinned. You date her, you fuck her, because during the day this ring rat works at a veterinary clinic and she can score Boldenone for you. They shoot up race horses with Boldenone.

After a show you’re still rolling on the rush of the match. The adrenaline keeps you going. Helps you make it to your motel. At three a.m. you’re still amped because the Dexedrine and Dianabol keep punching away at you. You grind your teeth loud enough to wake the other guys you’re rooming with. They call you an asshole, a hophead, juicer, speedfreak. You laugh because they are all of these things as well. Someone tosses you a baggie of pills, says sweet dreams, and you count Nembutals and Seconals instead of sheep. You wake up in another town; they’re all different, but the rooms are the same.

In the beginning you wake up in places like the parking lot of the Boys and Girls Club in Dubuque. You wake up at a Howard Johnson’s on your way to a match in Joliet. You wake up in front of the YWCA in Kenosha. At an armory in Muncie. In the gravel parking lot of a VFW hall in St. Cloud. You wake up in Kalamazoo.

You start to make a name for yourself and graduate to working civic centers in Rock Island and Gary and Muskegon. You’re booked at state colleges in Minnesota, Missouri, the Dakotas. You can almost live on your share of the take. You can afford things like meat and eggs graded higher than D, an occasional trip to the ER to set a broken bone, matching boots and trunks, to sleep in a motel room rather than your car. Fans begin to recognize you. Some chant your name before you’re announced, some know your moves and call for your patented finisher when you’ve got your opponent on the ropes.

You wake up to a packed house in a real city, maybe The Joe in Detroit or The Kiel in St. Louis. You get lucky and there’s a guy from the Global Wrestling Federation or the Continental Wrestling Alliance sitting ringside, probably an Upper Midwest talent scout. If you’ve built up a following, created enough of a buzz, an actual V.P. catches your show and takes you out for a steak dinner. Hands you papers. He wants you to come work for Mike O’Malley Jr. or Smilin Joe Spiceland. You wake up in the GWF. You wake up in the CWA. Instead of living out of your beater car, sleepwalking and bodyslamming your way through the Rust Belt, you bounce from region to region. You’re in the big time now. National wrestling is the new thing, cable television and pay-per-views. No more fiefdoms run by cheap carnies. Now it’s CEO’s. You wake up in VIP lounges of hub airports instead of interstate rest stops. You wake up in O’Hare and do a show, a Friday Night Free For All or a Tuesday Night Demolition for 25,000 live and millions more watching on TV. Then you rent your Continental or Deville and drive to Grand Rapids, to Milwaukee, to Indianapolis, Peoria, the Twin Cities; every night a packed house. After the last show in the last city of this leg you catch a redeye for New York, San Francisco, Denver, LA, even Atlanta, now that the southern territories have finally opened up to the promotion you work for. And you do it all over again. Three hundred days a year you wake up someplace else. For most of your career you wake up someone else. And you wonder if it was your talent or your gimmick that got you here.

In twenty years there have been nearly as many personae. You begin as yourself: Earl Atlas. The man who trained you, Art Stigma, said it best. “Son, you’ve got one ass kicker of a wrestling name, but you got the charisma of a monkey turd.” Of course he’s right, but you are nineteen years old and want to prove the old man wrong, so you wrestle as Earl Atlas. Your career goes nowhere. You lose to midgets and women; little kids and old ladies give you the finger, chuck D cell batteries and frozen hardboiled eggs at you. They aim for your head. You become Rockabilly Elvis Atlas, the heel Elvis impersonator who bashes guitars over unsuspecting opponents’ skulls. Fans don’t completely hate this version of you, but you can’t afford to keep buying guitars so you become someone else. Now you’re Atlas Vespa, the snobby European artist who smokes in the ring and wears sunglasses and a black beret. This gimmick, you think, is shit. It wasn’t even your idea; some promoter handed you the glasses and beret and told you to talk like Frenchman. Maybe it isn’t a bad gimmick, but once you begin to think it’s stupid the fans can tell. Self doubt kills careers in the squared circle. You wonder if you should try for a babyface gimmick so you change your name to Atlas God of Thunder, a good guy with the official superpower to use thunderclaps as a weapon and the unofficial power to empty out the bleachers. Somebody suggests you do what Pete Nostrovia did. You remember how Pete had struggled to get over with the crowds until one day he announced to everyone that he had legally changed his name to Ultimate Dingo. He showed you the documents to prove this. Months later he showed you the contract he’d just signed with GWF. But you want to keep some part of yourself in your character. Earl Atlas is your name. It’s all your father left you with. It’s who you are. The problem is, no one wants to see Earl Atlas.

You’re twenty-four, you’ve been wrestling for five years now. At some point you give up on keeping your name. You call yourself The Paper Boy, The Plumber, The Garbage Man, Major Tom Strange Love, The Space Cowboy, and The Space Coyote. You’ve experimented with countless adjectives to enhance these names: super, grand, magnificent, remarkable, abominable, friendly, gorgeous. You’ve considered insignificant, ineffectual, invisible.

And you wake up in a motel room sardine packed with nine sweaty, snoring wrestlers. Since you were the last to leave that evening’s show bed space is nonexistent and floor space is scarce. You walk to the lobby, find a soft chair, and try to get a couple hour’s rest before you’re on the road again. The night clerk knows you are a wrestler and that you are cramming nine guys into a room that’s been charged to one person—that you are stealing space—but he doesn’t care. He is sixteen or seventeen and only cares about the midnight movie he’s watching. It’s a black and white film. A Zorro movie. And the movie reminds you of something. There was a show that you watched as a boy. It was a low budget Western, even as a kid you noticed how cheap the sets seemed, how the pistol shots sounded like cap guns, how the horses looked sickly, almost dead; the animals in the taxidermist’s shop you lived above seemed more alive to you. But you liked this show. There was something about the hero. He was like Zorro, like the Lone Ranger––a masked man. What was his name? What was the name of the program? Deathmask something. The Deathmask of El Gaucho. Like the Lone Ranger, El Gaucho carried two ivory handled pistols and had an Indian friend. No, the sidekick was a fat Mexican, like Pancho from The Cisco Kid. Instead of a sword like Zorro, El Gaucho carried bolas that he swung around his head and captured fleeing villains with.

The memory of this show does not transform you. You don’t magically become a superstar. You don’t even become El Gaucho then. Instead you toil on, gimmick after gimmick.

Tonight your name is The Zodiac Thriller. You’re getting ready for your match, the main event at a Knights of Columbus hall in Peoria. You’re fighting “Samson” Greg Samsa in a “Peoria Street Fight.” The name changes depending on the city. Last week it was an “Omaha Street Fight.” Tomorrow it will be “Springfield.” You open the white canvas duffel that’s filled with gimmicks to find a suitable weapon. You’re allowed to bring one to the ring for these “Street Fights.” You sort through brass knuckles, lengths of chain link, piano wire, clubs, a cattle prod. You’re considering a sledge hammer, checking the balance of the weapon in your hand, when you see something stuffed inside a football helmet. A black mask. You hold it to your face, take in the musky smell, feel the sheer black silk, the laces zipping up the back, the leather patchwork around the eyes and mouth. You put your hand through the mouth hole and think of Father Kinski giving you First Communion. You remember the raccoon in the taxidermist’s.

You pull your hand from the mask’s mouth and the leather scrapes your palm, tries to bite you. This time there is no blood. You roll the mask down over your head, the satin is cool and sheer against your face. You tighten the laces in the back so that it fits true. You enter your “Street Fight” without any other weapons.

You wake up and you’re a masked wrestler. But The Mask isn’t a bag of beans that sprouts a stalk for you to climb to the top. It’s only a stepping stone. You call yourself El Gaucho, but you’re still Earl Atlas. Change is gradual. You keep working, dogging yourself, night after night. If there is any magic in The Mask, it’s the wall it throws up between you and the crowds. It frees you from the weight of their stares. You stop worrying about them and concentrate on your matches. The Mask frees the crowd as well. They can see you as who or whatever they need you to be.

Slowly Earl Atlas becomes El Gaucho. You begin to make a name for yourself. With The Mask on you win titles. On the independent circuits the recognition comes in belts that are smaller than most cowboys’ rodeo buckles and titles with grandiose names to make up for their small stature. You win the CCMAW Super Mega Wattage Championship, Dream Team Wrestling’s Trans-Galactic Championship, and the Interspecies title at Friar Tuck’s Wrestling Road Show. Independent Wrestling North crowns you King of the Lumberjacks on three separate occasions. You raise the Last Man Standing trophy over your head after winning the Tournament of Tough Guys.

All that hardware means nothing though. It’s not what keeps you going, pushing through the pain of the endless injuries, the horrible food of the road, of wrestling in shithole nightclubs in Flint, Michigan and Rockford, Illinois. You want real gold. You want CWA or GWF titles. You want to be the best of the best. So you do time in a semi-national promotion, a blood and guts act like the Rinaldi Brothers’ Action Alliance Wrestling, just so you can get to the next level; if they don’t kill themselves, the top talent for the Rinaldis often make their way to the big show. A referee almost bites your ear off in your first match with the promotion. You juice, bleed, bald. One night, during a ladder match in Pittsburgh, a drunken fan rushes the ring and tackles the ladder you’re climbing. You’re standing on the top rung, twenty feet in the air, reaching for the belt when he topples you. Nothing’s broken but now there’s a hole in your tongue you can pass cigarettes through. And then that scout, that V.P., Bodacious Bill Boscoe in your case, shows up after an AAW show where you’ve lost ten pounds in one match, not sure how much in blood and how much in sweat. He’s wearing a fake beard and a baseball cap, incognito because the Rinaldi Brothers don’t take kindly to the CWA and GWF raiding their talent. He takes you for prime rib and shoves contracts in your face. Tells you that Smilin Joe’s seen you in action. Thinks you’re gonna be huge. You’re the future for the CWA. The Future, he whispers in your ear.

You sign on the dotted line.

Current Occupation: I am currently a writer
Former Occupation: I was formerly a director/playwrite.
Contact Information: Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theater. His chapbook Remembrance was published by Origami Condom Press and The Conquest of Somalia was published by Cervena Barva Press. A collection of his poetry Days of Destruction was published by Skive Press. His poetry collection Expectations was published by Rogue Scholars Press. His plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles were produced Off Broadway. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines.

###

Clerk’s Plea

Should I fall upon my sharpened pencil,

number 2 lead?

Should I leap upon my desk and scream?

Terrify everyone

until they yell: “You’re fired!”

Help me.

What shall I do to escape

the tedious, soul sucking

office.

Once upon a time, I was laid off and since there isn’t really much to do the day you’re laid off except mope and fill in forms I decided to clean the house.

Because I was feeling crazy I decided to clean the way my mother used to clean: with a bucket and a rag. I remember her adding vinegar to water then dragging the bucket along as she scrubbed, on her hands and knees. I thought maybe I’d feel some deeper connection to her, like my mother, who was always jobless, could transmute peace upon me now that I was jobless.

The problem was I didn’t want to ruin a nice towel. Worse than that, I didn’t have a bucket. In my laid off insanity I uncorked a gallon jug of vinegar and slopped it directly on the floor then I sopped it up with a paper towel and maneuvered the towel in a circular motion about the floor.

After five paper towels I was committed. However ridiculous this exercise was, however pathetic I could seem to anyone who knew no longer mattered. I was a woman at work. Honest work. Work that needs no explanation (outside of my lack of tools). My work made the floor gleam. It made the cat sneeze and sit by the opened back door. For a split second, one long gliding wipe, I felt in control of my life. Even with deferment forms and resumes awaiting issuance, I felt right with the world.

Unemployed, one looks for activity. I took to morning walks; 8 or 7 am, whenever the guilt set in after my partner shuffled to the MAX and yawned through the doors of one of Portland’s tallest downtown buildings. He didn’t pay my bills; that was Unemployment Insurance’s job.

One morning I thought I had everything sorted – I had a plan for my life and with unemployment checks coming through I had time to make my plan a reality. My morning rite of walking, brunch, Craigslist job hunt and email sorting felt like it would lead to something.

Per my ritual, I asked the dog if he’d like to go for a walk. He stood on all fours, dropped the ball from his mouth and tilted his head. Like everyday up until then, it wasn’t until I waggled his leash and opened the gate that he believed me.

I remember the reason I began walking the dog so early. I noticed the geese. From 7 to 9 they roll out as street gangs of the sky. Grouped in sevens or fifteens or twenty sevens, they cruised SW and NE. V-formations but scrappy and confused. I had an incredible urge to see them, a realization that I might never have the opportunity again to be outside in the daytime if I caught a job. My first dog walks focused on the geese. Some flew ahead, others lagged behind; groups divided and formed subgroups which flew beside the original formation. Always moving at half hour intervals, announcing themselves by beeps and honks, holding their shit as the daily traffic copters traced overhead. If I were on acid, I mused, I would have had to sit it out – gape at the sky all morning and imitate their cries. But I was clean. I had to get a job. And who did acid anymore, anyway? LSD was a drug of my parent’s generation.

On those walks, the air smelled of Swisher Sweets. It was that time of year: allergies kick in. Early blooms of Daphne, Daffodils and Dandelions were all tingling and skookum in the ambient air.

We walked, dog and I, and while the dog sniffed, I spied.

I was amazed at how many neighbors didn’t seem to keep their yards shaped. It was early spring, though, not yet Groundhog approved. Hard to know if neighbors neglected; they may have blubs yet to bloom, the shrubs and twigs may fluff into dynamic colors, neighbors may dedicate hundreds of dollars to annual flowers. Still, flora wouldn’t hide the broken cars: a BMW with two flat tires and mold around its waistline, a truck with tarped-over windows, the crunched front-end of a minivan. Some neighbors tried to hide these cars, others left them matter-of-fact where they died.

As the dog pissed on ivy, I heard a car start. I had grown accustomed to neighbor’s departure times. I saw their routines. House 3478 started a blue Nissan then returned inside for a final swig of coffee. House 3574 started his car then stood beside it to pull off his jacket, knowing the day would warm by the time he got to work. House 8605, over on the corner, nipped and pruned her front yard before starting her car, a tidy plastic bag in hand to dispose of the debris. 3134 sat, warming her four door sedan, while reading a vampire novel. 2048 kept his foot on the fuel, revving the engine as though the car may die.

Guilty, I avoided returning home as long as possible. I knew what was there: applications, interviews, form rejections, duty, obligation. I’d be compelled to clean the house (again). I’d feel required to fix dinner for my gainfully employed partner (again). I’d fall into lethargy and watch a horrible movie while eating chips and chocolate (again). So I followed new streets, took the unpaved curve to Chautauqua, released the dog at Trenton Park then leashed him up to look over Columbia Avenue and the industrial wasteland. New Columbia behind me, I walked through the neighborhood my partner insisted on calling Columbia Heights. Some days I could see it: lower-middle class dump. I saw how debt and desire drove everyone to work. We are, after all, indentured servants, perhaps more so now than before, so long as we have student loans, home mortgages, auto financing, or a need for new and cool. Other days I didn’t see it. The neighborhood was middle-middle class and I assumed those commuters were headed to jobs they enjoyed. No way to know without asking and I wasn’t about to ask.

The dog and I cut down Hunt Street to Peninsular to Columbia and onward. There the abandoned wool factory, the now-dry plum trees from which I made jam, the miles of old highway that lead to my favorite park where in July and August the cottonwood trees shag and shed and cover miles with the thickest, hottest snow. The warehouses on Columbia keep Portland in business: CAT tractors, Humane Society, marine suppliers, lumber, steel, gas, fabrication, transportation, even, yes, lubrication. All this business, millions of transactions, hundreds of thousands of Portlanders were already at work by the time I decided to turn back toward home; hundreds of thousands already or about to get off work from swing/late shifts. What was everybody doing? Why did they work? What was I doing not applying for every job listed, qualified or not?

When I got home I made the dog sit, unleashed him, told him to get his ball. I threw it for him a couple times. He lay in the grass and watched me: now what, he seemed to say, now what are you going to do to fill the time?

That day I was full of plans. I had forms to fill in. Volunteering was going to be my new vocation. Whatever skills I lacked on my resume, I would fire up by volunteering. Teaching, gardening, assisting with job hunts, paddling a kayak, even learning CPR; it was all there to be had for free – with the dedication of time. I heard the mailman drop off our mail and went out to retrieve it. Junk, junk, letter from unemployment. I opened the letter. A reminder, perhaps a threat, that I needed to find work. I felt transparent. Who was I to volunteer when I needed a job? But the jobs I had applied to nominated me as runner-up, or sometimes were jobs I didn’t want at all. If I were going to be honest, I’d have to say it had been a week since I’d looked at listings. I was tired of Silver Metal placement, or, worse, bronze level occupations with pewter level wages. I wanted gold. GOLD!

Fearful that I’d lose benefits, I logged on to the unemployment website and used the “iMatch” feature. iMatch is a job hunting tool. One enters his or her employment history which generates a list of skills that automatically matches those skills to requirements of job openings posted to the system. I was matched to approximately ten knuckle-head jobs and one glamorous dream-job. I applied for the dream-job and ignored the rest.

But I was riddled with guilt. I was confused. I wanted to volunteer but was afraid to commit when unemployment could cut me off at any time. If I wasn’t dutiful in applying to jobs, whether I liked the jobs or not, I would be in serious financial trouble. Also, I wanted the dream-job. Could I volunteer and take the dream-job at the same time?

The anxiety of waiting drove me mad. I posted on Facebook about my status. I logged into the jobsite’s automated application and tweaked information, hoping that would bump me up the queue. Then I watched movies, ate chips and chocolate, and felt sorry for myself. I left the volunteer applications unopened on my desktop.

I had seen a trivia answer just before I was laid off. I used to receive emails from investopedia.com, thinking I might suddenly come into enough money that I’d need to know what to do with it. An email came in with the subject line: Discouraged Worker. At the time I’d laughed. Yeah, right, I thought. Everyone was a discouraged worker, in my eyes. It had never occurred to me that a person would desperately want a job. Then I was unemployed, pressured to locate something, anything, that would pay my bills – my mortgage, my student loans, my car insurance. I realized I was a Discouraged Worker. Theoretically I could get a job but once months had passed I felt like I’d never have a job again.

My partner shuffled through our back door and I realized I had nothing to show for my day.

“I walked the dog,” I said.

He was glad for it but I managed to continue hating myself. I couldn’t help thinking of my grandmother, how she put herself through college during the Great Depression, how she wore a gold nugget necklace, laughed over roast dinners and bourbon snifters, hid full sets of silverware in a teak Danish Modern buffet. She would never have spent one day, let alone several days, watching harebrained movies with the debris of junk food surrounding her and a mildly disappointed dog watching on. She would have had a job, kept it, and prepared food for her husband and their children. All I had was the dog and this man telling me of his busy day at work, asking me what I did with my day. I told him about the dream-job and he said, “You’d be perfect for that.” I knew it. But would HR know it?

**house numbers changed to protect the innocent.

– JMM

Current Occupation: Editor, WORK Literary Magazine. Assorted odd jobs.

Former Occupations: Janitor, Bartender, Legal Assistant, Assistant Manager, Assistant Director, Editor, Book Reviewer, Movie Projectionist, Pizza Maker, Prep Cook, Dishwasher, Server, Grad Student, Professor, Transcriptionist, Resume Writer, Life Guard, Camp Counselor, etc.

Contact Information: Julie Mae Madsen organizes and emcees First Wednesday Readings, is Founder and Editor for WORK Literary Magazine, teaches language arts, freelance edits a community paper, volunteers her socks off, and makes employers happy in exchange for solvency. juliemaemadsen.sort of dot com

Current Occupation: Resident Care Aide
Former Occupation: Packinghouse Segregator
Contact Information: Robert is an aspiring fantasy writer taking English courses at Okanagan College to try to improve his writing. Besides reading and writing, some of his hobbies include computers and history. He has a dry sense of humour, which he blames his stepfather for. Also, he has a habit of making history jokes no one but him understands. He is currently working as a certified care aide in beautiful British Columbia to support his writing.

###

Nutritionally Correct Comfort Food


At beautiful Mariposa Gardens,

to pursed lips and menus remembered,

soup and sandwiches are served

every two days every two evenings.

Starting this week on Monday,

cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

On Wednesday,

navy bean soup and egg salad sandwiches.

Friday,

cream of carrot soup and turkey Swiss sandwiches.

Sunday,

beef barley and salmon salad sandwiches.

Tuesday,

cream of mushroom soup and ham & cheese sandwiches.

Cream of cauliflower and shaved roast beef, corn chowder

and sliced turkey, cream of potato & cheddar

and deviled ham salad.

Seven soup and sandwiches days later,

we’re back on tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches,

on Monday.

Current Occupation: Adjunct instructor of English at Clark College, administrative assistant for Nonverbal Solutions
Former Occupation: teacher, waitress
Contact Information: Valentina Gnup has her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She grew up in California then lived in North Carolina for six years. She moved to Portland in 2008. In 2005 her chapbook Sparrow Octaves won the NC Writers’ Network Mary Belle Campbell Award. Her poems have appeared in Hiram Poetry Review, Nimrod, Blue Collar Review, Crab Orchard Review and others. She just won the Joy Harjo Poetry Award from Cutthroat Journal. Her two daughters are in college, and she is married to the poet John Blackard. They have a Boston terrier named Stella.

###

At the Cherimoya Packaging Plant

At the cherimoya packaging plant
the women inspect the green fruit for pests.

They spray each piece with machines so loud,
no one can hear anyone else speak.

They have learned to read each other’s lips,
but most of what they say requires no answer.

On their break, the women linger in the parking lot
listening to the Spanish radio station.

When the weather is mild, they lie on the hoods
of their cars with sandwiches balanced on their chests.

You might say this makes them look
like sea otters cracking abalone, and you

would be right and you would be wrong.
Mostly they look like women tired of washing fruit.

The women are permitted to take bruised
or discarded cherimoyas home to their families.

Some take the damaged fruit just for themselves.
They slice the soft meat into bite size wedges

and spit the seeds onto plates. At bedtime,
they rub lotion into their chapped hands

and whisper prayers to the Virgin Mary.
When they sleep, the women dream of silence.

Current Occupation: Writer of novels, stories, poems, book reviews
Former Occupation: seasonal farm worker, cannery shift worker, library page, elementary school teacher, trucking company clerk, housewife, mother.
Contact Information: Molly Gloss lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Her novels have won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, the Oregon Book Award, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, the PEN/West Fiction Prize, and the Whiting Writers Award. Her short story “Lambing Season” was a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist. She considers herself an avid but still-probationary poet, having come to the form rather late in her career.

###

A Writer Explains How She Works


I can never remember how I enter, by what
door or gate, or whether story comes to me
while I’m sleeping, stands over the bed, whispers
a few words into my ear or my open mouth.

Then I think it must be like a border collie
bringing me a stick. I throw it out there
as far as I can, the dog brings it back,
drops the wet thing at my feet again and again.

But it’s also how fog enlarges its territory
when daylight arrives in the eastern sky,
how the damp air at the indefinite edges of a woodland
gathers, whitens, fills the empty spaces between leaves.

Sometimes on a dry hill I walk around all day
kicking over clods. I mutter at times,
“Why not?” or I hear myself say, “What can you do?”
or “Be quiet.” Then I wait in the cold until dusk
and try to remember where I am, how I got here.

If I can’t find my way back it’s as if
a compassionate stranger takes me by the elbow
and walks me to the neighborhood precinct house
where the sergeant behind the desk makes a call
and shortly someone comes to fetch me home.

Current occupation: MFA Student at Pacific University and Associate Poetry Editor for Silk Road Literary Journal
Former occupation: Assistant Manager of Instruction at Berlitz Languages International
Contact info: Feel free to email me at christian.adrienne@gmail.com. When I am not writing, I spend my days traveling, Facebooking (if that’s a word), and trying new recipes. My most recent work has been accepted by Miller’s Pond, 42 Magazine, and Good Housekeeping.

###

The Ad Agency Workers

No one wants to be here
In boxed-in solitude.
We won’t make art, we fear –
creative flow subdued.

In boxed-in solitude,
we wait here for our tasks.
Creative flow subdued,
we do just what Boss asks.

We wait here for our tasks –
the same ones as last year.
We do just what Boss asks;
why even keep us here?

The same year after year –
because this model worked.
To it we must adhere
in khakis and blue shirts.