World by Loren Cudney (English 222)

I see it fading away in grey. I know it
Because I know how darkness overtook me,
From the slow euphoric smolders of Cannabis lure,
Clouding my world in purple smoke until I melted
Away in glass pipes and murmuring rock pools.
Addiction led me through my lowest days,
Until my love and light were distant stars.
We strike at our world with the passion
Of an addict. Our thirst steals rivers and turns
Our cities into steel deserts. We’re the disease,
With our sickening chokes of factory smoke,
Our hollowed mountains and blighted forests.
A disease that kills, and we’re killing the world.
I don’t know enough of Native ways, but I think
They had it right. I wish I held their memories
Of thriving landscapes and timeless seasons,
Mating beside silver lakes under infinite sky.
Our world pales in the arms of ruin.

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Nocturne by Robert Anke (English 224)

Stars swim
together as if
fingers dangling
from some astral canoe
sailing across
the black surface
stirred them to chorus;

a phosphorus
wake of worlds
churned into
existence with
passing hands;

luminous flecks
smeared in an arc
from the edges
of the expanse
to the seam
where our
faces meet
the respiring skin
of night;

until, at the purple
rim of the sky,
the stars scatter and
run to earth, at home
in the scribbles of
manzanita, black
and warm against
the bruise of horizon.

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Vigil by Max Reif (English 224)

Dad, those cordovan dress shoes
with the stylish patterns of tiny holes
and the compactly-rounded dark laces,

the ones you used to wear
as you pounded pavements, briefcase
of carpet swatches in your hand
to keep us fed, clothed and sheltered,

are still sitting
on the green, flowered carpet
next to your side of the bed,
waiting like two faithful
droopy-eared bloodhounds

for their master to come home.

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Presenting…the Winners of the O’Keefe Prize for Graphic Short Stories!

The Diablo Valley College English Department is proud to present the winners of the first annual O’Keefe Prize* for Graphic Short Stories.  We received many entries and our awards ceremony on Thursday, March 31st hosted Joe Field, the legendary Flying Colors Comics owner, winner of the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Award, and featured speaker at this year’s Wondercon! The announcement of the winners and distribution of the prize money was gracefully tackled by President Garcia, and the event was well-attended by comics afficionados (students and faculty) and college community members who remembered James O’Keefe with fondness and laughter. [James, we miss you!]  Without further ado, on to the winning entries!

The prize for the Best Overall story was split between two entries, “Panic” by Juliana Caccavo and “Prayer for Uganda” by Lizbeth Brown. Congratulations to both of you!

The award for Best Original story goes to “Cody & Baxter and the Infinite Universes, Part 7” by Alex White. Kudos to Alex!

“Origami Frogs” by Anita King captured the prize for the Best Short Form entry.  Bravo, Anita!

We’re also very pleased to post slide shows of the entries that received Honorable Mentions: “The Demon of Evermore City” by Jacob Ginn, “Fast Food” by Kaitlyn Grimes, and “Gabriel the Angel” by Marie Dal Porto.

Our heartiest congratulations go out to all the winners! Tell everyone you know about the contest and gear up to enter again next year! Don’t look now, but the Fall semester is approaching quickly, and like last year, our entry deadline will be at the end of the semester.

*The O’Keefe Prize for Graphic Stories is offered in memory of our beloved English colleague James O’Keefe who dribbled soccer balls and raised hell among us for far too short a time. James created and then taught English 176, The Graphic Novel as Literature course. James died in December of 2008 after a thirteen month battle with brain cancer.

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The Circle of Life

The majority of adults do not give much thought to how their lives will change as they grow older, especially with regard to our parents. We don’t spend much time thinking about the fact that they too would age, possibly become ill and eventually leave this earthly plane.  Many of our parents may have not considered this either. They are too busy parenting us and being our caregivers. They feed us, protect us and teach us.  It may not occur to us that our parent/child relationship may one day change. Life is filled with change. It is what we do with that change that helps us to grow and hopefully become better human beings.  When my dad became ill, the last thing I expected was to become his fulltime caregiver.  One may view my story as a lesson in not taking for granted those that we love and care for most as well as preparing oneself to expect the unexpected and to find the silver lining in that event which will contribute to our growth and progression in life. Initially, I didn’t handle this change so well. My transformation was slow but eventually became such a pivotal and essential part of the person that I am today.

My dad was a true “man’s man.” A part of him enjoyed the gruff persona that preceded him, but once allowed in close enough to crack just the tiniest speck of that hard outer shell, the pearl inside was an incredibly soft heart adorned with a very dry, yet hilarious sense of humor and a dedication to love, life and family that was second to none.  He loved and supported each of us in the very same fashion, unconditionally and without hesitation, even if he wasn’t in 100% agreement with us.

He was strict and strong. He and my mom ran a very “tight ship.” Most importantly, my dad insisted we learn what he perceived to be “Rules for Life.” The first rule was that upon meeting and or greeting someone I gave a firm handshake and a solid look straight in the eyes. This rule applies to both male and female.  Always trust my gut and then always keep my word. Those two go hand in hand and will most often assure a positive outcome. Protect my own at any cost. His favorite example of this was, “I can say whatever I want to about my family but don’t you dare try it!” ” He taught us also to hold tight to the strongest character and highest level of integrity possible

Life was great. We all had homes, jobs and were quite secure and comfortable with our lives.   Lately though, my dad had started to change. It was subtle at first. He just wasn’t quite himself. He began to forget everything! He also began having little minor accidents on his job sites. At least they seemed minor at the time, but these were things that happened to the “common man”, not to Joe Zamora, the guy who could tip toe across a two by four propped between two buildings like a cat on a tightrope. The minor accidents included things like cutting the cord while using his power tools. He had a couple decent falls by tripping over typical “job site junk” (electrical cords, chunks of wood, etc.) that he just didn’t see. The worst of these incidents was a day that he called my mom in a sheer panic. He simply couldn’t remember his way to the job site. Thankfully, my mom was able to talk him back home safely. This was not only a very scary incident, but a very telling one as well.  Finally, we had to face the ugly truth. My dad had been diagnosed with a ruthless and unforgiving disease called “Lewebodys” Disease. It’s a cross between Alzheimer’s which attacks the cognitive faculties and Parkinson’s disease which affects the part of the brain that should’ve told him to take a step or to stand up straight. The loss of that brain function was what caused Parkinson’s patients to shuffle their feet and appear as though they were always bending over. It even caused my dad’s voice to become so low it was barely audible, yet he had no idea. Some patients were stricken with many other more severe afflictions. Most common were involuntary movements such as flailing of the arms and legs. Thankfully, my dad never reached that stage.

It is said that everything happens for a reason. Just at that time, my daughter and I needed a short ordered place to live and my mom needed more help with my dad, so having us move in was the perfect solution. It was a win/win for all concerned. The move, however, was nothing like I imagined. On some level I was in denial, and in some dimly lit corner of  my mind, I almost expected to be stepping “through the looking glass,” and I would have my dad and my life back just like it was a minute ago. I stepped through the glass alright, but it was shattered glass. My dad, “the strongest man in the world” who never needed help of any kind from anyone was now incapable of formulating a complete thought and needed our help with every function of his life. He was slipping away right in front of us.

I’ll never forget the moment when horror filled my heart and a sickness filled my soul as I looked into my dads’ eyes and realized for the first time that our roles in life had changed. They had somehow been reversed.  All of a sudden, one day, I had become his fulltime caregiver. In an instant, things were completely out of control.  I felt as though my life had been shot from a gun. At first I hated it…and even worse, I hated that I hated it.   These feelings broke my heart and kept me in a state of constant turmoil and guilt in addition to having the physical responsibility of caring for my dad. To make matters worse, my mom was gushing with anger. It took me a while to realize that she was in such deep denial and so desperately wanted to “fix” my dad. We fought like cats and dogs for a good period of time. Finally, I knew that it was me that needed to change my behavior, not her.  Somehow, in a moment of awakening or “growing up”, definitely through a process beyond my conscious capacity, I realized I could not have created a bigger blessing in my life!

I came to later realize that the ironic thing about my being the one to step into the position of caregiver to him was that when I was born I was very ill for several months. The only place I found comfort and peace was in my dad’s strong and comforting arms. Now, it was my turn to be his comfort, peace and strength.  As the days slipped by, his condition quietly slipped away as well. On September 20, 2008, my dad lay ever so still in the hospital bed we had set up in our family room. I, my mom, my daughter, the rest of my siblings and all of his siblings surrounded his bed as though in a circle of protection around him. We each leaned in and whispered our final “I Love Yous’” and told him it was ok to go when he was ready. My family all held onto his hands. I laid my head on his chest and felt him relax as he took his last breath. Though I had known for sometime that this moment was eminent, acceptance did not engage willingly. I knew that his suffering was over, but that didn’t stop the stabbing pains that ripped at my chest like a knife. I wanted to scream and shake him awake! My mind was zipping in every direction like a carnival ride. I looked up at the somber faces that surrounded his bed. Tears flowed from each, yet the room held an eerie silence.  In spite of the chaos spinning in my head, there was a definite “Peace” present in the room. “She” seemed to whisper, “Safe now, no more sadness, no more pain.” One at a time the circle began to disburse. Some found a corner to grieve quietly. Others found solace in sitting around the kitchen table sharing memories of my dad. Speaking for my immediate family, we all seemed to morph into an auto-pilot mode.

My dad served in WWII and had earned several medals of Honor. We felt it befitting to have him buried at the new VA cemetery in Dixon. The drive out to Dixon is a good 45 minutes which felt like 45 hours. When we got out of the car, I felt immediately as though I was going to be sick. I knew the cemetery was brand new. I had been out there several times making the arrangements. Apparently, I never noticed just how new it was. The grounds were stark and baron, nothing but dirt with patches of perfectly aligned headstones. That first wave of ill was quickly replaced by a second, completely different in nature from the first. As we approached the gazebo and I saw my dads’ casket draped with the American Flag, an entirely new set of emotions began to churn inside of me.  As is fitting for a man of his stature, his funeral service was standing room only. The ceremony was simple yet so dignified. Just like my dad.  The young military women and men of the “Honor Guard” stood in perfect formation, looking like statues yet statuesque at the same time. The silence was suddenly disrupted by the smooth and spine tingling notes as the Honor Guard began to “Blow Taps”.  The “21 Gun Salute” immediately followed.  The shots proudly rang out. Though ear shattering, it’s a sound that one never forgets. “Blowing Taps” and the “21 Gun Salute” are two of the most powerful and profound ceremonial practices of our time.

Overall, the best gift my dad ever could’ve left us is his “Rules for Life”.  They provide me with strength and courage when I think I’m fresh out. They give me that little extra shove when I’m certain I just can’t take another second of life, and if I stray from my path, I just have to ask myself,  “What would “Pa” do,” and as if by magic, I feel myself guided right back on track. My capacity to push myself and give more of myself to love, life and others has grown like never before. I now know that life does come full circle and being the one to “switch roles” and give back to my dad just a tiny speck of what he’d given to me is the most special and cherished experience of my life.

Teresa Zamora

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Loss of Contentment

Begin with two wedding bands,
Stack up new bills and responsibilities at home.
Let it settle approximately
Five to ten years,
Wait for disagreements.
Cut up expectations and hopes,
Drain trust down
The sink blades.
Boil anger and frustration,
Transfer the little hope left
To helplessness and anguish.
Sprinkle with court orders
And child custody,
Throw out old memories and happiness.
Let cool until papers are signed
And serve when things seem real again.

Becca Palensky

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An Old Dog

Yesterday, I spent the day
at home. It was a quieter day –
doing homework, playing games, taking
care of an aging dog.
In fact, I did very, very
little. Except for the dog,
he wanted a lot of
attention. From me.

Barely able to walk,
he followed me around
the house, I finally picked
him up, and took him to a
chair to sit down, where he
decided to just stay. Too old
to even care about
what else was going on.

Dan Lindholm

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