July News 2015

Congratulations to T.C. Powell of Springfield, Oregon, the June 2015 recipient of the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.

Natural Forces at Work

by T.C. Powell

The adult video store was the size of a 7-11. Floor-to-ceiling shelving units were crammed into the small space, leaving the barest of walking paths, and those units were stuffed full of colorful DVD cases promising every perversion under the sun. It was a deviant bazaar, and I was the bumbling tourist trying not to make an ass of myself as I nervously browsed the inventory.

There were a few other patrons. All men, all older than me. They did not seem to have any shame at being in the store, or in being seen here. It was as though they were the natural inhabitants; that you could come by at any time, day or night (the store was open 24 hours, to satisfy those 3am urges) and find these same gentlemen here, endlessly roaming the store’s Byzantine passages.

Could you find them in any other place? The man with the scruffy half-beard and bulbous gut stretching out a plain red tee — would you see him walking his dog in the park, being ushered to his seat at the opera, or waiting in line at the post office to send out a package? You would not. He lived here among Ass Blasters #3 and Cum Garglers #7. Anywhere else and it would strike you that he was startlingly out of place. “Don’t you belong back at the adult store?” you would ask. “Isn’t it your rotation?”

I was a student at the University, a junior. I majored in European history, minored in lit. This wasn’t my scene. Sure, I masturbated. Sure, I watched pornography. It’s free, it’s everywhere, who doesn’t? But to leave the dorms, to travel across town in the bus, to spend the little spending money I had after buying textbooks…? This was supposed to have been a way for me to feel proactive after breaking up with Susan. Taking back my sexuality or something. It was supposed to be an indulgence. A growth experience. I wasn’t prepared to feel so out-of-place. I wasn’t prepared to feel… wrong.

“Need help finding something?” a voice asked.

I whipped around like I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t. Standing before me was a clerk. He was apparently the only one working, and he’d come out from behind the register to stock one of the few gaps on the shelves with fresh inventory. He was around my age. Probably a student at the University, too, though I didn’t recognize him. Maybe he went to the Community College.

“No, I’m fine, I’m fine,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. Why was I upset? There was nothing wrong with my being here: this store had legal wares to sell — had been selling them for years — and I was a patron, looking to buy. Where was the crime? If no crime, why guilt?

The clerk nodded absently and went back to putting new product out. I felt like I’d just wet the bed. “That movie,” I said, pointing to the one he held in his hand. “Any good?”

I had asked before I’d even looked, but now I saw that the DVD in his hand was covered in pictures of naked elderly women cavorting with little people: “Midget Loving Grannies,” as the title had it. I didn’t know whether to be more offended at the title or the content, or whether it was appropriate to be offended at all. Who was I to tell older women or little people how to live their lives?

“Hard as it is to believe,” the clerk said, “I haven’t seen every movie in here. I don’t watch this kind of gross shit.”

“Me neither. I mean, I wasn’t trying to say… not that there’s anything wrong with… I’m supportive of every kind of sexuality. I try to be.”

The clerk stared at me for a second, then shook his head and knelt down to fill the bottom shelf.

I struggled to find a way to redeem myself. I couldn’t leave our conversation like this. I wasn’t the same sort of asshole the clerk was used to dealing with, and I wanted him to know it. Looking for a conversation starter, I noted again how full the shelves were. Claustrophobically so.

“Boy,” I said, trying to find a light tone. “I bet this place is just awful after an earthquake.”

The clerk finished putting out the last of his DVDs and stood up, dusting off his jeans. “Original,” he said. “No one’s ever made an earthquake joke in here before.”

The hell? His tone was sarcastic. Abusive even. What had I done to deserve it?

“I’m sorry if I said something to offend you–?”

“Look, I don’t need any new friends. If I did, I wouldn’t find them here. Just buy a movie if you’re going to buy one, okay?”

“I’m sorry,” I said again, feeling numb.

I grabbed a movie almost at random from the shelf. It had been my intention to look for something a little more refined, if that makes sense for porn. Something with production value and an honest-to-God script. But I wound up with some random smut featuring Latinas. The clerk didn’t care what I bought. He didn’t care who I was. He rang me up like anyone else and didn’t even meet my eyes when he handed back my change, or thank me for my business.

Grateful for the black plastic bag the store provided, I took the additional step of stuffing the video under my shirt as I left. I couldn’t risk anyone guessing.

I returned to my dorm room and took the package out from under my shirt. Without removing it from its bag, I opened the bottommost drawer of my desk and I shoved it inside, under my old graded papers. It remained there, unopened and unwatched, until I packed for summer break, when I bundled it with the rest of my garbage and pitched it into the trash.


June News 2015

Our socks weren’t knocked off in May, so no award. Please continue to submit!


May News 2015!

Our socks were knocked off early this month!

Congratulations to Justin Jannise of Liberty, Texas, the April 2015 recipient of the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.

by Justin Jannise

The world is a round thing
covered in knobs, a school
of fish trying to break through
an ever-widening net of words.
That is how we talk
about words, as if they merely were
a barrier, like thick fog,
we wish would lift,
as if we were not conscious
of the uses
we scrape from them.
I had to notice that the air was drier,
harder to breathe in, before
I became a prehistoric animal again,
exhaling and grunting at you, taking you
in through my ears like sheets
and sheets of music.
That is what words do.
They recreate you and your impossible clothing
in the story of their own necessity.
They are darkness in a cave
out of which others like you
Words are our parents.
We wait for them to die
but they never do.

April News 2015

Congratulations to James Tipton of Laredo, Texas, the March 2015 Penn Cove Literary Arts Award recipient.

Plumber of the Year
by James Tipton

Henry Wellman never wanted to be rich. He only wanted to be the best plumber in La Perla, a simple town in south Texas near the border city of Del Rio. Rosalina, his wife, had never wanted to be rich either. What Rosalina wanted was, when they retired, to return to Agua de Esperanza, in the mountains of central Mexico, which she had left when she was just a little girl.

As often happens when a man organizes his life around one thing only and when he marries well he indeed becomes successful. As in the Mexican proverb, in most things their “four eyes saw as one.” Henry and Rosalina, although not wealthy, had money beyond their desires. Henry handled the pipes, Rosalina the books.

The only thing that bothered Henry was Rosalina’s belief that they would retire to the place of her birth, Agua de Esperanza.

Henry had become part of the history of La Perla, the best plumber La Perla ever had. The yearly visits to Agua de Esperanza with Rosalina had been a pleasurable duty, but Henry was shocked by the plumbing, which for the most part consisted of a few pipes extending through the village, tacked to the sides of the simple adobe homes. Behind each home was a large tank, of concrete, usually shaded, where dishes were washed, clothes were cleaned, and bodies were bathed.

Henry loved his life in La Perla. He loved the house he had created, which easily had the finest plumbing in town. Above the bathroom door he had mounted the plumber’s wrench—gold plated with two dangling gold feathers—that he had received after he had five times been voted Plumber of the Year at the annual meetings of The Apache Valley Plumber’s Association.

Of course Henry also loved Rosalina, and he remembered that night when he had proposed. She had made him promise her that together they would work hard, retire early, and return to Agua de Esperanza.

To Henry, promises were like appointments. You always kept them. Otherwise you would never become Plumber of the Year.

Thirty-five years earlier, Henry had been in Del Rio stocking up on some new augers and snakes when he had discovered in a coffee shop the young waitress with the sturdy body and beautiful brown eyes.

Their first date had been to the movies, to The Outlaw, where together they saw Jane Russell stretched out on straw, wearing a very sexy and revealing silk blouse slipped down off her right shoulder. The following week he found, across the border in Ciudad Acuna, a silk blouse in deep red that was almost like the one that clung so nicely to Jane Russell.

Rosalina wore it the next Saturday night to the West Star Drive-In. Henry told her she was a knockout.

“I may be ‘knock out,’ señor,” she said, “but I may also be very proper.”

“But you wore this,” he said, tugging lightly at the right sleeve.

“I wear this outlaw blouse only for you, because it was your gift to me,” she said, smiling. His eyes were fixed on the gold crucifix that dangled between her breasts.

When he left her at her door, she said, “Come tomorrow morning and watch me feed the chickens. I will fix you very fresh eggs.”

As she served him huevos rancheros she said, “I always want to have pollos.”

“I promise you that you will always have chickens,” he said.

“Gracias,” she said.

He stood up and put his arms around her.

“Besos solo,” she warned.

“Kisses only,” he said.

But what kisses they were, full and soft and sweet.

The years had flown by. Drain after drain had been unplugged, pipe after pipe carefully laid, washers replaced, roots removed. And Rosalina’s chicks continued to hatch. Now Henry was 60 and Rosalina was 55. Their only child, Teresa, was teaching Spanish in Tucson.

With some unspoken reluctance Henry honored his promise. They sold almost everything, loaded a box trailer with the few things they really still wanted, put heavy bags of plumbing tools and large cases of supplies along with three crates of chickens into the back of their red Ford 150 and headed south to Agua de Esperanza.

Soon Henry was happily at work repairing the plumbing in their little adobe home; and then, with the help of the villagers, he added on a large bath, with shower and tub—the first in the village.

“You know, Henry,” Rosalina announced after her first hot bath, “You have always been el plomero de mi corazón.”

The Plumber of Her Heart, Henry thought… good enough for me.

Then they helped Rosalina’s sister, a young widow, buy a house that had been abandoned and Henry added indoor plumbing.

Her sister’s son, Ramón, a boy of seven or eight, came racing in after school one day.

“Everyone wants to come see our house,” he announced proudly.

“But,” Rosalina said, “Uncle Henry hasn’t finished fixing it up. What did you tell them?”

“I said our house is very ugly, but it has a bathroom.”

And so it was, in casa after casa, that Henry—now called Enrique by most of the villagers—remodeled or installed for the first time, bathrooms, showers, sinks. Whatever they could pay was always enough, and sometimes it was only a basket of plump cherries, some ripe papayas, or a bucket of avocados. But never eggs, because Rosalina’s flock had prospered, happy in their new home.

“Enrique,” Rosalina whispered one night as she snuggled against him, “Do you still miss La Perla?”

“I’ve been too busy doing what I love to miss La Perla,” he said, although he had mounted his Plumber of the Year gold-plated wrench above the door into their new bathroom.

One warm summer night when everyone in Agua de Esperanza was in the plaza, the excited villagers, who were now like a large family, presented Henry a t-shirt that read El Plomero del Año.

March News 2015

Congratulations to Abigail Rose Munson of Arvada, Colorado, she is the February 2015 recipient of the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.

Shadow of You

By Abigail Rose Munson

There are claw marks on the yellow

Wallpaper and blood on my pillow

Nothing is mine not even the

Mold in the fridge because you didn’t

Clean while I was away

You left things

Rotting and exactly the same

I thought I would stop choking

My fingers would stop running over

The indents in the wood pretending

Your words made sense when you left

Instead I fell in love with sharp teeth

And ran away from home

Only to end up back here again drowning

In the bathtub, please don’t forget how

It all felt in the beginning

I will wash your blood out of the sheets

And forget all your places

Tell the wolves I’m home

And they no longer take up my space

I will destroy their beating hearts

Just so I can hear mine