Archive for creative nonfiction

Poems from the Bargain Bin

Posted in Junk 4: Summer 2011, Ryan Hilary with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by Tim Elhajj

by Ryan Hilary

image of hollow toy baby head

I notice in pretty restaurants,
Erotic games and children’s toys;
The flakes of my disease.

For I am often baroque with my verbiage,
Stacking too many too high,
Too little too low.

My pulse lives in words,
Though my spirits rise with wine,
Because I am weak and lack in wealth
Come from a quiet family,
And have not suffered enough.

Often before an altar of electric light,
Working upon plastic papyrus,
I wonder if I tug as hard at the seams of others
As I do my own.

When stung by their sadness,
When retching at their ruptures,
I touch bruises, or scrape
The inner rawness
Of women and men
Who I love from afar,
But detest in intimacy

Then alone in their pain;
I find I am a stranger to my own.

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Stalemate at Turk and Taylor

Posted in Junk 4: Summer 2011, Tom Pitts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2011 by Editors

by Tom Pitts

The problem was finding a place to shoot up. I’d tried everything. Public buses, public bathrooms, people’s front stoops, in the parks, in parking lots where needles were hidden safely under the bumper of an immobilized car, it was a constant problem that needed constant solving.

One of the safest, most private places I could think of was the video arcade porno booths. The kind of joint that a guy went into with a roll of quarters in one hand and a hard-on in the other.

I’d done it before. There was a XXX porno shop beside the methadone clinic with the pay by the minute video booths hidden in back. I’d gone in and cooked up, and hit up by the light of thirty-six channels of endless sex.

It was maybe my third visit to the video arcade. I went into the booth, and started to set up shop. This included grabbing some newspaper from my bag and stuffing the glory hole to ensure complete privacy.

This time the paper popped back out. I stuffed it right back in. Again, it popped back out.


There was someone on the other side pushing it out. I was so focused on finally having solitude that it didn’t even occur tome that that was what the fucking glory hole was there for in the first place. I had a needle in one hand, a spoon in the other. It was worse than being caught masturbating.

“No thanks!”  I said, replacing the paper. Loudly, I thought, but I guess not loudly enough, because the newspaper popped right back out. Goddamn it. I was pissed, I didn’t have all day. They made you buy a minimum three dollars in tokens and each of the tokens lasted only seconds it seemed. I had only so much light to unpack this shit, cook it up, and trickiest of all: find a vein.

At any moment I feared a big hard cock being shoved though the hole. Or a terrified voice shouting, “Hey what are you doing in there? That’s not beating off!”

I leaned over and shouted at the hole.

“Try another fuckin’ booth.” I shoved the paper back at the hole, and added, “Not interested.” An unnecessary appeasement in case I’d hurt the pervert’s feelings. I think he had figured out I’d be doing something other than what he was doing.

I went about my business quick.  My tiny bottle of water, the little rat-shit sized piece of black tar heroin, a shed of filter from my cigarette to draw it up through, and the reason for my urgency, a quarter gram of cocaine, ready to slide in once the junk was heated and dissolved.

I’d pump a few more tokens into the machine and look around for some fucking going on in a white room.  When I thought the light was the best, I’d take the spoon and twist it up into my sleeve, creating a tourniquet, and start poking around till I got something.

Afterward I’d try to stay in there, use up my tokens, check out the movies, but I never could. I’d flip around the channels, rubbing myself a little, but I had no interest, I was already satisfied. Then, the paranoia would set in, and I’d have to move on the next place, the next comfort zone.


It took a month or so before I felt like I had to go back to the booths again. It was late, the public pay toilets on Market Street were being serviced and it was too dangerous in the Tenderloin to just plunk down in a doorway and start fixing. The place beside the methadone clinic was too far away. It would only take a few minutes by bus, but that would require waiting for a bus, something I could not bear to do.

The closest places were the seediest joints in town. Turk and Taylor. The corner was widely known as the place you could buy any drug you could think of. I’d never think of buying there. It was a sure fire burn. It was crack dealers and people selling heavy duty meds. It’s where the homeless went to shop when they needed to self-medicate.

My presence down there was an exercise in self-denial. But I wasn’t gonna linger, I was gonna get this hit and then a bus ride wouldn’t seem so agonizing. After all, I hoped the next bus ride would take all night long.

The shop I picked was at 45 Taylor. It was next door to a halfway house a friend of mine stayed at when he got out of the pen. I walked in and browsed a few moments. It was the same stuff as the other joint. Dildos and DVDs. Same shit, different hole. I walked up to the counter and asked for tokens for the booths in back.

“Minimum three dollars,” said the clerk. Same as the other place. I didn’t say a word; I just forked over the three dollars and made my way toward the back. Once inside, I went through the same ritual as before. Only this time I noticed that the tokens didn’t give me as much time.

I was tearing cellophane with my teeth and drawing up water when I heard a knock. I froze. Fearful like a deer. Who would knock? Is that management? What do they want?  They’d have to assume I was jerking off and want privacy so I decided to ignore them and keep moving.

The red digits on the seconds counter fell as I hurried to assemble the hit. Dope, water, flame, coke, cotton.

Knock, knock, knock.

I had just drawn up the hit, I couldn’t have somebody pounding on the door when I had a needle in my vein, I had to answer.

“Fuckoff.” I called out. No sense in beating around the bush.

The knock came again, a little lighter this time.

“Fuckoff.” I repeated. A little louder this time.

But the knock came back, this time with a voice.

“Open up.” It was tough to make out, but it was a voice.

“Busy.” I answered. I wanted to kick the door open and scream What the fuck!, but I wanted that hit.

“Come on, man. Open up.” The voice was barely above a whisper. I knew it wasn’t management or the cops. It was almost pleading.

What?” I said, as sharply as possible. I still didn’t want to open that door. Then I heard the voice say something I couldn’t make out.  It was a question, I could tell, but who knew what?

The voice repeated the question.

Jesus Christ, I wasn’t gonna get rid of this guy. I didn’t know if he needed a light or if he was hitting me up for change, but I was going to have to open up that door.  I held the needle behind my back and cracked it open just a bit.

There was no one there.

Then, the voice repeated the question. Even with the door cracked, I still couldn’t understand the question. I open the door further to see where the person owning that voice went.

It was then I saw something move in the blackness in front of me.  I looked down and saw two yellowy eyes and a set of grinning teeth looking up. I recognized him immediately; it was as though I’d already seen him in my nightmares. He was a tiny black man,only about 4 and a half feet tall.  I’d seen him many times on Market Street handing out photocopied poetry to uninterested commuters. He was dreadlocked and dirty. His head was too big for his body and his yellow glassy eyes bulged out of that enormous head.

“What?” I repeated, in shock from seeing him there in the first place.  He asked the question again. “Can you what?” It still made no sense to me.

He slowed down.

“When you are done . . . can I eat your wad?”

I blinked, astonished. This is what he wanted? This stranger? Is this what this guy did all night? I was nauseated, disgusted, but most of all pissed off that he interrupted me for . . . this.

I held up the needle in front of his face.

“I’m trying to fix. Fuck off.”

But he just stood there expecting me to change my mind. Grinning, waiting.

After a pause he said, “I mean, after.”

“I’m fixing, I don’t have any . . . wads,” I said and slammed the door.

I went back to work. Wham. Slam. Pack up and get out. I was trying not to think about that little troll at the door, about what kind of death wish one must have to go and beg to gulp a stranger’s semen in a porno booth in the Tenderloin.

As soon as I opened the door, there he was. Still hoping I was going to change my mind, or maybe waiting for the next guy.

I thought to bitch to the clerk, but decided against it. Better to keep moving. Next time, I’d take the excruciating bus ride down to the train station and take my chances with the hobos in the public restrooms; anything to avoid suicidal deviants.

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Posted in Junk 3: Spring 2011, Shannon Barber with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2011 by Editors

by Shannon Barber

The nurse kept asking if I smoked crack. My intake at the clinic seemed to focus around my supposed children, my supposed acts of wanton prostitution and my supposed crack habit.

“When was the last time you did any drugs?”

The nurse never looked me in the eye; she spoke my name in a weird buzz heavy voice, Mizz Barr-Berrr. She made my name sound like an accusation, of what I didn’t know but I was guilty of course.

I had to keep my composure, I called her ma’am, I filled out my paperwork in my neatest hand and I honestly listed my ailments. Then there was the crack and children questions, I stopped counting at six times because I was so angry I couldn’t keep it up, I remember clenching my toes inside my boots so I wouldn’t clench my fists and appear like the angry Black woman I was.

“Mizz Barr-Berrr, when was the last time you did any narcotics?”

“Two weeks ago I tried marijuana.”

“I see. How many times a day do you use it?”

“None, I don’t like it.”

She pursed her lips and scribbled something hard on the clipboard, she exuded disapproval and left.

I sat in a cold exam room in my paper gown with my boots still on. I felt gross; I wasn’t sleeping, had no insurance and needed a pap smear. I couldn’t concentrate enough to keep the repeated questions about the crack use I’d never experienced from playing in my head.

By that time I had pretty well established what drugs I could and couldn’t do. I loved hallucinogens, E, prescription speed all were trusted old friends. I didn’t sleep much anyway and anything speedy kept the sleep deprivation symptoms at bay. Anything that made me dance or fuck all night was fine by me. Crack was not on the list.

I sat on that cold paper covered exam table, contemplating crack. I hadn’t ever tried it despite having had plenty of opportunities. I hated the way it smelled, I hated the idea of burning my lips and fingers on a pipe and yet I still wondered if I could forgive all that for the high? Was it important to my experience that I try it at least once so I could answer that question in a more satisfactory way?

My exhausted brain fixated on the idea and I forgot why I had gone to the clinic in the first place. When I arrived, I had my purpose in an iron grip. Pap smear, help for my insomnia and perhaps some advice about how to get mental health help because I was fairly certain I was going insane. I had to try and concentrate so I could talk to the doctor like a grown up lady. When the doctor walked in and began to ask me the same questions about my supposed crack use and possible history of abortions. It was too much.

The weight of the doctor’s disapproval regarding my apparent lies about my drug use and number of children or abortions I’d had, broke the thin veneer of self-control I was clinging to. I wept like an over tired toddler who can’t even throw a proper fit. I confessed to everything.

I tried smoking weed, I got drunk, I got really drunk, I liked speedy drugs, I ate shrooms when I could get them, I wasn’t sleeping so I was masturbating so much my labia felt swollen and irritated, I thought I was going crazy and I had a weird rash near the crack of my ass. I couldn’t seem to eat anything but crackers with everything on them and my face kept twitching.

The doctor was unimpressed by my outpouring and closed the file folder with a snap.

“We do not tolerate drug seeking at this clinic.”

She walked out and I sat there weepy and bewildered, I put my clothes on without having a stranger look at my cervix or squeeze my breasts. I wandered out and back into the lobby where the nurse was waiting for me.

“Mizz Barr-Berr, take these and come back when you are ready.”

I was ready, I was twenty-one goddamn years old, people had been looking at my cervix since I was thirteen, and I had mammograms before. I had gone all alone to get HIV tests and full STD panels. I was so ready to-

Then I realized that supposedly I was a crack addict, prostitute and deadbeat Mom who had aborted countless hordes of fetuses. The pamphlets were for Narcotics Anonymous and there was one on sterilization. I left and sat at a bus stop trying to process what had just gone on.

My mood swung from feeling guilty of everything to the familiar and comforting gut churning rage I like to call my friend. I got myself back together and went home. After masturbating again and failing to go to sleep I laid on the floor staring at my ceiling and pondering the merits of getting on the glass dick.

I reasoned that no one expects a crack addict to be sane so I could stop pretending. I already did not sleep so the hours of mania would be no problem. I could probably suck dick for cash, I sucked cock for free so why not for profit? Would I like more than I liked any other drugs?

I dug deep into my drug knowledge and impressions of the crack addicts I knew, my brain spun and then I slept. The sleep was the kind of restorative thing that put all my civilized human things back into place, except that I still had a smoldering urge to try smoking crack.

For months after that, my method of counting sheep without counting sheep was debating with myself in my head about whether or not to smoke crack. I never did try smoking crack. Not because I talked myself out of it but because of the voice of that nurse I knew that the second I hit a crack pipe, the only thing I would hear in my head would be her voice, forever ruining my high.

“Mizz Barr-Berr…”

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Slow Burn

Posted in Erin Murphy, Junk 2: Winter 2011 with tags , , , , , , , on February 14, 2011 by Editors

by Erin Murphy


The day my brother nearly burns down the house, I am sitting on the living room floor.

Correction: it’s not a house but an apartment, my father’s first since the divorce.

I am playing with Lincoln Logs on the burnt-orange shag carpet, building and rebuilding a perfect house with a green roof.

Correction: I’m not playing; I’m killing time until we’re returned to our real home with our real toys and our real parent.

My father is taking a nap in the apartment’s only bedroom.

Correction: It’s not a nap but his usual stupor, a label for which we won’t have for years.

I see the fire out of the corner of my eye.

Correction: What I see first is the shadow puppet of a fire performing on the kitchen wall; mesmerized, I watch for the better part of a minute before investigating its cause.

When I crane my neck around the corner, I see my two-year-old brother waving a brown paper bag that he has dipped in the lit burner of the gas stove. Pretty, he exclaims. Pretty! Pretty!

Correction: He can’t pronounce pretty. He says pity.

I knock the burning bag from my brother’s hand and scream for our father, who bolts from the bedroom and douses the flames.

Correction: Our father doesn’t respond until I shake him awake; he extinguishes the fire with a pot of cold, two-day-old coffee.

My brother’s exclamations soften to a whisper: Pity. Pity. Pity.

No correction necessary.

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Posted in Barry Grass, Junk 2: Winter 2011 with tags , , , , , , , on January 13, 2011 by Editors

by Barry Grass 

Patches of skin walk in sagged and browned. Patches of skin like ruins of skin on skin. Some skin showing where hair once was. Mostly ruined skin showing where a person once was. No. Always a person. Never forget their humanity. Never call them desperate. Always notice their desperation. There are the tests, always, the tubes & diastolic numbers & cuffs & pumps. There is the paperwork, always, the photocopies & emergency contacts & “how long?”s & “where at?”s. There is the hatred, never, but down there somewhere, near memories of fathers, near feelings of abandonment. There is the conflict.

Always. Cover the skin. Throw sheets on the ruins and flush out the grime. Fight the protests. Check the purse, the pant leg. Take the knife, the rock. Wear gloves, always, but never do; gloves create distance. Desire distance, always. Get close in spite of desire, always. Take blood pressures. Talk to them until sleeping. Look at that skin. 

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Posted in Elizabeth Westmark, Junk 1: Fall 2010 with tags , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by Editors

by Elizabeth Westmark 


Dear Max,

I’ve reached that stage of life where my sins of omission far outweigh my sins of commission.

The old preacher who befriended you in that tiny town where you were living led us to the small frame house by the railroad tracks.

The dilapidated wooden swing on the porch whispered of better times. We slowly followed the reverend to the front door. He jiggled the key and twisted the loose knob, pushing on the humidity-swollen door until it opened.

Collectively taking a deep breath, we stepped over the threshold.

Oh, dear God, so this is how you were living.

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Addict (n.)

Posted in Holly Huckeba, Junk 1: Fall 2010 with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2010 by Editors

by Holly Huckeba


I am not the noun.

My husband is the noun. My father is the noun. My grandmother was the noun. Nouns get the verb. Nouns get the predicate. Subject, object; it’s immaterial. Nouns get the attention.

Despite my best efforts, I am not the noun.

I am the adjective. I’ve spent a lifetime being the adjective, just like my mother before me. Adjectives modify nouns. Adjectives describe the condition of nouns. But adjectives do not stand alone. I hate being the adjective.  

I love being the adjective.

One thing is for certain: The adjective is dependent on the noun for its existence. No one but a hack or an addict would claim the reverse.

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What Kind of Father Am I?

Posted in Junk 1: Fall 2010, Tim Elhajj with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by Editors

by Tim Elhajj

Twenty-some years ago, I took my son to a Pennsylvania amusement park named for a chocolate bar and discovered I had a lot to learn about being a father. He was a chipper boy of about three-and-a-half. It was a bright summer’s day and we were having a good time. He insisted we ride a wild roller coaster that included a loop-the-loop. It seemed like a bad idea to me, but he was relentless: He tugged at my pant leg, screwed up his little sun-baked face and whined. I would have stood a better chance of denying him, had I felt a little more secure in my ability to father him. Or, perhaps, if I had a better sense of the kind of father I wanted to be. As it was, I had neither. Shortly after he was born, his mother had taken him and left me, and my father was dead and gone, leaving me with only the vague notion that I ought to be able to do a better job than he had done with me. It seemed simple enough. But I only had the boy for the afternoon. And more than anything else, I wanted to make him happy.

“You want to ride the SooperDooperLooper?” I asked.

He literally leapt into the air and bounced in a ring around me. His blond crew cut shone, his blue eyes glittered with anticipation.

Part of the SooperDooperLooper’s popularity is its low height requirement. Even so, I had to grab Timmy by his armpit and nudge him half an inch skyward to meet the bar. I nodded to the timid teenager collecting tickets and said, “He’s good.”

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Jimi Don’t Play Here No More

Posted in Junk 1: Fall 2010, Tim Elhajj with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by Editors

by Tim Elhajj

After getting booted from high school three times, I joined the military. Three years into my enlistment, the Navy cut me loose. I moved back to Pennsylvania and got married, but then my wife split, taking our baby boy with her. I was a 24-year-old cyclone of poor decisions.

In time, I landed in county jail. At least nobody gets thrown out of jail. Drug treatment followed, but even that didn’t work: I went to AA meetings high. One night a woman named Alice pulled me aside and hissed: “You are going to die!”

I told her the obvious: “We’re all going to die, Alice.”

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