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Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at Widener University Courses for 2014: Shakespeare and Human Society, The Reformation: The Soul Between God and the Devil, Ethics, The Essay, Self and Nature Through Science, and Self and Society Applications are now being accepted. The program is flexible for working adults, with classes held on weekday evenings on Widener’s Main Campus in Chester, Pennsylvania. For more information, contact program director Dr. Stephanie Schechner at (610) 499-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Writing Studies Program
The M.A. in Writing Studies program is based on the idea that writers learn best from practicing writers, in small courses, with lots of time for drafting, revising, and soliciting feedback from peers and instructors. Our program bridges the gap between traditional master’s degrees in English and creative writing by emphasizing that all writing is creative.
To learn more about how our M.A. program nurtures writers, from budding cookbook authors to poets, scholars, novelists, memoirists, and writing teachers, visit us at sju.edu/apiary. Apply today. The spring 2014 semester begins January 16.
Graduate Studies | College of Arts and Sciences | Saint Joseph’s University | 5600 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131
2014 Staff EXECUTIVE EDITORS Lillian Dunn Tamara Oakman OPERATIONS DIRECTOR Amelia Longo Lillian says: It turns out there are as many ways to meditate on “power” as there are poets and writers in the city. The work here touches on the deep undertow of memory, the immense force of the natural world, the power of music and magic, as always, the shifting dynamics between teacher and student, parent and child, lover and beloved. Yes: power is a corrupting force. Yes: power is abused, and terribly. Yes: we must speak truth to the power that reproduces inequality and perpetrates injustice. But power is also beautiful, because it belongs to each of us. Every time we write a poem. Every time we give ourselves the quiet to think a bit more deeply about what we feel to be true. Every time we greet one another with a little more openness, curiosity, and love. And every time we witness an injustice, our power is there, waiting for the spark of electricity to travel from heart to brain to vocal cords to tongue to teeth to the enormous air, to say, we must do better. Thank you, as always, to the APIARY staff, who teaches us the power of generosity and commitment every day; to Decarcerate PA and Aja Beech, our APIARY 7 collaborators, for their work on behalf of prison reform in Pennsylvania and beyond; to the authors, for sharing their powerful voices with us; and to you, the readers, whose eyes and hearts conduct enough voltage to light up our city. Tamara says:
DESIGNER Michael Martins POETRY EDITORS Warren Longmire Alina Pleskova FICTION EDITORS Andrew Ly Ras Mashramani ART EDITOR Keni Thomas WEB EDITORS Alexandra Stitz Lisa Yoder OUTREACH COORDINATOR
It was a moving experience to work on the Special Section of APIARY 7 in collaboration with Sarah Morris from Decarcerate, PA, and Aja Beech, an activist, poet and board member of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Beech says in her essay [available in-full online], “With 1 in 31 Americans experiencing some form of correctional control, it is guaranteed that any person reading this edition of Apiary has a form of personal experience with their states’ justice system. The good news is that personal experience can motivate us to change this system. The most important thing any one of us can do is be involved.” My father worked in the Philadelphia Prison’s System for almost 30 years, retiring as a captain. When I visited the prison over the years, I found out how hard it was to experience— even briefly—what it felt like to have someone have ultimate power over one’s life. This section is special because it is important for us to witness the insurmountable ability of the human spirit to overcome the hard press of concrete and bars, to find some way to stand up and make its voice heard, to say, “I live. I breathe. I count.” It is easy to say, “Oh well they’ve committed crimes.” It is hard to look at the broken pieces in our system and say, well yes; something is terribly wrong. We do not all lead lives of privilege. And true privilege is to have no awareness that you have freedom attached to your skin color or gender, or that your privilege separates you, keeps you protected. I began to write at five-years-old to save my life, a necessity, not a hobby. I would not have survived my environment without it, and I testify wholeheartedly that I very nearly didn’t. Writing is freedom. The incarcerated authors that I was blessed to have read have—through their writing—carved a much deserved space for themselves in our magazine. Let their voices sing loud. Let the voices of all of those imprisoned sing loud. Let their spirits be free. Love,
Hannah McDonald COMMUNITY EVANGELIST Steve Burns SPOKEN WORD OUTREACH Warren Longmire Youth editors Khaleb Brooks Mai Schwartz Emily Southerton inormation manager Kara Wexler BUSINESS MANAGER Lauren Otero INTERN Tom Hannigan Special Section Intern Tiara Jones
APIARY To learn more about the artists and artwork you see in this issue, please visit apiarymagazine.com. Photo by: Jovon Fearon
CONTENTS 5 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 15 20 21 22 24 25 27 29 30 32 32 34 37 37 38 39 39 40 42 43 44 44 45 45 46 47 48 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 60 60 61 62 64 65
May 18, 2012 It’s Because … New Moon April 15: Weed On Credit, Or, Word Is Bond “Baptized By Fire” In Retrospect Trust Gun Check Your Ancestral Legends Prince Street Is The Getting Caught 48 The Village Head The “Universitas” Literary Circle Flash Mob Motherbone And Koi Exiling The Emperor Writin’ Is Fightin’ Freedom The Scent Of Learning Floodgates Of Hell What I Stand For Haiku Life Naked Believe It Incarceration Of Tears The Radical Not For Nothing Newton’s First Law Of Motion My Mother In Pink Sweatpants My Heart Knocks Hesitation Wounds He, My Father Puma Concolor Coryi (Panther) I Sit Voice Every Which Way Sedna’s Lecture To The Fish Sedna In Texas Recovering Querida Isla Ricky’s Turn In Lieu Of Be Rough, Be Indifferent I Will Sever Tonight Again The Girl Getsuyobi Philadelphia Writing Directory Author and Artist Biographies Artist Image Listing
Submit Your Work to APIARY Magazine
Jacob Russell Jamie North Brandon Holmquest Taylor Jones Elizabeth Scanlon Dave Worrell Leonard Gontarek Travis Macdonald Kasi Senghor Marissa Johnson Valenzuela Sabrina Slipchenko Charles O’hay Jim Cory Daniel Banulescu Ryan Eckes Elizabeth Knauss Sibelan Forrester Emily Abendroth Karonn Greenwood Munir Young Kempis Songster Munir Young Malik Parker Lakimah Williams Clinton Walker Keith Lamont Burley Jr. Terrell Carter Valerie Hsiung Sojourner Ahebee Ed Braxton Jillian Benedict Carrie Reilly Fereshteh Sholevar Lisa Sewell Sekai’afua Zankel Kathryn Bezella B.E. Kahn Hila Ratzabi Hila Ratzabi Natalie Lyalin Kate Brady Patrick Lucy James Esch Elliot BattZedek Elliot BattZedek Elliot BattZedek Philip Mittereder
APIARY is a magazine of contemporary poetry and prose, in print and online, by writers from the Philadelphia diaspora. We publish work from writers of all ages and backgrounds, in all sorts of styles, and would be delighted to consider your work for publication! For more information on how to submit, please visit us online at apiarymagazine.com/submissions. We’ll look forward to hearing from you!
A BOLD collection of SPOKEN WORD and music backed POETRY from Philly, New Jersey and beyond.
An Audio Guide to Philadelphia Spoken Word by APIARY Magazine
D o w nload it for free at
FEATURING LIVE & STUDIO RECORDINGS BY Ernest Hilbert ≠ KP Brown ≠ Anne-Adele Wight ≠ Nina “Lyrispect” Ball The Philadelphia Fuze Slam Team ≠ And many more
AH-Hah! WE SEe YOU’VE FOuND a FReE COPY oF APIARY ! If you like what we do, we’d love you to join us as a member. We have big plans – more copies, more workshops, an all-youth edition for schools – and we need your help. Your membership will go a long way towards realizing our mission to promote cross-cultural understanding through the literary arts. And for as little as $10, you can get APIARY delivered right to your door!
Since our first issue in September 2010, we’ve: Increased our print run from an initial 250 copies to 10,000 free copies in just 3 years
Printed seven issues, featuring over 250 local authors ages 8 and up
Hosted literary events totaling over 2,000 audience members to enjoy local writing and music
Conducted writing and editing workshops for over 200 young and beginning writers
TO BECOME A MEMBER OR TO MAKE A DONATION, PLEASE VISIT apiarymagazine.com/about/membership 3
May 18, 2012 IT ’S BECAUSE …
…a thing is like nothing else not even itself least of all the names of the missing planets invisible bodies wandering between stars from the beginning of time – that we reason with shackled senses wed for life to our own shadows, that every tree is rooted to the earth & earth itself to our own flamboyant star with its flare for radiant wind & arboreal storms shattering the palette of night over the rooftops of abandoned cities
Wrote love and gratitude on everything. Drank water from jugs. Lost a broken ballet shoe. Inscribed home and self onto my legs and thighs. Pummeled my hips. Chanted ‘hold your power’ on the tops of trees and ‘I am my own person’ to the roots and trunk. Made a crown of cinnamon and wine. Opened with blue. My womb and a new moon. There is purple light and I have a spine.
APRIL 15: WEED ON CREDIT, OR, WORD IS BOND Sophie, the rhinestone heart you gave me is still on my notebook, I think it’ll be there as long as there is a notebook. Someday, Sophie, you’ll read these poems and know they’re all about and for you, and they’re all true.
still mad at the bourgeoisie,
and more convinced than ever that they’re not me. Sophie, class war forever, cats vs. cats always and everlasting as a theoretical promise between person and person as between, Sophie, you and I.
I’ll send you postcards forever.
It’s the least, the most involuntary I can do and I do it because you play basketball in an apron, you wash dishes in your court shoes, you own a gun and think it’s funny when someone falls asleep on it, you want so, badly, and are an angel in Saturday imaginings, as well as an intolerable asshole forever. Oh Sophie, it is all so, so impossible, all the juggling, all the everafters, slaves and masters like I were somehow
“BAPTIZED BY FIRE” You are twisted. This plain is traversed. The sight of tears turns me on. What else can you do to me? Bathe me in experience, deep, red? Cut deeper? Baptize me till dead? I never believed until now that discipline comes through pain, punishment. I cannot find a man— as memories hemorrhage— that I am not sicker than. I build wings out of wax like Daedalus, I am not afraid to die. My only fear— that I’ll never fly.
IN RETROSPECT When all my efforts began to feel like a stakeout of a ranch house that intel had reported was the site of a cult compound, but there’d been no sign of togas or bonfires, goats, chants, or suspiciously bouffant hairdos at all during all the time I’d been sitting in the car subsisting on donuts and Wawa coffee, counting the number of times Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” recurs on mix 106 radio while keeping meticulous notes on the comings and goings of dogwalkers, ups delivery vans, and Range Rovers, monitoring the lines, which have all been bugged to no avail, and the re-routed email, my wrist growing carpal-tunnely from the heft of the useless telephoto lens kept at the ready lest any hint of movement occured in the shadows that riffled across the drapes, when the last known address of the elusive leader turned out to be a laundromat where the dryers were so aged they’re heated by gas flames you could see leaping through the grate and that is more action than you’d seen in a month, and it was time to chart an inconspicuous relocation before the sun rose on day number blank of suspect surveillance, it was then I thought, this is no way to love. Elizabeth Scanlon
TRUST The whole congregation came to your funeral. Your fellow past-presidents carried you out to the hearse. The rabbi remembered your baritone calm amid long-ago troubles. Bobby, your oldest, told how you sailed him through Chesapeake storms, made him know the quiet underneath. Your brother Sid told how well you took care of what little was left when your father died. Like all the others, we gave you our money, certain we knew you after so long. But now we find out there were no investments, you printed up phony certificates all on your own. Fugitive heart, when did you turn? Only death saved you from Sidâ€™s wild fists, from Bobbyâ€™s bankrupted eyes.
GUN 1 Cold wind, carefully one leaf to another. Power-sleepwalkers circle the house. Black rain where you are, pin-striped light. At night, honeysuckle flickers, weeps like metal. Head of statue, padded, wrapped in black plastic, that has begun to soften. Sparrows, open-mouthed. Yes I’ll have the pie, I’ll have the kitchen. Dark, car, over there, silver, bringing in branches, not the singing. Sparrows versus crows. It is an endless discussion. Small illuminations in life, in poetry. What can really measure up to electricity, to light. 2 Even before the image, I loved the water. Lowering cloud cover. Dropping black snow? Who’s to say? Visible to those only like us. Erase wonder. It’s about time the trees recede, the brook takes over. The paths are white and black. Even now, we are opening doors for our fathers. Darkness and violet sticks in the river. The paths are white and black, toward the realm. 3 I sat faraway on a bed. An arrow of sunlight severed it. You adore the sorrowful elegance of autumn, the decay, the expensive chocolate scent, so I adore it as well. Part of lit field obscured by tree. The soul flies. Now, the sonnet may be rising from the dead again. Come, tiny idols eroded where the goers have wept, break it down. Come, it’s not like it’s art made from heroin and cocaine, break it down. Come, should we sit Mother next to the road with a basket of peaches, even though she is dead? A missile of light severs the lane. Death is a hoax, break it down. 4 Come, this is the center of the world, this is the middle way. I bless myself before I open each letter, break it down. You’re not getting a gun, you can stop asking. I love snow on TV. Shelf after shelf of Stephen King. Go home and be done with it. The Museum has landed in the light. The Museum and the magnolias, broken-branched, co-beautiful. The children are carrying on in the living room. Pick them up and take them home.
CHECK YOUR ANCESTRAL LEGENDS
5 You cannot own the power. It is available. But it does not belong to anyone.
I’m the storm. Oncoming damage in the dark space, do not blaspheme
We’re hopped-up, look where that got us. My belief is this: Slowly crows descend from the lake
against the blessed
over the field. The small plane carrying skydivers clipped a house, hit the ground, soft. I have ordinary dreams too. I walk to the store to purchase something I’ve forgotten.
flesh. In the way of a delta wave, concentrate the extrapolator on Tampa Bay 1989
and have a fantastic life. Try the rotisserie wolf. Just sit here and eat chips as if you’re better than all of us. Ladies
My belief is this: I know where the outside is. The crows are too fast, I believe.
and gentlemen, a flying carpet infiltrates your air ducts, melting all the continents.
My belief is this: I’m going to disappear. Lilies in a cup of weak cream light, I believe.
Meet the heathen angels of the time vortex with a medicinal make-out session.
I know what the quick white flags are signaling. It’s a mystery. It’s mysterious. Dusk, and the fountain’s off. Maybe we should get the hell out of here. You can work everything out. We worked it out. We switched faces.
Travis & JenMarie Macdonald
7 Poetry makes nothing happen. Maybe that can be a good thing. Things happen every day and it’s not all pretty. Your hands get dirty, much of it is awfully sad. It’s catching up, it’s catching up with us. Careful what you wish. Leonard Gontarek
PRINCE STREET IS Pandemonium, pelting bottle and stone, parting fight Is pedestrians passing and pushing other pedestrians Pickpockets pouncing on passersby Pushers in plannings peddling potent drugs Prince St. is poker-faced drunks pretending purity Prostitutes playing prude Spotty foot Pearl Sparrow sing ‘bout Is boys pitching with girls – boys petting boys Girls peeping Prince St. is pissing on painted walls – walls peeling Is black people pacing up and down steps Prying into bars, pssting across pavements A panorama of movement and sound
Prince Street is pubs playing posh Providing pure funk Is man beating man, woman beating pan Panties washing in pools of putrid water Is a permanent prancing to the popular records That spinning Prince St. is pone eating, penny sweetbread for ten cents Pans of corn and chataigne, plenty pudding Prince St. is poor guts
Prince St. is profit. Coelho baking pan, Numbers selling pants American Stores peddling furniture Prince St. is poor souls – is passive resistance Part of the plan to keep black people in place The price paid for a prime minister’s playground Prince St does not beg pardon Prince St. is Peter pay for Paul and Paul pay for all Is pens and pencils pilfered from poor vendors Prince St is plaiting hair, patting hair, pressing hair, parting hair Painting cheeks, polishing nails Portraying pulchritude – pretty please Prince St. is positively proud Is private cars and pirate taxis plying routes With paying passengers Preachers peeling bells, proscribing poor people Prince St. is eternal pain with petty crimes Then, Prince St. is penetrated – police informers playing police Police passing pay-packets to possible partners Pigs in plainclothes parading, police cars patrolling In Prince Street Prince St. is pollution Pneumonia and polio Public punishment Prince St. is the prototype of Port-of-Spain Proof of the poor state of the entire place Paradise searching …but Prince St. possesses potential, endless potential To put an end to political pressure putters Its past you can’t push aside Its present pinches your mind It was a pathway to the People’s Parliament Before party hacks padlocked Prince St. out Pity Prince St, the pariah Prince St. is a poem, a play, a people’s theatre It is polemic too Prince St. is prepared to partake in the people’s war Power To the princes and princesses Of Prince St.
The Getting Caught The place wasn’t mine, and it wasn’t really his, so my ex-uncle passed me a garage door opener instead of a key. Standing in front of her house, backpack on my shoulders, I looked down at the plastic one-button thing in my hand and figured that this was how things were done around here. I bet in some of these houses months can pass without opening the front door. And I was here now, so I pushed the button. He helped me carry my things in. It didn’t take long: just a few bags of clothes, two boxes of books, a box of assorted paperwork, my laptop with its foam case, my video camera still in the box that it came in because, despite looking, I hadn’t found a carrying case I liked. All my worldly possessions, minus the car out front, were soon in the middle of her kitchen in a neat pile. We both stared at it, not knowing what came next. “Okay, well, I hope you get a lot done. I’m going to go back to the office. Call if you need anything.” His office was over an hour away. We both knew he wasn’t going to rush over. “Yes. I’ll be fine. This will be great. Thanks again,” I said, surveying the texture of the cream carpet while he hesitated, unsure of whether he should give me a hug. I didn’t want the hug. Somehow, it wasn’t until he left, until he closed the door that lead to the kitchen and went back out through the open garage, that I finally saw it—the swimming pool in the middle of the room. In my distraction, in the awkwardness of the circumstance of my arrival, I’d failed to look further than the kitchen—to look out and down. I must have forgotten because I never swam in it. It had been summer, and we had been out in the sun. Playing in the lake with life vests. Still, how did it take me so long to notice today? The house revolves around the pool. Its enclosure, glass walls of windows and a door, make up the walls to the kitchen and the adjacent living room. The pool was right there, a centerpiece, and it was empty. Who puts a swimming pool in the middle of a house? I stared at it. While it wasn’t the largest swimming pool I had ever seen, it was not small and had to have been constructed on site, probably poured concrete. I stayed on my side of the glass. I thought about how, from the outside of the house, I would never have known it was here. A free place to stay in the middle of nowhere and an empty pool? The luck of life.
Half cautious, because I had that trespasser feeling, I went through the house I would stay at for the foreseeable future. There had been no talk of a deadline. My exuncle’s aunt, a woman I’d never met before the day she’d given me permission to stay at her sister’s house, who I was no longer even remotely related to, had just said something about how the house being empty, how glad she was that I would be there, how the insurance company might cancel the policy and all. She was being kind; was the type of person who willfully trusted strangers. Someone had stripped the master bed of its sheets. The room was a big open space of pale yellows and greens. At the far end was the master bath, another oversized luxury. The same cream carpet that covered the rest of the first floor extended even there. There was a small pool of a bathtub, and when I saw the metal contraption that must have eased her in and out of the tub, my skin tightened. I was temporarily immobilized by the renewed recognition of where I was, but eventually I managed to back out of the room. I decided to make camp in the spare room at the front of the house. The one with the antique twin bed and the slender old rocking chair that looked like it was ready to break. I went downstairs and found a finished basement with an old console TV and 70’s couches. I couldn’t remember if I’d been down here before. When investigating the books and the records, I knew none to be good, but surely there must have been one gem. How were they all so innocuous? I wasn’t in the mood, and figured I could investigate later. Play the ones I didn’t know then. When I returned to the main floor, I paused at the sliding glass doors that led out to a deck that overlooked the manmade lake—the reason for all of these houses. No doubt this imposed beauty was the primary selling point in the development brochures. I vaguely remembered the lake. It helped that there were pictures somewhere in those photo albums my parents moved from house to house of my brother and me sitting in the kind of circular rubber tubes that are pulled behind boats. I could see a small dock, but I didn’t see a boat. Though it was a mild day, unseasonably warm, I didn’t want to go outside. In the cul de sac my car was obvious, but for now I didn’t want to be. Standing there, looking out, I finally realized I still had my backpack on. Like I was going somewhere. I took it off and pulled my cell phone out of the front pocket. No signal. Maybe I was in a rare patch of suburban wilderness with no cell reception. I turned it off.
I believed I could benefit from a slice of isolation. Plus, if it wasn’t on I couldn’t see who wasn’t calling. I’d thought I would remember more of the house, but all that stood out were the gumball machines by the door to the deck, the kind that held not gumballs but colorful round plastic containers with small toys inside: shiny adjustable rings, little plastic men with parachutes, fuzz covered bears with bowties. The worst was when you got one of those mini-spinning tops. Even at 7 or 8 years old, whenever it was that I had last been here, there was nothing to be done with those things. It must have been her who held out a tin of nickels for me and my brother, who encouraged us to take as many as we wanted. I loved the surprise of what would come out. I loved the idea of endless nickels. But the joy turned to shaming. Our mother, stricken by our hands full of toys, by our indulgence. The lady tried to protect us. Said was okay; was what the toys were for. That only made it worse. The debate made our mother more embarrassed. We knew she would hold her ground, so we put the trinkets back into the round containers. We understood that the lady with the nickels, even in her own house, did not make the rules. The visit had been a bright moment in the mean years. Two smiling, skinny, brown children were in those pictures. Our mother was miserable and money was tight, but out of a need to keep up appearances or an honest desire to change the narrative, we did manage a few family trips. I doubt my brother and I understood how we’d ended up there, but we knew to stay out of the house until we were dry, knew to say please and thank you, knew we should refuse any offer of soda or candy. Completely random for me to be here again, especially since the divorce, and since the woman who built this house, one of my ex-uncle’s aunts, was now, from what I gathered, in some sort of nursing home with dementia. Her sister, the one who had provided the garage door opener, recently admitted she was unable to take care of her ailing sister, what with the almost-fire and all. When she spoke of this decision, in hushed vague words, wringing her hands all the while, I knew I was witnessing the difficulty of an aging woman forced to admit new limits to her care-giving. In this house, I kind of felt guilty for my relative youth, for my relative lucidity. I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing here, but I generally believed I knew where here was. I knew I didn’t need to turn the burner on and walk away. I got that by 3rd grade I’d already been marked as different—the wrong jeans, the wrong way of talking,
but I hoped nobody ever thought I would be this jumbled—this being the only time I hadn’t had a real job since I was 15, and the only time I hadn’t paid some sort of rent since I’d ran out at 17. I mean, I had taken care of myself. The living room, like the kitchen, bordered on the glass walls surrounding the swimming pool and, oddly, the room was arranged so that the desk overlooked the pool. Empty or not, a pool was weird thing to look up from a desk and see, so I thought about moving furniture. It was probably a bad idea. I could make it work. I cleared off the desktop and placed her things in a neat pile on the floor. No more distractions, just me and my laptop. I had hours of editing to do. Here, alone, I wouldn’t even need to get out my headphones. I sat down. I got up. I made hot water and then realized I had no tea, which reminded me that I had no food besides the couple of energy bars in my backpack. The pantry was mostly empty, only a few dusty cans of soup not worth risking. I would have to leave for food. Or tea. Later—I didn’t want to leave just yet. I looked out at the pool and thought about everything but the short film I was working on. The year before I ran. The year before I headed west. At that hour there was nowhere for us to go besides the backseat of the car. It couldn’t have been comfortable. It was a shit car. There was no way, but in this bit of memory it was nicer. Remembering how slow and careful those hours were, I smiled, but then, the mirage disappearing, the empty pool I was staring at came back into focus and I stopped. Can it be called a pool when there is no water? I was not editing. I was not splicing. Halfheartedly, I wondered how many hours it would take to fill the pool up with the garden hose. My mind kept wandering: How earnest my first days of realization were. When I tried to name this fleeting kind of worth and the related semblance of power. I remember sitting on the couch at Robert’s house, him across the coffee table in the armchair, appropriate of course. He was a buddy I didn’t have to worry about, and it was refreshing. I amused him with an animated telling of my latest theory. How, because too many people looked at me like they could eat me—no, really, Robert, consume (I’d drawn out that last word for effect)—how I could play with that. Hell, if I wanted stuff, I think I could get stuff. I mean, ain’t nobody gonna buy me a yacht, but
maybe I could get some clothes or something. I don’t know if he believed me, but in that moment I believed myself. He shook his head and didn’t argue. And he was the type who would’ve argued. I took his silence as tacit approval. See? See? You know it’s true. And then his girlfriend came home from work early, and it didn’t matter that nothing was happening, that nothing was going to happen, and I began to realize the other side of my equation—people could get hurt—it wasn’t just attention, wasn’t just stuff. Only recently do I fully understand. Why couldn’t I block it out? It had been at least a couple of months now. I was fairly skilled at avoiding such sharp memories of error. There were things I barely thought about. But was I still that little girl? The one who was excited by that kind of attention from her toocool older cousin? Such a fool. Such a child. Born this way or involuntarily trained? I didn’t know. Was that before we came to this lake house or after? I think I was littler. It must have been before. Damn. I thought he was so cool. That one afternoon under my rainbow bedspread, he seemed to think I was too. What was it, a few years after? When I watched him dance with his pretty girlfriend? The one who had to wear a body brace to straighten out her bent back. And even then, at that still small age, I still didn’t know better, and was less ashamed than I was curious. I knew they did things like he’d done with me. I knew that brace came off. I am the same fool. A couple of months ago when there was nothing else to be done—I’d driven too far. Every sinking mile. Compelled. Propelled. That force within I still didn’t have a switch for. And then, after eight straight hours of driving, to arrive and be numb. My momentum stalled. Even touch, honest holding, could not bring me back to guide my body. No more wind, and still still water. Even his fervor-laden explanation— of how he hated wanting me—could not penetrate. No really, I know better. I do. I do. This play and rewind was teaching me nothing. I could not cut out what happened. I already watched it. How, despite the fact that he’d given up on his own art long ago, he seemed to believe something in mine. How he sometimes looked at other women like he wanted to eat them. Or the ways I played with other men and women in his absence— the ways I wanted to spit him out. Would I feel better if all of his women hadn’t been All-Americans, if it hadn’t
all been so damn cliché? I couldn’t make it a better movie with logical tension and fuller character development. Surprises. Film school secret: clichés haunt us with their core. And then there’s the pain of knowing he’s not worth the pain. No. No. I was not interested in that film. I had my own. A real one this time. Longer. Debt-inducing. And I could, theoretically, control it. I had plenty of footage now, but the arch was not coming together. I was still asking too much of my audience, whoever they were. At art center screenings, I’d been told I shot some beautiful scenes and, because I already knew that, in these conversations I waited expectantly for someone to say something about the story, about what their obvious discomfort meant. On the bad days, I wondered how dramatically I was missing the mark. And now here. Her house. The past week a similar haze I couldn’t sleep enough to shake. And, though I’d never been a thief, I was continually going through this woman’s stuff. Having made the decision to “focus on my art” I now found myself with too much time to focus on my failures, to focus on the getting caught, on traps set, sprung and attached to my limbs. Ha. Sure, I was clanging along. I pictured myself in a sort of zombie walk, an assortment of traps cutting at my skin, but my expression is vacant, my eyes faded. Not a bad idea for a short film. Well, too literal but it could be scaled back, juxtaposed. Made to fit the mandatory restraints. I stared at the empty pool. I got up from the desk again. This was not getting done. I went back to her room, to the box on the dresser, and tried to gauge a person by her jewelry. A strand of freshwater pearls. A thin gold chain with a mustard seed captured in glass. I’d had a similar one when I was young, but I was pretty sure it was plastic. A plain gold watch, unlikely to be real. Interesting that the time on it was right though. I found a few small pairs of earrings that might be worth something. I moved on to the closet. There were obvious gaps from someone removing clothes. Of course—someone must help her change. Or maybe she could still do that herself? The clothes, all shades of blue or beige, were as nondescript as the books and records I’d checked out my first day here. I briefly imagined some sort of fashion TV show. A high-heeled, well-heeled young woman
tackling her first real job. Her narrating as the film cuts to the next image: “We take these clothes and transform them into fashion.” Her inflection functioning like Vanna White’s outstretched arms on Wheel of Fortune. So this is what happens when I start spending so much time with myself—I start developing reality TV premises? Is this how artists die? I touched the edges of the clothes, felt the fabrics. It was mostly cotton. I wanted to know her. Her secrets maybe. Her interesting. She’d bought that pool. She’d committed to that pool. The house was nice, but it wasn’t that nice. That was no mansion’s lap pool. Somehow, it was just a pool the middle of a house. I moved to the bed and sat down on the exposed mattress. I wanted something to hurt, but nothing did. I laid back and stared at the ceiling. Then, inexplicably, I wondered what was under the bed. As I got down on my hands and knees, I tried to guess what the craziest thing I could find would be. An old “massager”? A box of love letters from some guy who died in a war? A list of names for the children she never had? There was nothing under the bed. And, because it was pretty low, I didn’t think I’d fit. When the sun came up the next morning, I still hadn’t slept. I would’ve liked to blame the bed, but I couldn’t. I ventured onto the deck and looked out over the water. All of the other houses circling the lake had similarly big windows, tinted to shade the insides from the sun, all dark on light colored homes. I tried to think of it as some kind of reverse image negative of animal eyes glowing in night shadows. Geese were flying in formation. It was the warm winter. Even the geese were confused, were still hanging around. There must have still been food. Food. For the first time in a while I was actually hungry and not bored-hungry. I went back inside and headed to my bags of clothes. I should try to put together something presentable. I was thinking cardigan. In the car, I drove by memory because the street signs wouldn’t have meant anything anyway. I reminded myself to pay attention, so I could come back the way I came. If I remembered right, the strip-mall business district I was headed for was a couple of miles away. It was weird being in the car again. Though it hadn’t been that long since I’d driven here, it felt longer. I turned on the radio and scanned the stations. I realized that these past few days I’d forgotten about music.
Quickly, I found the guilty pleasure of calculated, catchy beats and ambiguous lyrics. This kind of music was derivative of so much else and I knew a whole team of people spent weeks making each song just so, but the bass, the melody, so often, too often maybe, called to something inside of me. After a track by a female vocalist I didn’t recognize, there were two rap songs featuring men lamenting all of the women they’ve had—as if fucking inherently means something. I wondered if the lyrics were the result of having nothing else to write about, or if these songs originated from boardroom conclusions about what would sell. Or both. Or maybe, just maybe, a songwriter with crooked teeth and a big nose went through something. I drove past multiple fast food options. I couldn’t think of what I wanted. Provisions. A few blocks more and a relatively large, bright, gas station. Congratulations, gas station. You are the winner. There was a kid working in the convenience store. She had the mall punk look: arms of multicolored plastic bracelets, a black t-shirt that somehow laced up with a neon green shoelace? Her ears were gauged out and she’d chosen round metal hollow spheres that made for portholes of the ears. For reasons I am probably not familiar enough with, I wanted her to think I was cool. It was going to be hard. I needed a lot of food if this was going to be my only stop. And I was wearing a cardigan. Orange crackers seemed comforting, and I selected a generic square kind and five packs of the peanut butter sandwich ones. Protein. I reframed and told myself to go crazy—I’d barely eaten this past week, so essentially I had saved money and calories. Sour cream and onion chips. Pretzels. Sustenance. Cinnamon bears because Caitlin once teased—who eats cinnamon bears? These are for you, Caitlin. At least they aren’t candy dots. I rounded out the line-up with tortilla chips and too bright yellow queso dip I was already regretting. I struggled to bring everything to the counter. Her name was Janine on the nametag, which was appropriate enough I guessed. She didn’t seem to think I was cool, but really hers was a non-reaction. I tried making eye contact, but she wasn’t having it. I wondered if she would like my art films. Shit, I just called them art films. Well, if she got high first? Actually, I thought it could go either way—this girl was either a complete pothead or was straightedge. I was convinced that, for her at least, there was no in-between. Handing her the cash, I thought about what I could
say to get her to really look at me. That I have a house full of stuff she could go through? That there is a pool? Wanna come over and play? I choose D and said nothing. When she handed it to me I dropped my change, and she looked annoyed. Exactly. Back at the house, I ate all of the cheese crackers and edited for five hours straight. The movie had potential. Sure, there were some scenes I would like to reshoot from other angles, but I thought I could work with them. In these hours I paused only to daydream about ways of thanking pop rap and cinnamon bears. Then, briefly, of getting that cashier girl, good old Janine, to set sail. I even managed to avoid staring into the pool. A few days later, ex-uncle stopped by unexpected. I’d closed the garage and he’d had to knock at the front door. At first I didn’t comprehend the sound. “Sorry. I didn’t recognize the knock,” I said as I opened the door. He was already uncomfortable. Probably in part because of the fact that we weren’t sure he was technically my uncle anymore, what with the divorce. I think we both recognized that with him being relatively young and me being oldish, there was a risk of inappropriate. Add it to the list. But hey, this had to be better than when I was staying at his house right? For the first time it occurred to me why former-caretaker-aunt may have volunteered dementia-aunt’s house. The threat inherent. I liked that I had not guessed this possibility before—the protection of not knowing. “You didn’t answer the phone. I figured I should stop by. I didn’t know whether you got my email.” I explained how I failed to manage an internet connection. The Wi-Fi from the houses nearby have passwords. Forgetting I didn’t have a signal anyway, I said, “And sorry, I guess I forgot to turn my phone back on.” He walked over to the pool and opened the door to its enclosure. The action compounded my nervousness. I hadn’t done that yet. I had only stared at it—had not gone in. He didn’t pass through the doorway, just stood there and said, “I just need to do one more thing then we can fill it. Pretty cool, huh?” “You don’t have to fill it for me.” I said softly, but he continued and I was unsure if he’d heard. “You know, she didn’t even swim? Had this built just for all the family, for the kids to swim.” I didn’t know. I couldn’t have known. The closest I’d gotten to this woman was rifling through what was left
of her possessions. In the house she built that she would never return to, even if she lived for twenty more years. Because what’s the point? She wouldn’t know where she was. Who builds a house with a pool in the middle and can’t swim? He didn’t ask me about my progress or lack of. He clearly wasn’t going to push. A character trait evidenced in how his sons had never had jobs, why the younger one was growing up racist even though he too was mixed race, defeating my old theory that half-breeds made the world better by their very being. I tried, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked about her. “She never married?” As I asked that, some remnant in my mind told me that while he now had money, he did not come from it, so I followed with, “she had to work right?” He looked at me. I didn’t know the look. “She worked a long time.” He didn’t stay long. It became obvious that my lack of communication had worried him. I tried to appease, to be pleasant. I said nice things about the lake I hadn’t actually walked around. I talked about the weather I’d largely insulated myself from. I managed to not tell him about the gas station and my almost friend. It wasn’t until I decided to not tell him I would be leaving that I realized it was true. That night I cleared out the gumball machine. I took the tin of nickels and just stood there greedy. The rings I could fit, I placed on my fingers. Stacks of them piled up. The other items I left in their containers. Plastic men with parachutes weren’t fun anymore, and those mini tops were still stupid. I moved on to the inevitable. I collected every blanket in the house, no matter how dust-ridden. Quilts, crocheted throws, flat and fitted sheets: a white mountain of fabric piled up in the middle of the kitchen. When I was done, I struggled to gather them all in one fell swoop of my arms. But then, because I’d forgotten to open the door, I had to put them down again. What is easy really? Managing one more time, I carried the large bundle through the doorway and dropped it into the swimming pool. There was no deep end. I resisted the compulsion to jump in after them. Instead, I used the stairs. Quickly, I fashioned a nest. Then, to dry it, I buried my face in the blankets. Marissa Johnson Valenzuela
48 when your news cameras come back to Afghanistan find the martyrs limb by limb piece together a postwar jigsaw puzzle of lovers’ hands, patches of scalp, eyes that had their will to blink blasted through the back of them like a peephole wave this human blanket flag on moonrock the desert pavement where human ashes blend yin and yang with sand so their faces cling to soles like chewing gum children with chicken bones for fathers, stomachs that are one part crater and two parts what if i never see the moon again? children with trashcans for eyes left on roadsides there is a town in Kabul where the dead still dance like an ocean of candles heaven’s doors are bursting, a dam between them and damnation stacked, middle passage formation; their dead bodies would be eighteen story towers of rotting Buddhas replace your skyscrapers on your way from work imagine every window screaming like a tea kettle every pane collapsing and exploding like a desert sunset now tell us about the “game of war” of the one or two or 3 million prostrated Iraqi bodies of the babies split in two like a cracked egg fresh blood steaming on concrete frying pan choking and sputtering like an Army radio or a soldier’s child whose father is legless and wrapped in rectangular mahogany and an American flag a man in an American living room with shrines tattooed on his arms cities turned to post-apocalyptic fireplaces and shrapnel in his eyelids brain a porcupine of glass shards and heroin addiction his tongue is a beggar’s arm his legs swallowed by a firework his laughter sounds to him like ammunition still if his dead friends were to link hands they’d circle the equator a farewell embrace to everything holy that’s bullet holed if you give an infidel government a holy war, they’ll crush ceilings on the innocent in attempts to bring heaven closer.
THE VILLAGE In the village they are killing the chickens. A sickness
and the ground will cry blood all the way to the river. By autumn
has entered the coops and now the hatchets fall
a foreign army will arrive with its cannons and the bodies
all over town, the snow red as a poppy field. In spring
of the soldiers will be buried below the red leaves. New villagers
the soldiers will come and declare the villagers
will follow, and with them their children, their plows
a disease of the state. Bullets will fall on every street
their music, their stories, their hatchets, their chickens. Charles Oâ€™Hay
HEAD The head that goes red hearing others praised, battening on inventories of cutlery & sabotage. The head, for instance, of a liar we know swollen with all the rain that never fell to give shape to the garden that never grows beneath where her hair hides its memories. Fingerprints on the mischief that were hare tracks in snow & the snowy owl’s wings dip & pivot him alert to the presence of prey in the Arctic night that is his committee. The shape of the head that grows disproportionate, fattened on fibs nibbled. Tethered to rain date parades it glows shades of green in the dark. Wagons parked in the circle of a face display their firearms. Shades of green it glows, proud to have tricked its enemies that are enemies whether or not they knows it. The face that comes w/ Iago’s nose & she knows it. Arrows flew past the face & there were traces of anthrax on its breath & Marilyn breathless between takes in Bus Stop. The head pretending not to know what it knows so that secrets are relayed or feigning to know what it won’t or can’t so that those in the know never know what it doesn’t. The head w/ its creaking door that opens to storage units containing trickery’s livid equipment, its drawers of rusted blades & moldy pallor, a place where mice nest & distribute their droppings freely In the heart of a heartless world the clock watches us work, evidence of insipidity notwithstanding.
THE “UNIVERSITAS” LITERARY CIRCLE It happened one excruciating evening among lots of big “Attention, please, a moment of silence! Attention! Everyone names, in a kind of Palace in the Primaverii district, where has to answer. You! Do you want to make money?” the women who had come somehow managed to make us feel like pigs. No sooner did they turn up than they A scream. “Yes. I always look out for number one!” flung themselves on sofas and fell asleep whenever they “Bravo, bravo. You too, teacher. What’s your name? … heard sentences they liked a lot. Martin… Oh ho, like Martin the Bear, you are. You seem The younger generation of poets had for that evening very sweet.” convened their literary circle elsewhere than the usual place where they met on Schitu Magureanu Street. They’d Champagne, plus love, plus decisiveness. Caviar to the been invited for a brief reading at a “creation camp” for utmost degree, indomitably. With fingers wide apart, in the upper crust. They were there in the company of great order to be suitably popular and convivial, everyone writes statesmen who placed the palms of their hands on the delicate obscene words on the back of someone nearby, bodies of the sleeping women, producing, in accordance with caviar. with their rank, unimaginably historic gestures. Much pomp and hubbub. A midget is brought in, a jester. Some of the sophisticated guests had been gathered to- His arms proportionately smaller than the rest. Like a gether as a consequence of a last request (expressed in a grasshopper’s. We’re informed, ironically, that he reprewill). Most of them consisted of no more than an ear or a sents the younger generation of pianists. He seems to be single hand, wrapped in paper on which was written, “I heading for the piano. He’s shoved inside the piano. Then have come to listen to you with enthusiasm” or “I have it’s announced, “Look, now we’re closing close the lid.” been sent to caress the lady.” All through the party, whoever wants pretentious music Delicate individuals kept emerging from the dressing room goes up to the piano and bangs his fist against it. “Play in costumes endowing them with puffed-out chests that the tune about victories!” looked decidedly patriotic, which is why these costumes were often prescribed as medicinal for the chest. With The most beautiful part was when we were brought the their plump hands that grasp food eagerly, all of them have literary dailies where our texts were to be published. often written in personnel files, in the column “what is the most beautiful thing we know about ourselves,” that “Your photo will go on this page, right here, and you’ll sweep at night, after a certain age, in bed before falling asleep, the female proletariat off their feet with your good looks.” their own wives serenade them with ardor, “Oh, my brave lion cub,” and other songs in which both motivational and “We’ll take care of you, kiddo. We’ll work with you, my girl.” conjugal criticism intermix harmoniously. “Just be cooperative. Otherwise, at your age, the poet Labis, “Joachim, in your own way, you’re really an OK guy. And you know, was, generally speaking, dead.” if I touched you, I might even be impressed.” “If I say a play, then that’s what you write. If I say a poem, “What the men in hats wanted me to do was only to go write a poem till I shout, Whoa!” admit I’d killed my mother, since at the time of my birth I had quite a belly, probably because I’d eaten a lot the The younger generation of poets had been landed in a “creation camp” for the upper crust. The only optimistic previous night.” part of the evening, beyond doubt, is this short text itself. “Just let us protect you. I too wrote poems when I was a Daniel Banulescu young whelp. That’s why I’m making a point of protectTranslated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu ing you today.”
FLASH MOB you get a message says come down so you come down so which way to the river, a boy asks and i point my finger east into the empty tla video store available available available the pink papered up windowfront fronts nervous moms obvious answers lock their restaurants whose lookouts keep it coming whose windowlight turns night into a story that goes on the streets which talk of water til our hearts nod and know what home is home is a rival high school as
segregated as your own room it’s tired of listening to you collect yourself into buckets from the ceiling that edits you down to a status update can you watch my bag? sure there’s a love that’s nothing in another place you can’t find there’s a love it sleeps and wakes your days beyond letters stamped, i clock in the time is ripe for endless foolishness a flash mob mops up the jizz of april my jacket the weather counts the people an arm of the river meets the mouth of a sea
if more people live here kill the people! or turn the page and continue along an arm of the mouth the house fronts painted shut a shade too for the mobbed heart so goes the leak of jackets so go flutter yourself somewhere a knock at the door dumbs down your freedom pamphlet you can be in love in a target parking lot and sleep for days under the country’s front page a bus just blew right past me robbed of lightness i walk and walk and walk and walk down the street to be open like a door open like a door
Motherbone and Koi Motherbone knelt on a stone that protruded over a crowded koi pond. She had eaglecolored hair, which she wound daily into a loose braid that tickled her toes. Motherbone visited her koi pond each morning with a jug of magic that was passed down to her by her mother, which was passed down to her by the sun. Motherbone was bony and fairly hollow, meek and wimpy, but her magic jug gave her more power than fourteen plowing Palomino ponies at once. You see, when she spilled the magic into the pond, her arm releasing gracefully from her elbow’s port, the koi fish waggled their tails, puffed their lips, and tried to be first in line for a sip. There was only enough magic for one koi a day, so the fish swam zealously, cutthroat, and like sassy luge riders to be the lucky drinker. From above, the pond looked like a pea green oval with glinting umber scales and pineapple-toned fish heads flashing fitfully, a reflective pool of jewels. It made Motherbone giggle when the koi bumped into one another, nipping and nudging for the magic sip. Every day, Motherbone’s magic jug contained something new and delicious. Sometimes, Motherbone fed the koi humility. Other times, they suckled on humor. On holidays, she spilled gratitude with flecks of tranquility into one lucky koi’s kisser. The koi especially loved when the jug was filled with affection. It tasted juicy, like a Thanksgiving hambone or a deep dish of chocolate cream. Even though Motherbone could only feed one koi a day, the magic seeped out the gills and steeped the pond completely. So, if one koi sipped gaiety from the jug, they all enjoyed gaiety, after proper digestion and permeation, of course. One morning, Motherbone met a stubborn goat on her way to the pond. She came across the fat goat on a footbridge. The goat simply would not move, even after she said, “Please move, goat. I have a koi pond to feed. Today’s magic drink is peace.” The goat rolled his eyes, crunched on a leaf, and lifted his leg to piddle. “Well, if you won’t move, I’m going to slink past you,” Motherbone said. This should’ve been no problem at all, but the goat must’ve been in a sour mood. When Motherbone tried to pussyfoot past his white prickly butt, he lifted a foot and punted her in the gut. The kick sent her sailing backwards into a swamp. “Foo!” cried Motherbone who dropped her magic jug in the swamp. She noticed some of the magic had spilled out. Trying quickly to scoop it back into the jug, she accidentally ladled some of the goat’s swamp sludge in too. The swamp was filled with another type of magic—bad magic. It contained dabs of anger, tidbits of jealousy, globs of gossip, and morsels of gloom. Motherbone knew the swamp contained toxins, but she was in a hurry and hoped it wouldn’t make a difference. Wiping off the jug’s edges, she pinned the jug beneath her pit and scrambled off, crinkling a single eye at the smirking goat. When she arrived to the pond, a lustrous pink koi was waiting in a tizzy for a drink. The magic landed hard and clunky in his mouth, pushing him below the surface. Motherbone, still fuming from the goat kick, didn’t notice the koi’s shiny pink scales bubbling into corpuscles of white puss and bloody sputum. He hacked the swamp sludge from his gullet, and it spread throughout the pool in zigzag lines, like dark fractals on an autumn leaf. Soon each koi experienced a taste of the bad magic, and new feelings were abuzz in the
pond. These feelings were strange. Some koi felt anxious, some were skittish and scared, and others were downright furious. When Motherbone looked upon the pond, she noticed one koi biting the tail of another. Then, they were all chomping their jaws like crazy blind sharks. She saw algae clinging to the backs of blood-coated fish, eating them as they ate each other. One by one, koi bellies turned to the sun. The pond water became covered in blood and bones, and it was quickly emptying. Motherbone sat at the edge of the dire pond and wept. The next morning, Motherbone returned to the pond and discovered a waterless hole. Twenty-seven limp fish bodies lay stuck to the muddy floor. Motherbone wept again. A shoulder landed like warm pie on her shoulder. It was her mother, Motherkin. “Did the koi drink bad magic?” asked Motherkin. Motherbone nodded, regretfully. “It was just a little bit.” Motherkin knelt beside her daughter. “If only we knew the power of our magic jugs. Even a pinch of bad magic can spoil a pond. Blessed is a pond that is nourished with good magic.” “Now I have no pond at all,” said Motherbone. “You will always have a pond. Everyone has a pond. Right now, yours is dry. As sure as the sky leaks rain, your pond will soon be full.” Motherbone began to curse and blame the goat, but Motherkin interrupted her. “Listen closely because you will doubtlessly run into many more stubborn goats. The goat is a sad sucker in a cycle of bad magic. Clean out your jug, lift it to the sun, and stop the cycle when you notice it spinning. If you run into a sassy goat again, offer some of your good magic. It will help balance out the lopsidedness, until the only kind of magic to drink is the good kind.” Motherbone looked at her jug hopefully. She lifted it toward a ray of sun, and it began to sparkle, clean and new. A gray cloud sobbed. Two measly raindrops faded into Motherbone’s nape. She heard the sound of a koi wiggling his flipper against the swampy ooze. It was a slow beat at first, but it segued into a steady meter. Another koi beat against the sludge. More and more fins thumped the Earth, uneven and syncopated, sounding like a clumsy-cool chorus line. Motherbone raised her head, determined. “Today’s magic drink is moxie.”
EXILING THE EMPEROR The Emperor is card number IV: he follows the Empress, number III, but there’s no visible connection. (That of course is the camouflage.) He unfolds into the whole suit of swords, he’s a fine figure of a man, there on his throne: mind honed like a fencing blade. He has much to teach about Power, about clever taunts for one’s enemies, and a touch… No, no! Look there at the desert where he perches, sterile cliffs behind him, at the bright ornaments on his armor, his absent gaze, his automatic plans for conquest and spoliation. He’s master of a cake of sand, master of a crag of sandstone, never mixing earth and water, master of forcing unconnection for the sake of a better explosion when opposites at last collide. No, better yet: the Emperor stands spendiloquent on his ice floe, his oily feathers perfectly preened amid an infinity of absolute cold. He would only turn his head towards someone of the same chill breed. There: save this spell to recite whenever you start to want him. Sibelan Forrester
——— ——— — Decarcerate PA is a coalition of organizations and individuals seeking an end to mass incarceration and the harms it brings our many communities. Decarcerate PA seeks mechanisms to establish and maintain whole, healthy communities and believes that imprisonment exacerbates the problems we face.
WRITIN’ IS FIGHTIN’ Writin’ is fightin’. That’s the assertion that the poet and novelist Ishmael Reed took for the title of his book of collected essays and one which he borrowed or lifted from the great boxer, activist and poet Muhammad Ali. Both Reed and Ali find in the act of writing an opportunity to struggle over the terms and conditions by which one is identified or defined, and to wrangle with the world and worldviews that restrict the transformations that one would like to see or to embody. Each of the authors of the writings that follow has also elected to take up that mantra and mandate in their own unique ways. And as individuals currently incarcerated within the Pennsylvania prison system, there’s a lot to be both fightin’ against and fightin’ for. In the words of poet Karonn Greenwood: “My poetry is not merely just a hobby. It’s what keeps me sane. With no other outlet to express what I hate, love and pity, I turn to the lines on the white backdrop…My words explain experience. In a sense I go through it so others won’t have to.” And just what is it that Greenwood and the other writers in this selection might wish to spare a subsequent generation of people from undergoing? Clearly, there’s not a single answer to that question that can be encapsulated in a few short words. However, perhaps we can offer here a small handful of facts concerning the current conditions of mass incarceration as food for thought. In 1980, there were 8,243 people incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s state prisons; today, there are more than 51,000. In 1980, there were 9 state prisons; today, there are 28. In 1980, Pennsylvania had 370 elderly prisoners (or people over age 50). In 2010, there were 8,462 elderly men and women in PA prisons; in other words, a number greater than the entire total number of prisoners just thirty years ago.
And while other states are beginning to see the harm caused by these practices and to focus on ways to curb the out-ofcontrol prison growth that has so defined the political landscape of recent decades, Governor Corbett and his administration have begun construction on Phoenix I and II, two new state prisons in Montgomery County that will cost over $400 million to build and will contain some 4,100 prison beds. This year’s Pennsylvania state budget increased state funding to the Department of Corrections by $75 million, taking the DOC’s total budget over $2 billion for the first time. In this current budget, spending on corrections is 14% greater than spending on higher education; once again, Pennsylvania will be investing more in the state pen than we do in Penn State.
Further, the blunt impact of these retributive policies and punitive budget priorities is by no means equally distributed among individuals across the state or across communities; rather, it falls disproportionately upon the shoulders of poor people and people of color. While African Americans are about 11% of Pennsylvania’s population, 50% of the men and 31% of the women in PA prisons are African American. It’s in this context that Keith Lamont Burley Jr. recalls: “I remember times of the stressin; Regression and depression on top of that oppression at overseer’s discretion.” Or, Kempis Songster reflects: “Cultural racism, the ideology of white superiority, poisoned my self-perception.” While the past to which these authors refer, unfortunately, all too often overlaps with the present tense, there are also ample and promising displays of resistance to these realities taking place all around us on a daily basis. And the writers featured here defiantly provide us with both means and examples for moving beyond those institutions and policies which have been relentlessly damaging so many people’s lives. They offer us visions of how to hold forth for something else and something otherwise. As Munir Young puts it, “I stand for every person who wanted to move his moms out the hood.”
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Writin’ is fightin’, but on any given day the face of that fight can take many different forms and points of entry, each as critical and necessary as the next. Fightin’ can come in the shape of direct resistance to institutionalization and isolation or as the simple declaration of personhood in a space that is predicated on denying one just that. Fightin’ can also be exhibited in the effort to defy one’s own internalization of the baggage or stigmas that society has ascribed and by the willingness to partner with others in a space of vulnerability and shared affections. We can find evidence of the latter in the striking image of poet Clinton Walker as he describes how “she undressed my dress code/pulled away my B.S. coat.” The very act of writing itself can be a means of regaining lost ground or of achieving new ground that was never granted you to begin with – of family ties, of access to education, of the means to a sustainable livelihood, of self-determination, of community. As sixteen year old Lakimah Williams notes, “I feel like writing makes me calmer and sometimes proud of myself…I also think that writing helps you get all of your feelings out easier and keeps you thinking about your future and plans. It will also help you if you want to tell somebody that you love something but is scared to tell them.”
Writin’ is fightin’ but it can’t undertake that fight successfully all on its lonesome; it demands company. It demands, in that sense, not only the company of committed readers, but also the company of action, the company of lived response and resistance – not only on the page, but in the streets. Thus, we hope that as you read these pieces you will be moved to stretch your own imagination concerning what is possible and what you can do to change the current landscape of mass imprisonment, both in Pennsylvania and beyond. After all, it can’t be only folks on the inside offering these defiant cries, because as Songster poignantly observes “…so long as we keep this water on the block, out of their way, where it’s just our problem, they won’t care, and they’ll never come fix it.” Emily Abendroth, Decarcerate PA
There are lots of ways to support the work of Decarcerate PA and
join the movement to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania! Sign the Platform: Individuals and organizations can sign onto Decarcerate PA’s three-point platform, which calls on Pennsylvania to: Stop building new prisons
Decrease the number of people in prison
Reinvest in our communities
Find out how to sign on at decarceratepa.info/platform Call your legislators: Demand that Pennsylvania cancel the $400 million prison construction in Montgomery County and invest in the many things that actually create strong, safe, stable communities instead! Call or email Governor Corbett and your state legislators to demand that 2014 be the year of no new prisons in PA! You can call Governor Corbett at 717-787-2500 and you can find your legislators’ contact information by entering your address at: legis.state.pa.us Help us envision a better world: Tell Decarcerate PA what you would build #InsteadofPrisons by tweeting your ideas @DecarceratePA or posting an image of what you would build at: decarceratepa.tumblr.com/submit Learn more, spread the word, and get involved: Educate yourself & share this information with your family and friends! Check out & share more writing from men and women on the inside and learn more about the impacts of mass incarceration on people all over the state, at Decarcerate PA’s website: decarceratepa.info.
FREEDOM Freedom is that open field with never-ending grass It’s that first glimpse of the world The ability to smile through any situation A door only you have a key to You choose to take a chance There’s no limits, no obligations Freedom is staying out after the streetlight come on Determining your own destination You make the rules Freedom is speaking what you want Freedom is no chains or bars Or doors that lock automatically Freedom is flapping your wings until you feel like landing Freedom is turning the steering wheel with your own hands Eat what you crave Sleep when you’re tired There’s no rules, no Authority You are inferior to no one At times it may seem I’ve lost my freedom But as long as I can breathe as fast or as slow as I want or loud or quiet as I want Or refuse to breathe at all I am free Karonn Greenwood
THE SCENT OF LEARNING The scent of raggedy leather ballroom dancing with my nostrils. The circling metal rings tightly bruise my innocent skin as I shift positions in search for comfort. The idea of my newest sneaks gliding across the lonely concrete soon simply fades from my mind like I now hear the separation of a key from a ring. Munir Young
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FLOODGATES OF HELL “What the hell…?” There I sat, on the edge of the steel bunk bed with wet feet, early in the morning. My slippers were no longer where my feet expected them to be, but were now floating their separate ways at opposite ends of the small bathroom that had become my confines. The two cardboard boxes containing my underwear and other personal effects were soaked and softened in a halfinch-and-rising flood. “Where is all this water coming from?” I might’ve asked out loud, as I trained my sleepy eyes on the sinktoilet fixture in my cell. Not there. The only other place it could be coming from is… “Shit!” Sure ‘nuff, water was streaming in under the steel door from outside the cell so forcefully, it pushed away the piece of cardboard I used to barricade the bottom of the doorway at night to keep out marauding mice. “Damn!” I had to get busy. I peeled the wet socks off my feet, slid my sneakers on, stood up, folded my pancake-thin mattress in half, then started taking my belongings out of the wet boxes and placing it onto the bare-steel half off the bunk. Meanwhile, the remotely controlled mechanical cell-door slid open slowly, sounding like a loud moan. And what else greeted me when I stepped out onto the tier but the mother of all cell-block deluges, and my best friend and “rappie,” Dameon. We looked at each other and shook our heads in disbelief. This day was certainly going to be different. Block workers and volunteers, armed with squeegees and scrub brushes, were already busy pushing water out of cells and down the tier toward the steps. “Yo, where all this water comin’ from?” I asked one of the workers squeegeeing away. “A toilet in a cell back there on your side of the tier is clogged up and won’t stop flushing,” he replied, pointing to the back of the top tier. Apparently, the toilet had been flushing and overflowing incessantly all night, giving birth to an indoor rapid that flooded every cell on my side of the top tier, and cascaded down the front steps like a gurgling waterfall, and over the side of the front platform like a baby Niagara. It was surreal. Dameon and I hurried to the block supply room to
each grab a squeegee and find our places in the struggle, you know, to ‘get in where we fit in.’ We all worked and worked to no avail, as the volcanic toilet continued spewing out water faster than we or the small drains on the cell-block floor could get rid of it. The only solution would be for the facility plumbers to come to the rescue and cut off the water pressure to that particular toilet. But as was typical, the plumbers, who had been called for by block officers several times already, were like ghetto police, in no hurry to get there. Up to that point, we had been trying to keep the rising tide of rapid water contained on the block, not allowing it to rush out into the hallway where all the traffic was. But we were fighting a losing battle. Finally, almost simultaneously, the laborers reached an impasse, as if we realized the folly in the way we were handling things. A light bulb must’ve lit up in one of the oldheads, as he said, “Man, fuck this shit; let it go.” Light started coming on in everybody’s head, like sleeping households after a metal trash can gets knocked over or a car alarm gets triggered in the wee hours of the night. Not only did workers start getting out of the way of the water’s rush toward the block gate, they helped direct and push it through. “That’ll get them lazy-ass plumbers over here,” I heard the oldhead say. Another oldhead chimed in, “Yeah, once the guards in the hallway get to complainin’.” And yet another oldhead weighed in, “Sure you right, ‘cause so long as we keep this water on the block, out of their way, where it’s just our problem, they won’t care, and they’ll never come fix it.” It was as if all working minds plugged into a single higher mind right in front of me. I marveled at these developments as I continued squeegeeing water out of my cell, out from behind the security cage where my cell was located, and down the steps, when I heard a strange voice barking weirdly above all others, “You! Come out here and push this water back onto the block!” I looked in the direction of the oldheads on the lower platform by the gate, to see what was going; to see who was getting barked at like that. “You, at the top of the steps! I said, come down here and push this water out of this hallway, back onto the block!”
He was the turnkey assigned to B-Block’s gate that morning, and I never would’ve guessed that he was talking to me, especially in that tone. But it was me, indeed, he was talking to. It was as though his vision coursed its way around, between, past, through, and over, every other person near the gate with a squeegee scrub brush in hand pushing water toward the hallway, to find me further away at the top of the steps. “’Scuse me? You talkin’ to me?” “Yeah, you!” he exploded. “I’m giving you a direct order to get down here and get this water out this hallway!” At the time, Dameon and I were pre-tail detainees, and we had been confined on B-Block at Philadelphia’s Detention Center, or “DC”, for several months. We were both 15; too young to be sent to Holmesburg across the street. And this irate guard simply wasn’t aware that because I was a juvenile in an adult county jail, I was not allowed to leave the cell-block, or even step out into the hallway, without escort. It was only after months of battling with the DC administration, charging them with cruel and unusual punishment for keeping us and other juveniles confined all day behind a cage, that Dameon and I, and the other juveniles, were allowed to come out and move about the block among the adults. I offered no such explanation to the turnkey. I had become a prisoner to my own bewilderment the moment I realized that this guard was singling me out and focusing his frustration on me with unusual conviction. I was stuck on stupid. Maybe it was that I was young, small, and didn’t look as tough and aggressive as the older, bigger dudes. Maybe this guard had a chip on his shoulder to begin with, or was a bully at heart, and I looked like the easiest whipping boy for whatever was whipping him. Yeah, maybe he thought I was sweet. Just as suddenly, I went from perplexed to provoked. Whatever his issue with me was, I told him, “Call the plumber. ‘Cause I ain’t comin’ out in that hallway.” As volatile as the air around me had suddenly become, I still never expected this guard to open the gate, leave his keys stuck in it, abandon his post, storm onto the block, march past the oldheads, and begin stomping up the steps toward me. It all happened so fast that I only had time to think, “Is he actually coming toward me?” before he seized my hand and my arm with vice-like grip and snarled, “I said come down here,
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you little nigger,” and started dragging me down the steps. I had experienced the violence of a white man before. A few months prior, when Dameon and I were still in the custody of Philly’s Youth Study Center, a white guard choked me from behind with a billy club as black guards and counselors pummeled both of us. One older black guard stomped on the side of my head repeatedly with his boot while calling me all kinds of “niggers” and “motherfuckers,” even as I lay belly-flat and handcuffed behind my back, defenseless. I needed stitches on the left side of my head afterward. Dameon may have fared even worse a few feet away. But the torrential downpour of fists and boots of black guards and counselors upon us would’ve provided cover for any racist sentiment behind the white guard’s billy-club choke. My unseasoned 15-year-old mind just interpreted it all as a critical beatdown. But I had never experienced the violence of a white man calling me nigger at the same time. For some reason or another, that was a whole different animal. The chip on the turnkey’s shoulder was much bigger, and older, than I thought. And I was in the clench of more than just a bully’s grip. I was in the clutches of raw prejudice and unbridled hate, the kind I saw over and over again in Alex Haley’s Roots; the kind I heard my Mother talk about as she read Before The Mayflower; the kind I saw in black-&-white footage of the Jim Crow/Civil Rights era, capturing melees of police dogs, fire-hoses, night sticks, boots, all bearing down on unarmed brown-skinned people. I had been reading about this kind of negative energy in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was one of the three books my mother bought for me at the beginning of my incarceration. Reflexively, I reached out and grabbed the stair railing to resist being pulled down the steps, and I started kicking at the guard. But he just wasn’t going to unhand me. He stopped pulling me downward, only to readjust his grip as he maneuvered around my kicks, then kneed me hard on my legs and in midsection. I let go of the railing and let my left fist fly in a long series of rapid-fire one-arm combinations of uppercuts and hooks at his head, as I tried to wrest my right arm from his grip. buddupp bang bok!! “You little nigger!” And so it went. But he would not let go of me. I was just too small, about 130 pounds or so; too ‘light in the ass.’ I
was in for a long day with this big hateful dude. would be plunged into at the ripe old age of seven. And But the turnkey didn’t know just how much I was why should it have to? Still, the political naiveté of loved on B-Block. Neither did I, quite honestly. Trinidadian policy makers allowed the ideology of white Suddenly out of nowhere, a blurred figure leaped into supremacy to infuse our educational system and taint the scene with a barrage of punches to the turnkey’s our self-perceptions and, therefore, our nation’s destiny, face. It was Dameon … whew, my homeboy, on some unknown to us. just-in-the-nick-of-time-heroic-rescue stuff. Then from Cultural racism, the ideology of white superiority, every corner of my vision came a hurricane of fists of poisoned my self-perception through school texts that every hue, raining down on the turnkey. Still, he didn’t taught me that that the history of people who look like release his grip on me until a huge boa-constrictor-like me began only when whites “discovered” us. And out of arm wrapped around his neck from behind and almost that textbook history emerged classic characters with put him unconscious. It was only later I learned that names such as Tar Baby, a ‘pickaninny,’ a pitiful Black from everywhere on the block, from front, from the child victimized by his own black skin that everything middle, from the back, dudes came sprinting at top stuck to. His inescapable woes are only palliated by the speed towards the rumble between the guard & me. “friendship” of the fair-skinned hero. But in the The oldheads at the gate who witnessed everything, racialized world, humanity has been wading its way dropped their squeegees and scrub brushes. One guy through. Since “white” people, “black” people, “yellow” cut his phone conversation short; I mean, just dropped people, “red” people, and “brown” people were invented, the receiver and left it dangling. Still others came out of hate has been the thing sticking to darker skins as their cells. All converged on the scuffle. Even one of the tenaciously as the turnkey stuck to me. block officers joined in and threw some punches at the Self-hate among members of a dominated racialized turnkey, his colleague. group, however, may be the ramification of cultural and Even though the incident was a defining moment in institutional racism hardest to undo. For well over the my ideological development, it was only much later in past decade Trinidad has been smitten with a plague of my life journey and erudition that it would become senseless violence and murder, citizen-on-citizen, that clear to me that the incident was, of course, not my first is unsustainable for a small island with a population of encounter with racism. just over a million. As a child growing up in Trinidad, even there, I The ideology of white superiority over people of color hadn’t escaped the tentacles of cultural racism. The was standardized for me not only in my early ideology that people with white skin are somehow Trinidadian school books, but also in my U.S. superior to people with darker skin and, therefore, have Elementary, Junior, and High School textbooks, as a God- or nature-given right to have dominion over social studies, implying to me that slavery and them, had sought to hamstring my truest potential, and colonialism were for the greater good of an uncivilized make me feel inferior even in a milieu that was African people. But I had yet to realize it. supposed to instill racial pride in me. I encountered racism every time I saw a Tarzan or One might suppose that I made out better as a child King Kong movie, and every time I read the definition than my peers in the States, if only in the sense that I of the word black, then the word white, in Webster’s had spent my first seven years in a world where the Dictionary. But I didn’t even dig it. faces of power and influence resembled my own. From I didn’t know that my young mind was in the the Prime Minister, to the Commissioner, to the doctors clutches of the worst kind of prejudice when the only who healed me when I got sick, to the schoolteachers heroes I wanted to be like were imaginary white ones in who taught me how to read, write, and do math, and tights and capes, flying or swinging through the air who loved me enough to discipline me when I with unearthly powers. misbehaved in class or didn’t do my homework, to the I didn’t see Harriet Tubman as a hero. She executed principal who ran the school, to the masses of people 19 missions, freeing enslaved Africans from the bowels around me. But it was “a” world, not “the” world. So it of the racist slaveholding South, and never lost a couldn’t prepare me for the larger racialized world I passenger. She freed over 300 men, women and
children that way. And the people called her by the endearment “Grandma Moses.” She scouted for the Union, and even led a raid into a confederate base camp, where she liberated over 1,000 enslaved folks, and earned the handle General Harriet Tubman. She did these things during the thick of the Civil War, with a $40,000 bounty on her head, which was a lot of money back then. Was she not a superhero and an outlaw worth wanting to be like? And she didn’t have to be invented and given special powers. She invented and empowered herself, and had a lot of helping hands of every hue. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and I see more clearly now the driving force behind the turnkey’s prejudice towards me that day. It is cultural racism, the ideology of white superiority, that guided the institutional racism that backed up and emboldened his individual racism towards me. The same way it backed up and emboldened the racism among those jurors of African descent, in order to construct a jury slanted against me and prone to convict me. But I’m not concerned about how that guard, or the prosecutor, felt about me. It’s truly their right to hate me, despise me, wish me dead. That’s not my concern. I am troubled by the fact that the guard, and the D.A., held the power and hence the means to put into practice their own idea of superiority and carte blanche over me, and what he, the guard, felt was his God-given and genetic right to be obeyed by the likes of me, without question. For as Marimba Ani said, “racism is not just an attitude. Rather it is the ability to control the lives of those you despise.” In that case, I’m not interested in making anyone like me. I like me. And the $3,000 settlement I won in my case against the turnkey was only a Band-aid over leaking bile. I just want to get myself and my kind to a level where no one can drown us, or even wet our feet in the morning, whenever they decide to open the floodgates of their hate.
——————————————— APIARY+DECARCERATE PA —————————————— WHAT I STAND FOR I stand for every person who wanted to move his moms out the hood. I stand for every youngin who wanted to go to college but loyalty stood in his way. I stand for every youngin who wake up for prayer in the morning. I stand for every person who put on for the hood. I stand for the youngin who know that loyalty is everything. I stand for every nigga who dropped tears missing his youngin or siblings. I stand for the youngin whose mom dropped tears in the V.I. I stand for the youngin who laugh and smile to stop from crying.
HAIKU In north Philly where people get killed for the littlest reason – but mainly money, like a tiger in a jungle looking for food.
Life Angels come to pray, not to stay. People come to die, not to live. Babies cry for help, not for nothing People hope for the best, not for the worst. People sleep for rest, not for weakness. Others sacrifice because they care. People fear because theyâ€™re scared. Coming is going. Giving is sharing. Praying is hoping. Wishing is believing. Lakimah Williams
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NAKED Never been touched so intimately until touched by she her caress can calm a nation of youth gone wild still while sitting in this mahogany-coated room watching the flicker of chimney flames confusion I could see underneath her smile her whisper came like a autumn breeze “Why so plentiful of clothing” I thought, how could I express what I kept so personal and closed in and escape the notion of a less confident me so I posed confidently, and confidently I began to speak “I’m clothed because I’m sick” “Yes, I’m sick of…” but before I could express more I felt a finger press against my full lips a hand glide to my hand which guided my body to a fortress only because neither escape nor penetrate were possible impossible without her consent her bedroom seductive and sweet more than a place of pleasure a tender kiss with a bit of tongue made all resistance cease to breathe she was one who wasn’t afraid to look in my eyes to see what I seen as she undressed my dress code pulled away my B.S. coat took her time to unbutton each button of pride eased down my dishonest jeans anticipating her private show she reached for my boxer briefs and for the first time in years I wasn’t afraid to let my private show more than satisfied her eyes made studies out of my thick honey frame she’s seeing all of me as I stand before her naked I stood naked but not ashamed Clinton Walker
BELIEVE IT You can achieve it if you believe it. Perceive it in the mind. Perception is the essence of success – I ain’t lyin’. I look at life like a rock that I continuously climb. Behind enemy lines I continue to shine. Through the surgery, my trials and adversities I am harder than iron. I made it through the hardest environment. I remember times of the stressin’, regression and depression, and on top of that oppression at overseers’ discretion. But still I count my blessings; give my thanks to the Lord. Now my intentions are more pure than my intentions before. Because I have analyzed my etiquette, actions and pre-requisites. I had to change the attitude and mood I was arrested with. Remove from my recklessness. My verbal expression is: casting out the demon inside. Change is my exorcist. I read positive messages, put away my prejudice. The essence of this poem is a poetic exegesis. Edited for minds who can’t comprehend my predicate. My predicate’s been edited; torn from different negatives. Repetitive acts can make a change seem so incredulous. The road to perdition in prison is filled with crevices. Still I move on like Moses did in his Exodus. Patiently persevered for years until I exited.
Keith Lamont Burley Jr.
INCARCERATION OF TEARS The eyes of the courtroom wept streams of sunlight that leaked through the curtain cracks. A swarm of dust particles floating through the air. The movement of the dust had a slow motion effect and it could become hypnotizing if you stared too long. Slowly I dragged my eyes away, but got a sensation that the sunshine was freedom and to look away would be to lose it somehow. My heart thumped loudly as my eyes moved to the judge sitting high up on his throne-like bench. Wrinkles creased his forehead. He was studying some papers on his desk. All I could see were those wrinkles and the top of his balding, age-spotted head. My mind began to wander: What if I’m found guilty? Anxiety began to set in. I took a quick glance behind me at the rows of seats filled with family and friends. I struggled to keep my face blank. Anxiety had invited fear and sorrow to take up residence within my soul and anger was pounding at the front door. Always “the man,” I donned my mask of indifference— I smirked; something I always do when I’m afraid. Right at that moment, I locked eyes with my five-year-old baby sister. She called out my name and reached her tiny arms out for me. What could I do? I couldn’t go to her. I couldn’t pick her up. I couldn’t place kisses on her cheeks. I could feel my tears desperation as they struggled to be free from the prison that my eyes had become. I secured the locks of their incarceration, blew my baby sister a kiss and faced forward again. Not a second had passed before the judge peered over his horn-rimmed glasses. He stared at me as if he could see through me. He cleared his throat. A hush fell over the courtroom. There was no emotion in those cold blue eyes or his voice. “Mr. Carter, would you please stand.” Now not only could I feel my heart pounding, I could hear it vibrating against my eardrums. The judge continued, “I find you guilty of murder in the second degree, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole.” The courtroom erupted into shouts and cries of despair — my father, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, and friends all stood. Fingers of accusation were pointed like arrows at the houseflies swarming around dead flesh, their eyes moving frantically, searching the crowd for signs of trouble as they quickly gathered around me. When the judge uttered those words that robbed me
of my freedom, time stopped. I became trapped in that moment—not by the judge’s words, but by the pandemonium in that courtroom. Now twenty years later, the commotion of that day has settled in my mind, and the judge’s words of condemnation are one of two things that I remember so vividly. But at the time, those words had little impact on me. Reason being: a scream. Like the terrifying wail of an air-raid siren warning the people that bombs were dropping from the sky, a cry erupted from my mother. This cry silenced all other voices in that courtroom. It was unadulterated pain that manifested in a cry. I can only describe it as a guttural scream soaked in wretchedness and dragged through an alley of anguish. Everything ceased to exist except me and my mother. This scream seemed to emanate from a place deep within her that only a woman who had given birth would know. Never in my life have I experienced the hurt that I felt hearing this sound coming from the woman who kissed me on the cheek, tucked me in the bed, and chased the bogey man away. It sliced through me, cutting me deep to my core. The atmosphere in that courtroom was filled with sorrow, and self-pity thickened it. It became hard for me to breathe. My throat became tight and I swallowed. But at that point it was all about me. The grief in that courtroom became a coat that I wrapped myself in, shielding myself from the chill of the forces aligned against me. Why me? The DA is a racist. The judge is a racist. This wouldn’t happen to me if I were white. I was so engrossed in my self-pity that I failed to take into account my actions and what part I played in the circumstances that I found myself in. Suddenly it was as if God wanted to show me how feeling sorry for myself blinded me. The commotion in that courtroom began to fade. There was a white blinding light and I could feel a sensation of disembodiment. I was floating, connected to nothing. A myriad of colors shooting past me, then, the reality that I knew was gone. I had been dropped off into a place that time seemed to forget: Gray clouds fill the skies and the rain falls in a misty haze. I stand as a child shivering in my mother’s arms upon a wooden auction block. The judge now is a slave auctioneer. His cold blue eyes latch on to me, sizing me up like a calf on its way to the butcher. He sneers. There is no humanity in that sneer or those arctic seas of blue, no compassion, no mercy. Pale hands reach out. They are huge, growing larger as my fear amplifies them. I flinch
right before he grabs me. His hands are cold, hard, and the calluses that cover his palms scrape against the naked flesh of my bare shoulder. I shiver from the cold of his touch and my fear. He squeezes tight and his vise-like grip sends pain shooting down the length of my arm. I cry out, but my cries are like the cries of the calf being sold to the butcher. Does the butcher care for the cries of his food? Then I’m snatched away from the safety of my mother’s arms. “We got one healthy nigger boy-child. Let the bidding began at two bits.” Dozens of white faces stand in front of the auction block leering at me, and when the thick southern drawl of the auctioneer’s voice commences the bidding, hands shoot in the air and competing shouts of purchase erupt from the crowd. In a matter of seconds life as I know it will be over. I will be sold to another human being who hates me, moved to a place unknown, never to see my mother again. My mother, tears streaming down her face, reaches out for me, but her motherly instinct to protect me is answered by a savage kick to the face and an unmerciful beating. This brave African woman still cries out, not from the pain of the beating but from the agony of losing her firstborn son. I guess God deemed my lesson learned, and it was; for I saw through the eyes of the truly condemned, who bled their innocence on the wooden planks of an auction block. I could feel the pain of my ancestors who lost their freedom through no fault of their lives so that I could be free. Free to do what, though? Take for granted the lives sacrificed for my own, so that I could then relinquish the freedom that others died for? Who am I to feel sorry for myself? Just as suddenly as I was brought to this time where my forefathers lived and died as chattel, God picked me up and carried me down the road of my mother’s scream. Swiftly, we passed through a deluge of shame that soaked me to my core. A barrage of colors passed before my eyes. There was a faint sound of voices. They became louder and, just as I realized what I was hearing, I was dumped back into the commotion of that courtroom. At that point my mother’s scream began a symphony of grief. It was a sad melody that infiltrated my entire being, building up to a havoc of dissonant chords of emotions within my soul. Tired of knocking, anger burst through the door of my anxiety, sorrow and fear. I just wanted to shout, I ain’t dead, so y’all stop fucking crying! At twenty-three, I just couldn’t understand the enor-
——————————————— APIARY+DECARCERATE PA —————————————— mity of the circumstance. I couldn’t understand what was obvious to everyone else in that courtroom: that there now existed a very strong possibility that I would never see the outside of a prison wall again. Was I in denial? I don’t think so. It was just that life-without-parole was so far outside of my life experience that I had no way of knowing what it meant. To me five years was a lifetime, so the concept of spending the remainder of my life behind a prison wall was just too alien for me to understand. At the time I was lost in a fog of anguish. Instead of shouting, though, I simply dropped my head and told the sheriff, “Yo, get me the fuck out of here.” The handcuffs clicking around my wrist, in a perverse way, felt comfortable because it signaled my exit out of that maelstrom of grief. A slight nudge by the sheriff and I began the long walk through that center aisle of sorrow. I avoided looking at the faces of my loved ones. The anguish and the tears were just too much to bear. I could feel my incarcerated tears once again begin their struggle to break free from the prison of my eyes, and once again I secured their locks. I couldn’t let my family see that kind of weakness in me. After all, grown men don’t cry, do they? I took a quick glance to my right. Oh, shit! Are those tears streaming down my father’s face? Naw, that has to be my eyes playing tricks on me. Instead, I kept my eyes glued to the top of the exit where portraits of old white men hung, those whose judgments populated penitentiary graveyards across the state. Who are these men? was the fleeting thought that crossed my mind as I entered the City Hall corridor. Then, as if the steel bars of a cell door slammed shut in my face, I was stopped dead in my tracks. An intense sadness knifed through me once more. Another one of my sisters, just a few years younger than I, was doubled over in agony, sobs wracking her body and tears pouring from her eyes. Then she looked up. The hurt that was etched across her face became seared into my mind, a constant reminder of the terrible pain I caused. It was at that moment, as I locked eyes with my sister, unable to comfort her, that I realized that my life and how I lived it not only affected me but affected other people as well. The sheriff nudged me forward again, and the tears that I had been holding prisoner finally broke free. I couldn’t incarcerate them anymore. Liberated, they covered my face with signs of their escape. Terrell Carter
NOT FOR NOTHING
really truly each degradable time follows really truly a necessary utopian action really truly it fills the flask with liquid really truly my cardiac arrest had no hydrangea really truly fomented timeliness no hostage really truly a lab of an action fragile really truly a breeze and an attention really truly an attention and a birth They scream. One tear drops with enormous effort from their eye. At a certain moment they will be expected to randomly separate. At a certain time they will be commanded to drop their tears. At a certain time they will be handcuffed to disguise their eyes. At a certain time they will be bound to scream and put their mouths so close to each other no kissing.
Nothing fades. It all becomes hardened but all does not fade. We are hurrying before nothing fades. Do you see? We are hurrying before nothing will fade. Do you see? We are biting our lips at a certain angle and screaming when we can when there is a choice and doing so before nothing fades.
NEWTON’S FIRST LAW OF MOTION I’ve always wondered what became of the roses you planted by my bedroom window. Papa, I’ve wondered if they’re still there, lulling some other little girl to sleep in that Ivorian humidity: or if the salamanders have taken to eating the petals cause they mistook them for love; cause war does crazy things. Yesterday, a boy was shot on the baseball field, with the earth breathing under him as a way to soak up all the the blood. The boy had been running a solid 10 miles per hour. He’d been running for home. (Papa, these other boys have baseball and diamond-shaped plates that tell them where home is. You never left me a map.) But the boy who’d been shot was a sort of constant velocity with his sneakers pounding against the dirt floor, eliminating all the static friction in the world. Yeah, he was a velocity all right: Newton told me in a dream that the difference between speed and velocity is that velocity knows what direction it’s going; speed is someone who hasn’t found God yet. But, as this boy lay on the tongues of the grass he was forced to find God, he was forced into a stupor of uniform motion. Ring around the rosy. Pocket full of posies. Newton Newton, we all fall down. When did bullets become external forces? I heard about the dead boy on the baseball field while listening to the radio. I wish I could bring him my father’s roses at his funeral. Maybe he’d find consolation in the scent. After all, we were two people who never made it home. I wish Newton would stop talking to me in my sleep. I don’t care for your laws, Isaac. I just want to eat roses and play baseball a hundred times over. Newton, you should have let him keep his velocity, cause that would have meant he’d be breathing. Papa, Papa, Papa, the flowers won’t grow. They’re stuck in some state of rest.
MY MOTHER IN PINK SWEATPANTS
My heart knocks
My mother in pink sweatpants and a white T-shirt would make an appeal with her fist And smile; she would open her mouth and Spit into my face, her chin held high I Could see her slowly dying in that hall.
against its cage trying to escape through my breasts. I want to purge, release the pulsing pressure, pull it out by its veins, up through my mouth, to lay at your feet raw and writhing.
“You will work hard until the hemorrhoids burst Out your ass until you drop dead you will Work you will work you will work until the Hemorrhoids burst out your ass and then you’ll be A man.” As she said this with her chin held High I could see her dying, I could see Her eyes looking down, a sad thing to see. Her prune cheeks sunken, her face violent red Her chapped and mannish hands would nervously Shake and her lips, meat-hungry and wet were Lumpishly heavy, all the while gritting Her little squared egg-teeth and wiping the Cat’s ass with an alcohol pad, wiping The cat’s ass incessantly with the brown Pad. I was given life in a chocolate Factory amongst coat hangers between Empty boxes and two muffled grunts and One black eye.
HE, MY FATHER
You pressed the knife to your chest several times before it pierced the heart;
A robust man– a wind dweller he was my father with such laughter, that reached the other side of the wall, who sang sad songs after a shot of vodka, bought me dozens of dolls, whose wild goose dish scented the garden, who showed affection in his most peculiar way whose vigor was not to fear religious dogma but to catch whatever life threw at him, who I thought would outlast the wind like Albatross.
mile-markers cast in moonlight, across a lifespan, sparse countryside. The highway only ends when you drive into the trees, become a song in the air. I have heard it late at night creep in through the engine’s soft hum. I have pulled the car along the shoulder of a desolate highway to speak to the stars, drown out that song.
Then, the call of a wild autumn night summoned him away, as the melancholic moon shone on his face.
But you heard it in everything— in the heartbeat of the city, the tone of your mother’s voice after too much red wine, how it turned words like haven’t you outgrown that dress?
Therefore, he returns into my dreams, passes through, ill-looking, but with serenity his eyes behind darkness, yet, loving and tender, but no words uttered. I wonder if he returns to seek refuge far from the void to preserve his presence or perhaps he feels safe in my dreams?
to mean you’ve gotten fat again. The bluebirds outside your father’s cottage didn’t stop singing
He left for the other side; where the sun never wakes up and questions always remain questions
the morning after his heart attack, but their sound became
the buzz of a needle, the sting of a fresh tattoo. You could hear your heart break so often, it became a default silence, a song in the air. I wish you lived in a place where the night sky was never cloudy, where those tiny dots seemed closer and you could believe they were listening.
PUMA CONCOLOR CORYI (PANTHER) Rarely seen, she is wary in the cypress sloughs where she forages with smaller than mountain-lion quicker limbs steering the near dark and the darker dusk of disappearance. With only sixty or so left, she is panther fire cat, puma lord of trees the Cree’s great wild hunter the Zuni father of the game. I missed her tawny belly in the uplands of Okaloacoochee her shadow disappearing among palmettos and outcroppings the scrub and underscrub and no one found her stalking drivers along Alligator Alley and highway 29 or jumping onto porches crossing thresholds to pursue those she has never, according to record, attacked. O Panther unnatural, up a tree in Palm Beach county, is it true you have three square needs: cover, prey, and a range four hundred times the size of the Magic Kingdom to feed and hunt, breed and squabble over borderlines and beloveds. With your night vision goggles and small efficient heart, you have endured the cowlicks and crooked tails of inbreeding and now you bring to the brink and edge of Ave Maria’s planned five thousand acre town your howl and lament over bulldozers and cranes, the yellow bright of the worker’s hats, the swamp wallow and girder rasps of industry. Who will remember your smoke and mirror roar of thunder, your cat’s eye glow and yellow mastery, how for centuries you kept Lisa Sewell the diabolical dragon away?
I SIT For painter Edward Hopper in 1932 “Room in Brooklyn” To miss breakfast and the sky is banana blue waiting for a mouth to catch what comes natural to write down Elbows stuck on side chairs and the fork laid still on the outside Green on Fridays hoping Monday is better on Saturday mornings, reaching for the coffee cup of black brew with nothing to do on Wednesday unless the toast is burnt and the milk is sour The sunlight is about to turn dark clouds are moving in to cover the afternoon with a warm pillow underneath, tangling feet, fall asleep not moving until Tuesday night when the waterless flowers die wilted in the blowing wind where closed windows are biting the red rugged rooftops It is good that Thursday is coming – Fast with nothing to say until Sunday’s meal is served on empty white plates
VOICE You have not heard German butchered until you have experienced first semester lieder in St. Paul, Minnesota. I teach Midwestern teenagers to wail out classical music in four languages, and you’d think they’d have a knack for it, given that they are all big, blond girls with last names like Olaffson and Haugstaad. They do not. And it is not because I do not try. They sign up for Voice Production 101, writing their names on my door with a flourish. They tell me, Ms. Verilli, I have come to college to study voice. Then they plop a ridiculous piece of modern nonsense on my piano by this Celine Dion person, and expect me to coach them as they slide through eighty measures of pop music dreck. Their pitch is reprehensible. Their breathing is worse. They invent all sorts of melisma for words that have no business being emphasized. “’Hallelujah,’ in Vivaldi’s hands,” I try to tell them, “Is a word worth drawing out, worth making audiences savor. Any word found in the theme song to this Titanic movie—(‘on,’ and ‘gone,’ from what I can tell are the only two words in the piece)—is not.” Then there are the students whose grandfathers have told them they are a Desdemona or an Aida in the making. They waltz into their first lesson and wheeze their way through Sempre Libera. After they have massacred the runs and squeaked out the last high C, they will look at me expectantly, as though I am going to leap up out of my chair and dial direct to Joseph Volpe, crying, “Joe, I have found your next Callas!” That last part makes me laugh. These girls do not know who Callas is. They think a Volpe is a car. The ones who want an easy A—those who think my class is about preparing to sing at bars and birthday parties—last for a week, two at most. Once and awhile the football coach used to enroll some failing quarterback who needed to raise his gpa. I sent them all packing with D’s and then filled the coach’s voice mail box with fifteen minutes of Carmina Burana at top volume. The man retaliated, came to my office, stood in my door, screaming obscenities: “You are a crazy bitch!” Ha! I told him, precisely why my mad scene in Lucia Lamermoor was so devastating. The first semester is about removing bad habits: “But my teacher at home told me to pretend I was swallowing the moon when I sing.” And, my dear, where is home? I will ask.
“Fergus Falls, Minnesota.” On the great stages of Fergus Falls, I’m sure people pay all of $6.00 for their prime seats in the community center’s basement theater. But at Juilliard, where I trained, when your audience paid $150.00 for a seat at Alice Tully, they wanted to bloody hear you. And if you are pretending to swallow anything while you sing, you will also swallow your sound. Think of vomiting, I tell them. It is anatomically more like what your throat needs to do. They will look at me as though I have said something beyond the scope of their reason. “Gross!” they’ll exclaim. Well, yes, gross! Renata Tibaldi’s teacher told her that getting through Rigoletto should make her diaphragm feel like she had just given birth to a forty pound watermelon. The sounds we make are pretty. The methods by which we make them, are not. One of my new students, Mark Vander-something, interests me. He has a talent, though exactly what type of talent remains to be seen. He auditioned with Scarlatti’s La Violette. Nothing too dramatic. Nothing too showy. A song about violets, with some opportunities to show off nice phrasing, and the kind of range you want to hear in a young voice. Certainly, it’s not a song that’s going to make any magic, but there was a color to the sound. A quality. Covered up, of course, by a lot of garbage that some old woman with twenty-four cats probably taught him every Wednesday in what they both wanted to believe was a voice lesson. But, still. A quality. I asked him to sing a second song. He chose Vaughan Williams, and truly, truly I stopped thinking about the mess of his diction and found myself simply enjoying that final page. Oh, there are breaks all over his upper register, but we’ll even that out as soon as I teach him there is a set of lungs below his neck which he can use to acquire a very useful thing called air. Soon enough. Regardless, it is a great truck of a voice. He has an E. And if he has an E with no breath, no placement, and no technique to speak of, then there is an F somewhere in that thick frame that belongs with the angels. Or at least there’s voice enough to drown out the blue-haired ladies unwrapping cough drops in the first row, and, nowadays, I’m sorry to say, that is something. These country people. The biggest voice I have ever heard belonged to a girl named Magda. She was from Moldava or Macedonia…some tiny place where there are many, many goats—I’m sure it is lovely. She didn’t speak a lick of English, and her Italian and her German rivaled this Mark-person’s for disaster. She had an enormous
black beehive hairdo, a single yellow dress, and when she stood sideways she was no thicker than a breath mark. But when she opened her mouth! God! It was the richest, biggest sound I have ever heard. Glorious. With as many shades and colors as amber. I was a student then, singing with her in a music festival in Germany. I hadn’t gotten cast in a role at school that year and was still licking my wounds. My voice teacher thought Eastern Europe would cheer me up. Oh, I heard Magda singing scales through the walls of the practice rooms, and it was all I could do not to scream. I was so envious of her voice. I called my teacher, devastated: “I will never sound like that.” “True, she told me, “Now, say that again, this time in Italian.” I did as my teacher asked, “Non suonerò mai come quello.” She made me say it again, this time in French. Then German. Russian. And when I was done and the plastic payphone receiver was wet with my tears, she told me, “You see, my dear, these are not just the languages of the music itself, they are the languages of the people who own the music: the maestros, the composers, the booking agents, the voice teachers. This selfish phone call has cost more than that poor girl’s village makes in a year. She may have the voice of God himself, but she is mute in the eyes of opera. And she has no money to change that. So, yes. You are a spoiled, little American who will never have half the gift that this girl possesses. Nor will you have her misfortunes. Now hang up and go practice your trills.” Magda sang Leonora from La forza del destino in master class that summer. By Act IV, Leonora is living in a cave. Her lover has killed her father. Soon, her brother will find her and stab her in the heart. It is not a happy story. “Pace, pace mio dio,” is Leonora’s prayer that she might find peace in death, an aria my teacher had not allowed me to touch. The accompanist began the opening phrases—music that calls to the places in the body where we hold our sorrow…softly…softly. The whole piece is riddled with Verdi’s markings: piano, pianissimo. I just knew her voice in that aria would be tiny silver spoons of sound. I cursed her talent. I felt my own shame. Non suonerò mai come quello. Our girl Magda opened her mouth. The last notes of the piano’s introduction hung in the air like snow. And then: “peace!” She was not a woman on her knees before God! She was a shrieking mother whose baby lay in the path of a freight train! Her beehive shook with the force of her sound. “peace my god!” Another enormous, sucking breath, her eyes bulging with the effort, and—this time on an even higher, shattering pitch: “peace my god!!!” I
thought my ears would bleed. Maestro sprang out of his chair, “Basta!” He walked over and tore the music from the piano. “Basta!” he was saying. “E il vostro dio sordo?” Is your god deaf? She stared at him. “Una farsa,” he muttered, “Un altro. Questo non è per voi.” Another—my heart soared!—another, he told her. This one is not for you. He opened a thick anthology of soprano arias and called her over. What other songs did she know? Something easier, more appropriate for a beginner. She shook her head. He pointed to the book. “O mio babbino caro,” he requested. She lumbered through the aria, a cow in a field of bluebells. She had that voice, but no control, no language. My Juilliard cohort and I snickered each time she said the Italian for ‘year.’ Forgetting to voice the double ‘n,’ she turned it, unwittingly, into the Italian for ‘asshole.’ And everything, every single note she used that gorgeous voice to sing, came out in the same clunking, clumsy way, garbage trucks made of gold. Our glee was palpable. Finally, Maestro lost patience. He threw up his hands in disgust, “Sieda.” Sit. She stood, confused. She pulled at the seams of her yellow dress, not sure what he wanted now. She walked tentatively over to the piano. She hesitated, then turned to look at him, opening and closing her hands with fear. My fellow students and I cheered silently. We were Romans, watching the bleeding lioness limp around the amphitheater. Maestro groaned and strode across the room. He grabbed the quivering girl by her shoulders, marching her stiffly toward a chair. “Sieda,” he said the word slowly, drawing the knife of it across her throat as he shoved her into her seat. Magda era morta. Yes, Magda. Magda from Macedonia is on a farm somewhere now, raising litters of pigs and children. But Mark Vander-something from gracious-knows-where is alive and ambitious and ready to kick his way into the great halls of classical voice. Probably with the help of his parent’s retirement fund. Well, I do think he may have something. Some small chance, at the very least. We will know soon enough. In bocca al lupo, we say for luck in the theater. Into the mouth of the wolf. Mr. Vanderhaar continues to inquire as to when he might sing something besides scales. I think soon, but I don’t tell him this. The want for it will build, and when I do finally give him a song to cut his teeth on, he will mind less that the song’s subject is not heartbreak or rage, but, rather,
shepherding or ash groves. Oh, undoubtedly he thinks he is ready to smash his way through some of the great dramatic pieces, but we will start first with something obscure, something harmless so that all of his pent-up adolescent emoting does not get in the way of his technique. Plenty of time for emoting later. The first thing is to lay the foundations. This is crucial. Human beings do not just wake up one day with the ability to be heard over a hundred-piece orchestra. You must learn to use your cheek bones, your palate, your gut. Get the tongue out of the way. Besides, the boy has no sense of opera yet. Not much sense for classical music at all—quelle surprise. Though, Mr. Vanderhaar is hardly unique in that regard. Most of my students have never seen an opera. When I was at Juilliard, we made the pilgrimage to Lincoln Center every Saturday morning to wait in line for standing room tickets. Our scarves were knotted and wrapped around our throats. We had our tea with lemon, our honey drops in every pocket. Verdi brought out the West Village crowd. The young men in corduroy jackets sat in the line writing short stories about fleeing their small-town lives. These boys wanted cheap tickets for dates, and for Verdi they came in spades. To woo a woman, they knew, Puccini was too expected. Mozart, too cerebral. Verdi, Verdi would get them laid. And the line for Wagner. That was the unpredictable one. You never knew who would show up for Wagner. Young, old—there was no telling. They would practically crawl to Lincoln Center. The woman who had standing room next to me at Rheingold one year had an IV in her arm, if you can imagine such a thing. And at Walkyrie one winter I shared partial view with a man and his Labrador seeing-eye dog. Partial view rather more for me than him, I suppose. But that’s what Wagner does—men, beasts, the sick, the dying—he speaks to the damaged ones. Go. You’ll see what I mean. For Mozart and Puccini we had to get there early. If there was a star—a Domingo, or a Caballe (who, I’m sorry, had a face made for radio)—we had to be in line well before seven to beat the other conservatory students busing in from Boston and Eastman. Someone was always there to study a role. An –ina or an –etta that they had been cast to play in some tiny summer production in Maine. And these lucky few would hold their Greek diner cup of chamomile tea in their eager hands, steaming up the air with their ambition, saying, “My teacher tells me I have to hear how Ileanna Cotruba handles the phrasing in Despina’s arias. She says my voice is like Cotruba’s, only someday I will have even more sparkle in my high register.”
We would all look and nod in faux agreement, secretly wishing these bright young things a lifetime of foulbreathed, pot-bellied tenors, to whom they would need to make endless hours of stage-love. Even on those mornings—perhaps especially on those mornings, when we were engaged in what, for normal people, would be a collegial adventure—we hummed with secret jealousies. We were magnets, repelling and attracting one another from week to week, based on who had been cast in the largest role, who had been given the most coveted aria to practice for next week’s lesson, who might commiserate or celebrate depending on the comments received in master class. We stood in line for hours, damning the strep throat and runny noses we knew would ruin our high notes for weeks. We made time pass by speaking with the old men in line—tell an old man in the standing room line at the Metropolitan Opera that you’re studying at Juilliard, and you will feel like a young goddess. “Sing something,” he will beg, his eyes watering with the cold. Most of us would scuffle our feet, too nervous to lower our mufflers and risk the judgment of our peers. But one girl—one of Beverly Johnson’s students—a blonde haired Lyric named Brenda who had perfect, spinning high notes and a gut like a tuba, she did sing once. The man on that particular morning had told us a story about losing his wife. It was the first opera he had come to without her. I remember Brenda set her tea on the ground and unwound one layer of her great, wool shawl. Her voice was a bit rough—it was far too early in the day for really good singing—but in the end she delivered up a serviceable, sad French chanson, an Elegie by Massenet. A little crowd gathered. A pregnant woman watched and rubbed her belly through her winter coat. The old man wept. No one in line had a tissue to offer him. He blew his nose on the corner of the New York Times. “I will say I heard you when,” he told her. Brenda would not make it far. None of us would. My teacher had already begun to tell me that in my first semester at school. I had a voice—someday, I’d thought—big enough to sing the major roles. But each week after precisely thirty minutes, my teacher would flip down the wooden cover over her piano keys, click shut her case of pencils and hand me my scores: “You’ll make a lovely little living singing weddings, Dear” she would say as she shuffled me out of her studio. She lost interest in me and focused on the ones with more potential. Careers are the currency of voice teachers: there is always a next one—a new long-throated warbler with dreams of a life spent swathed in velvet. But we refused to see that then, and so we waited in line every Saturday, and were envious and eager and hopeful.
I’ve been lending Mr. Vanderhaar recordings. Terfel he liked. And Remy. Clearly he has good instincts. And now I know there is a depth there too. When we do get to the emotion—to the translation and the acting of it—he’ll have some life to draw on. We were speaking about the Requiem recording I’d lent him. Not one I’d lend out to a twenty-something normally. Not an age group that has the capacity for that kind of sorrow—after all, they think they’ll live forever. But Mr.Vanderhaar had seen it on my shelf and asked about it. “That’s what they sing at funerals,” he’d said. Something like that, I’d told him. I decided to offer him the chance to borrow it—it’s the Harnoncourt recording, anyway, and not my favorite. He’d had the CD for several weeks and not said a word. I thought he had lost it or some bumbling roommate of his had stepped on it, or used it for a beer coaster. What did you think of Herr Mozart’s great work, I finally asked him. And he said a thing that surprised me. “When my mother died,” he said, “I couldn’t listen to music for a long time. Nothing I heard could touch how sad I felt.” You can imagine my surprise. I was…touched by his honesty. “If I’d known about this piece then, I would’ve listened to it,” he continued. So. There it is: the boy will look for his mother in every audience he ever stands in front of. Whatever the circumstances of her death, it’s her body he will stab every time he wields a stage knife for a murder scene, it’s her arms he’ll jump to when he steps off the set walls and onto the safety mattresses below. Chiaroscuro: the Italians believe perfect art is a balance of light and dark. We have found, Mr. Vanderhaar, your darkness. He is an eager boy. So many questions. So much to learn. “What is the best performance you ever saw?” he wanted to know. He has a way of getting me talking. Birgit Nilsson’s Tosca, if you must know, Mr. Vanderhaar— it’s not a state secret. Of course every young singer who sees Tosca waits the whole two hours for Vissi d’arte. Just as my own teacher would not let me even translate that aria, I do not presently let my students sing it. I couldn’t stand to hear it sung imperfectly. It would be profane. Probably my teacher felt the same way. Vissi d’arte. “I lived for art.” The opening phrases - to maintain the seamlessness of that line, placement is everything. And aria—air.
One must think critically about the language, about the opportunities the consonants offer you to be heard above the orchestra. Vissi. That first “V.” Teeth on lower lip, and breath. Pianissimo, as written. An Italian accompanist explained this marking to me once: “Piano is the volume you use to say goodnight to a lover when you do not really want him to go to sleep yet. Pianissimo is the volume you use into his ear later, after you have gotten what you want.” I hadn’t had a lover yet—dating was socializing, smoky bars, too much loud talking. Tiring the voice was verboten, so I had no idea what this Italian boy meant, really. To my own students I say, “Piano equals soft. Pianissimo equals softer.” A ‘v’ on pianissimo is death for a singer. Verdi, really was a bit of a prick to start his soprano there, you know. But Nilsson! Nilsson’s pianissimo was—Perfection. And she began from a chair. Now that, my friends, is breath control. That night, as the strings began to move in triplet, Nilsson rose. The violins, the harps, they walked us through the happiness of Tosca’s past, all her good deeds: Sempre con fe sincera la mia preghiera ai santi tabernacoli sali. “Always with true faith my prayer rose to the holy shrines.” When Nilsson practiced that line I’m sure she fought against those triplets—it is so tempting to fall into the rhythm of the strings there. But you mustn’t. There’s nothing else to say about it. You mustn’t. If you want to see longing, look away from the stage at a moment like that. Certainly you will see young men ignoring the music, using the darkness as cover while they stare down the blouses of their dates. You will notice the society people in their box seats, there to see and be seen. Find the poets, the musicians. Look down the line, in the dark, at the faces of the people standing next to you. Watch them as they listen. They will close their eyes. They will lift their faces. Mr. Vanderhaar’s father came to see me today. Hardly an elegant man—his son’s demeanor must come more from the dead mother. The father fixes cars for a living: an automechanic. How noble. Clearly he is flattered by the attention I give his son. He kept going on about it. How much time I spend with the boy. How he understands that it must be difficult to fit lessons in with my busy schedule—so many students needing my time—but that he would hope I could see the boy during what he called “more traditional hours.” I told him opera does not take place at lunch time. Ridiculous! I really don’t know what the fuss is about—it
was a stage kiss. We are actors. We are free with our bodies. We use one another. The problem is that Miss Garmond is a simpering Mimi, particularly next to Mr. Vanderhaar’s very skillful rendering of the duet. And if she had had an ounce of passion and the ability to follow even the simplest of stage directions, I would not have needed to step in. Really. That girl is a flibbertigibbet. She has misinterpreted the entire incident, much like she has misinterpreted the entire role. Meanwhile, while everyone has become lunatic over this absurd investigation, I have remained efficient, forwardthinking. I have sent a tape of Mr. Vanderhaar’s Rodolfo to Mallas and some of the others in New York, just for a listen. Of course none of them has responded to my letter. None of them has bothered to pick up the phone to call me. Probably too jealous, too amazed that the one they’d forgotten, the one they’d thought had disappeared into the backwoods of Minnesota to take a lowly teaching job, has found her treasure.
And this provost! Meddlesome and small-minded. A bumpkin! What does a provost know about the pains one endures to teach music? To make art? Of course it is standard practice to take videotape of students! As teacher and student, we cannot attend to everything in the moment, and so we must record our work together: the breath, the posture, the shoulders, the ribcage—is it staying expanded? Is the diaphragm doing all that it should, all that it can? This is a physical art—this is not whistling! We are vessels. For sound. For God. We are vessels. And the mouth. The mouth must be soft and pliable, and soft, warm. That is… the tone. It must have warmth. Must be free of the bad habits that creep in, that fracture and obstruct the purity. That interrupt the dreamer’s dreaming, that make the jaw tighten, and bring tension into the neck and the shoulders where tension does not belong. And the tongue! The soft palate. These things cannot get in the way or they will trap the language, disrupt the beauty of the lyric. What do deans and provosts—what do auto-mechanics know about music? About the manner in which we release sound from deep The opera requires us to give our all, and Mr. Vanderhaar inside ourselves. It is sacred, what we do, this calling to stubbornly refuses. Imagine. A career at his feet—and I one another through sound, through song. Cowards! I don’t mean some hack tour of the small houses in Germany, don’t want to feel things. That’s all this is. Feeling things on I mean a career. The Met. The Lyric. Santa Fe. Even La Scala, behalf of those with less courage. E diedi il canto agli astri, Covent Garden, maybe. The voice is big enough. Some al ciel! We send our songs to the stars and the sky. discipline and more work on that upper register—the middle range has opened up nicely. Years away, of course. I have been informed that Mr. Vanderhaar has dropped Not tomorrow, not with the way he still puts his F’s in his my class. nose, and his Italian still sounds like his French, which is to say: no one in either country will understand a word. Mr. Vanderhaar. Mark. But I think he has it. “I want to be normal,” Mr. Vanderhaar told me when I Continue the exercises we have practiced. In particular, came to his room, “It’s too hard. I don’t want to feel things.” I hope you will recognize how crucial the E-vowel is for I don’t want to feel things. Bah! As if it’s a choice! I good vocal health and that you will be diligent about your practiced for hours in those tiny rooms that felt like coffins scales—always to the fifth and then to the octave. You must they had no windows, no light. No, I will not go to your also concentrate on opening your upper register: b-flat, high party. No, I will not have a drink. No, I will not go to bed C…the money notes, they call them. A coarse expression. In with you, I told that accompanist, though he was hand- fact, these notes require great delicacy. Vulnerability. You some, though I was lonely. What twenty-one year old girl put nothing on a pitch that high. It is as naked as a soul. is lonely in Italy? Lonely, yes. And terrified. Every time I You place it well. You add the breath. And then, you let it knocked on my teacher’s door to open my mouth and be go. You give it to the people sitting out there in the theater, judged and be pushed and be told it was not good, it was and they are Tosca now. They paint it with all the things not right. But I took that fear and I took my score and I they have ever lost—their great loves and hopes. And when went back to that airless room and I sang it again. Sempre the last, ringing tone of that note has finished, and it is con fè sincera diedi fiori agl’altar. I gave my flowers. Diedi time for the final lines, you stand on the stage alone. Perche, gioielli della Madonna al manto. I gave my jewels. But it was Signor? You sing into the darkness, “Signor, perche me ne not enough. I was not lucky like some young, backwoods rimuneri cosi?” “My God, why do you reward me like this?” Minnesota tenors are, to find a teacher who believed in me, who saw my light. Kathryn Bezella
EVERY WHICH WAY Just jump in youâ€™re invited to bits & pieces of music tiny piccolo notes prancing or cello hammock-rocks. The big brass section asks Where are we now in bed with politicians or with beloved by the sea of salt-pure air retired or working our tails off scorched with rage or blissfully content fearful to the n-th degree of not enough or knowing love the greatest wealth. Closets full of angelic Gays jumping to get out drawers full of too-long-worn clothing nubby rubbing us wearers viewers alike the wrong way. Daring to release old shame blame pointing fingers at & inward. Naked dance of joy to the tune of kids grandkids giggling wiggling their way tighter closer inside our hearts. All those parts & switches compulsive itchings to get things right taming our shrewd inner witches connected to trillions of starry circuits darkness & intermittent moon glow. Light at beginning of tunnel. B.E. Kahn
SEDNA’S LECTURE TO THE FISH I was meant to marry a hunter They were all the same Except one dressed in furs Face hidden by a hood
I went straight to the bottom And sat down as the sharks Circled and the whales Sang praises now everything
Father chose him for me I didn’t want to go He took me to a cliff Laid me down on animal hair
Is water and the birds Can’t fly down here and I like it When the shamans come To wash my body with fine sand
Removed his cloak Black wings spread out He brought me raw fish I was cold all the time
They pick out crabs from my hair Comb it With their fingers Untangle the dark knots
I cried and cried till father found me Took me away in the kayak But Raven appeared in the sky Dipped his wing into the sea Causing a storm that shook And tossed the boat that’s when father Threw me to the water Saying take her back, take her back Trying to make me a sacrifice To some pissy spirit of the sea I grabbed the kayak and then Were the blows To my fingers and then Was the freezing feeling as each one Broke off, first one hand and then the next And then the seals grew out of my fingers And the whales and then My legs shut tight and toes spread Into webbed flesh and I was swimming Fast down into the dark And I wasn’t scared The seals were all around The way their bodies twisted Was like laughter
SEDNA IN TEXAS Goodbye, North it’s been nice bossing the waters teasing the men with seal meat but there’s somewhere else I should be. I got a call from a girl in Texas last week eleven years old and I’m swimming with ten thousand sharks through the muck of the Gulf of Mexico. I crawl on shore dripping oil and you should see the look on the men’s faces as I shove thunder into their earholes twenty men including the one who shot the rape on his phone and spread the video around school. I find the girl staring at the ceiling in her cold bedroom trembling. She is confused by what the lawyer said and she’s afraid to say the wrong thing but help she can say help and I scoop her up in the palm of my hand cover her in peppermint and aloe and comb the hair on her small head.
RECOVERING The police asked to retrace our steps Which was odd just like the movies Bev disappeared Went up, up, up The dead all float majestically and back to nature for more nurture more gathering of materials before the great return How strange what a feeling children coming up from nothing taking everything like giant gorgeous flowers covering a field and ten hills beyond that my veins deemed good the sun intensifying the hot water electric light These are some blessings These are some points of pride Goodbye, you went uptown to look for a hat we never saw you again oh well you are just upscale shopping in the tropics moving with the seasons Oh well, we all disappeared into our own enclaves private ovens ceramic classes new songs
Oh well, how grand like a ballroom like a drink like an island like a staircase a a a Remember when we decided not to go to Thailand and we still regret it or at least I do Oh well, I did not make it in time for Bev I stayed behind with my own process A map I was drawing drowning Darwining Whatever I was doing it was not enough no movement and not in the right direction Natalie Lyalin
QUERIDA ISLA querida isla, Allow la humedad to wrap around the bars of my window until each glistens with your sweat; allow it to grow with the speed of anything green in your soil. Let la humedad into my kitchen, my sponge, my cereal boxes; concentrate my life with flavor and damp it until all is flat and stale. Allow it into the pores on my nose, into my blood and brain, so that cars approaching at midnight are waves reaching high tide, and the throats of locusts and crickets swell and balloon like coquis. The mosquitoes have left my blankets, withdrawn syringes from my skin, but humedad — drug of summer, of tin bucket rust afternoons and amber streetlight darkness—rests on the lagoon’s rim, above the water tension. What sinks below, what I hide from the thick air, surfaces one bubble at a time, and la humedad sucks it dry.
querida isla, You flood me, then haunt me, like Avenida Providencia during day, then night: when all the kids in baseball uniforms sleep behind locked gates, birds with long tails have nested in the kapoks, and our brothers have gathered beneath the interstate. Manny sleeps on his cardboard sign, cleans his ostomy with lagoon water and spit. Sand does not naturally slope at a 45-degree angle to water. Tides wear a body down to its ribs.
querida isla, Some days words stop emerging from mouths, and we place them on repeat. They march around campus until chanting takes away their meaning. They become urgency: boots stomping pavement, a bull-horn that sounds like authority, a call and response, a muscle flexed in pain, rigid against healing (rigid for healing). The words look like piles of chairs blocking stairways, or piles of trashcans barricading doors. They look like a coffee urn covered in wasps, or Tibetan prayer flags. The words march circles around the droning electric of buildings—the library air conditioning keeping the mold out of books, the basement offices dehumidifying their thickness—and Angel waits for them in the lab, typing our histories. Kate Brady
RICKY’S TURN Once I interrupted a machinist bent over his work because I know those types always have their beams of light handy, usually mounted face-forward. He tinkered with my lips for hours until we got them to close properly. I rarely go out with non-machinists. My last date was going well until thousands of freetailed bats began their nightly pilgrimage from somewhere deep inside me to somewhere in the upper atmosphere. The English teacher I took to the Olive Garden that night couldn’t get a word in after the breadsticks arrived. Because of the bats. I know deep down it’s like putting on an oxygen mask in a compromised airplane situation. You have to start with yourself. As it is I’m over myself. I’m done with it. There are actual chimera. Sometimes a woman fails a maternity test even when the child in question is demonstrably her child. There is no question. The mother is a chimera. She is OK! A team from the bbc has been filming inside me since 1992. Lord knows what footage they have or where they are inside me. When I hear voices in my head, I always have to wonder. They sound like they are filming something frightening. I hope being inside me is more like an adventure for them, and that it brings them together at least as a team, if not sexually. I think about them a lot. The older you are the more people you have inside. Why the dolls are called babushka. But not everyone fits inside everyone. Me, for example. I am an outer doll with no beams of light to call my own. I look out regular eyes. I became a machine tender so I could meet more machinists but I should have become a machine. Machines are so lucky to be resembled thoughtfully and they are. I have yet to be resembled. I brought a border collie to help me tend the machines but she was taken by overhead cranes and manufactured, as were my primary and secondary finches. I went to Target and Kmart and Walmart to purchase the animals again in new boxes but I kept getting semblances instead. Finally a manager asked what shop I tended at and said those products go to Afghanistan not to local chains. I told him nothing about our chains resembled anything I ever looked for in America. All I saw were semblances. He apologized with his beams of light shining and offered me thirty winks. I took them lying down.
IN LIEU OF The weariest word to describe — a sense-fatigue a fatness in the eyes. One can only imagine.
I’m fighting toilets now. Prince plunger, Scarlet Coat-hanger, Lumber jam cleared. The bowl can’t handle it.
Addled generations can’t process, thumbs over crotches, hummingbird wings.
Mein schadenfreude mug Pours foreclosures and fraud. Nothing works as scripted, In the bailout till,
Blackberries and razors The bees can’t make honey Tiny makes make you small. The world shrieks,
I want blood in the sidewalks. White noise, muffled laughs Here’s what I want. Life. Thin. Emily Dickinson. Family time.
Think small, exist small. What tiny places arise? Little snots, dreaded zits I need more slimming tea.
Gutters that don’t leak. Toilets that don’t clog. Feet on damp grass. I want a shore, a line and a rod. I want to throw back everything I catch.
translations from Israeli poet Shez
BE ROUGH, BE INDIFFERENT Be rough, be indifferent Go hard for a moment go so soft and walk away from me I won’t be able to live without your blows Kick me rebuke me spit Curse the day I was born curse my mother mock her memory erect a garbage heap on her grave roll in a wheelbarrow of dog shit fuck me there legs spread wide That stone, her tombstone, is cold, cold and the heat of the sun is in your cunt
I WILL SEVER
TONIGHT AGAIN THE GIRL
I will sever connections with Jerusalem, I swear— any residue of reason commands that I do. But the softness of your breasts through your blouse the heat of your hands this madness
Tonight again the girl is sleeping she doesn’t hear how God arrives in wreathes of smoke around her bed again the girl is sleeping again the girl is sleeping instead of being wounded by a heavy hand instead of being stripped of clothes instead of a belt lashing white skin How did you dare to cry dare to make yourself heard your voice high and hoarse You will sing, girl you will sing you will sing beautiful songs
GETSUYOBI A dragonfly landed on my shoulder yesterday and told me an interesting story: “Before this earth or cloud, there was flame, and Before this flame, there was thought, and Before this thought, was water, which Trembled in the belly of a frog. This frog who lives in a mountain cistern told me an interesting story: ‘When I was young, I slept a great sleep. I lived many dreams I do not remember. And when I came to, I was feverishly hot. I built a cool firmament, covered in stars. Morning had passed; it was night once more. I returned to sleep and woke under this mountain.’ And before that, not even god knows what happened.”
Philadelphia writing Directory To list your organization, reading series, bookstore, or workshop on a sliding scale provided only to members of the Philadelphia literary community, please e-mail email@example.com.
Literary Organizations MAD POETS SOCIETY Mad Poets, a regional non-profit 501(c)(3) tax exempt arts organization, has presented over a thousand special events since its inception in 1987, for the purpose of promoting poetry, spoken word and the literary arts. MPS publishes Mad Poets Review; annually presents dozens of events (7 to 15 separate series); master classes, workshops, bonfires, informal critique circles, open mikes and poetry readings. Funded in part by the PA Council on the Arts. Contact Eileen D’Angelo PO Box 1248, Media, PA 19063-8248 firstname.lastname@example.org madpoetssociety.com
MONTGOMERY COUNTY POET LAUREATE PROGRAM Check this out the Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program (MCPL), which offers a variety of activities that introduce the community to poetry and provide opportunities for learning and competition. MCPL organizes and conducts the annual Poet Laureate Competition open to all residents age 18 and older. Submission deadline: Monday, February 3, 2014. Contact Joanne Leva PO Box 441, Hatfield PA 19440 email@example.com montcopoet.com
MUSEHOUSE: A CENTER FOR THE LITERARY ARTS Musehouse is a non-profit center for the literary arts located in Chestnut Hill, known for its welcoming environment. Workshops in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, playwriting and book arts are offered for writers of all ages and levels of experience. Instructors include prize-winning authors and seasoned teachers from local colleges and other literary organizations. Author readings, free and open to the public, are offered almost every Saturday evening. Contact 7924 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118 267-331-9552 firstname.lastname@example.org musehousecenter.com
THE HEAD & THE HAND PRESS The Head & The Hand Press is a Philadelphia craft publishing company that thrives on deep collaboration with writers throughout the publishing process to produce novels, chapbooks, and our Almanac series. We also operate a writers’ co-working space called “The Workshop” where writers can work on projects in a quiet and creative environment, as well as find opportunities to publish and events to share work with the Philadelphia literary community. Contact 2011 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia PA 19125 267-702-6744 email@example.com theheadandthehand.com
WARRIOR WRITERS Warrior Writers is a veteran-focused arts organization that fosters artistic exploration and expression through casual, welcoming workshops and retreats. We are a community of military veterans, service members, artists, allies, civilians, and healers dedicated to creativity and wellness. Our mission is to create a culture that articulates veterans’ experiences, provide a creative community for artistic expression, and bear witness to the lived experiences of warriors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org warriorwriters.org
Reading Series THE EROTIC LITERARY SALON A safe and comfortable space to share steamy words (nothing censored). Participate as a writer, reader, storyteller (fiction & non-fiction) or just come to listen, enjoy and applaud. Talk Q&A (subjects vary) – prior to readings. Participants say: “Best $10 I’ve spent for entertainment in a long time.” “I never knew such a life of honesty could exist … this event changed my life.” E-mail to sign up in advance to read. 3rd Tuesday of every month. Contact TIME (The Bohemian Absinthe Lounge) 1315 Sansom St. Philadelphia, PA PCSalons@gmail.com theEroticliterarysalon.com
THE FUZE The Fuze is Philly’s longest-running PSI-certified poetry slam, offering competing poets a chance at representing Philly at national poetry events. Every second and last Friday of the month, the Fuze invites you into their poetry living room for an open mic, a feature performance from a local or touring poet, and a slam with a cash prize. An uncensored, all-ages event encompassing all genres and styles of performance, the Fuze offers something for everyone. $10 general admission, $5 for students. Contact Studio 34 Yoga 4522 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia PA email@example.com facebook.com/FuzePoetry
MAKING POEMS THAT LAST WORKSHOP WITH LEONARD GONTAREK
PENN BOOK CENTER PENN BOOK CENTER LOVES POETRY! University City’s independent scholarly bookstore for over 50 years is a haven for Philadelphia poetry lovers! In addition to the best poetry selection around, Penn Book Center also hosts the Random Name Poetry Series, a showcase for innovative writing and local authors. Readings are Saturdays at 2pm – visit pennbookcenter.com for schedules (and enjoy the Poem of the Day!). Contact 130 S. 34th Street, Philadelphia PA 215-222-7600 pennbookcenter.com
THE WOODEN SHOE We are an all-volunteer collectively-run Infoshop located in Philadelphia, PA that seeks to embody the principles of anarchism and other movements for social justice. We strive to provide our local community with radical and non-traditional sources of written, digital, and spoken information. We wish to be an empowering resource for activism, organizing, art, self-education, dialogue, community-building, and the anti-capitalist struggle. We are open every day from Noon to Ten.
Saturdays, 11–1:00 PM. $22 per class. Location: 4221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Contact Leonard Gontarek firstname.lastname@example.org 215.808.9507 leafscape.org/LeonardGontarek
THE ART OF CRAFT: A SERIES OF CRAFT TALKS AND WORKSHOPS The Art of Craft is an ongoing series of craft lessons and workshops by Elliott batTzedek. Each session addresses one element of the poet’s craft: meter, beat, the line, syntax, music, and more. The series is for poets, poetry fans, and for teachers who want to bring new tools to their students. We meet at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. Contact Big Blue Marble Bookstore 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19119 email@example.com http://tinyurl.com/ArtofCraft
Contact 704 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 Woodenshoebooks.com
Freelance Writing, Editing and Consulting
AUGUST TARRIER, PH.D: PHILLY’S PREMIERE MANUSCRIPT CONSULTANT, GHOST WRITER, EDITOR
THE RED SOFA SALON & POETRY WORKSHOP The Red Sofa is a salon and workshop led by poet Hila Ratzabi in her living room. We discuss published poems, share our own poems, and offer feedback in a safe and supportive environment. Wine and homemade vegetarian food is included. Workshop occurs in batches of six weekly sessions ($240). See website for current schedule, and news on the Red Sofa Retreat in Costa Rica (April 27–May 3, 2014)! Contact Private residence Philadelphia, PA, 19143 @redsofasalon redsofasalon.com
THE LIFE OF THE POET WORKSHOP WITH LEONARD GONTAREK Thursdays, 5:30–7 PM. $16 per class. Location: The Good Karma Cafe, 928 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA. Contact Leonard Gontarek firstname.lastname@example.org 215.808.9507 leafscape.org/LeonardGontarek
What you get: A sanguine collaborator, sleeve rollerupper, worker of modest miracles, diviner of mysteries, and seer of all things narrative. I teach writing workshops in Center City (First Person Arts, Broad Street Ministry, etc.), at Graterford Prison, and at area universities. Writing the Great American novel? Plumbing the depths of your life story for a memoir? Get in touch. Contact August4@verizon.net Augusttarrier.com
POEMS INTO PRINT: YOUR POETRY BUSINESS MANAGER 80% of poets are unhappy with how often they submit. Poems Into Print is dedicated to changing that. We help poets chose which poems to send to which markets, and take care of proof-reading, formatting, submissions, tracking, editing, and publicity. Have a chapbook or manuscript? We’ll help you find a home for those, too. At Poems Into Print, we do the business so you can do the writing. Contact poemsintoprint.wordpress.com
Author Biographies Sojourner Ahebee is a Senior at Interlochen Arts Academy, where she majors in Creative Writing. Though she was born in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa, she currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in Stone Soup Magazine, Apiary Magazine, The Red Wheelbarrow, Teen Ink, The Best Teen Writing of 2012, and most recently The Interlochen Review. She has received two gold medals from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Much of her work is involved in her search for home, due to the fact that she left Cote d’Ivoire after the start of the Ivorian Civil War. This school year (2013–14) she will serve as a National Student Poet.
Taylor Jones is a creative writing major. Poetry is his love, but recently he’s been flirting with creative nonfiction. His work, “Night Dreaming,” was inspired by all the nights he’s spent walking aimlessly trying to get his thoughts together. It can be found in the Spring 2013 issue of Widener Ink.
Elliott batTzedek holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University; her translation of “Dance of the Lunatic” by Israeli lesbian writer Shez won the 2012 Robert Bly Translation prize, judged by Martha Collins. She is also the recipient of a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Award. Her work appears or is forthcoming in: Massachusetts Review, DoubleSpeak, Armchair/Shotgun, Adanna Literary Journal, Trivia, Naugatuck River Review, Lambda Literary Online, Sinister Wisdom, 2012 Two Lines Translation Anthology. She blogs about poetry and translation at thisfrenzy.com.
Patrick Lucy lives in Philadelphia where he’s a partner in a small advertising agency. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, elimae, Revista Laboratorio (translations by Carlos Soto-Román), NOÖ Weekly, Bright Pink Mosquito, La Fovea and more. Patrick keeps a blog & ephemeral press at catchconfetti.com.
Naseem Barzagan craves light and space, likes to occupy all rooms at once. Jillian Benedict is a English and creative writing major at Widener University. She is also editor-in-chief of Widener’s online literary journal, The Blue Route, the manager of the English Club, and a senior editor for Widener Ink. When not saddled with homework or meetings for extracurricular activities, she enjoys baking cakes from a box, watching HBO shows, and trying to write stories longer than half a page. Kathryn Bezella is a graduate of Barnard College and received her Masters degree from Penn. She is a member of the Backyard Writers Workshop. North Philadelphia native Ed Braxton graduated from Temple University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Political Economy. His interests in political economy stem from his interests in power. Through poetry he tries to make sense of power. He walks a lot. It’s the only way to get away sometimes. Lately Philadelphia poet Jim Cory has been spending a lot of time in Rittenhouse Square. Some would say too much. Ryan Eckes lives in South Philadelphia. He’s the author of Old News (Furniture Press, 2011), Valu-Plus (Furniture Press, 2014), and other books. He works as an adjunct at Temple University and Community College of Philadelphia. James Esch lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania and teaches literature and writing at Widener University. He is editor of Turk’s Head Review (turksheadreview.com). His recent fiction and poetry has appeared in Martian Lit, Stoneslide Corrective, Black Heart Magazine, and Lyre Lyre. Sibelan Forrester is a poet and a translator of poetry and prose from Croatian, Russian and Serbian. In her day job, she is a Professor of Russian at Swarthmore College. Leonard Gontarek is the author of five books of poems, most recently, He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs (Hanging Loose Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Field, Poet Lore, Verse, Exquisite Corpse, Poetry Northwest, and in the anthologies The Best American Poetry, The Working Poet, and Joyful Noise: American Spiritual Poetry. He has received two Pennsylvania Arts Council Poetry Fellowships and was the 2011 Philadelphia Literary Death Match Champion. He conducts poetry workshops at Musehouse and in the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership. www.leafscape.org/ LeonardGontarek Brandon Holmquest writes and translates poems and cooks food for money in Philadelphia. Valerie Hsiung is a poet, playwright, screenwriter and musician. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Apiary Magazine, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Juked, Mad Hatters’ Review, Moonshot, New Delta Review, PEN Poetry Series, Spittoon, VOLT and elsewhere. She studied literary translation and ecologic arts at Brown University. Two of her books – incantation inarticulate and under your face – are out with O Balthazar Press. http://valeriehsiung.com
B.E. Kahn is a Pushcart Prize nominee, recipient of Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and Pew Grants and other honors; 2013 Finalist, Mad Poets J-de-V Book Contest. Her poems appear in Harrisburg Review, SVJ, Tupelo Press Online and numerous publications. Author of three chapbooks: Spring Apples Silver Birch, Landscapes of Light, Night Spark: The Zoe Poems.
Natalie Lyalin is the author of the forthcoming Blood Makes Me Faint, But I Go For It (Ugly Duckling Presse 2014), Pink & Hot Pink Habitat (Coconut Books 2009), and a chapbook, Try A Little Time Travel (Ugly Duckling Presse 2010). She is a part of the Agnes Fox Press editing collective and the cofounder and coeditor of Natural History Press. She lives in Philadelphia. Elizabeth knauss is from Philadelphia and currently works with Schiffer Publishing. She studied at Rosemont College and Temple University, sometimes. Travis Macdonald is a poet, copywriter, editor and occasional essayist. His most recent books of poetry include: Title Bout (Shadow Mountain Press 2011), BAR/koans (Erg Arts 2011), Hoop Cores (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press 2011), Sight & Sigh (Beard of Bees 2011), N7ostradamus (BlazeVox Books 2010), Basho’s Phonebook (E-ratio 2009) and The O Mission Repo [ vol. 1] (Fact-Simile Editions 2008). Other poetry and prose has appeared in print, online and elsewhere. He works long hours and lives happily in the Mt. Airy area of Philadelphia with his fiancée and Fact-Simile Editions (www.fact-simile.com) co-founder JenMarie Davis. Philip Mittereder is an author of prose, poetry, and nonfiction, editor-in-chief of Mad House* magazine. He does not hold an MFA, teaching position, or profitdriven job related to writing/publishing (unless you count the fact that people accomplish such things in a café). Jamie North has an MFA in poetry from St. Mary’s College of CA. Charles O’Hay’s work has appeared in over 100 publications since 1987. His first collection of poetry and photographs—Far from Luck—was published in 2011 by Lucky Bat Books (Reno, NV). Hila Ratzabi was selected by Adrienne Rich as a recipient of a National Writers Union Poetry Prize, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and received an Amy Award. Her chapbook, The Apparatus of Visible Things, is published by Finishing Line Press. Her book-length poetry manuscript, No One Blue, has twice been a finalist for the To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize. She is the editor-inchief of the journal Storyscape. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and lives in Philadelphia where she found the Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop. Carrie Reilly is a Taurus (just in case you wanted to know). She earned a B.S. in Education from Temple University. After teaching English for several years, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Carrie recently left academia to live the dream of retail management. She lives and writes in Philadelphia with her love and three cats. Jacob Russell makes visual art and poems in a warehouse in Kensington. Elizabeth Scanlon is an Editor of The American Poetry Review. Her new chapbook, Odd Regard, is available from ixnay press. Her play, Everyone and I, based on the work of Frank O’Hara, premiered at the Kimmel Center in 2013. Kasi Senghor says: I LOVE TO WRITE POETRY. I AM CHALLENGED BY FORM POEMS THAT SPEAK TO THEMES. IN THIS CONTEST I USE ALLITERATION. I’VE BEEN WRITING SINCE MY TEENAGE YEARS. I AM AN EX-PRESIDENT OF THE WRITERS UNION OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO. I AM CURRENTLY A MEMBER OF THE CIRCLE OF POETS.
Lisa Sewell is the author of two books of poems: The Way Out and Name Withheld, and a chapbook, Long Corridor, which won the 2009 Keystone Chapbook contest. She has received grants and awards from the Leeway Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and held residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Fundacion Valparaiso and The Tyrone Guthrie Center. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Harvard Review, The Fox Chase Review and Drunken Boat. She lives in Philadelphia and teaches at Villanova University. Fereshteh Sholevar was born and raised in Tehran, Iran, where she studied foreign languages. She both taught and worked as a translator. In 1978, after the Iranian revolution, she and her German husband, along with her 2-month old daughter left Iran and went to Germany. Sholevar immigrated to USA in 1990. She received a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Rosemont College, PA. She has written six books of poetry, two of which are bilingual. She says she doesn’t belong to one culture and has a universal voice. Her novel, Her Name Was Samira, was published in 2012 by the Infinity Publishing. Her poems have appeared in many literary magazines in USA and Germany. Sabrina Slipchenko: sometimesy vegetarian. Love child of Buddha and Danny Brown. I can say the alphabet backwards in four languages. Can anyone teach me how to be a princess? Once I found the meaning of life but I forgot to write it down. Team Black/PYPM/dashikis and warpaint, ahhhhhh!!! Adam J. Sorkin is a translator of contemporary Romanian poetry whose work has won the Poetry Society (U.K.) Prize for European Poetry Translation, the Kenneth Rexroth Memorial Translation Prize and the Ioan Flora Poetry Translation Prize, among other awards. He teaches at Penn State Brandywine. Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela has been recognized by The Leeway Foundation, Hedgebrook and others. Her work has been published in Make/shift, The Rust Belt Rising, Asterix and is forthcoming in All About Skin: An Anthology of Short Fiction by Award-Winning Women Writers of Color. She is a founder of Thread Makes Blanket Press, threadmakesblanket.com, which is about to publish Dismantle, an anthology of work from VONA. She teaches at Community College of Philadelphia. Dave Worrell’s first chapbook titled We Who Were Bound was published in August 2012 by Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. His poems have appeared in U.S. 1 Worksheets, Mad Poets Review, Exit 13, Wild River Review, Fox Chase Review and Adanna. He has performed his music-backed poems at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia and The Cornelia Street Café in New York. Described as an “extraordinary performance poet,” Sekai’afua Zankel has won the Frank Moore Poetry Prize and been awarded a “Leeway Art and Change” grant to present her poetry play, Miss Pearl In the Mysteries of Mirrors. Her poems have been published for CAP magazine, and in the Poetry Ink anthologies.
Artist Biographies Miguel Co is a freelance illustrator living in South Philadelphia. He graduated from The University of the Arts located in Center City. His work has been in The New York Times, Las Vegas Weekly, Cred Magazine, The Wall Breakers, Popshot Magazine, etc. He also illustrated a children’s book for Tanglewood Books Publishing. Miguel is heavily inspired by animals and skies with unique colors, usually found in his work. Candace Karch started saving everything as art supplies from an early age. In high school she won most individualistic and wore an Aqua Net Mohawk. It was the 80’s. After graduating from the University of The Arts, with a BFA in Photography, she spent the next 12 years traveling. She worked on archaeological digs in Greece, gave drinking tours in London, collaged in Paris, watched the Berlin wall collapse, food styled in Prague, walked inside a glacier, spent endless days at museums and photographed everything in front of her. It wasn’t until she settled in California and wrote faux singles ads for an Oakland rag, Urban View, that she realized she wanted to own a gallery in Philadelphia. Bambi Gallery was born in 2005. Karch curated new shows every first Friday for 6 years without taking a break. Proudly, she showed over 300 local artists. The gallery has since closed and she is back in her studio continuing her photographic series.
Philadelphia-based photographer Katrina Ohstrom’s documentary projects include post-agricultural rural landscapes, post-industrial urban landscapes, the privatization of public education, experimental electronic music and cat show culture. Ohstrom’s photos have been spotted in Megawords Magazine, Hidden City Philadelphia, Jacobin Magazine, Huffington Post, Konbini, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and on the websites of East Village Radio and Bomb Magazine among others. Occasionally she exhibits in a gallery setting. She also photographs weddings, events and family portraits. You can find her work at katrinaohstrom.com. Nick Pedersen is a photographer and illustrator from Salt Lake City. He holds a BFA degree in Photography, as well as an MFA degree in Digital Imaging from Pratt Institute in New York. He has shown artwork in galleries across the country and internationally, recently including the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, the Museum of Russian Art, the Slingluff Gallery, Bastardo Gallery, and Copper Palate Press. His work has also been featured in numerous publications such as After Capture, Beautiful Decay, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, and Empty Kingdom. In the past year he has also completed Artist Residencies at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada and the Gullkistan Residency in Iceland to work on his newest project Ultima. www.nick-pedersen.com www.behance.net/nickpedersen Shawn Theodore says: My work is an interpretation of Black existential philosophy through fine art mobile photography. The city is my canvas and the people, my paint. I prefer to shoot candidly in isolated situations punctuated by uniquely decorated, deeply saturated hues. I’m inspired by Barkley L. Hendricks and Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas. I want to evoke the feeling of collage, close to what one would see in a Romare Bearden. With that in mind, I include memory as a medium of my creativity as well. When I’m shooting or scouting, I’m remembering the pieces I’ve seen that have influenced my style. Find more at www.shawntheodo.re or on Instagram as /_xST.
Image listing Miguel Co Aurora Nessy Great Grey Owl Life Straw Breach
Page 4 Page 14 Page 23 Page 26 Page 33
Candace Karch Untitled Untitled Untitled
icantstopchasingyou.com Page 8 Page 38 Page 55
Katrina Ohstrom Spring Garden School Edison High Edison High
katrinaohstrom.com Page 25 Page 53 Page 56
Nick Pedersen Guiding Signs Eyvindartunga Beast with Metal Skin Bridge to Ruins The Spirit Journey
nick-pedersen.com Page 9 Page 11 Page 12 Page 21 Page 61
Shawn Theodore The Resurrection of Saartjie Bartman Sheldon This Ain’t No Pancake Box
shawntheodo.re Page 7 Page 29 Page 42
Villanova University When Passion Leads, Success Follows
What do successful teachers, writers, publishers, lawyers, non-profit leaders, actors and scientists have in common? Many of them got their start with a graduate degree in the Arts from Villanova University. Graduate Degrees and Certificates in the Arts: • Classical Studies
• Hispanic Studies
• Political Science
• Liberal Studies
You can also combine your master’s degree in the humanities with a practical certificate in non-profit management, communication, or education.
For more information or to apply, visit gradartsci.villanova.edu.
The best new local writing -- poetry, prose, and nonfiction -- from Philadelphia. In collaboration with prison reform advocacy group Decarce...
Published on Dec 16, 2013
The best new local writing -- poetry, prose, and nonfiction -- from Philadelphia. In collaboration with prison reform advocacy group Decarce...