Dedicated to Poetry & Fiction Writers in the DMV
Welcome to Issue #14
A poem. A story. About going home, finding a home. On the day after Thanksgiving, we think about home and belonging—where do we find them and how? Persky’s poem states that “by necessity we move” to find a safe place and Nicholas’ story is about a Thanksgiving weekend romp, when young men think they are safe, but are not. Most of all, we at WWPH wish that wherever or whatever you call home, you are safe and celebrate these days leading up to the end of the year and beyond.
Poetry Editor, WWPH Writes
WWPH Writes: Poetry
Anna Stolley Persky, a lawyer and award-winning journalist, lives in Northern Virginia. She’s pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University. Her fiction has been published in The Write Launch and The Plentitudes Journal. Her poetry has been published in the Sad Girls Club Literary Blog and The Closed Eye Open.
We must flee now, you and I, bone-to-bone,
through winding, empty streets. We tell no one.
Silent, under milk-grey light, through grief, we emerge
to be free, my child, we must be heart-strong and firm.
Across the sand burning, over mountains steep,
I carry you. I cradle your blood red feet.
Like a tent, I unfurl my body as you sleep,
enfolding you, hiding you from serpents and beasts.
Do not look back at the city, at life undone,
only the today now journey, the forward sun.
Were I alone, I would melt in despair, marooned.
But for you, for you, by necessity we move.
©Anna Stolley Persky 2021
WWPH Writes: Fiction
Talbot Nicholas was born in New York City, lived in Italy and Germany as a youth, and now lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
A Brief Visit to a Hackensack Holding Cell
No one knows how many times I’ve been inside a jail cell. I will tell you about one. I was in the company of my two high school friends, Steve and Mario, in Mario’s town of Hackensack, New Jersey, Thanksgiving weekend, 1972, the three of us having just started college after rooming together in a high school in Italy. Looking back at this “visit,” I remember just how composed I could become in the face of difficult or weird situations. I simply became calm, perhaps stopping time, did or said what I needed to, even if that meant doing nothing, remaining silent, or becoming invisible.
We had gone to school in Rome, so, apart from the fact that Mario lived in a garden apartment in Hackensack, which was near Mario’s Fairleigh Dickenson College, and that other of our friends from high school would be there, the town had nothing to recommend itself to us. Steve and I had driven through Thanksgiving night from Warren, Ohio in his father’s red Pontiac Firebird, arriving before sunrise on Friday.
By Saturday afternoon, we were wrecked from a weekend of trying every little drug thoughtfully supplied by our friends. I lounged in the backseat of the Pontiac, at this point fairly oblivious, with Mario in front and Steve driving. We had made several, perhaps a few too many, stops at the smoky, acrid saloons and eateries that lined the strip in Hackensack, looking for matches for Steve and Mario, who were smokers. Steve would pull over, and Mario or I would hustle through glass doors, held together with masking tape, to ask. We were unsuccessful.
From my position slouched in the back seat, I was the last to notice flashing red and blue lights behind us. Then, the single blurt of a siren.
“Oh, shit,” said Mario, “It’s for us.”
“Oh, shit,” Steve and I said. One of us had time to say, “Stay cool.”
The next thing we knew, there was a police car in front of us, blocking us, and a police car behind us, both with their red and blue lights flashing. In no time, a cop from the car in front was standing next to the driver’s window. Steve rolled down the window.
“License and registration,” said the cop. Steve handed him his license.
“Registration,” said the cop. Steve and Mario fumbled around in the glove compartment, unprepared. A search and then the discovery of the registration, which Steve handed to the cop. And then a long, uncertain wait watching the cop check the documents, talking to the cops in the car behind us. I don’t remember exactly what Steve and Mario said to each other during the wait, but I had some roaches in my pocket, and I was trying to figure out what to do with them. Arrest for possession of roaches? I kept still.
The cop returned and inquired of Steve, “Whose car is this?”
“Where’s your father?”
“What are you doing in Hackensack?”
“He’s visiting me,” Mario called out from the passenger seat.
“Mario, he didn’t ask you,” I thought.
The cop said to Steve, “We’re gonna take you to the station to sort this out. Stop the engine and hand me your keys.”
“But what have we done? What’s this for?” asked Steve.
“We need to contact the owner of the vehicle,” said the cop.
“But this car is my father’s.”
“There’s a problem with the registration. Hand over the keys,” insisted the cop.
“Steve, cooperate,” I thought.
Steve handed the cop the keys.
One of the cops from the patrol car behind us took Steve’s keys. The other placed us one by one in their car, sans frisk, and drove us to the police station. I sat directly behind him as he drove. Somehow, during the trip, I emptied the roaches from my pocket into the space between the seat and back of the backseat. Funny. No?
So, there, in the back seat of a patrol car, sat Steve, annoyed, Mario, anxious, and me, stoic but actually relieved to have emptied my pockets undetected. Driving up to the station, we saw the red Pontiac in the parking lot. We were escorted into the station. One of the cops escorted us into a cell—a “holding” cell, with bars, just like a jail cell in Easy Rider.
“We’re just gonna keep you here ‘til we confirm ownership of the Pontiac,” said our escort. There was no one else in the station.
Steve said, “You have no right. If you went after real criminals.”
“Not now,” I thought. Mario rolled his eyes.
The cops had heard this kind of thing before, perhaps even from kids who, like us, looked like pirate wannabe’s—Steve with a long scar along his jawbone, Mario with eyes askew, one larger than the other, and me with a variety of scars on my forehead and over my left eyebrow and even more crooked teeth. All three of us wore plaid shirts, rumpled corduroy jackets, and desert boots of various vintages. None of us had washed our long hair since Thursday.
“You look like those kids that spit at us at demonstrations and call us ‘pigs.’ If you go around calling us ‘pigs,’ this is what you get. Anyways, you look underage, and we thought you were stopping at bars to buy beer. So, you’d better keep your mouth shut and hope we can contact your father.” The cop that said this was short, his belly protruding from his shirt and over his belt, a bit older than the other cops, and a bit sweaty. His face was red.
I gave Steve and Mario the “stay cool” sign. “Calmo,” I said sotto voce to my companions, and then—spontaneously—spoke.
“We were just looking for matches. We’ve been living in Italy and haven’t been to any demonstrations,” I said. “I’m sure this will get sorted out when you’ve contacted Steve’s father.”
I might have thought my comment would have a calming effect, but I wasn’t in control; instead, the older cop laughed.
“You must be the smart one,” he said as he walked away.
I don’t know why I noticed it, but a janitor shuffled past us pushing a rolling pail with a mop. The smell of institutional antiseptic followed him. For a moment, inexplicably, I felt comforted. “Just hang on,” I thought.
And literally within minutes, one of the younger cops informed us that things were sorted out. Steve’s father came through for us in his response to the police inquiry. Steve controlled his annoyance. Mario controlled his anxiety. Me, outwardly at least, calm in the face of urgency. License, registration, and keys to the Pontiac returned to Steve. Roaches safely deposited in a patrol car. They even let us use the antiseptic smelling bathroom before we left. A ginger drive back to Mario’s apartment where we found matches and cigarettes, Steve still annoyed, Mario relieved, and me looking forward to using the matches to light up a waiting reward.
Once we had settled in, Mario observed that we might not have been so lucky if we’d been black. We agreed. Arrest for roaches while black? Not funny.
Steve and I evaded the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol in a Saturday night race back to Warren, Ohio. On Sunday, I caught my bus to Oxford, Ohio and Steve his bus to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
We’d survived, but no one ever will learn from me about the other times I visited the inside of a jail cell.
©Talbot Nicholas 2021
WWPH Community News
Are you a supporter of the arts? WWPH Writes is the bi-weekly literary journal of The Washington Writers’ Publishing House, a nonprofit, 501c3, all-volunteer, cooperative press. If you are thinking of year-end gifts, you can now easily donate to WWPH and help us support and celebrate DMV writers via our new donation page. Interested in a legacy? We are looking for a sponsor to ‘name’ our annual Fiction Award. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you are interested in this once in a lifetime gift!
Thinking of submitting to WWPH Writes? We are looking for poetry and fiction that celebrate, unsettle, and question our lives in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area (DMV) and in our nation. We seek work that is lyrical and dynamic, and we believe in cultivating a diverse environment of content, form, risk, and experimentation. New perspectives and voices with craft and fierceness are strongly encouraged to submit. Send us your best work–challenge us with your ideas and your writing. We look forward to reading your poems and stories! Submit here.
Thank you for reading and being part of the WWPH community!
Fiction Editor, WWPH Writes
Poetry Editor, WWPH Writes