Michelle Brittan Rosado – Childhood Bedroom Window, 1980s

Michelle Brittan Rosado

Childhood Bedroom Window, 1980s

in Daly City I look each night 
for the symmetrical arrangement 
of red lights in the distance 
that someone had told me 

was the Sutro Tower
in San Francisco, the first 
of several cities I would pine for 
from the outside. Some nights, 

the pinpoints disappear behind a layer 
of fog from the bay, and others 
they show so brightly 
like the forgotten pegs in my Lite Brite 

glowing at the end of the room, 
it is almost like I could lift the black 
construction paper
at the corner of the sky 

Author’s note: The poems in this series all use the image of a window as their starting point, some in the title itself and others more peripherally. I’ve been thinking of this symbol a lot lately — as a portal for wonder in childhood, an aperture to others’ lives during the pandemic, a view of the world outside after giving birth and spending those early days indoors. These poems may not have come into existence without the invitation to contribute to The Fresno 15, and I am endlessly grateful to the MFA program for my years there and the deep sense of community I’ve carried with me since graduating in 2011. Thank you for reading and for supporting the Larry Levis Memorial Scholarship. 

Lena Mubsutina – The Thieving Pot: Excerpt 12

Lena Mubsutina

Author’s Note: The next 12 days I will be sharing excerpts from the first part of my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled “The Thieving Pot.” It is loosely based on the Palestinian folktale, “Tunjur, Tunjur,” a story about a pot that comes to life and wreaks havoc on her neighbors with her deception and theft.

The Thieving Pot

After a few weeks of going to the suq nearly every day, Zara became ill. She assumed it was her exhaustion and age showing itself in her bones that ached so much that it was painful to move her arms or to lift an empty Tunjur, and just the thought of having to hold a needle to sew or embroider made her wince. But one morning she was in such pain that she told Tunjur that they would stay home the entire day and likely the next as well. “We have been making plenty of profit,” she said, anticipating objections from her daughter. “Everything in the house has been fixed, and we have a store of food that is almost as much as what we used to have when ten people lived in this house.”

Tunjur dreaded spending the entire day inside, but she did not argue with her mother. She prepared tea for her throughout the day when Zara felt strong enough to sit up, and while she did not have much appetite, Tunjur brought Zara some of the bread that Abu Latif gave them the previous day.

Tunjur wondered how she had been to cope with staying inside all the time despite it being only a month since she ventured outside of their house on her own. She rolled around the floor quietly, trying not to disturb her mother’s sleep, and thought about how delicious it would be if she could cook musakhan or mukhiya right now. She closed her eyes to better perceive the sight and taste of the food that she did not have.

Zara stayed in bed several more days, her aches and exhaustion so overwhelming that sometimes she could not distinguish her waking hours from her sleep. She drank Tunjur’s mint tea a couple of times a day and had a bit of the leftover bread, which was now as hard as a cracker. She barely managed to get up and then squat over the toilet when she needed to urinate; luckily, because she ate so little, she did not have to put the effort into shitting.

She worried that she may be near death, recalling how she had to help both her parents use the toilet and bathe themselves for years. Zara realized that if she became too weak to do these things on her own, it was unlikely that Tunjur could help her. She had learned to do many things such as rolling, lifting, and unlatching the door, but how could she ever learn how to lift someone a hundred times her size?

And when she was gone, who would care for Tunjur?

This last question made Zara’s stomach turn. She imagined her neighbors and the other townspeople fighting over the possession of Tunjur but only wanting her around for status or to make money off her food. But maybe there was someone else in Bayt Tahweel or somewhere else in the world who could truly love Tunjur. Zara had little faith in the compassion that others would show someone who had lost everything though, especially when the potential for great profit was involved. 

Zara’s mother had criticized her for being too distrustful, believing it was one of the reasons that she never married, but as she grew older, her father told her to hold on to that trait as it was necessary for a woman on her own.

But the weight of her suspicions and fears sometimes felt as heavy as her bones, and she wished that she knew how to shed them.

The frailty of human bodies was a foreign concept, so while she knew that her mother was in pain and wanted to help make her feel better, she did not share her mother’s worries about mortality. Instead, she was bored as she had not made food in what seemed like an eternity and had no one to talk to as Zara slept or rested nearly the entire day.

She stared at the front door for long periods of time, thinking about she could manage to sneak off for just a couple of hours without her mother knowing anything. But Yama might find out though, she thought. And it would be horrible if I upset when she already feels so bad.

But again Tunjur was annoyed at her mother’s restrictions and endless concerns. Why did she have to be so cautious? Tunjur was not like a little human child who could not even feed themselves. She could handle any troubles and protect herself without her mother’s presentence. Yama does not know anything about being a pot because she never was one, so she imprisons me with her rules that are fit for humans. If only Zara could truly understand Tunjur’s capabilities and strength . . .

But she couldn’t, so Tunjur unlatched the door and basked in the rush of air against her body.

Steven Sanchez – Left Anterior Fascicular Block

Steven Sanchez

Left Anterior Fascicular Block

Scar tissue paves my heart
                                              in rumble strips
  like the 99. Southbound
                                              from San Francisco,
k-rails cinch three lanes 
                                              into two 
                                                            into one,
a miles-long corset
                             meant to protect
construction workers 
                                            while they erect pylons
for a high speed rail 
                             on the verge
                                                          of abandonment. 
Scuff marks streak 
                             against the concrete walls
 and I find myself
                            staring, 
                                             wondering
how a car survives,
                             imagining how 
                                            my door’s mirror
                                                           would shatter
and I’d wake up 
              with my face 
                            steeped in glass.

Target fixation—
                            if you stare long enough,
the body always moves toward its gaze,
               and maybe that’s why
                              I never make eye contact
in a mirror,
                              though I did stare 
              at the reflection 
                                         of you 
                             and I
                                         holding hands 
               on the bus
in the Castro—
                            one of the few times we did
in public. 
                            A man approached us,
said he lost the love of his life
               in the 80’s 
                                              when America refused to look 
at thousands
                of Queers 
                            dying. In the window, 
our hands held
                            an entire city. 
I never asked
                            Why are you so afraid?

                                                            Electricity
makes a detour
                             in my heart,
                                                 now.
After we ended,
                            you kissed a man
just outside a restaurant window
                                                           and told me

I felt bad because I kept wishing it was you.

Once, 
               I saw green glass sparkle
on the side of the road—
                                                          no—
it was a bird’s corpse, 
               chest hollowed,
                             a mound of flies gleaming. 

Michelle Brittan Rosado – Window Scenes for Out-of-Town Visitors

Michelle Brittan Rosado

Author’s note: The poems in this series all use the image of a window as their starting point, some in the title itself and others more peripherally. I’ve been thinking of this symbol a lot lately — as a portal for wonder in childhood, an aperture to others’ lives during the pandemic, a view of the world outside after giving birth and spending those early days indoors. These poems may not have come into existence without the invitation to contribute to The Fresno 15, and I am endlessly grateful to the MFA program for my years there and the deep sense of community I’ve carried with me since graduating in 2011. Thank you for reading and for supporting the Larry Levis Memorial Scholarship. 

Window Scenes for Out-of-Town Visitors

Vacaville, California

The stretch of road that curves left then up then 
right and the glowing 

street lamps arranging in the rearview 
like a smiley face—the barn 

where we said the zodiac 
killer lived—the turn 

signals like metronomes—
the still cows we never touched 

with fingers past the window’s beveled 
edge, combing the wind—the smoke 

stacks of the Budweiser plant—the invisible 
radio waves from the college station breaking 

over the hills—the blur of neon fonts 
firebranding the night

Lena Mubsutina – The Thieving Pot: Excerpt 11

Lena Mubsutina

Author’s Note: The next 12 days I will be sharing excerpts from the first part of my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled “The Thieving Pot.” It is loosely based on the Palestinian folktale, “Tunjur, Tunjur,” a story about a pot that comes to life and wreaks havoc on her neighbors with her deception and theft.

The Thieving Pot

The steaming incident boosted their business as people visited with more orders, and Zara could tell that some of the mischievous customers tried to anger Tunjur intentionally to see her steam again. Abu Dawoud, who would not deign to visit the booth run by a woman with a haraam talking tunjura before, put in an order for laban. Right after he poured the milk under Tunjur’s lid, he complained about the time it took for Tunjur to create the yogurt. “How can something so magical take so long to make a simple dish?” he asked before clicking his tongue in disapproval.

“Only a man would think three minutes to make milk into laban with no fire is a long wait,” Tunjur replied, annoyed but not angry.

And Zara was relieved to see that sometimes Tunjur would be upset or impatient with demanding customers, but she never became as angry as she did with Imm Feez.

Still, Tunjur could be harsh with those who could not pay her what she thought her food was worth. She turned away several who could not meet her demands, and Zara advised her daughter, “Have mercy and compassion, Tunjur. Everyone cannot afford your prices, and you must compromise.”

Tunjur rolled her eyes and groaned. “Why do you humans have so many rules? What is so wrong about doing what I want to do?”

“You wanted to be out in the world with all these other people, so it is haraam to be among them but act like you are the only one who exists.”

Tunjur contemplated her mother’s words, thinking about how the two of them, until so recently, only had their small house that was still in a state of disrepair and just enough for Zara to eat and Tunjur to cook. She agreed with her mother, but it was hard to admit because she also wanted to be successful, and mercy and compassion seemed to get in the way of that.

“Tayeb, Yama. I’ll try to be nicer to people who have less.”

Later that day she made laban and even maqluba for a few people who could only provide the ingredients but no payment. Zara knew these families had less, and she assured Tunjur that they were not trying to trick her. Tunjur also felt joy at hearing the profuse gratitude from those who received discounts or free food.

“I am so proud of you, Tunjur,” Zara said as she packed up their booth for the day.

Tunjur sighed as she took inventory of her earnings. “Yeah, but I made so much less.”

Because of Tunjur’s terrifying temper, few people dared to ask about Tunjur about her origins or she could be a human’s daughter. Now they mostly talked about their own lives while they browsed through Zara’s tatreez collection of thobes or waited for Tunjur to finish their food. Zara and Tunjur both preferred these conversations; Zara felt judged or misunderstood every time she told any of the women about her life, and Tunjur sensed how uneasy those questions and comments made her mother.

Hearing about these women was a welcome relief from the worries that occupied Zara’s mind while she was at the suq: if some thieves would somehow sneak off with her most expensive thobes or, worst of all, Tunjur; if her daughter might misbehave and bring unwanted attention on to their family, especially from the Governor and Bayt Tahweel’s prominent families. These stories reminded her that the other Bayt Tahweelis’ were people instead of a collection of beings who were only there to impose rules and judgment, what she saw herself becoming to her sometimes.

Tunjur loved to hear the stories or the gossip about other people because the things that concerned people the most fascinated her. She wondered why someone’s status was so important in determining whether or not they could marry one of their children or why family members needled one another about how to dress or how to eat.

But the best thing was the gossip about others who engaged in wrong, taboo, or even illegal behavior. It brought her back to her first day at the suq when she hid while those women gossiped about the other vendors. Her body tingled, and sometimes her eyes widened when someone talked about something really sensational. She almost enjoyed this as much as making a big profit.

Few women felt inhibited when speaking around Zara and Tunjur because they thought the two of them would not do anything with this information, and they doubted if a tunjura, even a talking one, would fully comprehend or remember what they said.

Tunjur stored almost every word in her memory though.