Volume 1Fall 2000

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Hi. Welcome to our Premiere Edition of "In Our Own Words," the Ezine from BBBooks. We publish and distribute books, list "Calls for Submissions" Readings, Open Mics and Writing Classes here on our web site.

We are a grass roots organization, not a corporate entity, so we don't dance to the dollar sign. You can expect to find thought- provoking, creative, alternative writing, information and politics right here. We offer the "People Before Profits Poetry Prize" each year and offer all kinds of other stuff for writers, poets, students, educators, spiritual types, feminists, humanists, and activists. We're people who follow their conscience, but like to have fun too!

The writers in this edition of "In Our Own Words" range in age from their 20s to their 80s. Much of the writing came from a creative writing class held in Oakland, California and from writers across the country who respond to our poetry contests.

Our editorial philosophy is simple: Writers respond to life; they chronicle our times and remind us what it is like to be human.
Extraordinary writing strikes a truth and reflects how events in our nutty world affect us. While vulgarity is often a part of our daily lives, vulgarity for the sake of shock value doesn't benefit anyone. We accept all styles and forms of poetry and prose. While the writing we've chosen reminds us that life isn't always pretty, we will always dream of it being extraordinary!

Authors in Fall 2000
Click here for our New Spring 2001 Issue

Dorothy Bennett

Bill Brauer

Handsen Chikowore

Dorothy Donaville

Jane Freeman

Monique Nicole Fox

Karen Finlay

Clara Mae Jewel

Aya de León

Gertrude Martin

N'Sombi Hasan-Mohammed

Marjorie Power

Audrey Rodman

Sylvia Forges Ryan

Ben Simmons

Toshi Taguchi

S. Yamileth-Gomez

Firsty
© 2000 Karen Finlay

Growing up in an affluent town, I was used to kids getting brand new cars for their sixteenth birthdays. Shiny new Mercedes convertibles and Volkswagen Cabriolets would appear in our high school parking lot on a regular basis. These kids would cruise into the parking lot, with their radios blaring, and casually greet their friends, as if driving to school was no big deal. Then they would grab their books and leisurely walk up the hill to the classrooms, nonchalantly jangling their keys, and already planning on where they would drive to lunch that day. If you were one of the kids walking up the hill from the parking lot, you were someone. If you had a car, you had status. You were cool. You had the freedom to go anywhere, to do anything, and you had lots of friends to drive around. You were popular.

I, on the other hand, was not. I wore weird clothes and had a weird haircut and liked weird stuff. Worst of all, I had to carpool with Andy Schwartz, who was a bigger geek than I was. Andy's mother, Marilyn, was an enormous woman who despite moving to California years before had never lost her "Long-Gisland" accent. She would drop us off ­ gasp-right in front of school. And, to make matters worse, she would screech; "Now you kids be here at two-twenty and no latah, yeh hear me? I'm not your chauffah! Now Andrew, you have a good day! Yeh muttha loves yeh!" and she'd give him a big kiss. Andy didn't mind at all, but I was mortified. The cool kids would stroll by and smirk. I had enough problems without Marilyn Schwartz making me even more of a social pariah than I already was.

As my sixteenth birthday approached, I started to dream about having my own car. Being that my father worked for General Motors and my sisters had gotten new cars, I was sure I was a shoo-in for my own wheels. I had to be loyal to General Motors, so I figured a brand new Camaro convertible or something would be okay. If I had to get a new car. What I really wanted was a pink '56 T-Bird (even though that was Ford) or a cherry red '57 Chevy with lots of chrome and fins. I pictured myself cruising into the parking lot, blasting really cool music, wearing a scarf and sunglasses. I would be the epitome of glamour. I too would nonchalantly stroll up the hill, jangling my keys, and smirking at Andy Schwartz and the other nerds who were getting dropped off in front of school. I would be cool.

Well, my sweet sixteen came and went, and all I got was a hairdryer. My father had lost one of his kidneys a few months before, and retired early. My '57 Chevy fantasy was shut down. He wasn't all that keen on buying me a car, anyway. I nearly rear-ended someone in the Burger King parking lot and got a just passing score on my driver's test. I wasn't exactly a model citizen either, because he figured if I couldn't be responsible enough to feed my fish, how would I be responsible enough to feed a car gas and oil? I wasn't too bothered, though, because my best friend had a car and we went everywhere together, including to and from school. So bye bye, Mrs. Schwartz.

But then my best friend moved away. I was miserable. I was housebound. I started to feed my fish. (That fish lived to be 12 years old, so I wasn't that irresponsible). I started to drop hints.

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Then I started to whine. Since my father was home all the time now, we drove each other crazy. One day he finally announced that he would get me a car, so that I could get a job and prove my responsibility. (I think I was just driving him nuts). My convertible dreams were back on track.

One day after school ("Bye Mrs. Schwartz, thank you for the ride!"), I came home on found my sister's old car parked in the driveway. I wondered why she drove that car over when she had just bought a new BMW (much to my dad's chagrin ­ "GM fed you, housed you, educated you, and you repay us by buying a German car? I fought the Germans!" etc. etc.). She had said she was dumping the old clunker and I couldn't blame her. It was pretty ugly. Maybe she didn't want to hurt my dad's feeling when she came over. I could understand that. After all, when I got my new car, it was going to be a General Motors car. I was loyal to my dad. He worked hard all his life and I was going to show my appreciation by driving a GM. That's why I wasn't going to get the T-Bird. I was going to pick out something my dad had helped build. I was a good daughter.

I walked in the house, looking for my sister, but she wasn't there. My dad was all smiles. "Surprise!" He said. I was confused. What surprise? Where? Then he handed me a set of keys. The keys to my "new" car in the driveway.

I couldn't believe it. That? That was my new car? Oh NO! It was, in impolite terms, a piece of shit. It was a 1977 Pontiac Safari Astre station wagon with fake wooden paneling. The inside used to be white leather, now dingy gray, with black carpet. It didn't have a tapedeck, just a radio with bad reception, because there was no antenna. I remembered being in it when I was little, and crying about something so it must have bad memories. And even since then, my sister's dog had peed in it and it still smelled. It was as uncool as uncool could get. Forget the scarf and sunglasses, I would cruise into the parking lot with a bag over my head.

* * * *
That was my new car? Oh NO! It was, in impolite terms,
a piece of shit.

* * * *

As I was thinking all of this, my dad was giving me the big lecture about taking good care of it and make sure to check the oil and wear a seatbelt and I had to get a job to pay for gas and I was not allowed to drive it into San Francisco and I still had a 12:30 curfew and blahblahblah

And then he said, "Let's go for a ride."

I hated driving with my dad. (I still do). Even though he learned to drive in like 1930 or something and used both feet for an automatic (a no-no, according to my Driver's Ed teacher), he would yell at me for everything. Of course he was looking out for me, but when I was seventeen, all I could think
about was that he was yelling at me. I was more nervous on that day than when I took my driving test. If I screwed up, that car, as ugly as it was, would be history. I guess I did fine though, because after a few trips around the
neighborhood, he had me drop him off at home and said, "Now have fun and be careful."

Go to Firsty, Part Two

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Firsty - Part Two
© 2000 Karen Finlay

I drove straight to my new best friend's house. (I had a lot of best friends and I was soon to have more, due to the fact that I was finally mobile). It was my first official time of driving alone, if you didn't count the time Lesa Carlston got too drunk at a dance and I had to drive her car, very slowly, back to her house. And suddenly, it didn't matter what the car looked like. It was MINE. I now had the freedom to go anywhere (within reason) and do anything (within reason) that I wanted to. I turned up the crummy radio and sang and laughed. I was in love. It was the best feeling in the entire world, that feeling of adult freedom that only a seventeen- year- old could have.

When I got to her house, with the windows rolled down and the horn honking, she squealed, got in, and we took off. We drove around downtown, showing off, waving at people we knew and didn't know. We were high on our newfound fortune. We were the upper eschalon.
"We have to name your car," she announced. She was very much into that sort of thing. We thought for a while and then she said, "I know! It's your first car, so we'll name it 'Firsty'!" I thought it was pretty stupid, but I didn't want to say so. So my car had a name.
"Well, Firsty is thirsty," I said, and I pumped gas by myself for the very first time.

* * * *
I loved that car. Even though it rattled violently when it went over fifty-mph and one time I tried to "race" a Winnebago up a hill and lost
* * * *

Over the next few months, my car was transformed. My friends and I stuck old bathtub flowers and stickers all over it. Anyone who rode in it had to sign the visors, and so there were dozens of messages and phone numbers scrawled all over the interior. (My dad was actually pretty cool about that until he noticed somebody had written "Who Farted" across the ceiling). Someone had given me a large, green, inflatable rabbit as a mascot. I named him Senor Bun Bun, and he rode everywhere with me. (He came in very handy when someone I didn't like asked for a ride, I could say, "Sorry, the car's full", due to Senor Bun Bun taking up space. Senor Bun Bun came to an untimely death when a disgruntled passenger pricked him with the back of an earring. But for a while he was a part of the lovely décor). Not to mention all the books, candy wrappers, contraband cigarette butts, and soda cans littering the floor. And, of course, the dents and scratches I acquired along the way. (Once I was backing out of the Shell station and knocked the sign over, caving in the bumper. Ooops). I lost two hubcaps. (I was trying to parallel park in San Francisco with seven screaming kids in the car and they just popped right off! Not my fault, I swear)! Plus I lost three gas caps.

I loved that car. Even though it rattled violently when it went over fifty-mph and one time I tried to "race" a Winnebago up a hill and lost, it was just wonderful. It got me (and a carload of

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friends) to school and work, and didn't give me much trouble. I did check the gas and oil (forgot about the water once and was stuck for a couple of hours), and it served me well. It didn't matter that it wasn't new, or cool or what the other kids had, it was mine. I drove my friends everywhere, taught some of them how to drive, and strolled leisurely up the hill from the parking lot, jangling my keys. Firsty made me feel terrific. Whenever I was sad, or happy, or bored, I would just drive around, talking to Firsty (and Senor Bun Bun while he was still alive) and telling them how much I loved them. Firsty was my true best friend my senior year in high school.

But all good things must come to an end. The red "Check Generator" light started to come on and not turn off. I would pull over and give Firsty a rest, all the while telling it how much I loved it and everything would be okay. That worked for a while, but then Firsty began to die. It would start up and be fine, and then suddenly just conk out. At first I stopped taking it on the freeway, and then I had to stop taking it on back roads, too. My dad said that it wasn't worth the money to be fixed, and since I was going off to college soon, it didn't really matter.

The last time I drove Firsty was the first weekend I came home from college. I thought that it had had a long enough rest and I took my boyfriend out for a ride. At first my little car was doing great, and I was wild with glee. I had been so homesick, and getting behind the wheel had made things feel right again. But sure enough, my beloved car finally died on the side of the road, and we had to be towed back to my parents' house. My boyfriend was annoyed but I was heartbroken. I never drove my little Firsty again.

She sat in our driveway for a few months before my dad called someone to come and take her away. When I got the call, I cried and cried, as if a family member had died. The next time I came home, the driveway looked naked.

When I think back to those days, I think of sunshine. I can picture my friends and me in that car, singing along with bad music, and our big worries were what we were going to do that evening. I think of joy and freedom. Now of course, as an adult, I can see what was really happening. My father couldn't give me what he had given my sisters, or the status the other kids had. I was somewhat spoiled and hung up about what the other kids would think, even though I was smart enough to know that it didn't really matter. It wasn't so much that I deserved a car, but it was his way of trying to convince me that even though our lives had drastically changed with his illness, everything would be alright, and he was still powerful enough to make that happen. So not only do I think of sunshine, being seventeen and naïve, and how badly I wanted to take that little car out of the suburbs and go to the big City where life must be cooler, I think of my father and how much he cared about me to have given me such a gift.

So now I'm out of the suburbs and stuck on public transportation. Whenever I'm packed on a crowded, stinky bus or I have just missed the Bart train, I look back on my senior year in high school and remember that once upon a time, in a land about twenty minutes away, I had my very own car. It'll happen again someday, but nothing will ever compare to my beautiful, magical Firsty.

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Volume 1
Page 2
Fall 2000

 

Grito De Vieques
© 2000 Aya de León

My name is Vieques
I am a Puerto Rican girl.
My stepfather is the United States.
He comes into my room at night to do his business.

My names is Vieques.
I used to dream that Spain, my real father, would come back and rescue me.
But he's gone for good.
I have only the faint and echoing voices of Africana and Taina ancestors telling me that
I can survive this.

My name is Vieques.
When my body started to change, my stepfather dressed me in a clingy, itchy dress.
"Smile," he told me. "Smile at the nice foreign military man," and pushed me toward him.
The military man was not nice.
His skin was pasty. He breath smelled. I couldn't understand his language.
He came into my room and did his business.

My name is Vieques.
Sometimes my stepfather sells me to whole groups.
He calls them allied forces.
I fought back the best I could with chains and live bodies and fishing boats.
It happened anyway.

My name is Vieques.
I am still fighting back.
I am bigger and stronger now.
I have put a church, an encampment, a struggle up at my bedroom door.
My stepfather can't get in.
He has not been able to do his business for months now, longer than I ever dreamed.

My name is Vieques.
Without the shock of constant bombardment, the numbness is subsiding.
I look at my body and see the devastation.
Lagoons, like self-esteem, have dried up to nothingness.

My womb is wilting with radiation from illegally used uranium ammunition.
Where my skin was once lush and soft, I am scarred.
Old tanks, like cigarette burns, dot my flesh.
Unexploded bombs, like memories, may detonate in the future
when chosen lovers touch me in the wrong spot or without warning.

My name is Vieques.
The numbness is subsiding.
Tender shoots of grass push up toward the sky.
A lizard sneaks back to sun itself on a chunk of shrapnel.
A butterfly alights on a rusted out jet.
Fish slowly make their way back toward my shores,
no longer reverberating with shockwaves of violation.

My name is Vieques.
This is my body.
It may be worth eighty million dollars a year to you, Yanqui,
but it is priceless to me.

My door is barred.
I have burned the clingy, itchy dress.
The encampment grows stronger.
The lizards, the grass, the fish, the butterflies stand with me.
I'll never be the same,
but I'll never be yours again to do you dirty business.

My name is Vieques
and I will be free.

ABOUT VIEQUES: Vieques, a small island which is part of Puerto Rico, has been under US military occupation since 1941. During that time, the island and its occupants have been subjected to continuous US military exercises with live ammunition, including radioactive material. In April 1999, two bombs missed their target and killed David Sanes-Rodriguez, a civilian security guard. This incident touched off the most recent wave of resistance in Vieques and the Puerto Rican community at large. Aya de León, a Californian of Puerto Rican heritage, wrote this poem in Nov.1999, after hearing Carlos Zenon, a fisherman from Vieques, speak about the struggle.

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The Doctor's Office Revisited
© 2000 Jane Freeman

"There ain't but one Dr. Wong, is there?" The voice could be heard even standing behind the tape line near the Kaiser reception desk. (For the sake of privacy please wait here.)
I sighed, and waited my turn. Across the room my little bundle of a mother sat hunched in her wheelchair. Next to her, my husband turned magazine pages and read.
It took two of us for these visits. Two of us to lift the wheelchair. There was parking and helping her in and out of the car. She walked very slowly with her walker. Too slowly and with too much effort. The wheelchair was a must.
"Now why are we seeing the doctor?"
"He wants to take your blood pressure. It's a routine checkup."
This was her first appointment with Dr. Gordon since her fall. A blow to the head had put her in skilled nursing for 36 days. As the engorged purple knot on her temple spread down her face and neck, she gradually regained the vigor of her former frail self. She could swallow, walk, toilet herself and gently complain, as before.
My mother's name was called and we wheeled into the examining room. Next was the ascent to the table.
"Okay, now turn yourself around on the stool. That's it.

 Now scoot your bottom onto the table. Good."
"Have I seen this doctor before?"
"Yes. You remember Dr. Gordon. You'll remember him when you see him."
Dr. Gordon always greeted Mom first. I loved him for this. He asked her how she was. She thought for a bit.
"Well, I could be better, " she said. "My knees," she rubbed them. "I have a lot of pain."
We talked of Tylenol and cold packs, while he got a blood pressure reading. He asked me to show him the spot where she had hit her head. I did. He examined it gently.
"Dr. Gordon wants to see where you injured yourself. Remember the huge purple bruise you got when you fell?" It had been a shock to her every time she looked in the mirror.
"Fell?' she said.
"Yes, you fell."
It became apparent to me she didn't remember falling, or the paramedics, the emergency rooms, (two of them) the cat-scan, the hospital stay and the skilled nursing wing.
"You don't remember?"
Dr. Gordon turned to me. He winked. "There are some advantages to her condition," he said with a smile.
I nodded. "It's okay, mom," I said, and I took her hand.

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|| How You Can Be Published || Books || Classes || Writers || Poetry || Calls for Writing & Events ||

 How You Can Be Published:

There are several ways. You can also send in poetry or short prose of your own to be considered for IN OUR OWN WORDS, an ezine when it began in 2000, now the literary journal from BBBOOKS. We also recommend looking at the Classifieds in Poets and Writers Magazine, visiting our Calls for Submission Page, or entering our annual contest, THE BURNING BUSH POETRY PRIZE (formerly The People Before Profits Poetry Prize). Only entires that include a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) will be returned, so be sure to include this with your work. See our editorial philosophy.

IN OUR OWN WORD
S ©2000 Burning Bush Publications.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America.
No part of this literary journal may be reproduced or transmitted in form or by any means, elecrical or mechanical, photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrival system, without written permission from the Publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews. All rights revert to authors and artists upon publication. For more infomation, contact Burning Bush Publications.

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