Issue #19, February 2011
a solar print of Bodhidharma, boundary-breaking founder of Zen, on a sake bottle
by Diana Paul 1
In This Issue... Letter from the Editors
Print by Diana Paul
The World Doesn‟t Know You
The Buddhist Contemplates Prayer
When She Asked Was I Afraid of Needles
Clearing Your Throat
Lot‟s Oldest Daughter
On Burning Countries
The Gray Area
Print by Diana Paul
Karen L. George
Print by Diana Paul
RoboCop is Always Very Busy in Mid-June
Dear readers, We‟ve all felt like we don‟t belong at one point or another. We want you to know, though, that others are near, closer than you think, maybe even reading these exact words at the exact time as you. We promise. Our site stats say the previous issue (#18) has had nearly 3,400 readers so far, and we have 18,000+ page views on our site since July. Sorry, we‟re in number-crunching mode because our little publication recently turned five years old (which in internet time has to be like 40 years…) Hoopla and grandeur to come! But we digress. Because for the moment, we‟re eagerly offering you #19, our outsider/outlaw-themed issue, hence the saccharine salutation. The writers in this issue explore that theme from its myriad angles; some wax poetic, some withdraw, some go rogue…but all impress. Choosing art for this theme was challenging, but we settled on prints by Diana Paul for their disconnect between, according to Paul, “the organic and the abstract.” This artist isn‟t afraid to disorient viewers, and we felt that experience appropriately offsets the fringe element of much of the writing here. The first words of this issue belong to Tim Suermondt: “The World Doesn‟t Know You”… “And it‟s good / to be inconspicuous as the beetle bug.” Thanks, Tim, for allowing us to start with a positive! Glenn Freeman‟s “The Buddhist Contemplates Prayer,” though, strikes a more weary tone with its insight that “Some days…devotion is merely waking.” Who hasn‟t felt that way? One thing you don‟t have to worry about in Freeman‟s poem is a lack of images to ground the abstractions of prayer, contemplation, truth, vision, and the transience of life; here, “the October light slip[s] // across the windowsill & through / the waffle iron‟s steam.” Freeman‟s poem ends with a carcass and Jeff Dupuis‟ poem begins with a “Fossil Hunter,” a little boy who embodies the free-spirited unselfconsciousness of children when he proclaims, “When I grow up I want to be a girl!” and could care less how the adults respond. Are children the real outsiders in society? Sarah Chavez‟ contribution suggests so. “When She Asked Was I Afraid of Needles” is a twist on the blood sisters concept: the early adolescent speaker and her friend Erin tattoo themselves on the school playground. The speaker‟s recollection of a dodgy walk home from school in which her personal safety (as a child and as a female) is in danger is a nice contrast to the recess chaos surrounding the girls as they create a sanctuary together, and a bodily emblem of their shared experience. Next, Kelly Nelson defends a literary “friend” (Louise Glück) from the condescending insinuation that Glück has passed “the peak of her powers.” “Off Peak” is a poem that employs a hacksaw and a vibrator as the tools of a woman writer who must apply them to her body to “feel…alive.” Sarah Marshall continues questioning female personal safety in her poem “Wednesday”; only this time, the speaker is not one of the young girls, but a voyeur, someone seeking comfort in “the bright, foreign things / they hold,” but knowing “there are so few sweet things” in life. We like two poems about the created safe spaces of adolescent girls sandwiching a poem in which an adult woman is alone but still reaching out to a contemporary, a “sister.” In Mesha Maren‟s “Hands,” the speaker becomes an outcast in her own bed, next to her lover whose “spine is an arched defense,” while contemplating snakes and “gestating / the motion that will 4
bring back words.” From silence to “Clearing Your Throat,” we come to Andrew Riutta‟s poem of the beginning of intimacy. We love how this poem suspends the moment just before a traumatic secret is shared, when two people are still so far apart, but moving ever closer together amidst “a frenzy of moths / circling the streetlight…wingdust creeping toward us / like a ghost.” Rather than suspend time, JP Kelleher deconstructs and rearranges it in “Space-Time Daughter.”. Kelleher removes the speaker-father from each scene with the daughter, effectively rendering him as the outsider when he realizes “She is spread out in places I can‟t ever be.” Aaron Bauer‟s poem “Lot‟s Older Daughter” gives bitter voice to a mythical daughter literally cast out, and who begs “Forgive me my slight / stutter.” Appropriately, “On Burning Countries” follows, July Westhale‟s image-laden poem of a country that “outlawed fire extinguishers / along with rain.” The Gray Area features two poems in prose; “Second-Bodied,” by Lawrence Wray, is told in four parts, the third of which breaks into lines like the “tremble” it describes. Not outcasts, but lost nonetheless: “…at night, we are unhoused and become another animal.” Karen L. George‟s “Finding Home” tells of a woman who actually seeks to become an outsider, who pores over maps and falls asleep as “vowels and consonants of towns whisper in her ear.” For fiction, we have three genre pieces, each a little more surreal than the one before and all a bit more outlaw than outcast. Nate Liederbach‟s “Outlaw” is a western narrative about a seemingly cursed pirate knife and a group of vagabond criminals. One is haunted by the memory of a girl he savagely beat while robbing her caretaker, but later proclaims, “With his gang, he no longer fears the squaw-ghost.” Even outlaws need friends! Next, Mark Todd‟s “Net Worth” is the story of a struggling performance artist who creates an avatar. Todd‟s story is a great commentary on the façade of internet fame; the story opens with the speaker incessantly Googling himself, seeking validation in a world he just can‟t seem to break into…until his avatar becomes more successful than he is. Of course, it IS all a façade—while seeming to create fame, he “becomes wary of fans who want to meet him in person,” cares nothing for increasing critical reviews (“even bad press floats his ratings higher”), and ignores his girlfriend‟s malediction that “That toy gonna swallow you up, if it ain‟t already.” By the end, will he even recognize himself in the mirror? Once we finally get to Thomas Mundt‟s “RoboCop Is Always Very Busy in Mid-June,” we can fully believe in the technical, man-made world policed by robots. Or a “real” world policed by “real” cops, but satirized as robotic, mechanical (and funny). These three fiction pieces chronicle main characters who move further away from real life until they are outside looking in. Enjoy this issue. We are confident in saying you won‟t be the only one. Best, The Editors
The Door to My Heart a monotype collograph with three subtle heart images in the composition
by Diana Paul
Tim Suermondt THE WORLD DOESN‟T KNOW YOU And it‟s good to be inconspicuous as the beetle bug. There‟s nothing to live up to or live down to. And you can make your masterpieces as small and large as you like. The nights in Fishkill are possessed by the same beauty as the nights in Venice. And lights shine on a woman‟s boots like beacons from paradise.
Glenn Freeman THE BUDDHIST CONTEMPLATES PRAYER Some days you believe that devotion is merely waking each morning to these prayers, to whisper the lush language of relation, the All to which you want to belong, moving always toward whatever is most yourself, and thus, most true. No perfection; no visions. No walking across coals or knees dragged across the desert sands. What then? Just a carpet of fallen leaves, the October light slipping across the windowsill & through the waffle iron‟s steam. The subjunctive‟s where it‟s at. On a single point jutting a hundred yards above clear water swaying icily, freely above the sands, a jack pine clings to meager soil & bare rock, gnarled roots digging into cracks. Sometimes, kicking pebbles from the edge, watching them arc into the clear water you get the queasy feeling in your soles that anything can happen. It‟s like walking
Glenn Freeman a country road, listening to the growing roar of a semi steaming over slight hills never meant for such speed. That easy, you could be sideswiped, and who would ever know? But there‟s only the shuddering moment—wind, hair, and grass—and then the calm. In the ditch, the bony carcass of a deer scavenged clean. There, inside the ribcage, a crow picks at the marrow, unafraid, light streaming through the bones.
Jeff Dupuis FOSSIL HUNTER Hunter and I spent most of our day at the museum amongst the dinosaurs, in the shadow of a Diplodocus skeleton that stretched the length on one wall. He didn't really care to read the signs, but would rather stoop over, keeping his elbow tucked at his sides, drawing one foot back and growling like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. A man wearing a black blazer with a name tag came over and told us to keep the noise down, so I took Hunter outside where we could act like dinosaurs all we wanted, while a pair of German tourists filmed us. On the way home, as the subway passed through Broadview Station Hunter stood up on the seat and I held his waist and he proclaimed, loudly: when I grow up I want to be a girl! Other commuters laughed, but he didn't seem to notice.
Sarah Chavez WHEN SHE ASKED WAS I AFRAID OF NEEDLES I looked down at my hand, then straight ahead, pulled my eyebrows high and said, hell no. At recess, we cracked the plastic case of the pen against the metal bracing of the jungle gym and buried it in the sand below where other eleven year olds buried marbles, rubber balls and love notes. With a pocket knife I‟d hidden in my shoe, we cut the tube of ink at a diagonal. I blocked Erin from the teachers standing near the swing set, by the monkey bars where they leaned against the kickball wall and drank coffee, pretending to watch out for injury or mischief. She pulled the lighter from her school-issued pants pocket and showed me how she had stitched the needle along the inside seam of her polo. My brother told me we won‟t get infection if we sterilize it, she said and guided the tiny flame, letting it lick the needle up and down until it was too hot to hold. I‟d seen her brother in my neighborhood, tattoos covering his body like small paintings, the edges raised slightly, like brail if you closed your eyes and touched. Once, he was nice to me and gave me a ride home in his white, lowered El Camino. That day I didn‟t have to run past the apartments where the men would leer and grab their dicks through their pants and yell Come here, baby, I‟ve got something for you. In his car, I felt strong and safe sitting up in the leather seats so the neighborhood people 11
Sarah Chavez could see me through the window above the clean, shining door. I‟ll go first, I said, spreading my thumb and pointer finger to flatten the web of my hand. Now, we‟ll be hermanas she said and kissed me on the cheek before dragging the needle across my outstretched skin, starting the “1” of the number thirteen.
Kelly Nelson OFF PEAK After reading a collection by Louise Glück at the “peak of her powers” I reach into my rough cloth apron: hacksaw and a vibrator I start with the saw but can‟t coax the blade through a carrot. I know enough not to shove it through ketchup or pudding too easy, too first thing out of the fridge then an idea crops up— I could slice sideways through mica if I had any mica. So it‟s on to the vibrator to tell me I feel I‟m alive jar by the bedside, lid for the capture the glow might make me say something like a woman who‟s lived wise years by the ocean like a woman who has loved winter and fall like a woman who‟s survived the blasts and the plumbing or again I could try the saw.
Sarah Marshall WEDNESDAY There is no way out but through these girls. You see it, a glinting at the edges of things: a strand of hair, the metal of an earring, a necklace, a ring. It is a shine lost and brought back again in sun and in the strange light that is the absence of sun in this place. You see them, laughing, talking, linking arms, and believe they can conjure it on their own, just as they can conjure laughter from their thin, white bodies. You know no one else who can anymore do such a thing. You find some excuse to walk by the high school, and walk by it as many times as you can without feeling that your eyes have grown bloodshot your tongue thick and hot and useless, stuck against the dry roof of your mouth. They are sitting out at the baseball diamond, the sky milky and sour above them. They are reading something from a magazine. The pages shine. They are eating oranges, passing one around girl to girl, each taking a slice juice of it so sweet it must be unkind to them: there are so few sweet things here. You stand there a while, and watch them. One looks up: her hair tucked behind her ears, a sweater on 14
Sarah Marshall the sugary blue of some other sky and she notices you, far away, far away even to yourself and looks down again, to the brightness of her white hands, the comfort of the bright, foreign things they hold.
Mesha Maren HANDS We slip somewhere along the road to your bed, swerve off the whiskey wet path towards sex, cut deep into jagged memory My finger on a photo of a too small too bright girl I trace your red-dust smile You grimace at your once great capacity for levity push back the frame widen the lens to encompass a Grandfatherâ€&#x;s Hands Hands meant to hold groped deep instead touched places never spoken of inside his southern skin an ugly stain a coiled cottonmouth, flash of light on creek water, snap jaw water moccasin waiting where cold water blooms out into the silty depths I known a cottonmouth to follow a man three mile, tracked him down, bled him in his sleep nasty sons a bitches Under my left ribs something rattles madly trapped a whiskey-fueled battle plan, an anger in me that shoots out your eyes, leaves narrow sockets slumped in a wordless face You put yourself to bed wrapped in silence your spine, an arched defense I breathe the rhythm of air conditioner and car alarm I lay still, gestating the motion that will bring back words 16
Andrew Riutta CLEARING YOUR THROAT Late last night, both of us drunk on some kind of alcoholic energy drink, you told me your father had hardly ever been sober, and that your uncle, when you were only five, scooped you up in his arms, and then, as though you were a Miss Potato Head, rearranged your most vital, your most delicate parts, so that, now, each step is taken, not with your feet, but with your wide-open mouth, which you stomp down hard on your lovers. You told me all of this by pointing at a frenzy of moths circling the streetlight outside a run-down apartment, and then clearing your throat, the air thick and humid, the wing-dust creeping toward us like a ghost.
JP Kelleher SPACE-TIME DAUGHTER She is spread out in places I canâ€&#x;t ever be: Getting her first period And holding her grandson Spelling surprise with 68 thin candles And telling me to let go of her bike seat So she can ride faster than I can run Kissing my wife at my funeral Dividing in the womb cell by cell And at small claims court to collect on a roommate She is held too hard by a drunken frat boy And finds it easier to give in And makes a little finger game out of notebook paper That unfolds to show which boys in her grade Will marry her friends She almost corners a squirrel in the yard But it vanishes and materializes Up the trunk of a pine In a stuttering spiral line She looks up sadly into the limbs And I want to tell her the squirrel wasnâ€&#x;t even real Because nothing like it is accounted for In the worlds of brittle facts or of starving inabsoluteness Where we may choose to set our daughters free
Aaron Bauer LOT'S OLDER DAUGHTER Forgive me my slight stutter. I scared you, followed tracks of men I've known. (The crowds you've thrown me to.) I reanimated corpses of our fears killed by angel-fire. The obscene force I put behind an act, itself a sweat-salty blessing some forget when they are drunk. But not you. You could feel my swollen labia against youâ€” the closest I could get to doing back to you what you've had them do to me. Your fingers matched handprints bruised on my thighs, as you planted seeds in this tumultuous soil.
July Westhale ON BURNING COUNTRIES in Houses of Laughter are the coal faced brothers of revolutionaries tied to cinder and bookmarked to plummet, at the fetlock. the turnstile, the tickertape, the jaundice of skinny notationâ€”these are not history in the tourmaline of storm, recorded are bodies slid open at the leg not skeletons, but specters, gaping through the teeth of women, zippered without stories. not boutonniered into puckered neatness, the pistons of narrative, the holding patterns of oral tradition because not a leaf moves in this country without Pinochet knowing just language, marinated and primed fed to fatter calves who outlawed fire extinguishers along with rain.
#19 Gray Area
Monotype gum arabic transfer of the bryonia alba plant, an anti-inflammatory vine used in homeopathy
by Diana Paul
Lawrence Wray SECOND-BODIED With the one we love, we have stopped speaking, and it is not silence. -Rene Char 1/ On a glide from the hill trees at the end of the street, a hawk is at a standstill, a Redtail paused above our house as it did months ago, but now alone. Leaning out a window I only hear its wheezy scree, and for three days, each time I look, feel the way I do as bedtime approaches. I will stay up long past the hour I should to be near something that may not emerge. 2/ The water is still too cold for the children learning to swim. Some have already tried turning to a shoulder to breathe. They hold onto their teacher‟s arms, who wades backward with them as they pull themselves out and gasp. A friend from years ago watches with me. He had so much life left in him, he says about his teacher, standing close, the chain-link fence between us. The children are sleek, skinny, but leaving us. The sky at the wet edge of things slips under, becomes them. Then they shiver on their bellies beside each other at the edge of the pool. 3/ All night-sound is distinct, comes some hour from far away, not just a few streets over, even if we can‟t name it at first. Even if we never know what it is, sound at night claims us. Sound of a car in the distance, radio coming and going. The tick of a belt in the engine. Prayer like pleading in a room across the alley. The bark of a neighborhood dog, then nothing. And a voice, a man‟s and almost another in reply, and a bus, and the shrill tear of a siren. Beneath all these, the underhum of air, and beneath that an emptying sound— tunneling shifts and knocks, pulse and streaming of sound that is about to tremble in our bones, that is about to tremble on the skindrum of the self. This is why, at night, we are unhoused and become another animal. Suddenly stock still, discerning the what, if it still exists, from hours or even years ago. A deer making out the length of the possible future. Or a dog, the eyes unfocused but wide, the way a dog becomes immovable before a quake.
Lawrence Wray 4/ He sat across from me after years apart and smiled as though nothing had lapsed. A table in a dark booth, and then the world was restored. What explains this? He arrived from a far away city. A night just beginning, as though Iâ€&#x;d always waited in the last boat in the black water at the end of every ghat, and we were, no matter all that, still alone together.
Karen L. George FINDING HOME Her plans to leave home began years ago, quietly at first like a potato tuber in back of a bin sprouting roots through its eyes. Her fortieth birthday nudged her over the ledge. She divided The United States into quadrants; in four shoe boxes collected maps from Chambers of Commerce. Desire escalates each workday hour. She strikes keypads, slits the throats of envelopes. Once home, she retrieves shoe boxes from deli drawer, fruit bin, vegetable crisper. Spreads cool crinkly maps like a blanket for a picnic; touches dashes, lines, and circles as the scars of a lover. Enunciating towns, she listens for the right sound. Her fingertips search bodies of waterâ€”their source, course, and end. She vows not to leave until she finds the place life awaits her. In the arms of state routes, she falls asleep. Vowels and consonants of towns whisper in her ear, and rivers curl in ribbons around her feet.
Trace monotype of flagella, cellular organisms epitomizing locomotion and speed
by Diana Paul
Nate Liederbach OUTLAWS Pronto post hijacking, post looting, said train left not but a big ol gutted serpent back-broked and smoking out the eyes, its fancy womens and men alike making skinned-cat cries, the outlaws, in full whoop, clean beat it to their hideout and therein certain rowdiness takes hold— imbibing the hooch, and pro-mucho, then it‟s on too the recreative hurling of epithets one to the next, slurs ranging like unbranded cattle— half-wit pa‟s, cur ma‟s, teeny wieners and the inevitable lame-lasso—but soon enough frequency‟s leaning to Jew, to fairy, to chinky-wink… Outlaws! Don go a-makin me holster this ere barrel n yer feed-bag ofa backside you dern slanty-eye Heeb-o. Har, har, hars bouncing crumbly red rock, and it‟s just a intersection of gulch, the hideout, only a quick jaunt from town, but the jab flurry flags into a low long contemplation of brothel-storming and high-five whore-raping. Someone unloads six shots into the dry night. Someone else staggers to a local cottonwood and pretends to bequeath its rough trunk with a show of sexual virility. It is certainly appetite stirring, this talk of painted ladies. So appetite stirring in fact that it waxes to strict literal until, crouched and slurping, the outlaws set hard to the consumption of a great many congealed pinto beans. Ritualistically, this frenzy‟s followed by a general kneeling at the creek to cup cold handfuls. Then it‟s on to passing out in various states of undress. A warm night of meek breezes, but it‟s far too short. Seems no time and an eagle-eyed sun‟s burning the near rise. Day‟s first flies crawling leathered faces. Someone dry heaves. Someone moans and another maybe shits hisself but can‟t move. Bad all around. Except for the leader. Who knows how long he‟s been up, but there he is sitted pensively by a dead fire and cleaning his pistols, oiling away those dark-soft chaps. Unnerving, it is, this man‟s quietude and dearth of hangover. Further, the graven mustache. Blue-black and so expertly draped. Ninety percent of emotion, it hides, maybe ninety-five. To be sure the other outlaws sport similar bristles, but such as they are is unkempt and regularly vittles-encrusted. At long last someone grumbles a question at the leader. There‟s a proper tense pause, just enough time for the man to slow expectorate, rise to his black-shined boots and answer, “Kill the sheriff.” * Imbued with respectable directive, it‟s the consumption of more beans, bacon, and hard bread before the gallop to town. A juggle of mighty horse between the legs, how revitalizing. Everyone feels cleaner, sharper, with the wind in his pink eyes. Trotting 26
Nate Liederbach side-by-side through seas of dewy sage and though whooping‟s scant there are a number of relaxed smiles shared round. But whoa, though, here‟s the edge of town and they all know to clips the grins. Time to take the mounts down to clop-trot, too. Past the leany cemetery, past the empty depot. An old woman skittles out the way jerking her crippled boy. Face like a broken plate, kid barks, “Posse! Posse!” His lips loose and spitty, neck wrung with soil, he waves his fingers spread out for no reason. “What‟d he say?” one outlaw says to the next, but the next doesn‟t answer. Doesn‟t answer cause he‟s got a huge knife out. Riding one hand on the horn, the other stuffed full of terrific knife. Thing‟s just glinting away in the sun, a good foot-long of itself. And the how of this particular blade getting into his particular fist is a yarn only he knows, but certainly worth the foray. Involved is an Injun girl and a Mormon man. Whale-like, the Mormon was, and small of eye but huge of kindness. Upon observing said squaw slurping at his late-night hog trough, the Mormon employed a great many polite words to invite her inside. These failed. Feral and easily spooked, she rolled her lips and hissed. Also, she urinated. And high-tailed. The Mormon, that big heart a full barn of anxious livestock, could think of little else, could not rest until he‟d constructed a trap about the trough. Or not a trap, but a delicate dupe-hold that would not harm. Long-story chopped, he caught her and after a week of warm baths and paternal touches, the gal came round. Before long, he couldn‟t keep her from the washboard, from the kitchen, from his bed. Angel Wind, he called her. Angel Wind because it rang both Injun and Christian. But more than that the name reminisced a town in Missouri. Anglewild was the place, and that‟s when the Mormon was not fat. No, those were the days slenderness and spectacular listening skills. The days when one night Joseph Smith hisself came by for supper and between bites the prophet orated delightful sentences. Or after, when the wife and kids got at clearing the meal, how Smith pulled the slender Mormon aside to applaud those so-thirsty ears. Next, he gave the Mormon the knife. It, Smith said, belonged to a pirate, a pirate who turned out to be an instrument of God‟s divine plan. Smith then strode off, over the shoulder saying, “I‟ll tell you more later.” Course, he didn‟t. Smith got ambushed soon after. Top it off, within hours the Mormon‟s house and barn were lit afire. Wife and towhead progeny perishing of smoke inhalation and crushing embered roof. But the man escaped. Gripping the madness in his head, he ran into the forest, burned across the face. A week later, returning to the still-smoldering rubble, he found only the knife. Kneed there in the ash, he tried puncturing his own breastplate but a strange force paralyzed both elbows. Relenting, he wound up in Colorado. A new wife then, new children. But these went, too. The high summer of bad water, of severe dehydration, of excessive diarrhea. By this time the Mormon had learned much of God‟s mysterious way. Mourn he did, but sparingly. Instead, he devoted himself to introspection and practices of slow, vast eating. Until the Injun girl was there, fingering his scarred face with pity 27
Nate Liederbach and grace and saying words he was just starting to recognize. Such attentions curbed his appetite and once again lifted his means of procreation. Until they were robbed. Until he recounted all of this to the man who burst into their cabin with double Colts and a languid reek of opium. The Mormon, in a chair by a candle, said, “The Lord has led you nigh.” The robber—the same man now riding to kill the sheriff, the same outlaw holding the knife—waved on his feet, bug-eyed, and replied, “You got me.” You got me! This made the Mormon smile, smile and tell the robber to listen up. Then done recounting, the Mormon said, “Take the knife but never forget its story.” “The pirate,” the robber said, and stabbed the Mormon once and deep. Then he shuffled the small cabin, came back, found the Mormon alive still. Herein he gut him six more times in the same general wound, but the Injun girl interrupted. Having just used the privy, returning to the house for a hygienic splash of the basin, she entered the scene wherefore the knife appeared then at her neck. She dropped on pine planks where the robber arranged hisself between her spread legs and tried entering. He could not. Strong scents lingered from her recent movement. So on his feet, he worked full drawn kicks from both boots into the girl‟s cheeks and soft sockets until unrecognizable. Gone off with the knife then, off with a sack of food and three horses, but for the week‟s duration he could not sleep. The wilderness groaned and buckled. Squirrels made wrong sounds and rocks he touched gave human pulse. Terror‟s too weak a word. Certain the ghost-squaw and her forest spirits stalked his raw heart, the man found a clearly Christian township and peaceably surrendered. And it was there, behind hand-smoothed bars, wherein the robber acquainted the outlaw leader of flawless mustache. It was there the duo hatched a plan of escape. Or not a plan, but plea … as their disgruntled deputy was all ears and solid dull. Dull enough to think he could arrange their escape and re-arrest. A bolstered notoriety would be his, fella figured, for subduing not mere criminals, but jail-break masterminds. And the first part worked, but the next turned impromptu strangulation. The deputy, on person, had the knife but never knew of the pirate. The robber retrieved his weapon and joined the outlaw leader‟s gang. Two weeks later, the train heist, the hooch, the hangover, and now to kill the sheriff. What sheriff, what town, and why, doesn‟t matter. His knife out, the man feels larger of identity. With his gang, he no longer fears the squaw-ghost. * But sheriff‟s nowhere to be found. Sadly. So it‟s too the saloon for the leader and the robber. Two glasses down, throats cozy, and the robber hoists the knife high declaring thing never needs sharpening—never, as per pirate magic. The leader asks to handle it, does, and in a flash he‟s shorn off most of his mythical mustache. Bared, the upper lip‟s flimsy at best. “Whoa Nellie,” the robber says. “Don‟t threaten me,” the leader says.
Nate Liederbach Possibly because of this, the whole gang‟s in the saloon pretending not to look at nothing. Then who‟s outside? Who‟s with the horses? Nobody but the old woman and her crippled boy. And the boy‟s still yelling. This time it‟s “Horse! Horse!” He‟s right in front of the robber‟s horse, yelling and waving those spread fingers. Eyes a wild white, snort-jerking at its tied lead, the horse is not amused. “Horse! Horse!” That simple and uneven face bobbing close and back and close again. But it sounds like “Whore! Whore!” so the robber staggers out and knocks the kid‟s skull. It‟s the knife handle does it. Doesn‟t black out the boy, but drops him. Fingers still spread, he‟s flopping and curled on the dirt. So the horse accidently steps on him. A wet crunch and long howls. Dragging her son free, the old woman‟s yelling curses. Her black tongue and peeled face spits Bible scripture bringing the whole gang outside in half-circle. Looky this! Har, har, har! “That boy‟s soft-headed and deserves a pity we of our ilk can‟t afford him.” The leader says this, the leader and his newly unhandsome lower face. “How‟s that?” the robber says, and draws a pistol. He shoots the old woman in the shin. She topples onto the boy in a mass of fouled fabrics and blood and salivate and more holy scriptures. They both wail and writhe. There‟s a bucket of rank water close, ostensibly for the horses, and mother and child thrash into it. When it knocks over, the leader regards the spill with more than meaninglessness. “It‟s more important,” he says, and his voice all ready far outside of town, “that I leave now.” Still with gun in hand, knife in the other, the robber says, “And you figure how?” “It‟s something,” the leader answers, “we come to in ourselves,” and now the other outlaws get says, says getting louder and louder. But what for the sheriff? But what for the hideout? And the whores we know by name? Someone shouts, “Our shared experience with the train? Our shared experience with the train?” The way they hold their necks makes it clear everyone‟s still substantially hung-over. In the end, the disbanding goes without any more hitch. It‟s either return to the saloon or sit in the sun on the slivered-wood sidewalk. And when the sheriff turns up later, well, he‟s unmolested, roundly ignored. Of the old woman, he asks questions, but no one knew her. En-fevered, sucking his thumb, the gash on his head just scabbing and threaded with hair, the simple boy, in the empty depot, expires at nightfall. And boo hoo. Cause in the Wild West, there‟s many like him, and for good reason. Them who keep the ground properly disturbed. Them who only feel every other hoof beat. Them who stand under passing clouds when nothing‟s happening, or, if it is, it‟s four or five towns away.
Mark Todd NET WORTH “Ich bin der Andere, der immer da ist. Der andere Mensch, der Antworter… der Ja sagt, wenn du Nein sagst.” -Wolfgang Borchert, Draußen vor der Tür Okay, so maybe a bit of ego is involved, but that‟s not the reason he‟s Googling himself—again. He wants the Net‟s pulse for how the performances are going, he tells himself. A Cartesian validation: I am Googled, therefore I am … well, worth a second look. He types his name into the search field and taps the return key. When the screen fills with entries, the search engine reports “about 30,000,000 pages for Wilson William,” but he knows better. The engine produces hits for “Wilson” or “William” and more often as the reversed “William Wilson.” It‟s only on the third screen he finally sees a mention specific to him, sandwiched between two unrelated entries: Bill W. —Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ALTERNATIVE NAMES, W., Bill (Common referent); Wilson, William Griffith (full name). SHORT DESCRIPTION, Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous ... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_W. - 55k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this „verse June Newsletter 2010 page 4 Preparing for the next iteration in art. … Wilson William‟s unorthodox performance style warrants notice, although one hopes he‟s overcome his earlier ill-fated … www11.‟verse.dim/ - 25k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this - More results from www11.‟verse.dim >> William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation. … www.onlineliterature.com/poe/47/ - 59k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this The Net review calls his performance “ill-fated.” An understatement. Willy had hoped to transform into a human torch to symbolize Earth‟s burned-out ideologies, but he‟d ignited not only the stage but also most of the banners in his act. His onenight assistants had turned extinguishers on curtains and stage riggings first, and Wilson suffered second-degree burns on one forearm, despite his protective suit, before hired help remembered to put him out. And not before his tangled dreads lighted like fuses, leaving no more than the charred stubble of a Mohawk stippled across the crown of his head. Maybe he should‟ve stopped at only two or three drinks before the show. An uncontained sigh spurts through Willy‟s pinched lips and spews over the keyboard. Hairs on the backs of his hands tingle with his breath as he studies the pink laptop screen. His girlfriend‟s machine—well, his ex‟s. Starburst had left most of
Mark Todd her belongings, including the computer, some of her latch-hooks, and half a bottle of conditioner. “You‟ll need it fo‟ that hair when you don‟t have a live-in loctician no more,” she‟d said, seeming to half-invite him to beg her to stay. But he didn‟t, and she rushed from the apartment, dribbling tears on the bare linoleum floor all the way to the threshold. They‟d first met at the salon he‟d used for a “tone-„n‟-tighten” on the locks, and she made fun of him at first. A Wannabe, she called him, with his fiery freckles, unruly Irish-red hair, and a nose bright from a previous night of partying. But she had fairer skin than he, and her jive-talk sounded every bit as Wannabe as his dreads looked, he thought, as he stared through the skimpy apron at her thighs. Some women just seem drawn to Willy, particularly when he drinks. Starburst is one. They‟d gone out that same night, ended back at his place, and she‟d “stayed over” for three months, paying the rent. But both are gone now, the locks and the live-in, blue-eyed, jive-talking loctician. Besides, she‟s still not playing that hard to get back, and Willy can‟t seem to help himself; he takes advantage of her when it suits him. Like now, borrowing the pink laptop. He rereads the Google entry, his eyes hungering for any scrap of praise. “…William‟s unorthodox style warrants notice…” And then he sees the link just below, “More results from www11.„verse.dim,” which he clicks. He wonders what “www11” is as he watches the fast-loading site. Has the café across the alley boosted their wi-fi signal? Not that he can ask since he‟s an unauthorized user. A spiraling animation stretches across the black background and announces, „Verse: Preparing for the Next Iteration in Art before disintegrating into menus that proclaim “Who‟s Hot/Not,” “Artist Profiles,” “Events,” “Fan Blogs,” and “Member Sign-in.” His lids slit half-open, surprised when he sees his own name on the short list for Who‟s Hot, and then the notation, “but has he got what it takes?” He taps the link to his name and the full-text blurb of the earlier Google excerpt pops up, with the cryptic “style warrants notice” sentence and a short summary of his fiery debut. When he closes the pop-up, a new one opens with a single line: “Wanna join?—Click here.” Hell, yes. Another tap. *** Willy feels like he‟s arrived. The virtual world of „Verse lets him wander, or fly, around their Cyber City on a Hill, breaking into conversations with other residents, yet easy to walk away—or log out—when he senses the prattle turn to mating rituals. All too common in most pixel-sequestered social networks. But he does see the potential, a place where he can hustle interest in his newest show, “Flame and Fame.” Space on the site costs him nothing since his ratings continue to climb, measured by hits on the blog that „Verse provides him, plus guest appearances at three consecutive raves in the URL‟s virtual performance theater, Lucid Dreams. Site designers help him create an avatar—restoring red dreads that always seem to tousle in the breeze no matter which way he turns—plus they give him the extra six inches in height his 31
Mark Todd father‟s genes owed him but never delivered. And simulated key-lighting makes his augmented and muscled avatar glow with boosted albedo. Of course, he‟s wary of fans who want to meet him in person. That hot (well, an engineered hot) Juju Doll blond who keeps texting him is probably a Bassett Hound in real life. At his third Lucid performance, he‟d used her as his finale. If her avatar had been flesh and bone, her fawning breath would have misted up his albedo halo when he invited her onstage and then lit her tresses like a fireworks display. Her head popped off and vaulted toward the rafters in an incendiary volley. Next, her arms detached into bottle rockets, spiraling over spectators who‟d text-chattered with delight. When her torso erupted into a conflagration of fire, flaming tongues shimmered like iridescent peacock feathers that folded in on one another until nothing but a pool of ash remained on the virtual stage. Later, she wrote on his blog wall that the code he‟d used to make her burn corrupted her avatar, and she‟d have to buy another one. “The price of art,” he responded in a wall-to-wall post. No apologies. Maybe the hound would leave him alone now. But reviews are becoming more controversial. “Misogynistic,” one writes. “Vulgar and trite,” proclaims another. But Willy hardly notices. Even bad press floats his ratings higher, and people come so they can feel outrage as much as experience his spectacles. He‟s moved up in Google ratings and now his searches place him on screen two. Cartesian validation is still his constant mantra. Soon he‟ll be able to move back to real performances, once potential patrons recognize he‟s bankable. *** Staring at the computer screen, Willy hears a distracting knock. He hasn‟t included that sound effect, and he checks the settings. Again the knocking. “You in there?” Starburst‟s voice calls through the front door. “Open!” Willy shouts, buzzed from a swig of a magnum can of brew. Too much blurring of virtual and real worlds. Willy remembers that he called his ex over to get her take on his latest creation for the upcoming rave performance. That and he was hungry, suggesting she bring along a pizza—plus another six-pack. Scooting a chair next to him, Starburst opens the box and hands him a slice with pepperoni and sausage. She studies the screen. “Why the sparkly things?” Now that she‟s delivered the pie and beer, Willy wishes she‟d leave. Nothing like an amateur critic to spoil his inspiration. He wolfs down half the slice and pops open a can. He rubs hands to jeans and starts to play with the „Verse-provided toolbar for the next sequence. He ignores her question; maybe she‟ll get the hint and leave. What he wants is an effect that lulls the audience into a false security. Maybe earth tones, a few green and lush splashes to contrast the reds and blacks to come. “It‟s like you enter some sort of trance when you be online,” Starburst says. “Whatever.” Yeah, sparkly things may be too telling.
Mark Todd “No, I be serious. It‟s like you in some other universe when you on that site.” She tugs at his arm. “Earth to Willy!” He pulls free of her fingers and studies the screen. That‟s a definite: gotta lose the sparkles. Maybe a throbbing bass building under the earth tones, followed by a sudden knock. He can‟t tell if he‟s buzzed from the new idea or from the new can of brew. “I worry „bout you, boy. That toy gonna swallow you up, if it ain‟t already.” Willy stops, pulling his concentration from the laptop long enough to turn and stare her down. “This is art. My life.” Then he returns to the screen. Willy hits the preview icon and grabs another beer. At this rate, the show‟ll never be ready. *** Willy staggers around his loft apartment, kicking a miniskirted Juju Doll, each bounce triggering its husky microchip voice. “Hey, wanna party?” it taunts. A gift from Hound Girl, who “loved your latest show,” the accompanying card proclaimed. Only the show wasn‟t his. Not his art. He‟s complained to „Verse customer service, who promised to look into it, but no word yet. Willy returns to Starburst‟s pink laptop, watching the replay of the show again. The avatar looks like him—same tousled dreads, same key light-boosted albedo—and the act‟s signature fire. But the flames look rosy, the effect more mellow. It‟s Willy without edge, kinder, more forgiving, more supportive of the establishment he hates. When he rags in his weekly blog that someone has usurped his avatar and subverted his work, fans write that they don‟t believe him. “Willy is in transition, conflicted with his new show,” one blog fan writes. Another responds, “But the new Willy‟s better. Less vitriol, more hope. And he‟s not so buzzed. I kinda like it.” His Google hits rise to the first screen. But to hell with Descartes. Willy‟s gotta find the bastard imposter. *** He has his biggest-ever crowd at Lucid Dreams, and he‟s determined to reclaim his provocateur image. The theme is “Stripes and Stars” —a reversal of trite words he hopes true fans will read as a declaration of moral and political corruption. Goosestepping across stage, his avatar sports an Uncle Sam coat and tails painted with cartoonish prison stripes, black replacing Uncle‟s expected red. To accent the look, Willy has turned his locks black and white, spiked and shaped to resemble Lady Liberty‟s halo, and they dance erect on his head. No breeze-catching tousle tonight. A backdrop wall of stars behind him spangle into dripping red, then melt into black.
Mark Todd The crowd begins to hiss, a reptilian reverberation that amplifies with each goose-stamp he takes. Willy‟s ecstatic, frenzied—they understand! He laughs, savors the simpatico, and takes a bow. But the hissing continues, adding jeers and ... boos, he hears boos. Willy falters, facing the ophidian, slithering surge before him. New voices punctuate their ugly taunts, until a chant overtakes the crowd. “WE WANT THE REAL WILLY! WE WANT THE REAL WILLY!” From the front row, Hound Girl stands, motionless, wiping virtual tears from impossibly large Juju eyes. *** “Don‟t you fret none,” says Starburst. She caresses the one-inch stubble that‟s beginning to sprout from his skullcap, massaging his scalp with an ointment she vows will speed regrowth. Willy has called her, wanting a witness to his utter desolation. Plus a new case of brew. Her expert fingers start to work his head with light staccato taps; his head is a convex piano keyboard that she knows how to play. “I‟ve got to expose this guy, catch „im in th‟ act,” he slurs, making no effort to mask his glum voice. “Why bother? He‟s done nuthin‟ but make people talk.” Starburst pauses to squirt more ointment into her left palm, then works it into a thin sheen with the other before rubbing the oil into his scalp sprouts. “You couldn‟t make up a story like this. And yo‟ fans, they luvin‟ it. „Willy become a schitzo.‟ „A Jeck-be-Hyde artist,‟ they be saying. Can‟t buy that kinda hype.” “But‟s not me! Not true to m‟ art.” His tongue is thickening, but he takes another draw on the can anyway. Starburst‟s hands push his head forward to rest on his clavicle. Each time he tries to complain, his jaw leverages his head up from the chest. And each time Starburst presses down hard, silencing him by locking his jaw shut. He‟ll show her; he‟ll show them all. *** Willy is furious, and a throbbing hangover doesn‟t help. Hound Girl just emailed, thanking him for the new avatar and the complimentary tickets to his upcoming special at Lucid Dreams. She just knew he didn‟t mean those awful things he‟d said to her before. And she promises to be more understanding in the future. A temperamental artist, she teases him. Teases him! The tone sours his stomach. Only, he didn‟t send her the avatar, would never have encouraged her. And certainly not with new Juju avatar eyes that change color with her moods. He couldn‟t care less about her moods. Now he‟ll never get rid of her. Has to be that jerk imposter.
Mark Todd Customer service has sent him a special 24-bit encryption, new username, new password, but still this joker is hacking his identity. Some back-end user, somebody from „Verse who‟s yanking his pixeled chain. Maybe he‟ll threaten to sue, find a slease-lawyer who‟ll make them take notice. That‟ll give them the incentive to out the trickster-double from their ranks. Don‟t employers do background checks anymore? More infuriating are changes to his artist profile on „Verse—additions he hasn‟t made. Sure, the altered bio has brought him more followers. But who wants saps that like a guy who loves puppies and kittens, who includes favorite quotes by sellout pop stars, or admits donating to dead-end charities like Friends of the Earth? He pounds the table, toppling a row of empty cans that rattle onto the linoleum. He‟s gotta get control of things or his reputation‟s ruined. First he has to set the Juju bimbo straight. Willy hits “Reply” to her thank-you email and starts to key a message, glancing down her quoted text for inspiration. Then he notices again the gig she‟s “sooo excited to attend.” And with a front-row seat. What‟s with this gig? Another performance by his “better” self. Willy cancels the reply and closes Starburst‟s laptop. That joker isn‟t so smart after all. Didn‟t he realize that Juju Doll would acknowledge “his kind gift”? He opens the computer again and browses to „Verse‟s list of upcoming events. And there it is: “Wilson William, performing his latest creation, „A Night to Remember,‟ in a special rave at Lucid Dreams.” Tonight, just after midnight. Smiling, Willy checks the computer‟s clock. 10:30 p.m. Plenty of time to grab a pizza and a few more brews before logging in to nab the pretender in the act. *** Willy navigates through the gauzy, shimmering portal that shields the uninvited from getting a free peek into Lucid Dreams. His fingers are unsteady, jerking his avatar forward. Gotta be more from rage than the extra beers he downed to fortify himself for this showdown. But before he can key in his artist‟s entrance code, the gauze evaporates and lets him through without authorization, or without paying. Great. Now the charlatan‟s using his name to let people attend shows for free. The least he could do is give Willy a few „Verse bucks if he‟s going to play Mr. Impersonator. What if the audience comes to expect such freebies when Willy gives legit shows? The price of art is the price of admission, that‟s what he‟s told Juju and other fans. The more he treats them like dirt the more they love it. But Faux-Willy is going to ruin all that if Real-Deal-Willy doesn‟t step in, and soon. He wants to check out how his avatar looks in a mirror, no longer trusting the management to keep his image the way it‟s supposed to look. Willy heads toward the restrooms. Not that anybody “uses the facilities.” Well, not for taking a leak, anyway. Lucid‟s restrooms are the place to go for a little cyber hanky-panky. Lucid can thank him for that suggestion. “Hey, Willy!” It‟s a fan, blocking his way. “How‟d you do that?” A babbling fan. 35
Mark Todd Willy tries to maneuver past the waving fanboy. “No really, how‟d you appear so quickly again?” Willy keys his avatar to a stop. “What do you mean, „again‟?” “I just saw you go into the John, and then, poof, you‟re out here again. How‟d you log in and out so quick?” The imposter. He must be in the John. “Sorry, gotta go!” Willy blasts through the fan-avatar, shattering the guy‟s form in a mist of screen chaos. Rude, yeah, but fanboy should show some respect, stay out of his way. When Willy glides into the restroom, only two stalls are occupied. He opens the first door to some one-on-one action. But it ain‟t with a Willy lookalike. “Sorry,” he mumbles and shuts them back in. The other, two stalls down, shows three sets of legs under the door, but two sets have hooves and the other set doesn‟t look like his, so he leaves them alone. “Whatever gets you off,” Willy says, loud enough to interrupt them. He moves to the end, where a counter of lavatories lies beneath a long mirror. The opposite wall holds the same. Except for the stalls, the place is empty. Jerk-off fan. Can‟t he tell Willy‟s dreads from a goat-boy Lothario? He turns to face the mirror, checking his boosted albedo. Past his reflection he sees the mirror on the opposite wall and checks out his ass. At least the „Verse nerds gave him a decent avatar both coming and going. He raises two fingers and salutes himself, watching the perfect symmetry of the salute in the mirror behind him. Gotta hand it to the management, it‟s a nice touch to add the double mirror effect. A nice bit of programming—even if they are dips to let somebody hack his account. But then the mirrored Willy salutes him again. Maybe he‟s giving the „Verse team too much credit. The déjà-vu glitch spoils the effect. The back-mirror Willy waves at him a third time, only now the figure‟s no longer mimicking. *** Willy spins his avatar to face the mirror on the opposite wall. The reflection refuses to follow his movements. Instead, Willy looks directly at a rogue version of himself, smiling back. It takes only a moment to realize he‟s looking at Faux-Willy. Gotta be a hacker. How else could he make himself just a mirror reflection? „Verse is gonna hear about this—maybe through two lawyers. “I was beginning to think we‟d never meet,” the reflection tells him. “But no matter. You‟re here now.” Willy can‟t believe the guy‟s so unapologetic, so casual about the whole thing.
Mark Todd “It‟s over. You‟re history, man,” he tells the impersonator as he glides across the room to get a closer look. He‟s trying to detect some difference in the image, some flaw. Nobody‟s that good. “You‟re wrong,” the impersonating bastard says. “It‟s not over; it‟s just beginning.” The rogue avatar steps to the side to reveal Willy‟s own figure still standing in the mirror, just as it should, and mimicking his every expression. Inside the mirror, Rogue Willy turns to face the reflection and Willy turns as well, expecting to face his unwelcome double by his side in the restroom. But no one‟s there. Just Willy, plus his reflection and nearby rogue in the mirror, who stares at the profile of Willy‟s reflected avatar. Rogue Willy continues talking to the reflection. “Think of me as your partner.” “I don‟t think so. I‟m doing fine without one.” The guy chuckles. This prick is unbelievably condescending, but Willy can‟t figure out how to get at him. Not yet. But he‟s already thinking about what he‟ll tell the battery of lawyers he‟s hiring for sure. The guy‟s stolen my identity, masquerades as me, taken my act, my fans. Take „em for millions, him and that fraud of hackers at „Verse. Willy can retire, never have to deal with landlords, Juju Dolls, or loctician Wannabes again. Maybe a yacht in the Bahamas, a chest of imported micro-brews by his side. He‟s always liked palm trees. “We could try expanding your world,” the rogue says, reaching over to tap Willy‟s avatar on the forehead. “But you can‟t do it alone, sequestered in that limited brain.” Willy tries to duck, but he swears he feels his head tingle from the tap to his reflection. Gotta be that extra beer. “Hey, don‟t be insulting. My brain‟s just fine.” “Not brain. Brane, as in membrane. Think of all this” —Faux-Willy sweeps an open hand toward the room— “as a portal, a window for baryonic voyeurs.” The impersonator sighs. “Of course, you‟re really just a beta, but that‟s the nature of art.” The guy is an artist alright, a bullshit artist. Willy‟s had enough. He‟s not letting this jerk-off string him along any more. But before Willy can turn to leave, the figure reaches forward, slapping the real reflected avatar on the forehead. This time Willy feels dizzy, an unsettling shift. The rogue steps up to and merges with Willy‟s original reflection, saying, “Still, my best iterative art so far.” Or is it Willy who says this to his own reflection? He‟s no longer sure. He stumbles up and away from the computer. Head still buzzing, he lumbers toward the couch and falls face down on the cushions. “Gotta sleep „s off,” he slurs into the coarse upholstered fabric and then tries to utter, “Not worth it, not worth…” But his mind loses hold on the words, his last iteration slipping into darkness.
Thomas Mundt ROBOCOP IS ALWAYS VERY BUSY IN MID-JUNE RoboCop is always very busy in mid-June because that‟s when The Bloomfinger Group needs his 4Q Capex Projections Report, stat. The Report is very, very important. In fact, it‟s much more important than RoboCop‟s Monthly Operating Report for May, which The Bloomfinger Group also needs stat. (Both Reports are actually due on June 30th, which also happens to be RoboCop‟s wife‟s birthday.) The former Report RoboCop completes with great care. He selects tasteful fonts and shepherds his data into colorful charts and graphs. The latter Report RoboCop classifies as bullshit and pawns off on an intern. *** RoboCop reports directly to Mr. Bloomfinger, The Bloomfinger Group‟s CEO and First Baseman. (The Bloomfinger Group fields a softball team every spring and has won Fifth Third Bank‟s Annual Feed The Serbs Softball Classic three years in a row.) Mr. Bloomfinger always smells like Pringles because that‟s what he eats all day. “What up, nephew? What be crackin‟?” Mr. Bloomfinger is resting his elbows on top of RoboCop‟s cubicle and RoboCop can definitely see the sweat ponds under his arms. “I said, What uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhp!” Mr. Bloomfinger is always using terminology he picks up from his son, Bronson. He eavesdrops on Bronson getting at his dogs on his cellular and jots down choice words and phrases on the extra Post-Its he keeps in his khakis. “I have initiated work on the 4Q Capex Projections Report, per your edict. I intend to complete said Report well in advance of the June 30 deadline.” Mr. Bloomfield watches Kiersten Rogers-al-Sayid bend over to pick up some copier paper off the floor. “Loosen the fuck up, „cop. Jesus. This is a social call.” “I apologize for my inability to properly ascertain the nature of your engagement. In future interactions I will—” “Look at that shit. Whaddya think, „cop? T-back, or unfurnished basement?” Kiersten Rogers-al-Sayid is now on all fours, yanking on a copier‟s stubborn 11” x 17” tray. “Don‟t see no lines, playa.” RoboCop loves his wife and would never divert his attention from a 4Q Capex Projections Report to ogle a coworker‟s backside. Mr. Bloomfinger has publicly referred to his wife as a selfish cunt at several ribbon-cutting events and teases her about her pancreatic cancer. “Praise be to Allah for that, know what I‟m sayin‟?” ***
Thomas Mundt Things were simpler when RoboCop was Delta City police. He tracked down perps in steel mills and threw them over railings. He raided cocaine bunkers and pinned panethnic men in denim jackets against concrete walls. He ate a lot of Wendy‟s because there was one right up the block from the Precinct. RoboCop thinks about his Prime Directives a lot these days. Serve the public trust. Protect the innocent. Uphold the law. He knows they‟ve been replaced by new Directives, some codified but most unspoken. Label your refrigerator items by 2 pm on Friday or they will be thrown out—NO EXCEPTIONS. Give Kathy in Supplies a week‟s lead-time to restock the Bic Soft Feel Retractables because she‟s got a lot on her plate right now. If you see something, say something. RoboCop never complains because he can see the writing on the wall. There‟s no time for whining when you‟re in a Double-Dip Recession. You‟re in Survival Mode so you can still get into Survivor mode come Wednesday night. You still believe in Brett Michaels‟ America, bedazzled and sleeveless. And you most certainly never kiss a gift horse like working for Mr. Bloomfinger, a man once ranked #57 on Forbes‟ annual 100 8-Year Old Entrepreneurs You Should Know list, on the mouth. Still, RoboCop gets that feeling every time he sees a new Droid issue a meter violation or run an ocular scan. He thinks, I did that once. I made Delta City a better place to live, if only by a fraction of a fraction. *** Nothing makes RoboCop feel older than when the Junior Associates in his Division get to talking about Ejaculate. Ejaculate is the hottest club in Delta City and the Junior Associates never invite him to join them for their Quittin‟ Time frolics. (Quittin‟ Time is Ejaculate‟s 2-for-1 horse tranquilizer promotion, good between 6-9 pm on weeknights.) RoboCop especially dislikes when Dirtbike, the most brazen of the Junior Associates, recounts one of his recent trysts. “So, I‟m all up in Platinum VIP because I figure, what the fuck, you know? We just got our Anti-Despondency Bonuses. And this cougar just starts smearin‟ her box all over my face. Old enough to be my goddamn great-grandmother. Pushin‟ 110, easy.” Dirtbike is in Fortnight‟s cubicle, adjacent to RoboCop‟s. RoboCop can hear everything and presumes the entire Bloomfinger Group can as well. “At this point I‟m pretty far gone from the tranq‟s, right? So, I‟m all, let‟s cut to the chase. Blasted her ass „til the check came. Chick had fuckin‟ asbestos comin‟ out of her ears.” “That‟s, like, pretty incredible.” RoboCop feels bad for Fortnight because Fortnight never has any ass-blasting stories of his own to share. He lives another life, one that‟s, like, pretty incredible, through Dirtbike.
Thomas Mundt “Shit yeah, it‟s incredible.” It‟s not that RoboCop has designs on blasting asses at Ejaculate or any other club. It‟s just that he‟d like to be asked. *** There‟s cake in the Break Room for Deidre in Compliance‟s birthday. RoboCop knows this because Ailene Wills tells him as much. “I‟d tell you it‟ll go straight to your thighs, but…” RoboCop knows Ailene is joking but is taken aback by her insensitivity. He thought everyone knew about his Titanium Replacement Procedure. “I regret that I will be unable to join you and other Valued Bloomfinger Group Team Members for confections.” “Right. 4Q comin‟ due?” “Affirmative.” Ailene rolls her eyes, gives RoboCop‟s cubicle wall a playful slap. “Sure there‟ll be leftovers.” Ailene leaves to consume sweets and RoboCop stands to retrieve a flash drive from his cubicle‟s overhead compartment. He surveys the floor and sees nothing but empty desks. He hears the explosion of laughter from the Break Room and his head drops, just a little. *** It‟s June 29 and RoboCop is putting the finishing touches on his 4Q Capex Projections Report. He‟s feeling pretty good about himself but remembers that he‟s just doing his job. After all, he promised Mr. Bloomfinger he‟d have the Report completed well in advance of the June 30th deadline. Sadness washes over him when he realizes he didn‟t come through on the well part. RoboCop composes a brief email, attaches the Report. He hits Send and immediately receives an Out-of-Office Reply from Mr. Bloomfinger: What up, my Bloomfinger Group main bitches! What it be? I‟m out of the office as fuck, so dealz wit‟ it yo! If you get this shit and you‟re Lonnie Katzmann, holla at me on my cellie—we gotz a ton a antenuptial asset distribution shit to discuss. TTYL. The phone is ringing in RoboCop‟s cubicle. The Caller ID flashes HAROLD BLOOMFINGER. He picks up. “What uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhp!” “Good afternoon, Mr. Bloomfinger. I just received your Out-of-Office missive. I hope you are engaging in relaxation versus—” “Listen. „Cop. Thanks for the 4Q. But you‟re gonna have to do that shit all over.” Mr. Bloomfinger explains to RoboCop that a real Gamechanger‟s gone down, some real Next-Level Shit he‟s not at liberty to discuss just yet. RoboCop can tell 40
Thomas Mundt that Mr. Bloomfinger is very drunk and he believes he can hear the sound of crashing waves and steel drums in the background. “We‟re looking at Capex out the ass next quarter, but it‟ll be worth it. For me. Emailing some new numbers for your black ass… now.” The tiny Outlook rectangle pops up on the lower-right-hand side of RoboCop‟s monitor. “Gonna need that Revised 4Q stat, homie. As in, yesterday.” “I have received and understand your directive, Mr. Bloomfinger.” RoboCop hears the click and Mr. Bloomfinger is gone. RoboCop doesn‟t bother to hang up the phone. Instead, he holds down the button and lets go, waits for a new dial tone. He calls his wife. “Good afternoon. I regret that I have less-than-optimal news regarding your birthday.”
#19 Contributors Aaron Bauer lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with his wife, Sarah, and his daughter, Adelaide. He is currently pursuing his MFA at the University of Alaska. He has received his undergraduate degrees in Music and English Literature from the University of Colorado, and his work has recently appeared in the Superstition Review. Sarah A. Chavez is a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley currently making her way through academics in the Midwest. She is a second year PhD student in Creative Writing with a focus in poetry and Ethnic American Literature at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. Sarah earned her BA in English from California State University, Fresno and her MA in Creative Writing from Ball State University in Indiana. She lives with her loving partner and two riotous cats, Scratch & Talulah. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in The Battered Suitcase, Stone‟s Throw Magazine, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Bent Pin Quarterly, Houston Literary Review and Spooky Boyfriend. Jeff Dupuis reviews non-fiction and how-to books for Canoe.ca. He also works a day job, writes freelance and studies at the University of Toronto. In his off-hours, Jeff likes to kick and punch his heavy bag and train in the martial arts, occasionally indulging in bad, straight-to-DVD action films. Glenn Freeman has degrees from Vermont College and the University of Florida. His collection of poems, Keeping the Tigers Behind Us, was published by Elixir Press in 2007. He has a book, Traveling Light, forthcoming in late 2011 from Wordtech Press. He has had poems published in journals such as Poetry¸ The Florida Review, The Cimarron Review, and The Lullwater Review. He lives in Iowa with his wife and two cats and teaches at Cornell College. Karen L. George's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Still: The Journal, Vestal Review, The Barcelona Review, The Cortland Review, Timber Creek Review, Wind Magazine, and Drexel Online Journal. She has been awarded grants from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Kentucky Arts Council, and was selected by Lee Smith as co-winner of The Janice Holt Giles Award. She holds a MFA in Writing from Spalding University, and teaches writing at The University of Cincinnati's Communiversity. Besides trying to find a home for her completed collection of short stories, she is working on a collection of poetry, and one of linked short fiction. Her poetry chapbook, Into the Heartland, is to be released by Finishing Line Press in April 2011. JP Kelleher lives in Monterrey, Mexico. To the best of his knowledge, he has never be-headed a mayor. His mailbox is a non-functional barbecue on the first floor of his building, so there is a high probability that your fan mail will never reach him.
Nate Liederbach is the author of the short prose collection Doing a Bit of Bleeding (Ghost Road Press) and has most recently edited the anthology Of a Monstrous Child (Lost Horse Press). His work has appeared in Stumble Magazine, Quarterly West, Permafrost, Pindeldyboz, Fractured West, Corium Magazine, Mississippi Review, and more. In Salt Lake City, Deseret, he currently makes his humble home (while grad[U]ally pursuing his PhD at the U of U (and assistant editing Western Humanities Review)). Mesha Maren is a prose and poetry writer from southern West Virginia. Her work has appeared in The Barcelona Review, Night Train, Babel Fruit Journal, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, The Great Smokies Review and Headwaters Journal. She has been a two time finalist in the Press 53 Open Awards and a finalist in the Flat Iron Writers Contest. You can follow her work online at http://meshamaren.blogspot.com/ Sarah Marshall grew up in rural Oregon, a place she has tried to capture in much of her work, including "Wednesday," which describes the fictional logging town of Rose. She is currently at work on a novel about the town and its people, and can usually be found in the stacks of the Portland State University library, or at www.readfastdieold.blogspot.com Thomas Mundt lives in Chicago. His new(ish) stories can be read now or soon in places like Bartleby Snopes, Burnt Bridge, Kugelmass, and Dark Sky Magazine, all less-than-meticulously collected for your convenience at www.dontdissthewizard.blogspot.com. He is currently completing his first short story collection, You Have Until Noon to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. Kelly Nelson writes, teaches and bike commutes in Tempe, Arizona. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and has appeared (or soon will appear) in Blue Guitar, Bellowing Ark, Nibble and Dirty Napkin. Diana Paul is a former Stanford professor of Buddhist philosophy and cultures. She currently is a printmaker specializing in a Japanese aesthetic combined with a mixed media approach to the image, usually an organic one, with an element of surprise or the unexpected thrown in. Food and other organic themes are her favorites. She has combined the organic with a "magical realism" that merely suggests the original source. Most of her art has been exhibited in California, Hawaii, and Japan as well as a national tour of “Art for Democracy” in 2009. She also writes a blog on art, fiction, food, wine, and movies called: “Unhealed Wound: Heroic Art—lights on the shadows of life‟s unfinished business” (www.unhealeldwound.com) for lovers of beauty with an edge. Andrew Riutta was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a region known for its harsh winters and profound isolation, but also its abundance of natural splendor. He is the father of a bright and beautiful nine-year-old daughter, Issabella.
In the spring of 2011, his essay, "The Myths of Manhood," will be included in National Public Radio‟s anthology series, This I Believe. Tim Suermondt is the author of Trying to Help the Elephant Man Dance (The Backwaters Press, 2007) and Just Beautiful (NYQ Press, 2010). He has published work in Poetry, The Georgia Review, New South, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry East, Bellevue Literary Review and Poetry Northwest, among others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong. Mark Todd teaches at Western State College of Colorado, where he also serves as program director for the college's MFA in Creative Writing. But that's just paying dues—he‟d rather spend his time writing poetry and jumping his Thoroughbred. July Westhale is a poet, activist, archivist and femme shark with a weakness for botany and hot air balloons. In 2004 she won the Out! Redwood Lesbian Rainbow Literary Award for Prose and was published in College of the Redwood‟s literary journal, Poets and Writers. In August 2010, she was invited to participate in and publish with InterDisciplinary‟s International Conference on Performance Theory in Prague with her article “Entrails and the Bedroom: Sexual and Geographical Borderlands in Queer Bodies.” Her poetry has been published in Spork Literary Press, Bitch You Left Me, Samizdat, Full of Crow, Love Letra Zine, The Body Attacks Itself, Ascent Aspirations and Grad(e). Her fiction has published in Full of Crow. She is a graduate of Mills College and is currently working on her MFA in Poetry. She lives and writes in an attic in Alameda with her two cats, z and blue. Lawrence Wray‟s poems have appeared in Cider Press Review, The Dark Horse, Sentence, Paper Street Press, and The Indiana Review, and online in Emprise Review, Frostwriting, and the Pittsburgh Quarterly. He is currently at work on a memoir project about child-prodigy pianist Dr. Charles Brindis.