We are pleased to offer this fine collection of writing performed by Monsoon Voices artists over the years. We hope you enjoy reading the work as much as we do!  This selection may change and grow over time.

For more information about the writers, please visit the ‘Biographies’ or ‘Links’ pages or contact us for details. 

Mary Ber  –  Yang and Yin
Jimmy Berlin  –  A Change in the Weather
Gary Bowers  –  The Visits
Jefferson Carter  –  Otis
David Chorlton  –  Arizona
Elizabeth Earley  –  The Glass Mountain (excerpt)
Mimi Ferraro  –  The Waiting Room
Kevin Hall  –  Tinfoil at My Windows and Poets
Karen Legg  –  Mosquitoes (excerpt)
Nadine Lockhart  –  Mona Plummer Haibum
Paris R. Masek II  –  An Oranged Grove Fireplace
Maryann McCullough  –  The Convert (excerpt)
Susan Vespoli  –   Another Nice Thing about Dogs
Randy Warner  –  Monsoon
Sandra Yee  –  Chinglish as a Second Language (excerpt)

 


Yang and Yin
by Mary Ber

A man keeps things to work with:
        blocks of wood,
        wire snippings, leather scraps, leftover shingles,
        cans of washers, bolts, and unidentified
        half-parts.
Someday a house or person may need mending.
Oh–and a man keeps keys,
        old keys to cars and doorways
        long since lost–
I don’t know why!
 
We women keep containers,
        for whatever comes along
        must have a place.
Especially if it needs
to be alone in dark awhile:
       Shoe boxes for old letters,
       perfume vials
       empty and brown with
       memories gone dry,
       cartons to pack away
       the summer clothes
       in winter
       and the winter clothes in summer,
       odd-shaped plastic
       bottles
       for their men to store the keys
       that lie around
       although
we don’t keep keys
 
Performed at Monsoon Voices in Oro Valley
July 11th, 2009
 
  
 
A Change in the Weather
by Jimmy Berlin

In the twilight
of a summer evening
I stand on the corner of my block
waiting for the women of my neighborhood,
who are all of small houses with
wood floors, to drift in my direction.
We are in a state of disbelief
over the phenomenon
of cool in August, in Phoenix.
Even the idea of it
burned off the sidewalk months ago.
All of us single parents, having run away
or been abandoned, standing now
in the middle of some dismantled
matrimonial machine
our social lives left out to rust
with the pliers and broken toys in the long grass
while evaporative coolers huff
and howl their rusty moisture at us
covering us in train rattling humidity, and the sweaty
heated tantrums and laughter
of our children.
We exist now in a kind of an irreverent limbo,
getting together once a month in someone’s
kitchen for cold beer or margaritas.
Scavengers of yard sales for small
appliances and children’s clothing,
we have become lifeguards
for each other, loaning small amounts
of cash and carpooling, wearing flip-flops, we sit
in bent unraveling lawn chairs
around plastic pools in the front yards.
But tonight we are loitering
in the cool evening grace that softens
the coarse color of hard lives,
clustered on the sidewalk, laughing
out loud because Carmen has decided
to describe, in gritty detail, making love to a man
in the front seat of his car, accompanied
by the whistles and applause
of bus-boys out for a smoke in the alley,
and not one of us regrets wanting
it that bad.

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
April 10th, 2009

 

The Visits
by Gary Bowers

Last year at this time it seemed like a fine time to visit the Truth,
and it was,
it was walking distance, it was gloriously balmy,
it was an easy visit and the time zipped by,
and it was the topic of conversation for days and days.

A month ago it seemed like high time to visit the Truth,
so, after investigation,
a bus ticket was purchased, provisions hastily stowed in a backpack,
and it was a day trip,
it was a blustery dodging-strangers tight-belted-trenchcoat chore
it was a few “not-here”s before arrival,
and then it was terse words and nod and glance and time to go,
and it was days regaining a buoyant spirit.

Now a summons has come,
an order to appear before the Truth,
and it is unwelcome indeed.

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
February 13th, 2009

 

Otis
by Jefferson Carter

The vet opens our dog’s mouth
& shows us the gray mass on his palate,
the tumor that’s grown so big
his breath whistles through one nostril.
Our options–$6000 for radiation
or do nothing. Goddamn anyone
who denies him a soul. My wife squats
beside him on the linoleum floor,
crooning as he whistles into her palm.

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Oro Valley, AZ
May 9th, 2009

 

Arizona
by David Chorlton

You can’t disentangle yourself
from the heat; not in May
when it crawls from under the rocks
and sits in the road
where the air above the asphalt
begins to dance,

not in June
when the light sinks its claws
into your cheeks
as you stare at the mountains
seeming to lift
from their foundations,

not in July
when it drips
from a scorpion’s tail,

and in August
when it yawns a yawn
so wide

you fall straight through it.

Performed at Monsoon Voices’ ‘Night of Summer Rain’ in Phoenix, AZ
July 18th, 2008
 

  

The Glass Mountain  (Excerpt – Fiction)
by Elizabeth Eearley

When I was 5, I caught a fever that lasted for weeks. I floated in and out of awareness. Each time I woke, I shivered. The covers were heavy, but scratchy and distant like a cave, leaving me under them wet and cold. My mother came and went, sometimes singing, sometimes reading. I saw her as if looking through a translucent tawny rock–bent and distorted in lovely ways.

Time passed. My mother sat at my bedside, her mouth moved but the sound stopped, replaced by color. It gushed from her mouth, the top of her head, from between her eyes. Dense pinks, confused gray, yellowish-brown pieces of smoke danced and lingered large in the room. Sometimes she cried and her tears sparked orange against her skin while a blue-green steam lifted into the air from her sad eyes. It was a visual clamor, and although beautiful, I lacked the strength to watch.

It took weeks of lying in bed, sleeping and not sleeping, before I slowly became more lucid, except for seeing the colors and that I couldn’t hear. The deafness started in the depths of my fever, a memory so fuzzy I could not recall the exact moment I went from hearing to not hearing. I will hear again. I will hear again. I will hear again. I thought this simple affirmation like a mantra continuously whenever I felt afraid, which was almost always.

I remembered during the fever that there had been a ringing, higher and fainter as it went until it disappeared all together leaving nothing. No sound. The silence was so total that I found myself looking over my shoulder or whipping my head from side to side, opening my eyes as wide as I could get them, needing to see everything. Without sound, to see, to feel – they were the only ways to listen…

When my mother discovered my hearing loss, I was flung into a frenzy of activity: doctors, specialists of every kind, spiritual healers, preachers, even magicians. My mother was not superstitious and my father was not a religious man, but they were both so determined to cure me of my deafness that no possible treatment, given that it was proven or even rumored to make a difference, was disqualified…

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
February 13th, 2009

 

The Waiting Room
by Mimi Ferraro

An image flickers on the monitor, sound turned down. In the doctor’s office, a woman, the mother, sits staring straight ahead, distant and removed as a separate country, or a far away city: Kuwait, Basra, wherever the father is. She wears bib overalls, clenches fists in lap. In the play area, two little girls, gravity’s angels, hold hands, wheel, orbit: heads thrown back, eyes closed. They spin faster and faster. The mother doesn’t make eye contact with the girls or anyone else in the room, motionless, as if the spirit’s left her body. Soon the oldest collapses in a chair, catches her breath. The youngest girl continues, celestial as a galaxy. When she stops, saliva bubbles in the corners of her mouth, her curly hair flames. Cherubic, about four years old, she has food stains on chest, the inside of arms, grease smears on her forehead; nothing on but grayed, rumpled panties. A tissue trails out of her undies, floats like the tail of a kite. The other patients shuffle feet uncomfortably, avert their eyes. She jumps up next to her sister; both begin to hum, whisper, tap feet, pop gum. Late morning light shifts. Finally, the mother turns toward the girls, whispers: “Shh, don’t make any noise, make believe its quiet time.” Inside the waiting room, the little girls listen.

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Oro Valley, AZ
May 9th, 2009

 

Tinfoil in My Windows
by Kevin Hall

When I become the history that
they read one day,
do they need to know about the
tinfoil in my windows and the
un-confessed damage to the fender?
Is it important to tell them about my
growing waistline and my
receding hair?
Do we have to use the stuff about the
thin checkbook or being
cut from the Jr. High baseball team or the
fear of heights and airsickness?
Is a broken marriage so
important or can we just talk
about the good one?
If we must expose all of this,
please, could we be sure to also
mention that my shirts were
pressed and that my
underwear was clean and
didn’t have holes?

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
November 7th, 2008


Poets
By Kevin Hall

I write for myself, a
common-language jester.
Readers
read for themselves.
And if we
sit together for a moment
on a ledge where we can
dangle our feet in the
coolness of a stream,
we have expanded the
boundaries of our
existence.
The thought that a
commoner can read and
grasp these words
banishes both of us
from the community of
poetic intellect.
All the kings at court
sentencing the guillotine,
while the hopefuls,
clamor at the sides of the bucket.

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
November 7th, 2008

 

Mosquitoes  (Excerpt – Essay)
by Karen Legg

I grew up in the garden state, and while a lot of people don’t think of New Jersey as a garden, it has plenty of green, and plenty of mosquitoes. As kids, we hated them, but we were kids. They bit you and you slapped them and got on with life. We played in the woods and the creeks, and the mosquitoes loved us.

My mom hated to see us covered in bites, though. During the summer when I was four years old she bought the most remarkable thing: a spray called OFF. It promised to keep bugs from biting. She’d spray it on us in the morning and we’d play outside all the day long, and the bugs would wait until the OFF had worn off. At twilight they feasted on our sweaty bodies. 

One evening I was on the porch and the rest of the world was either in the house or out in the yard. At that age I believed the yard to be as big as Shea Stadium. I was essentially alone. The green spray can sat on a small table on the porch, and I could see it, and I could see the bugs swarming around the porch light. Aha — my squirrelly little brain must have thought – I’ve seen Mom handle this problem! I grabbed up the green can and pressed the button on top as if I could spray all the bugs in the world away. I would have been a hero, if the spray nozzle hadn’t been pointed straight at my left eye.  

Screams split the summer night, and big people came running from the seven corners of the world. I remember being lifted, splayed out across the helping hands of several family members at once, and trying to cover my eye so the light didn’t stab it while Mom yelled at my brothers (not for anything they had done, but they were boys; they needed yelling at) and Dad tried to reason with me. “Let me see, Karen, I have to see it to help you.” Finally he won the whole of me and I curled into his arms and let him look. “Ah,” he smiled. “It’s still there. Let’s wash it out.” He carried me to the kitchen sink, and caused me a huge amount of pain that resonates to this day in my mind by holding my head under the faucet and washing out my eye. At that age, I really, truly believed he was washing – out – my – eye. And then he gave me ice cream. My mother threatened to massacre me if I ever touched a spray can again. 
 
It’s been a while.

I still get nervous when I have to use those little button sprayers…

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
June 12th, 2009
 
 
 
Mona Plummer Haibum
by Nadine Lockhart

                      Rectangular pools of reflected sun: isosceles flags
flapping red, yellow, blue; the smell of chlorine –chemical
and clean. Men, even in their seventies, sporting Speedos,
goggles, flipper fins, somersaulting like dolphins at the end of
each length, a giant timer counting down the digital neon like
an overlord to the bull-horned guard. 

                                                                           Divided archetype
                                                                           Water in the desert, 

                                                                           Lanes into laps.

Performed at Monsoon Voices’ ‘Night of Summer Rain’ in Phoenix, AZ
July 18th, 2008

 

An Oranged Grove Fireplace
by Paris R. Masek II

Huge concrete rivers containing slime green streams,
old freeways built for cars at 45 miles per hour.
Even the eucalyptus trees are transplants:
shedding their bark,
littering the ground,
turning into dirt.
My eyes, cataract hazed, smog just got in the way.
LA invented smog, refined it,
turned it into art, a lifestyle,
A sense so strong,
the taste of licked chain link.
Help me picture the bricked house,
frozen framed with fancy scalloped edges,
faces barely known now missing from my mind,
their remains returned to a final childhood.
I hate rap — my father hated Hendrix.
Why did they come here, to the West Coast Mecca of New
until so much, turned so many
sweet orange blossoms into pungent,
dusty, parts of smog?
You could drive to a wooded foothill,
leave the city just behind,
where graffiti, time, had not then reached,
pour oil down the road to keep down the dust
that climbed away from a clear, cool creek to an old cabin
built around an older scrub oak.
No environmental police to bust you.
Modern steel and marble are there now,
oiled roads paved over,
pieces of the puzzle permanently lost.
Eighty-eight year old oak burning behind thickened glass,
no orangewood left to pass over the polished metal hearth.
Where is the fuzz — when you really need them?

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
April 10th, 2009

  

The Convert  (Excerpt – Essay)
by Maryann McCullough

(This complete essay appears in the printed anthology, A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II, published by Adams Media.)

I now understand dog-lovers. It has taken a number of years and an assortment of animals, but I am now a bona fide member of the canine fan club.
 

And the credit goes to Buffy, who entered my life six years ago at a low point in a generally pleasant life. I had recently resigned from a prep school where I had taught for eighteen years, and though necessary, the parting from a career I loved was nonetheless a painful one. Our three sons were on their own, leading interesting lives in faraway places. My husband was still living a nine to five life. So in the daytime, it was an empty-feeling house. I needed a buddy.

Why I thought “dog” in response to that need is surprising. Though there had been a series of animals in my life, the track record wasn’t a good one. Our marriage began with Shark, Whale, and Tuna – three goldfish that soon became floaters. Then there was Dublin, our first dog. He was a beautiful Irish setter with an I.Q. of seven. He could spot rabbits at a good distance but failed to observe the children in that line-of-sight path. It really wasn’t that bad. Our boys were three and four and close to the ground anyway. Dublin was eventually returned to a farm where his lack of intellectual prowess was not a problem. There were several kittens that sadly never became cats. In general desert life in Carefree, Arizona was not a safe home for them. Then there was Gretchen, our dachshund. Sadly, when you are a female, short, fat and with facial hair, you don’t get a lot of respect. Short and fat was followed by a beauty with blue eyes. Portia, a rescued Alaskan malamute, was my son Colin’s good deed. But her history got the best of her, and with one swift bite she got the best of his new kitten, Jingle Bells. So we lost two animals that day – both victim and predator no longer lived in our happy home.

Despite the troubled history, I concluded that a dog was what I needed at this point in my life. And so the pursuit began.

This search was not really a positive experience either. I was interviewed at the ABC animal shelter in north Phoenix. I had fallen hard for this cute little poodle mix. In my less than ideal emotional state, to be rejected as an owner for an abandoned dog was hard to take. With effort, I convinced myself that I really was a worthy person and two weeks later I responded to a “moving and can’t take dog” ad. I clicked with this dog too – a cute little Bichon. She was licking my face and treating me as her long lost friend. The owner angrily accused me of hiding treats in my pocket and decided to take her dog with her to Pennsylvania. It was probably a good thing. The owner seemed more needy than I.

It was our housekeeper, Mary Jane (a serious dog-lover) who came to my aid. She knew of an older couple, who had two dogs and the finances required for their care was becoming a problem. And that is how we met Buffy…

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
June 12th, 2009
 

 

Another Nice Thing about Dogs
by Susan Vespoli

Another nice thing about dogs
is their lack of an
index finger
to point out
our multiple inadequacies
or to aim
at a list of shoulds. 
No trigger finger
to set us off.
No questions.
No answers.
Just warmth
and the soothingly monotonous
response of okay
to each moment’s quandary. 
The eternal mink stole
of their acceptance
surrounds us. 
The only long, slender digit
that they wag
is their tail
which can slice
through our moods
like a windshield wiper
on a rainy day.

Performed at Monsoon Voices, Phoenix, AZ
June 12th, 2009
 

 

Monsoon
by Randy Warner

The desert air after a thundershower
smells clean and dusty.  
It’s a nostalgic smell, familiar
like the sound of Al McCoy calling a Suns game
or the taste of homemade tamales at Christmas. 
When the cicadas start ringing
we watch the sky.
We gauge the mugginess,
Google the weather and ask:
“Will it be today?” 
By noon the clouds peek.
By afternoon, thunderheads build.
They tease us.
It’s coming!
Yes!
Yes! 
No.
The clouds miss left,
The crowd winces and sighs.
But there is always tomorrow. 
Or the next day. 
Until one day,
with booming glory,
Monsoon keeps her promise.
The spigot opens,
the sky lights,
arroyos are filled,
trees are felled,
power goes out,
people are stranded,
dogs are soaked,
children turn tongues to the sky. 
And we rejoice.
Again tomorrow, please? 

Until one day, the cicadas quiet.
The shadows lengthen,
the air turns dry,
and the nights are cool again. 
People say we don’t have seasons.
But in three months
the grapefruit will be sweet and ready to pick.

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
September 12th, 2008
 
 
Chinglish as a Second Language  (Essay – excerpt)
by Sandra Yee

My mother wishes I could speak more Chinese. Me, too.

“C’mon, Mom. You should be more positive. Encourage me,” I say over the phone and recount my day in mangled Toisanese.

She interrupts my stammering in broken English: “Your accent is awful!”

Chinese familial support. Undying.

My mother regrets that my siblings and I grew up speaking Toisanese instead of Cantonese. Toisanese is what people spoke in the village, out in the country, and Cantonese is what people spoke in the big cities, like Hong Kong. My family came from a long line of peasants, from the rice fields of Southern China to the desert of Phoenix, AZ. As you very well may know, Phoenix doesn’t have a large Chinese population, and certainly not in the 1970s, so we of the younger generation only spoke our mother tongue inside the family.

Whenever we visited relatives in Los Angeles and made the inevitable trip to Chinatown, I always faltered under the quick rattle of Cantonese thrown at me by Chinatown cashiers and wait staff. I could hardly understand anything they said. I consoled myself with: “Well, it’s because Toisanese is so uncommon.”

Toisanese became even less common in my life as I became more “educated” and traveled further away from home, eventually landing in Atlanta, Georgia. Far away from family, my mother tongue shriveled up like a cold egg roll.

Some ten years ago, when I taught English in Chengdu, the capitol of China’s Sichuan Province, my students and administrators were amazed that their American teacher was Chinese. They were used to falling in love with a blond-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned foreigner – not a Chinese American with a crew cut and combat boots. And my students were amazed that their Chinese American teacher didn’t speak either Mandarin or Cantonese.

“Well, it’s because I speak Toisanese,” I explained, sure the village dialect would be alien so deep in mainland China.

One day, on a fateful trip into the Sichuan countryside, a male student introduced me to his multilingual grandfather and exclaimed, “He can speak Toisanese to you!”

Much to my chagrin, I understood nothing his Yeh Yeh said. You know the joke. What do you call someone who can only speak one language? American.

So much for excuses.

A few years ago I discovered I am not pure Toisanese after all; my maternal grandmother turns out to be from the Hoi Ping province in Canton. In a springtime family reunion, my mother went around the dinner table and pointed out who spoke in either a Toisanese or Hoi Ping dialect. She told me I spoke in the Hoi Ping vernacular. Wow! All my life, I’ve been speaking Hoi Ping! No wonder I couldn’t understand anyone! No wonder no one could understand me!

All right, I confess. I’m not fluent in Hoi Ping either. When I visit my family in Phoenix, Arizona, I speak to my maternal grandparents in a mix of, in descending order, Hoi Ping, Toisanese, English, Mandarin, and maybe even Spanish.

I can usually count on the following from my grandmother: “When you were a child, you spoke Chinese all the time– now you can’t remember anything! You’re dumb as an egg!”

When I was younger and more impudent, my oft-repeated reply in perfect Hoi Ping was: “You’ve been in America for thirty years, and you can’t speak English!”

I am pleased to say I no longer speak to my elders so rudely and that the subjects of our conversations have expanded to: (1) my lack of gainful employment; (2) my questionable choice in men; (3) my foolishness in living away from home; and (4) my thinness as incriminating evidence of my inability to take care of myself. As I attempt to explain the decisions in my life to my grandparents, however, they eventually wave their hands and beg me to stop talking, as the effort to understand anything I’m saying raises their blood pressure…

Performed at Monsoon Voices in Phoenix, AZ
February 13th, 2009

 

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