Desta Shaw

Bertsolari Response Poem

He climbs the mountain Words sung at the edge of a cliff

Below a green sea smothered the living skin of the land Leaves melted together and scattered a dimmed light The Trembling whoosh now a rhythmic crashing

Eyes locked on the horizon Waves climbing

reaching out

taking hold of his ankles, white knuckled, tightening its grip it takes the ground from under him, pulling him

he stretched out for the mountain wanting to take hold of it Reaching out for even a grain of sand

He was aware of the silence The density of time

Hurtling towards an invisible floor The green sea swallowed him whole The soil does not claim him

He always thought drowning was loud But drowning is quiet

head above the water one moment the next it’s gone; frantic hands are subtle in water.

It didn’t hurt like he thought it would Even when he ripped at the seams

He never begged to be put back together. Yet the water and roots Remolded his body They hum a secret in his ear

To become one, you must unlearn everything you know.


Are Caged Birds Ever Happy?


I fucked up. And where I fucked up, I can’t say I really know. I try my best to be better, and do better but sometimes it’s not enough.


When I was in elementary school, I would spend every day on the swings. I moved myself as high to the sky as I possibly could. I would watch birds fly by in a white and blue sky, and I would wonder what it would be like to be lost in it. I wondered what it was like to swim through clouds and get lost in that baby blue. I would let go of the swing, rise in the air hoping that one day I might fall into sky instead of ground. It’s hard knowing what direction I’m going when the only thing I hope for is to continue going up.

I remember the feeling of a hot curling iron pressed to the nape of my neck. I remember the sound of her voice in a deep saturated whisper followed by a sharp pinch or slap to not call out and tell my mother. I didn’t because I was terrified of the inerasable scars she would give me and gave me at the nape of my neck. My mom says it is my birth mark, but I only have three: one on my neck, one on my left hip, and one on my lower stomach. The mark on the back of my neck at the bottom of my hairline is from the aunt, my mother’s oldest sister.

I remember the cold piercing breath after being slapped. I remember the tender purple and green bruises the size of a remote control on my arms, legs and back. I remember him telling me that it would be worse if I told our mom. I told her anyway because I wasn’t afraid of a boy just six years older than me. She gave him empty threats each time saying she would kick him out next time. Next time. Next time. My mom says, “Remember when your brother had to get your cat out of a tree in his pajamas on a snowy night.” I say, “Remember when he punched me in the ribs? I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”

I remember the day my brother brought home two pairs of boxing gloves and threw a pair of them at me. I remember the look in his eyes as he jumped side to side like he was going to enjoy beating me. I remember the look in his eyes when I threw even harder punches and wasn’t stopping. I remember how good it felt to see him with blue and yellow bruises.


I remember the day I had to go to school for winter finals even though I just got my wisdom teeth out a few days before. I waited for my mom to pick me up after school, missing the school bus because she promised she would get me after school. I remember calling her and her telling me that she was on her way to Colorado to pick up my brother because his girlfriend kicked him out and he refused to stay one night with his dad. I called my uncle and he was working out of town. I called my aunt, but she sent my calls to voicemail. I walked to her house breathing in snowflakes. Those microscopic razor blades I could still feel through my drug induced and tear-filled vision. Five fucking blocks of pure agony. Knowing that I had left my oxycodone in my mom’s car, I had mixed feelings; my body regretted it, but there was also relief, knowing that I might have downed the whole bottle in that moment. I could feel my cold cracked lips burn as I spit out blood. The stitches made my whole face feel like it was imploding. My aunt came home and called me stupid then blamed me for not calling.

I remember seeing the sky take a few steps back, so that I was falling, and I wanted to keep falling and never hit the ground.

I’ve hit the ground so many times you would think I would learn my lesson but for some reason I keep jumping from the swing hoping to one day catch a cloud. Each time I fall, I think of Icarus and how he wanted to touch the sun. I wonder if when he fell if he spread his arms out and threw back his head- was it a smile or glare- as he watched the sun ignite him, the burning wax and feathers consuming him. Did he ever get to touch the sun? Why did I always have to reach for places beyond myself? Was the touch of a cloud more promising than the rusting chain-link metal I let go of?

I find myself gripping onto pain and misery. Releasing openness, happiness, love and other things. Even though I never choose to. I wanted to be an adult when I was younger because I wanted to be free, but maybe I am just a caged bird who stares at a painting— an escape — imagining the possibility of too many things. I have a tattoo on my wrist of books turning into birds. Were those books my escape and this body my cage? My dream is becoming a writer and my past a nightmare. Hoping for something and getting nothing over and over again.

I have a fear of falling. I can’t imagine the day when I jump hoping to hold onto something and crash to the ground with no signs of returning. I fucked up so many times, and I always get back up on my own or with a helping hand. I am still trying. I am. Sometimes it takes longer. And longer. And Longer.

I remember being thirteen, sixteen, seventeen and nineteen. Where getting up seemed impossible. Those falls hit much harder. It hurt so much to even wake up and get out of bed. I didn’t want to get up, but I did, and each time was more painful than the last, but as the saying goes time heals wounds. Even those we can never forget. Right?

I fucked up and I guess that was when staying on the ground felt like an option. When instead of looking at the wood chip covered ground, I pulled myself to stare down to a six-foot deep, dark, cold, hard grave. Where holding onto the past fermented into wanting revenge.

When holding onto pain festered into wanting people to pay for their wrongdoings. When wanting to reach the sky became a chore more than the freefall I long for the days where the feeling of freedom that filled me as I flew.


A Letter I’ll Never Send


Dear Dad,


You know when I was a little girl, I was never scared of the monsters under my bed. But I had a night light to keep the memory you out of my head. I’m writing this because it seems like the older I get, the more I remember. Lately I remember what you did that still affects me.

You came home so intoxicated, but you were still aware of your own actions. You were aware when you pushed my mom to the beige, black and red couch. You were aware when your hands wrapped around her neck squeezing with what strength you could muster through shaky hands. You were still aware when you put your knees on her thighs hoping that it would keep her from fighting. She still had her freshly manicured nails on her frantic hands. The more she attacked your face, the harder you tried to squeeze. You should have known she would never fade easily.

I was four years old. I woke up from a bad dream, turned my purple pillow over to the cool side and was going to fall back to sleep. I heard a noise from the living room, and I knew it had to be you because you no longer seemed to sleep. I felt the back of the over-sized Power Ranger’s shirt tapping the back of my legs with each step. I wiped the sleep from my eyes with the back of my hand, hoping we could watch a VHS tape of WWE and munch on Cheeto puffs staining everything orange in our wake. I don’t know how many nights we spent sitting on that couch watching the mediocre quality of our box TV. You would tuck me closer to you in case I

fell asleep. The smell of your cigarette smoke always soothed me. I opened the door letting the air fill with static. The hairs on the back of my head were like antennas sending out heat, but I continued to the living room because you were my father, and I was born to trust you.

You must have hit one of the many remotes sending the TV into a deafening rage. I

didn’t see you until my mom’s arms swung up to claw at your eyes. I imagined she didn’t want you to see her gasping for breath. You shook your head, eyes shut tight, and pushed your weight onto her neck.

I didn’t understand what was happening, but you always told me I had an old soul, and that old soul always knew what was happening. You looked at me with blood shot eyes and yelled at me to go to bed. Instead I just stood there, screaming. My voice shattered the microscopic dust floating in the air.

You were taller than me. You were stronger than me. You were older than me. You were two hundred pounds heavier than me.

I remember a week before this moment, when I watched on the box TV two characters belly bumping in celebration. I thought that was the coolest thing. I wanted to try. You sent me flying.

I knew I was too little to stop you from what was coming.

My mom must have heard me screaming through the erratic heartbeat and adrenalin that screeched in her ears. She used her French manicured nails with all the will and prayers she could muster to grab you by the balls and made sure you would never again be a Father. You hit her arm and rolled to the blue and grey shag carpeting. My mom coughed, gasped, gagged and rasped for breath.

Do you remember how it felt? Do you remember how it felt to be beaten in front of your youngest daughter when only seconds before you were going to kill her mother? Do you remember?

Nothing in this world would have stopped her then. She beat you with anything she could find; game controllers, shoes, rolled up magazines, and a glass beer bottle. Then she kicked your spine, then your stomach, then your face. None of us heard the sirens. But we heard the cops slam their fists on the door warning us they would knock down the door. My mom sat on you and began beating you with her fists. You stained the blue shag carpet purple. I remember flinching when they kicked open the door, splintering a part of the door frame.

The good and the bad thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows everyone by name. Instead of pulling a gun on my mom, two of the cops had to pull my mom away. Uncle Ricky, your brother, among seven other cops were there. He gave you a look that seemed to say, if there weren’t any other cops that he would have shot you right then and there. Uncle Ricky picked me up, rubbing my back shushing me and calling me Destaroo. I couldn’t feel myself screaming in his ear as I clung to his uniform breathing in the cigarette  smoke, your cigarette smoke, that was stuck to his neck. I stopped screaming and felt the tears burn in the cracks on the corners of my lips.

After all you did, the cigarette smoke still smelled like safety, so I held on even tighter.


You got thirty-two stitches when they took you to the hospital. You swore that they drove even faster driving you their holding cell than they had taking you to the hospital.

She told them everything. I wasn’t there; I was in the front yard being bounced lightly to calm down and sleep. She told me this when I was sixteen. It was a blur to her, talking to the cops and throwing up water and stomach acid in a trash can as she remembered one man and her face contorted in disgust. This white trash cop stood near her as she gave her statement then asked when she was going to pay for your bail.

You tried to kill her.


And that douche had the nerve, the audacity, the balls to ask her when she was going to let you go. The only reason you got out was because your daddy bailed you out, again.

I remember the apartments we lived in after the divorce. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and hearing a sound from the living room. I was scared but always checked what was there. I remember my mom crying. I remember hugging her, neither of us talking. I’m glad I always checked because I was there for her when she needed it.

Did you sleep alright after that night? My mom and I didn’t. We both had so many nightmares. I remember being scared to sleep without some light because if the static on the TV wasn’t there I would have gone back to bed, and…

Who knows what would have happened next?


Black as a crow’s wing.

She was used to the sound of engines revving outside her window, the wind from semitrucks driving just before dawn. Sirens and that yellow light from the lamp pole across the street peaking in from one of her broken blinds. She lived there for years and the light still made her heart jump thinking some creep at night had passed by it. When her friends had decided to do a camping trip, she had assumed it would be campfires and tents hearing owls hoot hidden in bushes or trees. She never thought they would be going to a cabin. Sleeping in dusty, lumpy, creaky old beds. Her room didn’t have a window, so she knew it was an illegitimate room inside of the cabin. When she closed the door, she hadn’t expected it to be so dark. She shuffled slowly towards the bed, scared she would get hurt. When she laid under the itchy, pinching blanket, she could feel the room getting smaller. She swung her feet over the bed and shuffled back to the door only to find the other side as dark as her room. Her thoughts would take over and she shuffled back and forth several times as the thoughts of creatures with elongated fingers reaching out at her. She was twenty-five; she was too old to be afraid of the dark too old to fear the silence. But her heart kept pounding and she couldn’t find the grown up in her to close her eyes and sleep.


Half Painted Sunflowers Excerpt

A little girl sits on a plush grey rug in the living room having a tea party with her stuffed bear. Her parents talk loudly talking about their day as her mother stands over the table drawing freehanded, while her father makes dinner. Her mother turns on the TV; they notice a special report, and try to change it, but it airs on every channel. Her parents become quiet, so quiet the little girl joins them in the kitchen to watch the TV.

“…this is the future.” A smirking man in a white coat says. The little girl knew him, he had been on TV every day for the past week. “Are there any more questions?”

“What are the side-affects?” “Has this been proven through human testing?” “Will this be sold in stores or over the counter?” “What led you to this discovery?” “Have you thought of using something else to carry the cure?” The journalists questioned somewhere off camera.

“This method is flawless. They wouldn’t be given over the counter or in stores. The mosquitos will be released, multiply naturally, evolve as we do. We suffered because of the pandemic, all the new diseases and viruses that came after it. Having the creatures that once spread diseases will now cure them. We are even in the process of expanding this practice to bees so that they might make plants produce the cure. We have the chance to make things right after all the destruction we have caused. The generations after us will not have to suffer as we did. I know the rumors but, in all honesty, I am not here to make money. I am here to change the world.” He smiles. The little girl’s mother scoffs angrily.

“I give it a week before he sells his method.” The mother crosses her arms over her chest.



“It probably doesn’t even work.”

The father kisses the mother’s forehead before he continues to cook ignoring the TV.


The mother continues to sketch mumbling to herself as she hears the man talk on TV. The little girl was confused. Didn’t he just want to help people?

*     *     *

“Why can’t we go home?” the little girl asks her mother. She sat on the squeaky bed in the room holding onto a small torn bear with different patches and thread barely holding it together. She hated it here. Their new place was just one room with a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom all in one. She wanted to be home in her own room with her own bed, she wanted to go home. They hadn’t been home in months, and she knew they wouldn’t be able to go back.

“It’s not safe sweetie. We need to stay close to the rations shelter so we can eat. I know

it’s hard…” the mother watches the little girl hold the bear tighter.

“I thought the man on tv was supposed to help people.” The little girl whispers.


“He tried but… sometimes… sometimes good people do bad things.” The mother is at a loss of words. When she had her baby, she never thought she would have to raise her in a world like this; she didn’t even know if she could comfort her.

She knew there was only one way to cheer her up, but it was risky. She knew her daughter needed something more from life than this. “How about I show you something, but you have to promise you won’t tell anyone not even daddy.”

The little girl nods excitedly. The mother stands and walks to the closet, opens it, and shows it to the little girl. The little girl looks at it disappointed it was just clothes, what was so exciting about that? The mother moves the clothes to the bed and kneels knocking on the wood panels on the wall until one sounded different. The mother grabs the bottom of the panel and three others go with it.

The little girl gasps. In the closet standing proudly was a sunflower basking in artificial light. The little girl noticed it looked just like the sketches her mother had drawn before all this started. She could remember her mother painting one when they were forced out of their home. The mother reaches into her pocket and removes a seed handing it to the girl. “I want you to hold on to this for me.”

“Ok mommy.” She said eyes wide in fascination as she held the seed in her cupped hands. The mother smiled softly watching her daughter hold it as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

“Honey, I just want you to know there is so much more to life than just surviving.” The mother pushes a strand of hair behind the little girl’s ear.

“What the hell is that?” The father yells.

“What are you doing home this early?” The mother asks standing, eyes wide in fear; the little girl puts the seed in her pocket as she tries to hide behind her mother.

“What the fuck is that Janice? How could you bring that here? Do you know what they will do to us if they find out about it?” He rushed over to her grabbing her by the shoulders and shakes her. Growing plants without government regulation, especially extinct plants due to the deaths they caused with the cure, became a method of genocide.

“Adam, I…”

“They’re doing cabin searches today Janice. We have to get rid…” The door is kicked in three men in black uniforms come in with guns raised.

“Against the wall!” one of the men yells. Janice grabs her daughter pulling her closer behind her. When Adam moves to look behind him, the man notices the sunflower. Adam raises his hand to stop the men knowing they thought the worst.


Their orders were to shoot when they saw acts of terrorism.



So, they did.

Desta Shaw

Desta Shaw lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is currently in her third year of attending IAIA. Whenever she isn’t supplying to her caffeine addiction or taking pictures of her cat she is working and tutoring elementary kids. She hopes to one day be a Montessori teacher while writing in her free time and of course taking pictures of her cat.

Duncan Donut is a five year old American short hair tabby. He enjoys eating sweets, tearing boxes, scaring people, playing with ice, and biting elbows. He is a small cat filled with personality who refuses to be ignored. He enjoys taking the spotlight- whether it is in a window or staring in photos.

Desta Shaw

Desta Shaw lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is currently in her third year of attending IAIA. Whenever she isn’t supplying to her caffeine addiction or taking pictures of her cat she is working and tutoring elementary kids. She hopes to one day be a Montessori teacher while writing in her free time and of course taking pictures of her cat.

Duncan Donut is a five year old American short hair tabby. He enjoys eating sweets, tearing boxes, scaring people, playing with ice, and biting elbows. He is a small cat filled with personality who refuses to be ignored. He enjoys taking the spotlight weather it is in a window or staring in photos.