J U NE 2013
Decisions by J. Scott Bugher, oil on linen
Stacia Fleegal Co-Founder, Managing Editor, & Poetry Co-Editor Teneice Durrant Delgado Co-Founder & Poetry Co-Editor John Steele Fiction Co-Editor Bethany Brownholtz Art Director, Co-Editor, & Graphic Designer Stephanie Crets Fiction Co-Editor Quinn Rennerfeldt Fairchild Poetry Co-Editor Omar Figueras Fiction Co-Editor Tiffany Grayson Fiction & Poetry Co-Editor Jessica Hume Poetry Co-Editor Dariel Suarez Fiction Co-Editor Barrett Warner Poetry & Reviews Co-Editor
About Blood Lotus is an online literary quarterly established in 2006. It is run by editors who refuse to believe everything has already been written and who want to promote your best writing as proof. Submission Guidelines Please carefully review the guidelines posted on bloodlotusjournal.com. Blood Lotus acquires first time North American rights upon publication as well as the right to archive your work online. ÂŠ 2013 No part of Blood Lotus may be reproduced in any form without prior written consent from the publisher. blo odlotusjour na l.com
In This Issue... Letter from the Editors Brandon Lewis
Salt Creek Falls
Memory II by Neil de la Flor James Englehardt
Working the Claim James Englehardt
Learning to Run
Triad by Neil de la Flor
Abyss, 2009 by Scott Parker, acrylic on canvas Bleuzette La Feir
Kissing Snakes And Swallowing Swords Rossen Karamfilov Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
6 7 9 10 11 12 13 16 17
Falling Note On The Fridge I Had To Be Born In February
18 19 21
Blue Angel by Neil de la Flor
Valentin Dishev Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
Exhuming the poetic body Kevin Tosca
You Have One New Message
Red Angel by Neil de la Flor Bryan Stephenson
Jâ€™s Idea of Fun
From Boyhood Maggie Rosen
Revenants I: Eighty-eight Seconds Revenants II: Kwame A Bad Day at Morningside Homes Funeral March Revenants III â€“ Willow Oaks
Arco, 2009 by Scott Parker, acrylic on canvas
22 24 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38
Give Me The Noise (I am not yet distracted enough) Gianmarc Manzione
0. The Fool
16. The Tower Tara Roeder
bit versus the blues
Memory I by Neil de la Flor Jon Mathewson
43 44 44
What to Do with the Corpse Catherine Hackman
Clowns With Mustaches
Singularity by Neil de la Flor Peycho Kanev
46 50 51
And tomorrow Evelyn Somers
The Discontinuity of History
Point by Neil de la Flor Emily Thomas
100 Shows to See Before You Die Tunnel areas are marked
Binary by Neil de la Flor
blo o dlotusjour na l.com
Letter from the Editors
ou might have noticed that this issue was late coming. Like, a month late. Our bad. At least it isn’t pregnant—with anything but spectacular writing, that is.
In an effort to ensure the lateness doesn’t happen again, and to expand what we think was already a pretty eclectic editorial bent, we’ve doubled the size of our staff. Please see our editors page to learn a little about our new fiction and poetry co-editors, who are seriously bringing the experience and enthusiasm. We’re thrilled and grateful to have them. Expect to see a transition to (at last!) Submittable this summer, which will streamline submissions for us, resulting in faster response times for you. Also, please visit our website between issues—we’ve been blogging more, publishing reviews and interviews, with many more on deck. If there’s something you like, your comments are most appreciated. If there’s something you don’t like, your comments are most appreciated ( Just don’t be nasty. We like everything but nasty, with a few exceptions). As always, we privilege reviews and interviews that benefit our previous contributors. We continue to expand the BL Authors’ Library and will do our best to help promote the work of our deserving authors, even after we’ve published them. As for #27, they say the waiting is the hardest part. We, and you, have already done that. Open a window, let in a late spring storm, and scroll through this latest offering. It names names. No, really, that’s sort of the accidental theme. Directly and indirectly, the work in this issue calls people out, tells their stories and their secrets. For the first time, we’re offering translated poems. There’s also an audio file of spoken word to accompany the text of one poem. Thank you for staying with us as we grow. We hope you enjoy #27.
Salt Creek Falls It is nature or the economy, or both, why the trail riven by rockslide still needs mending. We cling to the spill, one body-length apart when one stone then ten more give, hasten a few centuries of erosion in the falls. Objects of weight and time decorate the stark rock and our summer bodies—my watch, your keys, karats and fresh polish of wedding rings. All those idle conversations about Frank O’Hara and the dune buggy’s collision, Nikola Tesla and the pigeon he loved and fed sunflower seeds from his lips, a Flemish painting we saw in a gallery, its stealth vanitas of silver, gooseberries and dead rabbit. Does any of that really help? We could descend. We could climb back up. We could wait mid-way until nightfall for the mist to clean our scrapes. We could almost sleep without tumbling down, almost wake in the dark roar, gloriole of the falls vanished, to tell you how these thimbleberries dotted my childhood, their luscious tang dissolving in a careless palm. Of course there is no waiting to go back. The dust at least should linger on our fingers. There would be a jacuzzi ahead
and the deserts of honeymooning. The river and puffy clouds livened on your skin. Now to keep that light, the expanse and its risk. To see a cliff for what it is.
Memory II by Neil de la Flor
Working the Claim The cashier at Fred’s tells the woman at the card machine that her hair’s almost back but the boyfriend still isn’t. The pack of buns goes over the scanner then the bag of chips. “You should come to the party,” the food woman says, “It’ll be fun and Jackie will be so happy to see you again.” Spring flowers crowd the aisles near the door and someone has set a lily in a RockStar can next to the register. The flower stirs a bit as the receipts and coupons ratchet out. The cashier hands over the long looped ribbons. “I might do that,” she says, and you can almost see the pick scars, the places where blood was mined for information and replaced with a burn that traveled to her eyes and is just now starting to settle out like gold flakes in a pan. “It’s spring,” she says as she pulls the bar off slides it along the track above the belt, “It’s spring and I’m still here, ain’t I?”
We’ll be very cranberry along the bog-bank and smelling like dogs— “I want one,” she says. Dogs or berries? but the frost hasn’t sharpened the nub into sweet and who wants winter so early now that we have light? “I didn’t mean to,” she says, “The dog followed me here.” And who wouldn’t give it to her? but it’s a sled dog, and our couch has no runners, our heat steam-warm when a Siberian will want to sink under snow. Don’t we all say I want you to have this? to make you happy? The sun keeps shifting its brassy eye mesmerizing trees, cranberries, the fireweed wrapping the season like a gift I can’t give you though I try again and again standing in this stream, rocks rolling under my feet. .
Learning to Run
It was the smell of my mother I missed, lilac soap and Jovan White Musk mixed with sweat. It was my mother I saw when I closed my eyes: woman measuring nights of labor like she would measure flour; woman working just to feed us. Those years when I wanted her, she brought small consolations: packs of Rollo’s, apple turnover from the local bakery, something I could reject, submit to, tear apart with my fingers. It brought her pleasure to watch the sugared nothing covering my hands, my face-deep in a system of destructive forgetting. When the body yearns, it confuses want with necessity, confuses this want with love. This want learned to swell and lump around my hips, miserable accumulation that could pass for breasts, became its own animal. So I treated plastic horses like they were children. My Little Ponies lined my windowsills so they could feel the sun, floated side-up in my baths. I spent many nights tucking mismatched sheets over the bodies covering my pillows. It was an animal’s freedom and autonomy that attracted me; dolls were children themselves, as helpless. I cut off their hair out of spite, neglected them to bottoms of toy bins. All I wanted was to run naked with my horses in a liminal space of a summer rain, our hair untended as we became one with the horizon. I delighted in the fantasy of exhaustion, warm thrum and smell of them, the real smell of tiredness and salt.
## Apple Blossom, Dementia, Dead Bird Does water refract the light more convincingly when it has drowned a body? My grandfather stands in the garage, watching for the unchained repetition of water. The sky, dry, is hardly lucid as he is, waiting for God to bring the water like syllables of his life to his ears: my grandmother’s eggs (burnt bottoms with tops like saliva), the last time he saw his mother alive. Some things are too much to wait for—brain softening like limbs under long 12
Triad by Neil de la Flor
awaited rainfall, rain that never comes. The sky never shatters, just our thoughts of it. The brain is its own paring knife, cutting away the stitches of a future or past that like an old coat one loves enough to give away. He spreads his arms to resurrect the feel of flight when he dropped bombs over the Aleutian Islands; the bombs, he once told me, were like flecks of electricity punctuating the sky. Within a year, he will wake next to a wife who will hang from his memory like a dead bird. Some things fall away in divine sequence, when left long enough to be longing: apple blossoms, origami cranes, rain covering one’s body with kisses. Some things hopelessly bear repeating again.
## The Lie of Longing He stares into the eye of the stove, dark with grease burn, and I think of how I ran my hand over it with a cloth last night, when it was not quite warm enough to penetrate. It was after dinner, I was sweeping onion peel off the floor, it sounded like skin against wet silk. Living is a dichotomy of departure, and tonight, he won’t guess how in girlhood I dreamt of running the bath, so empty I could not feel myself sink into water. He comes home for the night, so I wait for the water to go cold. He will see my bathing as a silent war, will order Chinese takeaway to keep me on the porch waiting for the deliverer after I have risen to watch the summer rain come in fleeting droplets, sometimes holding his hand. He knows I will bring fortune cookies just to watch him crack one open between thumb and palm. This must be what it is for him to watch me shave in the bath—cracking open the bits of the body to allow the myth out. When we broiled salmon, we didn’t violate the meat by overcooking, the almost raw moistness palatable against lemon’s small wound of absence, how he lifted me onto the stove, or how I forgot the broccoli raw in the sink. And afterward, he tore the just done flesh with his fingers, dawdled with it at my lips. Isn’t creation its own brand of interruption, a courting of the void? I have already given him what his body can take tonight, so I go to the kitchen to take inventory of what is left. Living in 14
different stages of want, ingenuity takes the place of solace. Tomorrow I’ll make cupcakes with flour, my hair’s oil after a summer’s rain, sugar I throw on the floor and dance over barefooted. They will be delicious; they will be made of failure. A recipe I’ll repeat again, if I master the lie of longing.
Abyss, 2009 by Scott Parker, acrylic on canvas
Bleuzette La Feir
Kissing Snakes And Swallowing Swords Ten-million-mile breakup, over you can’t do that policies neither of us can or want to adhere to. Audio trauma sound —tested. Now what feels like years, later, skipping through dusty lake beds while kissing snakes and swallowing swords… I see clearly the carnival we were, and I, a proud sideshow freak, but in the end I’d prefer to go again. Better yet, for you to come find me. However, in a new time, a new time zone, a different go ‘round, not just another round when the bell rings. Bloodied, burnt, dismembered, disembodied. Juggling a different mind-set up avenues of tall glass buildings refracting— light. But there is no warmth. There is no flame there, only false heat, like hot, lobstered skin after the beach. A fire-eater never feels the sear until it’s too late to matter. Alcohol accelerant fills mouths colored outside the lines. The bearded lady has the voice of the most delicate bird, the soft white kind that pops from the ringmaster’s hat. Shhh…a close look shows tatters from tens of hundreds of thousands of millions of miles traveled to find I am lost, walking high on my trusty razor wire. Once again poised, I dive from nosebleed-height into a Ball jar. Don’t catch your breath, honey, I’ll make it.
Падането е чудесен урок защото в милисекундите докато се превърташ като топка сред сумрака осъзнаваш колко временна е земната ти мисия и че единствено ти можеш да бъдеш сам на себе си Ангел и че ничия ръка няма право да соли твоите рани освен собствената спирам. Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
is a wonderful lesson because in the milliseconds while you are turning like a ball amidst the twilight you realize how temporary is your earthly mission and that only you can be an Angel for yourself and that nobody’s hand has the right to salt your wounds except your own i stop.
БЕЛЕЖКА НА ХЛАДИЛНИКА Държа ахилесовата си пета в аквариум за да не можеш да я нараниш Опитай се да ме събудиш, докато ти самата още спиш Опитай се да спреш да бъдеш онова което мразиш и започни да слушаш Parov Stelar от сутрин до залез Аз просто ще остана тук – на тази маса и ще пиша чувайки как часовниците по света загиват един по един Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
Note On The Fridge
I keep my achilles heel in the aquarium so that you can’t hurt it Try to wake me up while you are still sleeping Try to stop being that which you hate and start listening to Parov Stelar from morning till sunset I will simply remain here – at this table and I will write hearing how the clocks around the world die one by one
Трябваше Да Се Родя През Февруари Осъзнах, че съм парализиран преди около 240 месеца Това никога не ме е убивало то е само една част от мен за която зная че нищо не зная и така през един юнски ден аз проходих без да мисля направих го и се радвах като дете макар че съм прекалено виновен за да бъда дете ако знаете колко много щастлив бях под мен имаше вода много вода имаше за момент тежестта беше мъртва, а аз бях ходещ човек после всичко стана както преди Но предпочитам да гледам на нещата от по-добрия ъгъл. Иначе ще се срина Но няма…
Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
I Had To Be Born In February
I realized I’m paralyzed about 240 months ago That has never killed me it is just one part of me about which I know I don’t know anything and so during one june day I started walking without thinking I did it and I was filled with joy like a child even though I’m too guilty to be a child if you only knew how happy I was underneath me there was water there was a lot of water and for a moment the weight was dead and I was a walking man then everything became as before But I prefer to look at things from a better angle Otherwise I’ll collapse But I won’t…
Разкопаване На Поетическото Тяло Във търсене на белези от зъби по костите, по костите, по костите, обезглавиха две баналносини теменужки. Те бяха там. Да, точно там. Да, бяха.
Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
Exhuming the poetic body
In search of tooth marks on bones, on bones, on bones, they beheaded two banalblue violets. They were there. Yes, exactly there. Yes, they were.
Blue Angel by Neil de la Flor
You Have One New Message The trick wasn’t having sex with your friends, it was not having sex with them, and
Michael and Stacey had been friends for three years, his first relationship with a woman without sex, and he loved it, the tension of it, the boundaries pushed, but never discussed. What they had was indefinable and that turned him on even more. And he believed she felt the same, believed he saw the same friction, the same desire, the same restraint, in her eyes. What’s more, they lived just a few blocks apart, so they had proximity, an essential ingredient, and she could and did invite him over often, and this Thursday night should not have been exceptional.
“You sounded agitated,” he said, entering her apartment. “I don’t know, invigorated? Am I
“I’m me,” she said. “I’m fine, I’m great, I’m super.”
“Hmm,” he said, “I can’t find my words today.”
That wasn’t the truth, not exactly. Michael was a word man, a man of crossword puzzles
and serious literature, a man who believed words were as much actions as fists in faces, but Michael also thought the truth could be played with. He believed in truth like he believed in little else, Truth with a capital fucking “T”, he liked to say, yet he could still accept the ambiguity of the plural, the existence of Truths, the play, but they too deserved the uppercase and were, he liked to tell himself, not only what most interested him, but what mattered most.
Stacey walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She scanned the wine rack and
asked him if he wanted a glass.
“Riesling or Cab?”
“Cab,” he said.
It was winter, which meant the season of red wines and dark beers. He wasn’t wild about
summer, but he liked the seasons, liked having four distinct seasons with traditions within each of them, but what a man likes for his weather and what he likes for his women are not necessarily the same things.
As Stacey poured the wine he took off his gloves and took out his phone, checked to see if
anyone had called or texted or Facebooked him, then put the phone back in his coat pocket. He did this without thinking about it, technology having become, for better or worse, habit. 24
Then he de-scarfed and arranged his coat on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. He
crossed one leg over the other at the knee and exhaled, settling in as he watched her ass buzz back and forth from counter to table, watching with his hungry, monk eyes. She had a beautiful shape to her, a satisfying and undeniable sexiness, the more so because he would never seek to own, conquer, or share it.
After serving the wine, Stacey finally stopped moving and sat down.
“You’ve gotta hear this,” she said.
She moved her phone over to him like a man sliding over a document in an old black and
white thriller. Then she intertwined her fingers as if in prayer, or supplication.
“Listen to it,” she said. “The voice mail.”
But her voice was off, and he knew how Truths could alter it, how voice can betray us and
how, if you ever really want to feel cheated on, or feel like you never knew a person in the first place, voice could do the trick. There were other things, too: in her eyes he saw a disturbingly restrained eagerness, nothing more nor less than the man-woman look of normalcy, of vulnerable determination. And her body. She was trying, unsuccessfully, to stay still. Those hands. What the hell did those hands think they were doing?
She reached out and pushed the phone even closer, half its phone body dangling over
the table’s edge. “Now!” she said, her gleeful annoyance reminiscent of a child’s on Christmas morning when the adults refuse to put their clothes on.
“Okay, okay,” he said, part of him pleased by this domestic vision. “I’m, ah, I’m intrigued.”
But he wasn’t intrigued and he didn’t want to be pleased. He was scared. What he feared was ruining it, all of it, with speech and foolish action. With words.
“Stop messing around,” she said. “Listen!”
She sigh-grunted, a personal sound of hers verging toward a growl, one that never failed
to perk up his groin. He uncrossed his legs, let down his guard. Whatever was going on here, whatever grave unpleasantness was about to fall from the sky, his will, his self-control, was his pride. He could handle anything. And so he picked up the phone, the absurdly powerful and small tool any idiot could use to listen to hundreds of portentous messages, and touched the necessary places on it.
This is what he heard: Tosca
‘Amanda, it’s late, and I know you’re not answering because it’s me but I had to call, I have
to talk to you, see you. You’re angry because of what I said, but it was the truth, it’s how I feel, and I can’t help that. I need you. I know how wrong it’ll seem but I don’t care. You feel the same, I know you do, and we’re running out of time. Tell me not to go and I won’t. I love you. Call me, text me, e-mail me, please. I need to hear you, see you, touch you. Please, baby. We can make this work. Please.’
The emotion that poured from this stranger’s voice moved Michael, shocked him,
actually. It was too private. It was like walking down a street and seeing a beautiful stranger in her living room sitting on the couch and clipping her toenails without any clothes on. In a world of words that are always dressed for winter, it was much too naked.
“Holy fuck,” he said.
“I know,” Stacey said.
Her relief, her energy and the amount of it she was valiantly keeping at bay, was equally as
upsetting. She appeared powerful, as dangerous as the phone she kept turning in her hand, kept stroking with her thumb.
“Who’s Amanda?” he asked.
“No clue,” she said.
“What’s this doing on your phone?”
“Jesus,” he said.
“I know. Here.” She stopped caressing the machine and handed it back to him. “Listen
to it again. Go ahead. Focus on his voice. I think it’s the strongest and most vulnerable I’ve ever heard. I can’t stop myself.”
His instincts were telling him no, to get out before whatever it was came in earnest.
“I don’t think I should,” he said. “It’s late. I should be—”
“Come on,” she said. “For me. Listen. Please.”
Hearing the please that echoed the man’s pleases, Michael resigned himself to seeing this
thing through, to doing so without trying to figure out the ending. Under usual circumstances, he could appreciate a mystery, appreciate the search for the killer, the culprit, the blameworthy one, but he couldn’t concentrate. His nerves were too agitated and too touched, too the way they became when he encountered something True. He chugged half his wine and listened again. 26
“It’s Thursday,” he said, “call him. Tell him it wasn’t sent. You’ve got time.”
“What are you talking about?” she said.
He thought about it, the tragedy of it. He felt a minor, a mosquito-bite-sized strain of anxiety every time he dropped a card in the mailbox, every time he hit send for an e-mail or text, but nothing he had to say to anyone was as urgent and important as this man’s plea, his one-time shot at this specific love. He didn’t feel envy, but he thought that maybe he should have.
“He’s screwed,” he said. “Without you, this man is fucked. I hate technology.”
“Whoa there,” she said. “What are you talking about all of a sudden? I’m not getting
involved in that.”
She touched her hair and then looked out the window where there was nothing to see but
the Minnesota night. Her profile, however, was gorgeous and she knew it.
“There’s a reason this message didn’t get sent to the right place,” she said, almost
whispering. “There’s a reason it came to me.”
She paused as she turned back toward him, a nonsense slaying pause.
“And since when,” she said, her tone admirably innocent, “do you hate technology?”
“That’s bullshit,” he said, stalling, telling himself once again that he’d never be a man who
believed there’s a cosmic determination thing going on in the world. Things are not how they’re meant to be. Not how they have to be. He believed in free will and human agency, in Truth. But he couldn’t avoid this forever. When he looked into her eyes he saw it, the Truth of them, of he and her and all his naive ideas on what a heaven these past three years had been.
“Is it?” she said. “Bullshit? Really?”
“You know it is,” he said, knowing exactly why he had been called tonight. But his
situation wasn’t this man’s. Whatever this man had said to this woman in the privacy of their hearts was more than he was capable of saying to Stacey. He had nowhere near his resolve or devotion, and yes, at this moment in time, he hated technology. But it was also just something you say. It wasn’t True.
It then occurred to him that this could be the last time they would ever share this table.
That thought made him unbearably sad.
“Where’s Gunther?” he said in order to say something. He lamely scanned the apartment
for Stacey’s latest live-in boyfriend, the big Swede with the small brain, knowing that all he could do was wait to see how far she would go. “Shouldn’t he be home by now?” Tosca
“He’s in Toledo for the week,” she said. “Manager’s conference.”
Then he watched, with horror and fascination, as her hand moved from the glass’s stem to
the no man’s land on the table between them. It appeared limp, yet strong, crippled, yet fiercely capable of life, willing to be out there like the man’s voice was. He looked at it and her, this perhaps their one chance for more, this perhaps her first, and only, move. He realized then that she didn’t give a damn about this man or this Amanda, that the message was a serendipitous whip she had to be struck with again and again in order to gather the courage of this extended hand he could not answer in kind. Why? Why trade their impossible tension for something common and doomed? Why sabotage that Truth?
“No,” he said out loud, his No not an answer to a direct question—there wasn’t one—but
more like the utterance of a mind steeling itself, declaring itself to every invisible ear. “I’ll call him.”
She removed her hand, sliding it, dragging it back to the safety of her wine.
“As you wish,” she said, standing up, giving him her lovely back. She went to the
bathroom. Then he heard her in the kitchen, just out of sight, opening drawers and cabinets as if she didn’t know what she wanted.
He found the man’s number, stored it in his equally powerful and ridiculous phone that
he would never dream of giving up. After he did so he thought about Amanda, the woman who had been betrayed by some kind of declaration. Yes, there are lines that cannot be re-crossed, and there are other kinds of lines that should never be said. His loyalty to the unknown man wavered.
Then Stacey came back, holding the bottle of red out to him and shaking it like you do a
toy mouse in front of an indifferent cat, urging it to strike, to do something, anything, to give you a little pleasure. All things considered, he wouldn’t mind playing this cat. “Want to watch a movie?” she asked. “Two came in the mail today. Who knows, they might have something to say.”
He scrutinized her face, saw the moment had passed, been driven somewhere, that she
was back, he hoped, to where she had been. It was only a hand. He told himself this, and then he told it to himself again, trying to manipulate Truth. He would know for sure on the couch. He would know for sure in the days and weeks to come. Time, he told himself, they had. Lots of it.
“Why not?” he said, shoving his phone back into his pocket. “This can wait.”
His desire to save the man’s love was almost completely gone, his empathy having the shelf life of 28
a lightning bolt. And that was normal, too. Who was this man anyway? He was a ghost. Worse, he was a distant, technological ghost. More than likely his number would become one of those you look at later and think, Who the hell was that? then erase it from your phone and life forever. That erasing a good thing. A nice feeling, a feeling uncomplicated by ever having to answer how much Technology was, or was not, to blame.
Red Angel by Neil de la Flor
Jâ€™s Idea of Fun The two girls loosened their jackets, and taunted the blond dog to hear it bark. There was the faint smell of sugar beets in the air from the factory. Late at night a pile of leaves glowed at his feet. When a satellite passed over they uncovered their heads as if out of respect. If he cared for one over the other he wasnâ€™t going to show it. They pulled black bells of apples from the fire, peeled away tinfoil and burned their hands so they would not forget they were living in the open.
He I just am or I want to be he keeps somehow how much struggling am I can I what each hour will I become what can I give beyond the horribly inflamed skin fleas even miserable he finds moments twenty minutes of calm despite the restless crawl terrible this smear of nettles and sap flesh red and raw a Bosch he curls warm against my ankle his proximity resembling love one side of the beast me. 32
You can play the video on YouTube. You can count the shots. You can read the police radio transcript. You can wait for the eye of Sandi Smith, peeking around the corner to look at a bullet, You can turn Jim Waller’s body over and offer mouth to mouth. You cannot go back to 1979. The police are still in the Biscuitville or the wrong block of Everitt; Roland Wood still doesn’t know why Jim Waller raised the shotgun, fear or defiance. He asks if you understand. Nelson Johnson remembers his first thought: set up. Here is the truth of reconciliation: it takes a lot of pages, and you still can’t know. Car windows open with hand cranks, doctors pick birdshot out of arms, a little boy in a red beret looks at his heart in the camera.
Revenants II: Kwame Willena doesnâ€™t know how many times she brought Kwame along, She had no sitter, he was a good boy. In 88 seconds he learned to run fast and look for the woman least afraid â€“ Kwame and the other kids went to her apartment when the Klan started shooting. Days can start with We shall not be moved and end with you happy that your mother is in jail, because sheâ€™s not dead. Sandi was dead, Jim was dead, but Willena was hoarse, but still yelling at the pigs. A documentary narrates the harsh sentence Kwame earned for burglary: twelve years in prison, a final release from the governor after thousands of letters and protests. He was the cannon and the ant that the system smashed. He became the argument for what used to own him. He wore the dirt of Morningside Homes as a badge. He was the mockingbird of the haunted cause. He is the ghost of Greensboro. He knocks on the door and only the ones not afraid let him in.
A Bad Day at Morningside Homes First the Communist Workers Party burned the flag in China Grove, the old flag of the War. Then they slurred the name of the men of the klavern, calling them “two-bit punks.” So the Klan showed up at the Homes, a van filled with guns and Mountain Dew, brass knuckles and a five foot length of chain. Virgil Griffin could have told them: You just don’t insult the Men without a fight, you just don’t start chanting from Marx and lighting up the Bonnie Blue and expect it all to wash away with Mary’s tears. The Homes were filled with colored Negro blacks, wishing another neighborhood had come to mind, and yet – talking to the activists, thinking union thoughts, exhilarated with the steps forward they wish their grandmas could see. Someone chanted: Nazis, Klan, scum of the land. Someone countered: Hitler was right, Hitler was right. The FBI and the police and those who hired them thought As long as people act civil there will be no more war, as long as the South lays low no trouble will rise, peace is more important than justice. They were thinking that in their cars a few blocks away when the sound of gunfire penetrated the thick glass.
Funeral March Of course it rained. Marchers tried to sing. It was November 11, and this small war was in a moment of cease-fire. Or state of emergency. Reverend Williams asked that Nelson Johnson not attend. Greensboro police blocked roads. National Guardsmen considered the long grasses near Maplewood Cemetery. Unloaded, armed, honor guards walked with the dead. Sandi Smith does not lie there: she left her white comrades alone at Maplewood and went to rest in South Carolina. Her home town.
Revenants III â€“ Willow Oaks I stand on the site of the Klan shooting. Morningside Homes are razed, interred. Planned, pretty townhomes grew between the graves. There is no historic marker. The real estate slideshow with kids blowing bubbles does not play here. I watch as the old road tar soaks up greasestains, dew. Branches of baby not-oaks blind the street I know is Everitt. Not a childâ€™s voice is heard from the Head Start. No one is walking or whistling and my photos become doubles on my camera: one faded and hard to read, one clear and looking back at me.
38 Arco, 2009 by Scott Parker, acrylic on canvas
Give Me The Noise (I am not yet distracted enough) Sing along. Sing along with me. You know this song. You don’t need your own thoughts. Repeat after me. You don’t need to own your thoughts. Just repeat after me. Now change the station. Turn it up. Change the station. Sing along. We need louder earbuds. We need lower interest rates. Bam-ba-lam. Change it again. This news is an outrage and our future depends on this hype. Our grandchildren’s futures are dependent upon this hype. Let’s watch a movie. I need to answer this. I am thirsty. I need to answer this. Hello? She is repeating herself again. I will click on this link while I wait for her to finish. She is repeating. Reach for the thermostat. Can you repeat that? She needs an answer. There is an answer for everything. I can find it here. Touch the screen. Like that song says. Sing it. I will find it here. Touch the screen. People like what I said. Look at me. See my photos. I was there. Look at me. I am listening. What did she say? She is repeating. I need louder earbuds. I will check for messages as she speaks. She is repeating again. Now change the station. Turn it up. I am listening. To listen to this poem, visit bloodlotusjournal.com/p/audio.html
Recall the way sprinklers snicker over these darling lawns, how they twirl a rain that smells of shit, the radio ads whose pills repair your broken hard-on, grievances that matter now because we relished them over Pall Malls once. Days tumble from the sky like struck planes, a vacant room waits as long for the one it sheltered as it does for a stranger. I love you. Oh that missing girl in Erie turned up only strangled by the boy she would never have let in. Today I checked to be sure and itâ€™s true that Ian Curtis gripped a microphone like a boy in a trench grips a gun, that he danced the way he died, memorably and with abandon.
0. The Fool
When the sea first opened and whales poured into the cavernous blue Pacific, I was a speck of star dust quivering in the electric grid between Andromeda and the fifth planet. This I rememberâ€” how I was connected to all things through shudders of wormholes. Before the moon tattooed her own face blue, jealous of the oceans below, I knew of the gods cranking levers of creation. Strange how I would know to remember this, but cannot recall my birthday, the shallow space between waking and sleeping or how I almost drowned in a wave pool. I can remember the orange tip of the barrier island, the glow of smoke over the river, the blush of clouds before the storm. I could pore through the attic, rifling for evidence, connective tissue of faces and concerts, empty boxes of hair dye, new sneakers, shipping & handling. The smell of mothballs hits me first, then cinders. Everything has been burned away.
16. The Tower Thunder cracks the horizon like an egg, glistening guts of clouds sucked up in the straw of planets, a tornado into troposphere, stratosphere. The eye rises, peering through the holes pines pierce in roofs; the closet monster scraping tile, shaking metal. From the tip of The Tower, Tall Woman saw the hurricane rolling in for days, felt its hot breath a fortnight, took in the tomatoes, the cat, the mailbox. Still Tall Woman crouched atop the parapet, smoking, letting wind rush her like a wolf, hungry after winter. When the quaking arrived, The Tower shook, and Tall Woman wept as if greeting an old friend. Her hair whipped her face like knives. The Tower is a spine of rock; it claims I am unsinkable. Sinks.
bit versus the blues bit (subjunctive/noun/impossibility possible) melts into tree, that tree, golden tree, evaporating golden in fierce opposition to grey sky. bit sends telegrams to other bits: yellow stop spattered from ceiling to ceiling stop emily dickinson on the landing stop alphabet soup stop something bursting with something stop flowers bursting in a vase stop yellow.
(other bits read said telegrams, scoff, smoke, get tied to bedposts, write a play, bite, get bitten, buy a magazine, wear sunglasses, say: you do love me donâ€™t you? buy me a drink.)
bit leaps and bounds; bit rolls in grass. bits of yellow leap out also rolling, bounding down grassy hills sun-speckled. audacity. kaleidoscope, roller coaster, pumpkin: bit speaks in bursts of yellow raging for joy, enraging other bits, engaging raised eyebrows from the worldâ€™s rest, triumphantly toppling granite.
What to Do with the Corpse I sometimes wonder why stale Pineapple juice has never become A more widely enjoyed bedtime ritual But right now I wonder more about What to do with the corpse. An alleged con man wrote to me Saying a dead man on his desk had left Nearly eight million dollars, but he needs My help transferring funds, I assume he knows What to do with the corpse. The life lived, the entire body before us Especially when it is our own works We recoil at complexities, detail The no longer twitching body, confused, What to do with the corpse. And I had that dream again last night Where I am killing a stranger in a mirror. I do not call the police, I go about my activities, We pass the day pleasantly enough, with no talk of What to do with the corpse. â€ƒ
Memory I by Neil de la Flor
Clowns With Mustaches
No one who grows up with clowns on the wall next to her bed can end quite right. Sad,
hand-painted ceramic clowns with black pockets turned out in poverty. They cried hungry to me every night before bed and spoke ugly to me every morning before school. When I was old enough, I released them from my pain, dismembering and beheading them on our picnic table— the expected blood did not rise--and laying them to rest under the neighbor’s swing set. As long as no one moves the swing set, I am safe.
When the clowns still lived, the neighbor lady ran a business out of her house. People
paid her to keep their children safe. My mother hired her one summer. Her husband had a mustache made out of little needles and tried to teach my tongue strange tricks. I had to go to the doctor several times that summer, but my mother never stopped sending me there. At night, I whispered to the ceramic clowns what I was too afraid to tell.
In my adult house across town from that swing set, I hear my door bell ring and count to
ten. Zombies may be waiting. It’s just a delivery lady with the mustache bandages I overnighted. I put one on my upper lip. Now, the zombies will not recognize me when they come.
The lady didn’t even glance at the swing set I put up in my yard two years ago. That’s
good. I check every morning to see if it moved. One night a resurrection will occur, and in the morning, fresh dirt will show the harvest of zombies I plant there.
I’m a zombie, too, but only at night: like a werewolf in a full moon. I walk the town slowly
so my toes don’t fall off. My costume consists of a mini-skirt, fish net stockings, and high heels. Make-up conceals the rotting flesh and uncovered bones. I search for clowns with mustaches I can lay to rest under the swing set. Now that I have my bandages, I can put a mustache on the hairless ones. My pockets are not turned out. They hold a tube of white paste, a Rose-is-Rose lip stain, and various other accouterments necessary to a zombie hunting clowns disguised as ordinary men.
Early in the morning, I am a self-appointed crossing guard at a corner near the schools.
Only a few kids navigate these streets. I keep a look-out for circuses and people with baggy clothes. Mostly adult regulars move down the sidewalk. I say, “Can I pet your dog?” “Oh, your baby is so cute.” “I wish I’d brought my umbrella.” I look official in my bright yellow vest with the orange stripes. No one knows I am not paid. 46
Later, I go to my job in the insurance and billing department at the local hospital. I also
fill in as a phlebotomist. Blood and screaming kids and vomit don’t bother me, so I am asked to fill in a lot. Everybody likes me here. I remember to give them birthday cards and bring in cupcakes or cookie bars once-in-a-while. I am good at what I do, precise with no mistakes.
When I get home, kids are playing on my swings. The first time, I didn’t lock the door
to the privacy fence while I went to retrieve my gloves, and they managed to creep inside like little cockroaches searching for cracks to infest. I told them their parents would have to talk to me. The moms came, a great posse of authority standing outside my door. I said it was alright for their kids to play as long as they said it was alright. I told them they could call my work as a reference. They looked from me to the kids. I am not much bigger than most of the boys bumping each other off the teeter-totter. I couldn’t hurt anybody if I tried. After examining the swing set and the scuffed ground underneath, they gave permission as if doing me a great favor and left, relieved to have one more place to dispose of their kids. Now, the fence stays unlocked. When the clowns come back to life, they will need a place to escape.
I took pictures of each child as they played on the swings. I printed off double copies. I
put one copy of each in my scrapbook of stories about missing clowns. I ate the other one. Now the kids are zombies too; nobody can hurt somebody that’s already dead.
I hear the mail lady making a deposit. I scramble to the door over old magazines, news-
papers, wedding invitations and bulletins, yard sale items I can’t live without, and every birthday and Christmas card I’ve ever gotten. I have to stand on a ladder to add this new literature to the wall I’m building around the inside of my house. No one can see in my windows; I have peepholes I can see out. The back door is impassible. When the dead rise, those outside cannot take vengeance on their creator.
I put an ice cream scoop of raw hamburger in a dish and slice fingers and toes of string
cheese over it. For vegetables, I eat carrots or apples. I do not eat cantaloupe or bananas. I leave them on my table until they are black with rot and fruit flies. I like the look and feel of the mush.
I am not allowed to keep a Facebook or Tweet. No one is allowed into my house. My
work clothes live in the “clean room.” I vacuum and dust it every day while wearing sterile gloves and a hair net. I have to have a bath before every time I go in there—even if I am cleaning.
One night, I zombie-walk downtown. There is a tournament all weekend, and clowns
pack the hotels, bars, and streets. One lurches out of a door and sees me. He thinks I am a juicy morsel, looking for a good time. My lips feel warm to his beer scented tongue, and the skin Hackman
under my skirt is soft and firm. He puts his arm around me. His whispers sound like what I told the clowns years ago, and I know he is the one. We enter the yard through the back gate. No one checks alleys at night. Inside the privacy fence, the liquor and element of surprise make short work of him. I paint his face carefully, and apply one of the bandages to his upper lip. He will be glad, when he rises, that I changed him from a clown to a zombie. Clowns leave their victims alive and half-eaten. Zombies at least have the decency to kill their prey.
I wake up later than usual. I hurry to check the swing set. I look through all my peep
holes three times in the prescribed order. I donâ€™t see any signs of them. After crawling over my piles, I check in the garage. It is empty except for a car and a shovel. The shovel has fresh dirt. I spray it off with the hose just as the kids arrive to trample the ground into a more level position.
Singularity by Neil de la Flor
And tomorrow Today, I will look in the mirror to see only one unshaven beast. Today, they’ll offer me razorblades and foam to prepare myself. Today, they’ll drag me out of the cell, and we’ll go out for my last stroll. Today, I will read the newspaper with my name in it, underlined with thick line, and the time of my birth and death at the end. Today, I’ll dream of childhood, dandelions and something lost forever teeth, nails and stolen virginity. Today, I’ll eat my last supper in secrecy, happy for who I am and what I was. Today, my time will be heavy as the Sphinx, and I will wait for the night. And tomorrow, I will leave these golden bars behind, I will walk between the guards of honor and the people with dark faces, and they’ll scream: “Fry him like a dog”, but wouldn’t they see that I am god?
The Discontinuity of History I have, probably, had an opportunity of observing more girls in their infancy than J. J. Rousseau.—I can recollect my own feelings, and I have looked steadily around me; yet, so far from coinciding with him in opinion respecting the first dawn of the female character, I will venture to affirm, that a girl, whose spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp. . . . –Mary Wollstonecraft, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”
After the sheriff served him with the divorce papers, Martin came to see me at the office. My position as Director of Human Resources made me somewhat of a big fish, but Damascus is a small pond, and Agro-Technical Industries of Damascus is only the biggest employer in that very small town; so my office was little more than a glassed-in closet with a desk, three mismatched chairs with worn upholstered seats, my own chair (newer, which swiveled), a push-button phone, a desktop PC and all the resources I needed for my work. But my name was on the door. If you were a woman in early nineties, that’s how you knew you’d made it: when your name was on the door, not the desk. It was the name I had acquired from my second husband, Shawn. Martin, on his way out, was my third. Actually, Martin was on his way in, with a question mark in his eyes. However, it is quite possible for something to be on its way in and on its way out at the same instant, and so if Martin, now on his way in (physically) and out (legally) had spun his head around like Janus, or a Flip Wilson doll I used to have (Flip on one side, Geraldine on the other—“The Devil made me do it.”) to show me a second face with a period in his expression, I would have momentarily experienced a shock, and at the same time I would have nodded and said to myself: Yes, Elizabeth, that’s how it is. It’s never in but it’s out. It’s never a question mark but it’s a period. It’s never a ’72 Chevy but it’s a jewelry armoire. Gert, the senile janitor, showed Martin in, and he sat in Chair Number One. In my head I had them numbered. One was where job applicants usually sat. Two was for my boss, Mr. Elliott (who lived in Chicago). The ones who supposed they were being fired generally picked Three. 52
Martin was good-looking: light brown, curly hair and wide-set blue eyes. While he was sitting, he did what most people do in surroundings that are foreign and potentially hostile: he looked around. He was more sensitive than Shawn, if not as educated. I could tell he was hurt to discover no pictures of himself. There were no personal touches here, no photographs, no bric-a-brac, nothing to indicate that I had a life beyond this room, in which I had interviewed more prospective clerks and factory hands than I cared to remember, saying “I like your initiative” to some and “Sorry” to others—even though I wasn’t sorry. I enjoyed the qualified power of my job. Martin, I noticed, had picked the right chair. He was neither a wimp nor an imbecile. Unlike Shawn, my second husband, he had backbone enough to confront me here. Unlike Richard, my first, he had a good brain; he just hadn’t bothered to develop it much, and that was what made him a fool. You see, Martin Damascus was the only living male descendant of the founding father of Damascus, which meant that he had never developed his faculties because he was born a Damascus, the only boy of six children. In short, he was born a future leader of the community, and he didn’t have to do a thing to be important, except wait for his turn. I sat reflecting upon Martin’s upbringing as a certified young community leader and getting angry about it. When I get angry I get edgy, fidgety, and what I was doing now was swiveling back and forth in my chair. It made a rachety-sounding creak that was getting to Martin, so I continued doing it. Martin was still looking around, mutely confounded. I wasn’t about to tell him what to say, so I just kept swiveling, getting madder, which had a semi-hypnotic effect and set me to wondering what Martin had gotten for his eleventh birthday. In our most intimate moments we’d never talked about it, but I had a pretty good guess. My guess was a bicycle, so he could pedal up and down the streets of Damascus, surveying the town he would one day likely be mayor of. And that explained why he was sitting in Chair Number One, while I was where I was. Somers
Because if, instead of that bicycle, he had received a starter kit with six entirely different kinds of panties and belts that employed six entirely different systems of loops, bands, snaps, buckles and tabs to strap a sanitary napkin to his private parts . . . if it had been that and not the bicycle, he would have realized that the world was not a fair place, and resolved to fight back—as I had. You, I thought. You got the bicycle, the motor scooter, the ’72 Chevy. Why should I bring it up? Why should I help you out? So instead of raising the question of the divorce, which was the thing he had come about, I studied him intently for a moment and then remarked, “Nice shirt.” He looked down to see what he was wearing. It was a blue-and-green madras plaid, shortsleeved, button-down, good Eddie Bauer quality, the chest pocket cut out with foresight and attached with precision to prevent that faux-pas of shirt making, an “unsightly break in the pattern.” That’s what the catalogue copy said. Martin lowered his chin to regard the shirt. “Thanks. You picked it out.” “Really?” I said in a tone I hoped would suggest I found the idea of picking out shirts for Martin absurd. However, the sad fact was that most young male prospective VIP’s in that decade had been so pampered in childhood that they had grown into men who were incapable of buying shirts or wrapping gifts or even unscrewing their own Oreos. I’d done all that and more for Martin, which is why he didn’t want the divorce. That was more or less what he told me now. “Elizabeth,” he said, “I don’t understand. I thought we loved each other. We’ve been married nine years!” “Martin,” I replied, “What do nine years have to do with nine more? Or thirty more? Or one more, for that matter?” I regretted not having a framed photo of him then. I would have turned it face down—for effect. “Let me tell you something you may not be aware of,” I said. I stared straight at him— through him. I did it to employees sometimes, and they inevitably got the message: I know more about your future than you do. “Martin, the fact is that history is discontinuous.” The words came out of my mouth 54
before I even knew I was going to say them. I had read them in a little book Shawn used to have: philosophy of history—not my usual reading matter, but I’d started reading it because I wanted to impress him, and it stuck with me because all the theories seemed to apply. Some of the historians, like Toynbee and Spengler, believed that history was cyclical—that the same rising and falling, ascendance and decline, occurred over and over. I could see that in my own life, in certain things, such as courtships and marriages—and disillusionment and divorces. But other thinkers (Augustine) believed that history was linear—that culture was always progressing toward a promised goal, which could apply to me, too, in my sure climb to Human Resources Director. And some considered it “discontinuous,” stating that there was no relationship between what had happened, and what was going to. In every apparent pattern, there would ultimately be a rupture. I liked that idea. I thought I did. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. “History is discontinuous,” I repeated firmly, making it up as I went. “Every event is entirely discrete. Causality is a myth, Martin. Consequence is of no consequence. The only links between one event and another are the ones that our feeble and deluded minds perceive. But I’m smarter than that, Martin. And you . . . Well, it’s true that your intelligence has the edge of a blunted butter knife, but I believe you are smarter, too. And if we choose not to consider the past nine years?” I shifted my gaze from the posted flow chart upon which it had been focused to meet his eyes, which I had the impression reflected sentiments that were not too friendly. “But I do consider them,” he objected. “And you do, too.” I leaned across my desk and looked right at him. “My mind is made up, Martin. Believe me, it’s for the best.”
Of course it wasn’t the end of it, but before I explain what happened when I went home that evening, you have to understand what came before. Before Martin was Shawn; before Shawn was Richard; before Richard was my twin brother, whose name was Timothy, though in my family he was always “the boy.” Was I “the girl”? Oh, no; I was “Lizzie.” And though it might at first seem great that I got a name and he didn’t, in my family, what it meant calling Timothy “the boy” was Somers
that all the weight of our family history and long-term economic prospects was placed squarely on Timothy’s shoulders. It meant that Timothy would go to college, join the family business, beget progeny to carry on the family name, while little Lizzie was nothing more than a charming dead end. And even if they’d called me “the girl,” that’s what “the girl” would have meant. This was the sixties, remember. It was still the Dark Ages for women. So that’s how it was from the start. There was Lizzie, and there was “the boy,” the latter believing himself destined to carry on the family name and fortune. In succeeding years I learned that all men are sure they will do this, something I do not think they would believe if on their eleventh birthdays they had gotten starter kits instead of bicycles. To be totally truthful, the starter kit wasn’t my only gift. I also got a blue comb and brush set, and a necklace of simulated pearls that I’ve kept ever since in a crumpled paper Macy’s bag in my top dresser drawer—never in the jewelry armoire, after I got that. Pearls for me, a shiny red Schwinn for Timothy. And what perfect timing! Our birthday was in May, the loveliest month of the year in Damascus, when everywhere the lilacs were bursting into bloom. Damascus was the underappreciated lilac capital of the country, and our parents’ perfect yard had more, larger and healthier lilacs than any other in town—purple and white. Next to my brother, those flowers were their greatest pride and joy. The Schwinn glistened with the allure of all new store-bought toys. It had a top tube indicating that it was a boy’s bike. For that reason Tim felt justified in refusing to let me ride it. “Hey, Lizzie!” he said on that very first day, pointing to the crossbar. “Boys only, huh?” He looked ridiculous, in a paper party hat, with cake crumbs around his mouth. He laughed and went racing away. I wanted that bicycle, though, and I concocted a scheme to get it. It was a long shot, but one look at those six ingenious designs for looping, belting, banding, snapping, etcetera, had educated me fast. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I thought, and that night I slipped out of my upstairs bedroom with the starter kit tucked under my arm, in its pink-flowered box. Past Timothy’s room, where he breathed like a slow metronome in a square of silver 56
moonlight, after a long day of cycling. Past my parents’ room, where Arthur, the collie, whined in his sleep but blessedly didn’t wake up and bark. Down the steps, through the cold utility room and into the garage, where the switch was made, the starter kit substituted, then back inside with my bike, up the stairs. Past the other two bedrooms again and into my own, where I hid the bike in my walk-in closet, draping slips and nighties over the sleek handlebars for camouflage. The next morning they found me out, and I was grounded. When is subterfuge ever rewarded? The rest of that spring I spent my sedentary afternoons and evenings watching Timmy fly up and down the street. Concerned for the lilacs, my parents didn’t notice that I was using my birthday comb and brush to groom Arthur. They had good reason to be concerned about the lilacs, which I liked to think had gone into mourning on my account. Two days after I opened my gifts and got the ugly news about my future, the beautiful bushes developed a mysterious blight. As fast as they opened that year, the lilac blossoms dropped to the ground. Each morning there was a new layer on top of the old. My father was sick over it. The lilacs had been his passion, and to see them moulting like old birds devastated him. The problem was unique to our flowers. Every afternoon for the next few weeks, Tim, on his Schwinn, made the rounds of Damascus. Always, he returned with the same news to report: no one else’s bushes were shedding. Not that any of this has a bearing on my discussion with Martin the evening after he came to my office and I told him about the discontinuity of history: not Tim’s bike or my midnight adventure; not the lilac blossoms that fell off, as if the hand of God had plucked them, and shriveled to nothing in the fine and feathery new spring grass. The next year the lilacs were fine. The year after that, they were the most abundant they’d ever been. And so on. Our family insurance agency was flourishing, too, and for his fourteenth birthday Tim got the motor scooter he’d been begging for. I got a vanity: antique white, with a big, gold-framed mirror. Sixteen was more of the same. It was 1976, a landmark year. We remodeled the kitchen and recarpeted the whole house. We ate out twice a week. It was the year Mom got her patio. Somers
Dad got his bass boat. It was the year “the boy” got the ’72 Chevy. It was the year I got the jewelry armoire. You may be wondering about Martin, and the discontinuity of history, and what happened with the divorce. But I can’t tell you about that until I explain about Shawn. And I can’t explain about him until I’ve explained about Richard. And to understand about Rich, first you have to know about the jewelry armoire, which is not what I wanted for my sixteenth, any more than I’d wanted the vanity at fourteen or the starter kit at eleven. Custom-made of solid cherry, with Queen Anne legs and a scalloped bottom apron, the jewelry armoire was a four-foot tall beauty—if you go for that sort of thing. On the left was a series of narrow drawers, lined with dark velvet and partitioned into small compartments, the sizes of which depended (naturally) on what was to go in them. There were drawers for pins and brooches, drawers for bracelets, drawers for earrings, and even several undivided drawers for the unidentified pieces. On the right, a big cupboard had long pegs to hang necklaces and plenty of room to store anything else one might think of. “Whew!” said my father, when he and Tim set it down in the corner. “That’s heavier than it looks.” It had taken both of them, straining and panting, to carry it upstairs to my room. Timothy opened one of the drawers and looked in curiously. “Nice,” he remarked. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Then he flashed me a wide, evil grin. All that bicentennial spring and summer, my twin was out late every night, cruising the streets in and around Damascus in his birthday car. Meanwhile, I went to an occasional movie with Danny Almond, but most nights I stayed in, reading, watching TV, or starting on little projects I’d invented for myself—girl stuff. And I continued to toil away steadily at the one monumental project of fighting back I had begun on that long-ago birthday. By the end of that summer, my wits were sharp enough to dice steel. Timmy’s, on the other hand, had grown noticeably duller, from too much beer and driving. His future was a distant blur to him, but mine was clear to me, and the first step in it was getting out of that house where I’d never be anything other than “Lizzie.” I said to myself, “No more starter kits, no more vanities, no more jewelry armoires. It’s time to move!” 58
If I’d told my twin, he would have laughed and said, “How’re you going to do that without wheels?” But he would have been wrong. It had taken me a whole summer of puttering around in my bedroom—trying, among other things, to repair the splintered leg of my vanity table—to figure it out: wheels were the last thing I needed. What I needed was no wheels, which was, fortunately, what I had. And what I told Danny when I called him up the night before the first day of school. “Danny,” I said,”I need a ride.” Danny didn’t have his own car either, but he had a good-looking older brother who did. Two years later I married Richard Almond. Together we set up housekeeping in a twobedroom duplex across town. My girlhood possessions made the trip in a U-Haul. All, that is, except for the vanity table. Skillful as I was with carpenter’s glue, I could never make that leg bear weight. This time my twin and my new husband carried the jewelry armoire, which had grown heavier in two years—or so Timothy complained, as he and Rich inched down the stairs with it. “Careful of the legs!” I warned, thinking of what had happened to the vanity. I wasn’t worried about the drawers. I had tied cotton ropes across the front to keep them securely closed. What can I say about my marriage to Richard, except that it was a colossal mistake? I was barely nineteen, and overeager to get on with my life, and Richard was not smart. He also happened to have abominable taste in furniture. He loved that jewelry armoire so much that he insisted we put it in the living room; and although, to the best of my knowledge, he never looked in the drawers, he cried like a baby when I left him, and took it away. At least Martin wasn’t given to displays of emotion, and he bought me nicer furniture than either of the other two. When I moved out of the condo—which I’d leased after Shawn—and into his house, the jewelry armoire was relegated to my bedroom. We had separate bedrooms from the start. I’d learned a few things in two marriages.
Here’s how it was when I met Shawn: I was just past twenty. I was out of my parents’ house; out of Richard’s, too. I had a new condo, a new job as a factory worker at Agro-Tech. I’d enrolled in night school to get a college degree. I was finally going somewhere. Or so I believed. Somers
But I was already learning that it was never what I wanted. There was always something dogging my footsteps, always something slowing me down—ever since that starter kit. No sooner did I land the factory job than I had my sights set on the next rung of the ladder. I wanted a supervisor position. I wanted a desk of my own. I wanted to sit, not stand. I wanted a name plate with both names, not just Lizzie. “And why not?” I asked myself. Why not, indeed. There was just one little hitch: Lizzie Almond? Oh, I know there are plenty of worse names. There are many more better names, though, and it wasn’t just the name itself. It was also the fact that everyone in Damascus knew the Almonds were slow. I did some life review and made some projections, and in the window of my mental Eight Ball a triangular message floated into view: Snag a teacher. Shawn and I were married in May, in my parents’ back yard, beside the spreading lilacs. My father wore a fashionably narrow necktie, chosen by my mother. Our colors were silver and blue. Following the honeymoon, I sublet my place and moved into Shawn’s restored farmhouse on the outskirts of town. He was a social studies teacher, poor and smart, but too gentle for his own good: with the exception of one short-lived dispute over where to put the jewelry armoire, we turned out to be perfectly matched in many ways. This time my sixteenth birthday gift went in our bedroom, though I would have preferred it in the guest room. “The thing weighs a ton,” argued Shawn. “And I’m not a dumb hulk like Rich. I’m not going to bust my back hauling it upstairs.” Marriage to Shawn was always pleasant, though it might have been worth skipping—but for the fact that by the end of those three and a half years, I had my degree, and my desk, and my promotion—and I’d absorbed some books. A well-read Elizabeth Stevenson was definitely a step up from simple Lizzie Almond. In no time, I had almost finished my MA. I had my eye on a new position, with aspirations still higher. I also had my eye on the town’s most eligible bachelor, Martin Damascus, who had taken to stopping by the office some afternoons. I found his spoiled-boy attitude attractive 60
because it hinted of money and privilege—by contrast Shawn was hard-working, but disastrously poor. Soon Shawn was out, Martin was in, and I had my promotion. Separate bedrooms, separate names; those were my only stipulations. Even without the name change, there wasn’t a soul in town who didn’t know that Elizabeth Stevenson had married a Damascus, and in doing so had become, by all the codes of Damascus—both written and otherwise—a person of influence.
As I zipped my blue jeans on that decisive evening, Martin still hovered in the doorway. He was staring at me as I put away my necklace. I had the impression he was on his way downstairs. “What?” I said. “It’s like this ridiculous business with the divorce. I absolutely fail to understand it.” “What?” I asked again. “Why don’t you use that thing your parents gave you?” I closed the dresser drawer. “What thing?” He nodded at the jewelry armoire, which sat, in solid cherry grandeur against a wall by itself. “Oh, that,” I said. “It’s full.” “Full?” I unclipped my gold hoops and hung them on my earring tree. “But you never wear the stuff you keep in there.” He was eyeing the armoire with suspicion. Suddenly he strode across the room in three steps. “Don’t!” “Jesus, Liz! What’s in this thing?” My husband was peeking into the top drawer (for bracelets). Somers
“What do you think is in it?” “No clue. Some yellow gunk. What is it?” I pulled on my running shoes and went over to the armoire. With my fingernail, I tapped on the hardened substance that filled every compartment. Click, click. “Aliphatic resin.” “What?” I regarded him with disdain. “In layman’s terms, it’s carpenter’s glue. You’d know that if you’d ever fixed anything.” He yanked open another drawer and tested the surface himself. Thhpp. Martin didn’t have any nails. He bit his. “It’s dry!” he said in amazement. “After eighteen years, I should hope so!” He began opening and shutting the other drawers, one at a time. There were eight altogether. The glue came right to the tops of the partitions. It had shrunk considerably as it dried, and I’d had to keep waiting for one layer to harden, then pouring in more, until there was close to a quart in each wide drawer: no jewelry would ever be kept in that abominable cabinet, I’d resolved. There had been plenty of time to work on it, during that long, bicentennial summer. Where did I get the idea? It came with the starter kit, or maybe the pearls, or the vanity— all those “girl” things I got that I hadn’t asked for. Martin had checked out all the drawers and was opening the capacious cupboard, which I had filled with bricks (to equalize the weight distribution), topped by a generous mound of papier maché, made from that same vanilla-colored carpenter’s glue and all the summer of ’76 pages (minus the ads—my mother clipped coupons) of the Damascus News. He closed the cabinet and turned to me. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. “I don’t understand what you want.” “It’s very simple, Martin. I want a bicycle. I want a motor scooter. I want a ’72 Chevy. I want . . .” 62
“They’re yours!” he interrupted me. “I’ll buy them for you. All you had to do was tell me. You didn’t have to do this! He waved agitatedly at the cabinet behind him. “I want what you had,” I said firmly. “What did I have?” “You got to be first.” That stopped him for a minute. He thought about it, applying the whole of his stunted intelligence. Finally, he announced, “I think you pretty much got what you aimed for, Liz.” I’d had my mouth open, about to speak. Now I closed it, while I tried to think of a comeback. But all that came to mind was our earlier conversation, in my office. “The fact is that history is discontinuous.” Martin was watching me intently, his hands thrust deep into his pockets. For long minutes, the two of us stared at each other. Finally, I went over and plucked one of the loosened cubes of glue from the drawer. “Timmy, Timmy,” I said softly. “Why was it always you, and not me?” I stood gazing at the chunk of glue, and my mind began to click and whir. It was then that I had my vision: I was eleven again, and the moonlight was pouring through my window like faint and ghostly milk. The window was open, and the scent of lilacs flooded in—and something else, too: the scent of justice, married to hope. I was their secret daughter. I sat up and pushed away my sheets and got up. Starter kit be damned—I kicked it under the bed. Still in my nightgown, I pulled on a pair of pants and moved silently out of my room and down the stairs. Across the icy utility-room floor I padded, barefoot. Outside, in the garage, I stepped into the shoes my mother made us leave at the door. A deep breath: I turned on the light, and there it was, red and beautiful, with only a little mud on the tires now.
I pinched Tim’s windbreaker from the coat hook—mine was upstairs, and I wasn’t going back. I put it on and took the handlebars, kicked up the kickstand, walked the bike to the side door. Outside, as I rolled the bike across the grass, the moon seemed almost to be laughing. I paused by the lilacs. But why vandalize what hadn’t hurt me, and what smelled so sweet and heady, when I had my freedom? At the street, I threw my leg over the seat and slid on. The handlebar grips just fit my hands. The wheels spun. My nightgown billowed, where it escaped from under Tim’s jacket. Lizzie was on her way, riding through the streets of Damascus, and if anyone had been watching, they would have seen her, a flutter and a streak of red, racing toward a future that had nothing to do with the past.
Point by Neil de la Flor
100 Shows to See Before You Die First we went to the Tasty Donut on Euclid and Riverside. Then we drove south through the dairy farms. We sat topless on haystacks.
We tipped some cows.
There’s a time for respect and that time is
Just push the button.
Nothing will work except the button.
Those cows keep mooing, and besides, we weren’t really strong enough to tip them over. There’s a scam in the phone book today, but no one ever looks there. People see people peeing on the bus more often than they look in the phone book. They filmed us doing these things and when we watched the footage we were astonished at our success + our love + our resistance. We didn’t turn away from those parts of ourselves we wanted to eradicate. The city is the farm is the city is the farm.
Tunnel areas are marked I got the new i-phone, And I’m worried about what will happen to my i-pod. I lonely. Maybe I’ll buy a rice-cooker. It’s an amalgamation of things: Something like a short tree In a forest full of redwoods. It’s hard to be an eagle When you’re surrounded by turkeys. Lane ends merge left. On the escalator I saw a tattoo on the wrist of the woman behind me: animated water drops dancing, dressed in blue ink and bronze flesh.
#27 Contributors Maggie Ammerman is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, where she currently lives with her husband, two children, and a small aquarium of sea-monkeys. Her poems have been published in Mo’ed and are forthcoming in the Main Street Rag. J. Scott Bugher is a retired Nashville session musician now writing and painting. He has played music for a number of Grammy winners or nominees, his paintings have sold regionally throughout Indiana and surrounding states, and his stories have appeared in Atticus Review and Embodied Effigies. He is also the chief editor of Split Lip Magazine. Lance Calabrese was born and live in California. He has been published throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. Self-taught. Neil de la Flor is a Miami-based writer, teacher and photographer. His poetry publications include An Elephant’s Memory of Blizzards (Marsh Hawk Press, Forthcoming 2013), Sinead O’Connor and her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds (Firewheel Editions, 2011), co-authored with Maureen Seaton and winner of the Sentence Book Award and Almost Dorothy (Marsh Hawk Press, 2010), winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize. Neil can be reached at www.neildelaflor.com. James Engelhardt’s poems have appeared in North American Review, Lilies and Cannonballs Review, Hawk and Handsaw, Isotope, ACM, Painted Bride Quarterly, Natural Bridge, and elsewhere. Work is forthcoming in several journals. His short fiction has appeared in The Cupboard. His ecopoetry manifesto is at octopusmagazine.com. He is the Acquisitions Editor for the University of Alaska Press. Catherine Hackman has been writing stories since she was ten. She loves zombies and hates clowns. She likes to explore the darker side of human nature. Sara Henning is the author of A Sweeter Water (Lavender Ink, 2013, forthcoming) and To Speak of Dahlias (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared in such journals as So To Speak, Verse, and Willow Springs. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Circulations Manager for The South Dakota Review. Peycho Kanev is the Editor-In-Chief of Kanev Books. His poetry collection Bone Silence was released in September 2010 by Desperanto. A new collection of his poetry, titled Requiem for One Night, will be published by SixteenFourteen in 2013. Peycho Kanev has won several European awards for his poetry and he’s nominated for the Pushcart Award and Best of the Net. His poems have appeared in more than 900 literary magazines, such as: Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Hawaii Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Sheepshead Review, The Coachella Review, Two Thirds North, Sierra Nevada Review, The Cleveland Review and many others. Bleuzette La Feir lives in the semi-desert grasslands of Southern New Mexico. Hybrid free-range cattle often dissect her view of the Florida Mountains moving at just over a snail’s pace. She has come to realize that a snail’s pace is a good pace. Her work has appeared in Blue Lake Review, decomP, Diverse Voices Quarterly and Forge. You can check it all out at www.bleuzette.com. 70
Brandon Lewis lives in NYC with his wife and teaches in the Bronx. He received an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and is former poetry editor of Porcupine. He has published reviews in HTMLgiant and poems in journals such as Poet Lore, Fifth Wednesday, Harpur Palate, Fogged Clarity, Water~Stone Review, Oranges and Sardines andPhoebe. At the moment he is exploring the life of Nikola Tesla and figuring out what it means to become a father. Gianmarc Manzione is a Puschart Prize-nominated poet and nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Southern Review, Raritan and elsewhere. He earned an MFA in creative writing from The New School in 2004, and he currently teaches composition and creative writing at College of Central Florida. He previously taught creative writing, first-year writing, contemporary literature and poetic forms at the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. In 2006, Parsifal Press published his debut collection of poems, This Brevity. He currently is at work on two new books, including a second volume of poems as well as a creative nonfiction project titled PIN ACTION: Small-Time Gangsters, High-Stakes Gambling, and the Teenage Hustler who Became a Bowling Champion. Gianmarc’s Nov., 2012 New York Times story on this subject, “When Thugs and Hustlers Ruled Dark Alleys,” was named among Columbia Journalism Review’s “must-reads of 2012.” Jon Mathewson is a curator living in Vermont with his spouse, kids, cats, and bees. His latest collection of poems is While Strangers Insult the Decor, (Foothills Publishing, 2011), copies of which are available at http://www.foothillspublishing.com/2011/id19.htm Scott Parker hails from the Land of Enchantment. Formerly a desert rat, today he calls the Land of Ports home. He paints on canvas not houses. Jesse Rice-Evans is a poet and prose writer from North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Revolution House, Glass Mountain, Mississippi Goddam, and locally in Redaction!, Metabolism, and Headwaters. She curates and hosts the Juniper Bends quarterly reading series in Asheville, NC. In 2012, she was awarded the Topp-Grillot poetry scholarship at UNC Asheville, where she currently works as a professional writing consultant. Her non-poetic interests include crocheting, weight training, vegan cooking, and jazz. Her first chapbook, a collection of poems entitled Trump: Poems of the Major Arcana, is seeking a publisher. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tara Roeder lives in New York City, where she teaches writing. She’s currently finishing her dissertation, which focuses on non-oedipal approaches to writing and pedagogy. Maggie Rosen lives near Washington, D.C. She grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and is author of Carolina Theatre, a poetry chapbook about race and civil rights in North Carolina. Her poems have been published in Sow’s Ear, Minimus, Plainsongs, and have been or will be seen online at languageandculture. net, literarymama, and qarrtisluni. She has worked as an education writer and teacher of English to speakers of other languages for more than 15 years. Evelyn Somers is associate editor of The Missouri Review. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including Pank, the Georgia Review, South Dakota Review, Jabberwock Review, Shenandoah and the Florida Review. Her novel Preacher’s House is under submission with agents, and a new novel 71
about giftedness, obesity and marital infidelity is in progress. Bryan Stephenson was born in East China Township, Michigan. He grew up in a small unincorporated community called Lewiston. He is a graduate of the Art Studio and Writing programs from Indiana Wesleyan University. His work has appeared in Permafrost, Caesura, a university magazine, and Two From Seven Equals This, a chapbook. In 1995 he was awarded second place in poetry at the Indiana College and University Creative Writing Day — a statewide contest sponsored by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and in 1998 he received third place in the Character-development Competition from the Bloomington Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters. He currently lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and works for Wiley Publishing, Inc. Katerina Stoykova-Klemer is the author of three poetry books, most recently The Porcupine of Mind (Broadstone Books, 2012). Katerina is the founder of poetry and prose groups in Lexington, Kentucky. She hosts Accents – a radio show for literature, art and culture on WRFL, 88.1 FM, Lexington. ������������������� In January 2010, Katerina launched Accents Publishing. Valentin Dishev (translated by Stoykova-Klemer) was born in 1962 in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. He holds a PHD in Philosophy. He serves as a publisher and editor-in-chief of Ars, an independent press for Bulgarian literature, as well as editor-in-chief of the online journals Crossroads and DICTUM. He is the author of several poetry and prose books. For over 10 years he hosts literary radio programs in Radio Blagoevgrad of Bulgarian National Radio. Rossen Karamfilov (translated by Stoykova-Klemer) was born in 1992. He is the author of the poetry book The Eagle and the Child (2011) and the upcoming Stereo Silence. He is studying in the University of Vienna and his life is filled with poetry and music. Emily Thomas lives in Tucson, where she teaches writing and literature. She is also pursuing a PhD at the University of Arizona, and holds an MFA in Poetry from Emerson College. She spends her free time writing, practicing yoga, and galavanting around the gorgeous Sonoran desert. Kevin Tosca’s stories have been published in Midwestern Gothic, The MacGuffin,The Linnet’s Wings, The Legendary, Thin Air and elsewhere. He lives in Europe. Read more at www.kevintosca.com.
Binary by Neil de la Flor
Published on Jun 5, 2013