Synchronized Chaos July 2020: We Are But Leaves in the Wind

Welcome to July 2020’s issue of Synchronized Chaos International Magazine. For those new to how we work, each month we accept a wide variety of submissions of written and visual pieces from around the world and then we develop our monthly theme around the submissions we have received. We tie the submissions together and mention each of them in our editorial letters.

This month’s theme is Just Leaves in the Wind. As with leaves on a tree, we all exist within the context of larger frameworks. We are all part of human society, human history and the natural world, systems which influence us and over which we often lack control.

Single reddish-orange leaf flying by itself in front of a dark and cloudy scene with a grove of aspen? lined up next to each other on a green lawn.
Uploaded to Public Domain Images by user ‘kerber’ on 2019-07-26

Spanish writer Daniel DeCulla brings medieval Western history, our lofty discoveries and our human ego down to earth with his vulgar meditation on astronomy and asteroids.

Mark Murphy, from the UK, underscores our vulnerability through the sense of danger hidden within the fantastical historically-inspired mythos of his poems.

Sheryl Bize-Boutte illustrates the moral and psychological dilemmas racial discrimination and segregation caused for many families, and probes the ethics of ‘passing’ to give a young child a better education.

Ike Boat’s essay outlines the many positive and negative changes that have happened because of coronavirus in his homeland of Ghana.

American writer Christopher Bernard evokes medieval religious ceremonies, tapestries and dances in his pieces on deaths from coronavirus and racial injustice. To him, we may or may not have evolved in our humanity since those days.

Yet, each leaf on a tree plays a role harvesting food for the entire plant. While we only have so much power as individuals, we do have a part to play in our communities, and in history.

Small yellow/green, possibly aspen (heart-shaped) leaves at the end of some tree branches, aloft in the wind. Trees in the background are starting to turn yellow for fall.
From user ‘ putevodnik’ (

U.S. writer Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal’s poems evoke implacable natural forces: romantic passion, fire, and wind. Still, within the same collection is a piece protesting police brutality, speaking up where he can against injustice.

American artist Patricia Doyne’s pieces illustrate individuals within larger communities and swathes of space and time. They are not entirely powerless, as they choose to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus in one piece and, in the other, poke their heads up from under the historical record.

Returning American author and oil painter Norman J. Olson reflects on the work and the closeness to the land he experienced growing up on a struggling Midwestern dairy farm.

Tree rings provide a record of each year’s climate and growing conditions. Trees retain a record of their pasts. Their history stays with them even while they continue to grow. In the same way we’re all part of human history, and we’ve all got pasts, whether personal or societal, that shape us as we move forward.

Large oak tree, trunk and several main branches extending all the way out to smaller branches and leaves. Sun's behind it on a sunny day with a blue sky and no clouds, it's shining through the branches. Tree leaves some shadows on the grassy field below, some green bushes nearby.
Oak Tree from Public Domain

Doug Hawley reflects on his Portland State college basketball team in a nostalgic piece, remembering the mixture of diversity and uniformity among the group.

Rui Carvalho, poet and artist in Portugal, misses his grandmother in his short poem.

American writer J.J. Campbell’s poetic characters’ worlds are stacked against them, but they hope and try things over again, even when they know they’ll end badly.

Bogdan Dragos, a security guard for casinos in Romania, portrays people trapped in their lives by varying addictions and circumstances.

Returning South African essayist Abigail George describes the lingering effects of growing up with her abusive mother in her call to parents to be less self-involved and more caring, and to people to choose to make something of their lives.

Vegetation, even small leaves, can become fossilized as a record for future generations. Sometimes just simply writing down what we see around us can be crucial, as we become a primary source for historians of the future who may find our work when they research our time and help people understand and learn from it.

Dark brown clusters of spiky palm frond shapes imprinted onto a lighter brown rock.
Fossilized fern leaf, reshared from Pinterest.

Nigerian writer Chimezie Ihekuna outlines the beginning of his journey as a poet, novelist, sci-fi writer, and essayist.

World traveler Kiran Bhat, currently living in Australia, reviews Behrooz Boochani’s memoir No Friend But the Mountains, which relates Boochani’s story of statelessness as a Kurd fleeing persecution to find himself in immigration detention in Papua New Guinea. The memoir records the sights, sounds, smells and other daily discomforts of the detention center as well as the psychological strain of endless waiting.

Michael Robinson shares his personal memories of the 1968 Washington D.C. riots in an essay illustrated by news photos and links. We see the long shadow of a past of racism and violence, history continuing and repeating itself once again with recent unrest in large American cities.

Nigerian writer Olatomiwa Aina’s poem illustrates how past wrongdoing, especially by societal leaders, can carry over to the present.

Chinese poet Hongri Yuan’s Platinum City, translated from Mandarin to English by Manu Mangattu, looks to mythical past eras for inspiration to build a more welcoming, inclusive civilization today.

American reviewer Elizabeth Hughes discusses Zlaikha Y. Samad and L’Mere Younossi’s visionary fiction title The Unseen Blossom in her Book Periscope column. Afghanistan may be an arid, war-torn country but has life, energy, and hope for peace and unity, especially from the young.

Love, creativity and moments of beauty keep us going. As fragile leaves waving in the wind, these are our ways of staying attached to our ‘trees’ and not getting blown away.

Small tree along a country dirt road near a wire and wooden post fence, grassy fields and mountains with trees off in the distance. Some evergreen? branches and leaves at the top, leaning heavily in the wind. Trees nearby are also shaped by the wind and leaning in strange directions.
Tree in the wind, from

Returning Bangladeshi poet Mahbub brings us pieces that explore the mixture of familiarity and freshness in love. The choice of words in this translation of his work is unusual, but also an invitation to consider the shades of meaning of each word and thus the many aspects of a healthy and growing relationship.

Poet Mark Young, a New Zealander who’s lived for quite some time in Australia, sends us pieces are built around news headlines and quotes from famous people. The first couple pieces comment on the irony of certain dichotomies in human life and in our culture.

Canadian poet Ahmad Al-Khatat, originally from Iraq, writes of the soul-weariness of depression and how he longs to escape by being near a loved one. There’s sadness even in love, though, as he compares that to finding a flower growing near a cemetery.

Syrian poet Susie Gharib shares small moments of sensory and relational beauty: rushing water on bare feet, long-awaited apologies, and forgiveness. Other pieces reflect on what drives lovers apart behind the small matters we think are annoying us, and point out how hoarding power or wealth at the expense of others will end up harming us.

We hope that this issue will bring fresh sunlight, air, water, and healthy soil to your souls and minds and help you to grow.

Story from Doug Hawley

Behind The Undefeated Portland State College Bowl Team

On January 31, 1965 The Portland State College Bowl team went to New York to compete.  The GE College Bowl, which started on radio in 1959 and ran until 1970, featured  four member teams from colleges across the country.  The team captain was Jim Westwood and the other members were Larry Smith, Mike Smith and Robin Freeman.  The fiftieth anniversary approaches.

I believe that it was months before the Portland Team went on its record setting undefeated run that I got involved.  It may have been because my roommate, Mike Smith, became involved and later made the team.

A bit of context may help.  Colleges were involved in cultural upheaval at that time because of the Viet Nam war (for those who don’t know, The Bay Of Tonkin was the 1960s Weapons of Mass Destruction) and the increasing use of drugs (yes I did inhale – legalize it).  Of the sex, drugs and rock and roll popular at the time, I was mostly stuck with rock and roll.  Portland State was largely four buildings and students mostly either drove from their parents’ homes or lived in run down apartments close to campus.  I started at home and later moved to a series of hovels.  The gag then was your apartment would be torn down for:  Choose one – I-405, Portland State or urban renewal.  At the time of the training for the team Mike and I lived in a building run by an old couple within a block of PSC.  I think that three lived on the second floor; the couple lived on the ground floor, and as the last one in I got the dungeon in the basement.  Chasing the mice at night was entertaining.  In those days a bunch of guys would split about $100 in rent.  I suppose that it is more expensive now.

Besides Mike, I hung out with the pretend Smith brother Larry.  Mike at least appeared straight laced, sort of a Buddy Holly type, whereas Larry was totally camp and bitchy.  He was as flaming as his orange hair.  An aside – one of the most important learning experiences at Portland State was losing my high school inculcated bias against the sexually different.  I didn’t know Robin Freeman too well, but he did hang out with the same underground group that I knew, and was funny and sophisticated.  His father was an international banker, I believe.  I have never gotten to know the token Republican Jim Westwood well.  I didn’t hang out with any of the other alternates at the time.

I was amused by an older guy from Vancouver being excluded because he didn’t fit the image of a college student.  Robin, in his twenties, was bald and had a perpetual five o’clock shadow.  He looked twenty years older than the guy who was kicked out.

There are at least three reasons that the Portland State team was so successful.  Obviously, the team members were well chosen.  Because of the strange way teams were queued for their appearance, we had a very long time for training between the time that we were chosen to compete and the time that we went on the air.  Possibly most important, was the coach Ben Padrow.  He turned the team into a machine.

There was a woman who was friends with a couple of the team members.  I have it on good authority that she is still attractive and lives in the area.   I’d like to hear from her.

Mr. Padrow was portrayed in the 2007 obscure movie “Music Within” – in which he is played by actor Hector Elizondo – who helps a Viet Nam era vet with hearing problems incurred during the war.  It got a fairly high 7.3 on the movie website IMDB.  Like so many on the team Mr. Padrow died early.

To over generalize, the team was split 3 to 1 on the cultural and political divide, with Jim being the 1, but I don’t think that there were any personal conflicts.  For the last contest, I had been scheduled for flying to New York with the team as the alternate, but Mr. Padrow and perhaps some others thought that a stronger alternate was needed because of the possibility that Mike might not be able to go on.  One of the more gratifying moments of my life was when my friends on the team held out for me going.

Flying to New York was my first commercial flight, although when I was very young, I got very sick in a small plane.  Ironically, it was one of the accompanying faculty that used up the barf bag on our flight.  Once there, we saw the play “Incident At Vichy” by Arthur Miller.  Mostly what I remember about it is that you didn’t want to be circumcised in Nazi territory.  As a very unsophisticated fellow I was intimidated by the subway and walking around New York in general.

I was present at the run through before the program.  I was surprised that the host, Robert Earle, smoked – Salems I think.  He had replaced Allen Ludden who had moved to another show, and is mostly known now as the late husband of Betty White.

Much to everyone’s delight, Mike went on and Portland State finished undefeated.

After I graduated in 1965, the only team members I saw were Mike Smith and Jim Westwood.  When I visited the campus a year later I ran into Mike.  I had never known how serious his illness was.  I had thought that cystic fibrosis was similar to asthma and just limited one’s activities.   He died shortly thereafter.  After I moved back to the Portland area in 1997, I had a College Bowl reunion party with Jim and alternates Al Kotz and Marv Foust.

Larry Smith died as I was trying to get in touch with him.

I emailed Jim after I saw that he was a lawyer in a case in which he wanted to limit sex shows.  His reply contained the only reference to “pudenda” that I have ever seen or heard in a written or spoken conversation.

Al, Marv and I make up the Lake Oswego Three alternates on the team.  Various sources list different alternates to the team, but other than Al and Marv I’ve had no contact with the others in about fifty years.  It is somewhat interesting and different that the Portland team and alternates were made up of a bunch of white guys, unlike most of the teams.  We did have sexual orientation diversity.

After our run was complete Governor and Mrs. Hatfield hosted us in Salem.  The lucky alternates got to sit with Antoinette, who was much better company than Mark because she didn’t have to be political.

Many, many years later after knocking around the country, I returned to the Portland area and volunteered at Booktique, a non-profit bookstore in Lake Oswego which supports the Lake Oswego library.  Mr. Hatfield came into shop from time to time.  One time I asked him if the remembered the celebration in Salem.  His response was that I had gone gray.  I told him he had also.  I’m reasonably certain he had no idea who I was, but decided I probably wasn’t gray in college, so it was a safe comment.

As a former actuary, I’m intrigued that the somewhat smart live longer than the very smart.  At least based on a very small sample of which only one team members survives, but at least three alternates are above the ground (as this is written).

Although not a team member, my involvement in the GE College Bowl was one of the highlights of my life.

Thanks to Alan Kotz and Jim Westwood for reviewing this article.  Want to know more?  Do an internet search on “GE College Bowl Portland State College”.

 Appeared in Wilderness House

Poetry from Bogdan Dragos

 a distracted dreamer
 what else to do when
 the rain falls so heavy
 against the window
 Get melancholic
 get poetic
 have a drink
 have another
 close and then lock the door
 to your room
 and don't listen to
 the voices coming
 from outside
 They want to distract you
 They don't want you
 to be successful
 and make it in
 They're all haters
 He covered his ears
 and squinted his eyes at the
 computer screen
 doing his best to block out
 the negativity that came
 from beyond the door
 “I can't get up!” the voice
 croaked. “Come help me. I can't
 get up.” And then with
 a cry, “Please!”
 “Shut the fuck up, grandma!
 I'm trying to
 write in here. Jesus Christ, I'm
 trying to make
 it big, don't you understand?
 For fuck's sake now.”
 He had also sent a manuscript
 to a potential
 publisher and was waiting for
 a reply. It's been
 two days already. 

 peace was never an option
 there have been
 too many fights lately
 she was a
 and she put it as,
 “Darling, we need to change
 the tune.”
 He was a
 and he shot her
 and then himself

 king who would go down with honor
 he had no shoes
 and you could hardly call
 his shirt a shirt
 but he
 sat between those two
 trash cans like some king
 on his throne
 holding to a stick
 like a scepter
 He drank from an old
 rusty can of
 but held it like some golden
 Clearly he lost the
 ability to
 taste because in the can
 he mixed all he could
 find in the trash
 Beer with vodka
 with tequila with wine
 and acetone
 and rubbing alcohol
 He had a fearsome guardian
 about him
 A white dog who constantly
 licked his vomit from
 the ground
 It looked black
 and spongy
 like coffee grounds
 Some passersby offered to help him
 and he refused
 This was a king who
 would go down with honor
 after he lost
 his kingdom

 to choose the bottle
 there are many reasons a woman
 can say her final
 goodbye to you
 and somehow they
 all feel
 He supposed the worst of all
 had to be when
 her final goodbye is
 influenced by another man
 made sense
 but that wasn't his case
 Also he was too drunk
 to think
 straight now. And in too much
 “It's the final goodbye,” she had
 said. “You chose the bottle
 over me, now live
 with the bottle. Goodbye.”
 Goddammit, this
 really hurt
 His dick was only getting harder
 and more blue
 stuck in the mouth
 of the bottle
 Yet still, through all the
 pain and the
 dizziness he reached for the
 phone and called her.
 He said, “Hey, I just want you
 to know that... It was
 you I had in mind when I did it.
 I did it while thinking
 of you, love.”
 She hung up.

 the female assassin
 the ashtray was looking more
 and more
 like a sick hedgehog
 and her yellowed fingers
 added one more quill to it
 she sat back in her chair
 work wasn't in the best of stages lately and
 her office looked like a junkie's
 trailer. You could
 scrape the nicotine
 off the walls. In fact, she
 would get nicotine under her nails if she
 just scratched her skin
 But otherwise she was
 a beauty
 and that was a problem. Beautiful
 women have the worst
 luck in marriages
 The husband left and the two girls went
 with him
 They were sick and tired of her
 habit to consume more cigarette smoke than
 And drinking was also a problem
 though not nearly
 as big
 The worst drinking has ever done to her
 was to make her lose
 the driving license which she never
 bothered to take back
 The real problem was,
 as always,
 a lack of money. If the damn phone didn't
 ring soon
 she would have to kill someone
 for a pack of cigarettes
 Assuming she could still
 someone with her body rotting from the
 inside. She was fine with
 breast cancer
 but now lung cancer joined too
 and it was by far nastier
 that was all right
 It doesn't take a healthy body to pull
 a trigger
 And speaking of triggers
 She opened a drawer in her desk
 took out the gun
 studied it
 Not loaded
 She browsed through the drawer
 Only one bullet left. One single bullet.
 These things cost money
 Damn it
 But it's like they said back in
 the mercenary camp
 The last bullet is always preserved to be
 used on the self
 She loaded the bullet into the
 A life lived well is one
 lived without regrets and without
 ever asking for mercy
 or feeling sorry for yourself
 At 39
 she had that. There was nothing
 else to be taken
 away from it
 She put the gun to her
 "Except for a final smoke." 

Bogdan Dragos works as a dispatcher for a Romanian gambling company (supervising casinos) and that implies spending twelve hours alone in the office (where he daydreams and writes poetry that he e-mails to himself).

Poetry from Rui Carvalho

My life is a tape recorder

Someone pressed “stop”
And I can’t hear my melody.
Or she’s there,
“Play” will bring her back.

A Phenomenal wispper…
Was there, as the sun of my smile.
As the blowing wind…
I love you: grandmother hug me!

Yes, hug me asap.
Cause I can’t wait,
Flower so blithe,
as the blue in your tall mountain!

Yes, I love you: this is me without a mask!

Upcoming novel excerpt from Sheryl Bize-Boutte

Excerpted from Betrayal on the Bayou

Copyright©2020 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Oliver Charles turned five and it was time for him to go to school. He and Celeste had become inseparable as Celeste had begun and remained as his main caregiver. It was unthinkable to Margot that they would be separated into two different schools; Oliver Charles at Miss Tindal’s with the other Free children of Color, or with Celeste at the Tassin School with the White children. It was a major dilemma that neither Margot nor Emile had considered until it was time to choose a school. Margot had always assumed that Oliver Charles would join his half-sister at Tassin School because of his White skin and straight hair. Except for the shape of his face and his overall gentle manner, she saw little trace of herself in him and thought he would get by with just being known as Emile’s son.

To her hurtful surprise, Emile did not see it that way.

“Oliver Charles is half Black. He can’t go to the Tassin School,” Emile calmly explained.

“Oliver Charles must go to the Tassin School! He looks White enough! His father is White!” Margot yelled.

“It doesn’t matter what he looks like Margot. Everyone knows you are his mother.”

“Nothing matters except what he looks like, Emile. This entire town is built on what people look like.”

“Now you know that is not entirely true. If it were there are several who would not be in the positions they are in,” Emile laughed.

“Don’t make light of this Emile. It is a serious thing. You should be concerned about the quality of your son’s education.”

“He’s five, Margot! His education is hardly an issue at this point.”

“This is when it begins, Emile! This is his foray into the world! It must be right at the beginning or it never will be!”

“Oh, I am sure, Emile continued in his nonchalant tone, that his education will not make a difference in his life. He is good looking like his father. If he keeps his wits about him and figures things out as he goes along, he will do just fine. Tassin or Tindal won’t make a difference for him as a man.”

Margot was near tears as she screamed again at Emile, “It will make all the difference in the world for him Emile. There’s no need to try to explain it to you. Tassin or Tindal will make all the difference in the world to him and to Celeste.”

“How on earth does it affect Celeste?”

“Emile,” Margot shakily continued, “Up until now, not many would have said that Celeste has a Black brother. If he is sent to Tindal, that is what they will say. If you separate them that will be their proof.”

“Please, Margot. That is ridiculous. They think of you as her mother.”

“No. No they don’t. She does, but they don’t.”

Emile was growing more and more exasperated with this discussion. For him it was just a ridiculous complaint that never ended. He looked over at Margot with annoyance.

“Well what do they think of you as, Margot? What?”

“They think of me as the crazy, wild haired, Black lady who lives with the rich White man.

They think of me as the free Creole who lives in a house next to the same house of the rich White man’s wife.

They think of me as the colored woman who takes care of the rich White man and his children.”

“But you are wealthy in your own right!”

“Ah, many of them think of that as a mistake of the universe that can be corrected at any time.”

“You should think more of yourself, Margot.”

“I know my living truth, Emile. You not wanting to send Oliver Charles to Tassin School is my living truth.”

“Oh, Margot, you are overwrought about this!” Emile said, his voice slightly raised. “It is not that serious a thing! Oliver Charles can go to school anywhere!”

“But as a man of power in this town, if you don’t insist that he go to the Tassin School he won’t be able to go!”

“Well, I am flattered that you think I am a man of power in Tassin, but I am afraid my dear you have been terribly misled. While she rarely interferes with my life, for various reasons, it is Marie who holds the power here.”

Most of the time Emile was more than happy to have people think he was the town patriarch except on those occasions when he was confronted with a situation he found unpleasant or something he did not want to do. In either of those instances he would acquiesce to Marie and avoid all action or decision. Margot knew the conversation was over when he threw the power to Marie. She also knew that she could not give up. It was imperative that Oliver Charles go to the Tassin School. The rest of his life depended upon it.

Poetry from J.J. Campbell

Author J.J. Campbell, white man in a tee shirt with dark-rimmed glasses, slightly messy blond hair, and a mustache and beard. In a room with a dresser with candles, a skull and a rose and posters on the side wall.
Author J.J. Campbell
 J.J. Campbell (1976 - ?) is old enough to know where the bodies are buried. He's been widely published over the last 25 years, most recently at Winedrunk Sidewalk: Shipwrecked in Trumpland, The Beatnik Cowboy, Terror House Magazine, Horror Sleaze Trash and Cajun Mutt Press. You can find him most days on his mildly entertaining blog, evil delights. (
big city

i have lived

in small towns

my entire life

a big city

will probably

swallow me


one day i hope

to know for sure

heartbreak written all over it

she had the kind

of smile that had

heartbreak written

all over it

i remember the

first time she

kissed me

i promised her

the world

she broke up

with me the

second she

realized i


afford it

i thanked her

on her way

out the door

i was in over

my head once


blood on the walls

she liked the taste of bourbon

and preferred songs about

murder from back in the fifties

she made you laugh every night

she drank you under the table

used to ask you if you thought

she was still the most beautiful

woman this side of the mississippi

you would always lie and say yes

she would smile and know you

had moved on years ago

eventually, you found her

one evening in the bathroom

asleep in the tub

blood on the walls

giving you the chance to

live out your dreams

you kissed her on the cheek

and reminded her that's not

how destiny works

something from kentucky

with a little ice she moaned

from the bathroom


just another night being poor

while approaching climax

hello darkness

the only friend

a lonely boy

ever needs

where the


tries to choke

itself to death

each night




she had the eyes

of a broken soul

collecting names

for her revenge

he was only

hoping to be

the latest


soon, glasses

of wine will

turn to bottles

and that lonely

boy will get

another chance

to be famous

a different class of humans

my father never loved me

my mother only does so

out of guilt

my sister is in a different

class of humans and rarely

gives me a passing thought

i've heard voices since

i was a child

done drugs since i was

a teen

and knew the taste of

my favorite liquor before

the age of ten

smart enough to graduate

high school with honors

and never take a fucking

book home for four years

college wasn't an option

since my father gambled

away all that money

i went to a factory where

all us misguided genius

stupid fucks are supposed

to end up

seven years later, a few

back injuries, a couple

abortions and two painful

car accidents i should have

died in

i sat on the porch of eighty

acres and knew reality was

going to fucking win again


Poetry from Olatomiwa Aina

Our hands wriggle
in a crazed dance with fate
while our fathers' belly's past gluttony
hisses at misfortune's coming diarrhea.

At his table, they dined desperately,
–Jahanaam's horned King 
with spoons shorter
than lashes in the eyes of babies.

Whoring their rotting teeth
into shiny soft fruits
and leaving on our buds,
tastes, cringing and sour.

Under the billowing tree,
towering over their graves,
We'll question what sins
our heads have against God
to have subjected us 
to this cruelly father-made fate.

If only they could hear our whispering,
if only they could hear us pray.