Synchronized Chaos August 2015: Cruel, Sweet Beauty

Welcome readers to August 2015’s issue of Synchronized Chaos International Magazine.

Shelby Stephenson’s review of poet Hilda Downer gives us our month’s theme, ‘cruel, sweet beauty,’ when describing Downer’s use of language. Her words and turns of phrase are at once lovely and tragic because they give readers a taste for more but do not last long enough.

Other contributors show us more visceral and literal cruelty. James Sussman’s novel The Final Factor: Duty, which describes an attempted political infiltration and takeover of the United States government, reviewed here by Bruce Roberts, uses graphic scenes of torture to illustrate the violence that all too often results when we do not place limits on human and institutional power. Giorgio Borroni’s novel Autumn in Horror also includes a torture scene, this time involving supernatural elements. The nearly universal feelings of fear and pain give a sense of reality to this fantastical piece, allowing readers to empathize with the characters and drawing them into the scene.

Ryan Hodge, in his monthly Play/Write column, uses the art form of video games to explore how and why societies give value to objects and ideas as matters of faith. Group ‘faith’ holds a society together and can serve as a protective mechanism, ensuring that values essential to survival get carried on from generation to generation.

Some of the vehicles societies use to convey and preserve these ideas are art, literature and poetry. Saddiq Dzukogi presents poetic images mixed with fear, grief and love. He suggests in his first piece that by working through the ‘curse’ of fear and acting out of love we can experience life on a whole new level, where experiences that seemed ugly and out of reach become beautiful and possible. His second piece explores the murky mess of loss, where happy memories of the departed person mingle with the pain of their departure.

Essayist Glamortramp gives us a mostly upbeat travel diary from his time at the Oregon Country Fair. Yet, interspersed between the amusing anecdotes of hiking, camping, people watching and outdoor window shopping, we see hints of emerging commercialism at the festival when he mentions the rows of trinkets he can’t afford, and a brief critique of how the trendy-cool image can substitute for meaningful activism, at least within some alternative subcultures that have developed their own internal version of mainstream thought.

Tony Longshanks LeTigre contributes a poem about being somewhat of a rebel who comes around and appreciates the fun and meaning behind traditions such as Independence Day fireworks. He decides to give ‘mainstream’ activities a chance rather than simply assuming he won’t like them and finds himself enjoying the night.

Joan Beebe reminisces about participating in local theater productions in an essay that is much more sweet than cruel. And Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center hosted two science lectures this summer, as reviewed by Cristina Deptula. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers Deepti Tanjore and Ning Sun discussed advances in biofuel technology that promise to make these eco-friendly fuels more efficient to produce on a commercial scale and Chabot Space and Science Center’s own volunteer docent Joel Thomas gave a historical view of the importance of astronomical observations for navigation and our basic understanding of how our universe works.


Also, our colleague in Portugal, poet and software developer Rui Carvalho, hosts a poetry contest on his blog and invites all writers to participate. Our magazine staff will provide editorial expertise to judge this competition and provide free writing coaching to the runners-up.

International Literary Contest: Poems and Tales for Nature 2015

Competition Adjudicator: Rui M. Carvalho

Prize-giving will be by the end of October 2015 using the web and the website where the results will be displayed.

No entry fee and Rui offers his first book of poetry, Tales for Love, to all who enter the contest.

For further details, rules & entry form visit

A Moment in Time by John Kolenberg. Used with permission, image may be ordered here:

A Moment in Time by John Kolenberg. Used with permission, image may be ordered here:


Poetry from Saddiq Dzukogi

‎I break the curse
like a kola
as the kiss
of an enemy
I suffer from
the saliva
poison coated
with candy sweetness
I break the curse
like a wall standing
as distance
between the hole
and the pole
of virgin lovers
Over it
I die
tasting what has long
been hidden
— heaven is a curse
for those who know no god
 the water smells
of love and death and rose
sweet hell swashing
a throat like whisky
passion is unlocked
while I lean in the corner
where the doorway stares
at me— fear is the keeper
of secrets– break a lock
and discover life

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Essay by glamortramp


by glamortramp

The Road There


Glamortramp's three day OCF wristband

Glamortramp’s three day OCF wristband

Thursday 1p on July 9, one day before the event kickoff, I caught my ride to the Oregon Country Fair site with a girl who replied to my rideshare request on Craigslist. Emily, let’s call her. She had two other girls as well as myself packed into a small red 4-door, giving us full carpool cred. I wanted a pleasant interruption from city life, perhaps a sign that would point me towards the future from my present crossroads in life. “When I go into something like this for the first time, I try to have no expectations,” said Emily—one of a number of sage pieces of advice that she handed me during the ride.


I chose to leave my tent where I’ve been camping for the past two months in PDX, rather than hauling it away for three nights. The risk of anything untoward happening in my absence seemed negligible; I hadn’t encountered a single other human being since I picked that spot to camp back in early May.


Emily told us on the drive there that she was “actually working for the police force right now,” then reassured us, “I’m reasonable.” She was an OCF virgin, a first-timer, while I had vague, utopian memories of my mother bringing me to the Fair once when I was 15 or so. The other two girls were more or less veterans, in possession of significant other passes (SOPs). That meant they would be able to stay in the secret campground inside the Fair, which the general public only glimpsed from blocked trailheads & holes in the wooden walls & fence that kep them out of the VIP area. As VIPs with SOPs, they assured us, they would enjoy the upper echelons of camaraderie & group debauchery that we unprivileged plebes could only vainly imagine! We were made keenly & tantalizingly aware that the *real* fun was reserved for such insiders! But they encouraged me to believe I might have beginner’s luck or bum an SOP from someone who was leaving early & had no further use for it. It would depend largely on my social forwardness versus my tendency to withdraw into a writerly bubble of introversion.

I’d brought along a current issue of hipster alt-weekly par excellence the Portland Mercury. We flipped through it but saw no mention of the Fair; not surprisingly, given the Merc’s longstanding & weirdly intense hatred of those they deemed ‘hippies.’ Willamette Week’s coverage amounted to a single page of cartoon caricatures of various stereotypical fairgoers, including The Nice, Cool Liberal Guy, wearing a t-shirt that says THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE; The Naked, Pregnant Anti-Vaxxer with “her breasts painted as flowers, hula hooping with two naked & muddy children covered in some unidentifiable pox”; & The Super-High High School Student, recognizable by his “bloodshot eyes, too-new shoes, Oregon Country Fair tie-dye shirt purchased at the entry booth, iPhone constantly buzzing with ‘Mom’ on the screen.”


OK, they’re kind of funny. But I can’t help wondering, why does it seem so necessary for the Portland papers to make mean-spirited fun of everyone else all the time? Despite the apparent rivalry between the Mercury & Willamette Week, the two weeklies are often united in their snarky tone & frequent mockery of the city’s weirder elements. But are they not disparaging the very things that make, or have made, Portland unique & transgressive? Beneath their shared progressive sheen, these publications are anything but radical. They advocate voting Democrat as if the two-party system still works—or ever worked, for the people—& uphold the establishment in various ways both overt & subtle, influencing legions of readers not to rock the boat too much. “Just chill out & smoke some weed & drink some more local craft beer & ride your bike home (nude is fine) & shut up,” they exhort us. Their relentless hippie-bashing & sowing of disunity keeps us divided, fighting among ourselves rather than uniting to shake shit up for real; it discredits the 1960s-inspired counterculture, whose idea(l)s in my opinion are needed now as much, or more, than ever.


I wasn’t going to the Fair to bring back scathing reports of all the freaky people I would meet. I wanted to return to the wondrous, semi-unconscious, childlike state of grace I’d known before the fear of being judged by other people ever entered my awareness of the world.

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Bruce Roberts reviews James Sussman’s novel The Final Factor: Duty

Review of The Final Factor: Duty


James Sussman’s The Final Factor: Duty, is a new entrant into the popular literary genre of political thrillers. It’s not exactly a James Bond revival—there are no British secret agents involved—but the bad guys want to take over the world, the good guys possess the righteousness and the skills to fight back, and violence and sexy women pop up throughout the story.

The main culprit here is, of all people, the President of the United States, bent on causing chaos, and using that confusion to take over first the country, and then perhaps the world. He is surrounded by Yes Men who believe in his vision and are organizing to follow his plans through. Unlikely? Give him a moustache and improve his public speaking and you have Adolph Hitler.

The opposition are loyal Americans–basically a retired general and some of the FBI, plus a few hit men on the correct side. At the beginning, they seem a minority, a patriotic few who must obstruct the President’s plan secretly, for fear of reprisal. But as the evil plot tries to unfold, the good guys cause problems at every turn until at last evil is thwarted, good prevails.

Sussman’s writing is competent, and he seems to know a great deal about military and FBI procedures. He’s unlikely to win any literary awards, but the plot keeps moving at a fast pace, a requirement in such a story. There are moments when the plot seems strange, as when the sexy FBI agent seduces the old General before they get down to the business of defeating the President. That such a summer/winter couple would jump into bed anyway seems odd, but to do it when the country is on the brink of disaster seems even odder.

However, this story is a page turner! Character development is at a minimum, but the fast pace and the country-shaking conflicts hold a reader’s attention right to the end. If a reader likes this type of book, save a spot on the bookshelf for this one.


Bruce Roberts

You may order James Sussman’s novel The Final Factor: Duty here. 

Essay from Joan Beebe


I guess my first introduction to the stage was when I was a girl scout and my role was that of the Prince’s Herald in a play called Cinderella in Flower Land.  As a 7th grader, it was a fascinating experience.
Many years ago, after graduation from high school, I was persuaded by a friend to join an amateur acting organization.  It was known at that time and chartered by the name of the Catholic Theater of Rochester but years later merged into the Blackfriars. The aim of that group, as I remember, was not only to instill an interest in the acting field but to pursue well known plays from Broadway and produce them over the New Year’s holiday at a large theater known for bringing in popular plays and musicals  The rehearsals started months ahead and were long and intense.  However, there was always someone who found something funny in a line or two and would start laughing and soon the whole caste joined in.  It was really a good stress reliever.
We had meetings every month and, at times, the director would decide to have a few people do a short workshop play.  The rest of the members would then watch and listen and critique the actors.  Of course, the director would too and he, sometimes, would interrupt to give suggestions about body language or vocal expressions, etc.  When a play was going on at the theater, we also learned about the behind the scenes work.  There would be people for props, make up, prompter, lighting and someone who stood by in the wings to make sure the actor made his/her entrance on stage at the right time.
The musicals, produced by a different organization, basically followed the same criteria which included long rehearsals for months, teaching the actors their actions and places on the stage. There would be a lot of songs to learn and, of course, everything has to be memorized.  Both for the plays and the musicals, opening night was a night full of anticipation, nerves and excitement.  At the end of the run for these plays, there would always be a caste party which was a celebration of the well- attended and good response from the public and enjoying ones- self in the knowledge that all the hard work paid off in the enjoyment of the audiences and looking forward to the next project.

Cristina Deptula reviews an astronomy lecture from Joel Thomas at Oakland, CA’s Chabot Space and Science Center

— by Cristina Deptula
Last week, our own Joel Thomas came to talk to Chabot Space and Science Center staff and volunteers about the history of our understanding of light and time. His lecture, Galileo, George Washington and the Speed of Light, began with a discussion of Galileo’s observations and how they supported the Copernican, sun-centric model of the solar system. Through his telescope, only 30x magnification, Galileo saw the moons of Jupiter, craters on the Moon, sunspots, and the phases of Venus, which suggested that the planet was orbiting the sun.
Understanding that our planet rotated around its axis and revolved around the sun allowed for us to calculate where we were by observing the sun’s relative position in the sky. Latitude could be determined by looking at the sun’s altitude at your local noontime and comparing it to figures in declination tables, which recorded how much the sun’s position varied with distance from the equator. Figuring out longitude was possible because the earth rotated at a steady speed, 360 degrees a day, 15 degrees per hour. So if you compared your local time to Greenwich Mean time, you could see how far you had traveled in an east-west direction. This is a similar idea to knowing that you’re in an eastern state if you are three hours ahead of California time.

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Cristina Deptula reviews a talk on the next generation of biofuels by Deepti Tanjore and Ning Sun at Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center

— by Cristina Deptula
Last month for our volunteer enrichment Deepti Tanjore and Ning Sun of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory came to share with us about the next generation of biofuels.
According to Tanjore and Sun, last year the United States spent $274 billion on biofuels and created 14.5 billion gallons and 280,000 jobs. These substances hold promise for environmental conservation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60 percent. Yet technical issues have slowed progress on biofuel development and made it difficult to scale biofuel production up to commercially useful levels. This talk focused on ways to improve the process to make biofuels more practical.
The first generation of biofuels were produced from cereal grains and other plants containing sugar and starch. These plants competed with food crops for land and water, so researchers looked into second generation sources of fuel, such as algae, straw, manure, nut shells, and crude glycerine. However, these had a complex chemical structure that was hard for microbes to break down into fuel. Now, as Tanjore and Sun discussed, advances in pre-treatment and the addition of enzymes to do some preliminary digestion before adding the microbes for fermentation helps break the rougher material down.

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Shelby Stephenson reviews the work of poet Hilda Downer



(August 27, 1956 – )


Poet Hilda Downer

Poet Hilda Downer









  • The gravitational pull of our ancestry,

the part of us that killed the Cherokee,

the part of us that is the Cherokee,

we drag through seconds of a concentration camp,

medieval wars in single red gulp.

From “History reflects itself as an old man,”

Bandana Creek

The melting pot aglow,

coal and feldspar,

mastectomies of the mountains

Native Americans revered as gods,

what if your Mohawk nose

does not serve up the American Pie?

From “America, the Beautiful,” Sky Under The Roof

Hilda Downer’s come out with another book (Bottom Dog Press, Huron, Ohio); I look

back almost four decades to an event I loved, Hilda Downer’s Bandana Creek, a startling, tough gift from Charlene Swansea, at Red Clay Books. Swansea could not write a “Letter of Regret,” regarding Hilda’s poems; Swansea’s mind was set. Charmed by the poet’s talent, she took the book and published it.

Now I hold Downer’s Sky Under The Roof. I see Reba’s here again, Reba Vance. Hilda writes, “my best friend all of my life.” “Towheads”: “Reba and I observe the way we used to stand at eye level with daisies, stepping stones up and down for walking on air as far as we could see

across the field. Butterflies test landed tiger colors for an instant takeoff.”

In the Introduction to Bandana Creek, Charlene Swansea keeps her pitch: “Hilda spent much of her childhood in solitary exploration of the blue Appalachian Mountains. Her wonder at the

co-existence of beauty and cruelty in Nature watered her secret writings like a spring.”

Would not we readers all be Voyagers sailing with Hilda Downer’s inspiration and imaginative guidance.


Sky Under The Roof starts in mouthfuls of folly: “Picking Cherries up Howell Hollow”:

“Unlike hybrids darkly marooned in stores, / these cherries glowed a delicate red from within – /

translucent white when unripe. / Little Rudolph noses, their guidance / balanced us on that tight wire, pulling us / to higher branches to reach more light.”

Touch and taste – smell – and seeing, hearing: “My tongue felt for the seam of the pit / long

after the last rags of fruit had weathered. / Near sandy ruffles in the dirtroad, / I smelled where a spring poked its finger out the bank. / Then, I spit out all possibility / deep from the dark / deep in the mountains / deeper still in childhood / attempting to see into Who I have and have not become.”

“A woman is segmented as an ant,” Downer writes in Bandana Creek: “I wait as a woman waits. / I like my own smell. / No man has known me beautiful / when I am alone and woman, / still or stirring, / a drawing power in the shoulders, / waist hidden from vertical glance, / breast to hip.”

And from “What is Under my Dress” (Sky Under The Roof): “I might lift the hem on occasion.”

“What Is Under My Dress” seems too long to quote. I choose these words as notes from the poem: “An editor once summed up / my poetry as merely listing, / told me to put that under my belt, / and would I drive with him to Vermont. / Here’s another list: / I don’t wear a belt; / I wear a vintage prom dress; / I refuse to face life like a man.” She does not: “and I’ll make up my own mind, / if there’s any room left, /about what to put under my dress next.”

Bandana Creek’s last poem is a hymn to jars: “Looking up from inside a jar, the stars / Are holes”:

Hilda Downer: “I want to call mama / when my mother strode / down the gravel driveway / like a man.” These lines are my close companions. I want to call my mother, too, through the oaktrees on top of my Paul’s Hill; like Hilda Downer’s Bandana Creek, a stream the mountains sing, I long for breath to keep her words “wondering why I’m not satisfied, / when all I ask for is the thirst and the water.” I am drawn to my own fishing holes. Deep down in wonder, experience orders change to build a bridge to another side. Far from Bandana Creek, I feel like a terrapin coming up for air at the Rock Hole on my Middle Creek.

What else can I say to show more truly the intricacies of the cruel, sweet beauty of

Hilda Downer’s gift for lines, her ways her pages move words like “the blue fixed waves

of mountains” which turn in her eyes and on her tongue to “the only ocean we had ever seen, and even a scant shell,” she writes, “was rare”; so “we listened to the ocean from a mason jar.”

When you consider that some of us write rhymes; others long and thirst for what they do not know, you may imagine Hilda Downer, this girl who becomes a woman, and dedicates Sky Under The Roof “to my sons, Branch Richter and Meade Richter” (artist Branch did the cover-art, picturing Hilda with a child on her back; Meade’s a fiddler − his band − The Sons of Bluegrass). The mother relishes the artistry of her sons.

Poets may long for difference and sameness. Consider “Jars” – from the last quarter of Sky Under The Roof: “There are no words that work, not under this sky, but maybe – above – ”: (That’s her inscription to me on the title page of Sky Under The Roof); in “Jars” she jots − “City boy who raised his jar to Tennessee – / can anything manmade be more lovely than a singular jar, / refractions like stilts of heaven through the morning / of an invisible forest?”

Bio:  Shelby Stephenson is Poet Laureate of North Carolina.  His play Maytle’s World was recently performed at the Cameron Arts Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina.

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Poetry from Tony Longshanks LeTigre

“Happy Fourth, baby,”
said a woman I didn’t know,
as we passed one another on the Hawthorne bridge
(See, being nice is cool:
you Californians should try it some time*)
This isn’t usually my thing, either—
this jingoistic pageant of stars & stripes
& children with cherrybombs making more noise than usual
& “God Bless the USA” blaring from the publicly funded
& ridiculously underutilized PA system
(Let me pick the music next time—
“Rocket,” by Goldfrapp, shimmering over the water
as the fireworks display crests to its climax!)
Truth be told, I prefer the geese sailing serenely
breastdown on the water to the braying obnoxiousness of human beings;
birds, like most sensible critters,
for all their euphonious prolixity at the ripe hours,
also evince a respect for silence that a writer can’t fail to admire
But for once, I’m going to check all the baggage of my discontent
at the star-spangled door & go with the gaudy flow,
because it’s damn near 100 degrees,
& the river feels like the ocean on Maui,
& they say it’s safe to swim in now,
since they figured out that pumping raw sewage 
& dubious chemicals into the city’s water main liquid artery
—source of all life & our most precious resource—
was probably a bad idea

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Ryan Hodge’s Play/Write column


-Ryan J. Hodge

For someone who enjoys a great story, is there anything better than a narrative that engages you from the very start? Imagine a world so rich you can almost smell the scents in the air, a delivery so clever it forces you to think in a way you never thought you would. I’m Ryan J. Hodge, author, and I’d like to talk to you about…Video Games.

Yes, Video Games. Those series of ‘bloops’ and blinking lights that –at least a while ago- society had seemed to convince itself had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In this article series, I’m going to discuss how Donkey Kong, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and even Candy Crush can change the way we tell stories forever.

What Videogames Teach Us About Writing for Religion

Those who have committed to even a cursory study of philosophy have probably been introduced to something known as ‘The Allegory of the Cave”. This mental exercise, proposed by the Greek Philosopher Socrates, supposes that is a group of men were restrained from birth to stare at the wall of a cave; their perception of reality would only be that of the shadows reflected on that wall. It further supposes that if one of those restrained were to be released and shown reality beyond the cave, should he ever return to his comrades, they would actively attempt to silence him –including killing him, if necessary.


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Novel excerpt from Giorgio Borroni

Autumn in Horror

By Giorgio Borroni


He picked up a hammer, looking at it as if struck by a brilliant idea: “Can I play with him? Can I nail him down like Jesus?”

Jessica smiled, shaking her head. Now more than ever, they looked like siblings.

“Come on, you idiot!” she told him, “Use the duct tape instead. We’ll tie him to the chair and we’ll make him spill the beans so he’ll tell us where he keeps the money.”

Alfio saw them tie the old man’s hands behind his back, whose thick white hair dangled over his chest, then they moved on to the ankles, which were fastened to the chair’s legs.

When they finished, the light of the crystal chandelier, covered in spider webs, trembled and turned off for a couple of seconds before turning back on again.

Alfio realized that he was not dreaming: this wasn’t a junkie delirium. Everything was happening for real.

This room with rotten green wallpaper seemed to squeeze him, he felt as though his lungs were deprived of air.

While cold sweat dripped down his forehead and locks of hair stuck to his temples and cheeks, he struggled to breathe oxygen, but more than ever that sickly and rank smell turned his stomach.

He looked at his hand, which was still holding the crowbar. It was his own, but by now it hurt because of how much he was grasping it, and he shivered like a leaf.

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