Blotterature Literary Magazine Volume 1 â&#x2C6;&#x2122; Issue 2 2014
Blotterature Literary Magazine is possible due to the countless hours put in by volunteer staff. Their passion for writing and dedication to the greater community of writers keeps the journal alive. Without it, Blotterature is as good as an empty jug of Maddog 20/20. The Editors would like to thank Kayla Greenwell and Janine Harrison for coming on board as reviewers for Blot Lit Reviews and those who have supported our efforts with the 50 Words for $50 Contest. Taylor Lubbs for helping us out with the art. And we would especially like to thank our partners, children, friends, the jerks (Carol and Simon), Kit-tay, and Momma (Michele McDannold)â&#x20AC;&#x201D;for whom all life spawns. And a special shout-out to Jebus for having a good sense of humor and gracing us on our cover. Blotterature is a semiannual publication out of Northwest Indiana dedicated to merging blue collar writers and the art of fancy writing (educated, like an MFA and shit). We are in the process of establishing a nonprofit status and are always appreciative of all donations that come our way. To donate please visit our website at blotterature.com and look for the donate button.
Cover Art: Allen Forrest, Modern Day Crucifiction, ink on paper
Blotterature Literary Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 2 Copyright ÂŠ 2014 All rights revert back to individual authors upon publication. For more information about submitting please visit our website at blotterature.com. or contact us at email@example.com, facebook.com/Blotterature, or @Blotterature.
Blotterature Staff Journal: Fiction Editor
Michelle L. Quinn
Blot Lit Reviews: Reviewer
Table of Contents Fiction: Olga Gonzalez Avalos The Name of the Game
Samuel Best Call In
Peter Bullen Plots Full of Holes
Alexander Drost Below Bridges Burn Out
Michael Hilbig Hypoxia
Philip Kobylarz Around the Volcano
The Call to Action
Ken Poyner Shawn Rubenfeld Chain Letter
Robert Scotellaro Small Adjustments So Much Has Changed, So Much Stays the Same Vitamin Express
51 52 53
Nonfiction: Rachel M. Belth The Poetry of Dandruff
That Ainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t No Way to Say Goodbye
SuzAnne C. Cole Conflagrations, Different Kinds My Dancing Man
M.A. Jackson College Lawn Days Depression Blues
Cliffton Price Good Christian Soldiers
Robyn Segal Naked
Yvonne Washington Aunt Pattyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Stories Are On
Jessie Wyatt Crush
Poetry: Glen Armstrong A Brief History of the Fourth of July
I Remember Her Name Was Wynter Robert Duvall Played Boo Radley
54 11 10
Pia Borsheim Marriage to a Widower
Donald, the Horse
Alan Britt Howie Good
A Federal Offence Wedding Bell Blues
The Ballad of Joseph Spah
Jenny McBride Add Your Comments At the Dentist
49 50 27
Yinka R. Reed-Nolan Seventh Grade
The Eve of War
In Her Father’s Office Dog Years
9 61 63 62
Visual Art: Allen Forrest Port of Seattle #2 Seattle Post Alley Seattle 1st Ave, Show Box Theater Seattle Transit Police Seattle Transit Station Mezzanine Seattle Transit Train Arriving at Station
56 78 64 4 12 46
Meghan Larsen Ax Men Monster Party
Olga González Avalos
The Name of the Game No’mbre, so I went out with Icepick ‘cuz my cousin Jimmy tole me to. He said, hey, Flaca, you like Icepick? He say he likes chu’. You know, they only call me Flaca cuz’ I’m so slim. I go, shuddup, Jimmy, what chu’ mean? But I’m smilin’ cuz I seen Icepick and he’s pretty cute. Jimmy goes, He say he wants to go out wit’ chu, Flaca! Turns out he means he axed Icepick, you think my cousins hot? And Icepick goes, I guess. So Jimmy sets us up! What a Pendejo (fool)! He’s so stupid he don’t know I’m only fourteen; been knowin’ me all a his life and he’s so bad wit numbers he can’t even keep my age straight! Jimmy and them is all like 19 and stuff. What a menso (fool)! Right? So he shows me a picture of Icepick from my yearbook! Pendejo tears a page outta’ my book, just like that and he pulls it outta’ his pocket and he goes, look, here he is. So I yell at him, hey, menso, I paid lotta’ money for that! But I look at Icepick and he looks good, you know? Short curly hair, cut close to his head. Thick clean eyebrows over really light brown eyes. And he don’t look mean, you know? In fact, he looks kinda’ sweet. His name sounds all mean, you know? Why you call him Icepick, I axe Jimmy. Jimmy just goes, I dunno’. He got some badass tats and I seen that dude walkin’ around wit’ no coat on in the freezin’ cold. I just thought that was pretty badass. So I look again at the picture and, you know, he’s all like, buff. So I go, sure, Jimmy, I’ll go out wit’ ‘im. Jimmy warns me then and says, hey, mensa, you don’t do nothin’ wit’ him. You’re my cuz, and I gotta’ watch out for you! Hm, he’s so stupid! So me and Icepick go out in his grandpa’s Corvette and all the time he’s tellin’ me ‘bout how his granpa did this and that to the damn ugly car and I’m just chewin’ my hair and then I finally say, hey Icepick, why they call you Icepick, what’s your real name? He turns to look at me and he looks surprised. He goes, My real name is Angel. I-I don’t really know why they call me Icepick. Your cousin Jimmy just started callin’ me that one day and now he says I’m in wit’ the pack. What, pack, I axe him. I slap him on the arm and I start laughin’ but he looks embarrassed. What pack? I axe him again. He looks out the window like he’s lookin’ for an answer, you know? I think about how Jimmy said I should just shuddup sometimes. I think about the last girl who was killed at our school by some classmates. She was only fifteen and she was hot, Jimmy tole me. And that’s what got her killed. She was a tramp, Jimmy said. They even went to Sears Robuck, jus’ to buy the chest they put her in! It had some leather handles, he tole me. And some top drawers for like socks and shit. They cut her up and put her in there. That got me thinkin’ maybe they kill people for axin’ too many questions, you know? So I just say, never mind, man, I’m jus’ kiddin’, Blotterature 1
you know, like a joke. I pop my gum and smile at him, showing him my dimples, you know, to like, distract him. He smiled and put his arm on the back of my seat and I think, oh-oh, here it comes. I go, wait, and I take my gum out and hole it on my finger. He leans back and goes, you know Flaca, I feel like I can really talk to you, you know? And I think, oh shit! Talk? For real? Turns out that joto is gay, girl, can you believe it? Gay as Paree, girlfriend! So I’m thinkin’ if Jimmy finds out, he’s gonna put an end to Icepick. He’ll be so mad! He’s all like so proud he found this macho guy with all those tats and all! Girl, it makes me want to laugh, how these mensos think they know so much and they don’t know shit! I mean, you can’t always believe your eyes, right? So I tell Icepick, that’s okay, mano, I’ll be your girlfriend until Jimmy finds something else to think about, okay? And I’m thinkin’ this will give me time to see who else is out there for me. Girl, he was so happy. So after that all our “dates” were Icepick tellin’ me how he thinks this one and that one is cute and how miserable he is cuz’ he can’t act on his feelings and it’s not even interesting cuz’ he won’t give me any names so I won’t know nothin’ just in case, you know? So, I’m left chewing my hair wondering how long it’s gonna’ take Jimmy to find something else to think about so this can stop! So one day Icepick goes, I think Jimmy thinks there’s something fishy about me, Flaca. We were at the park again — which is where we always went anymore —and I was eating a peach in his car, you know, something I’d never do wit a regular guy cuz it’s so sloppy. Girl, my face is all choriada (dripping) with peach juice, uh! I’m getting all messy and here he’s startin’ with his nervous shit! I say, what chu gettin’ at, Icepick? He keeps axin’ me if it’s all good between me and you, you know? Icepick’s lookin’ all bug-eyed at me. Then he tells me he found things in Jimmy’s car that make him nervous, cuz Jimmy was tellin’ him to get the car washed and shit. He goes, I found boxes wrapped in paper. I axe him, what’s in ‘em? He goes, I shouldn’t tell you cuz’ it ain’t legal, but the less you know, the better for you. I’ll never forget this moment, girl, cuz I thought to myself, look at this pendejo now, cuz you ain’t gonna see stupid this clear again. He looked like an angel with those light brown eyes and his curly hair all against the window light like a halo. I reached out and felt his face with the back of my hand and tole him, dang, mijo, you are so pretty. He just looked back at me. Then he says, Flaca? Maybe I shouldn’t see you no more. I sighed. I had all this peach shit drippin’ down me. I go, are you for real, Icepick? You gonna’ break up wit me? So I just wiped my hands on my shorts and threw the pit out the window. I didn’t see him for a while cuz, man, girl, I was so sick of it, you know? Now he was always callin me axin’ me was I mad. Shit, was I mad. Who he think he is, telling me he ain’t gonna see me no more? I go, Icepick, I ain’t nothin’ but busy. I gotta watch Nilda’s kids, and he’s so stupid he believes everything everybody tells him.
Last time I seen him he axe me again, you ain’t mad at me are you, Flaca? I just thought I shouldn’t you know, put you in any kinda’ danger. I go, Icepick, I’m going to the bathroom, I gotta wash my hands. I never see him again, but the next day I’m at the police. They did all that shit you see on TV. They put the cuffs on, and push my head down into the car. That was the worst. It feels like they’re squashing you back down to the dirt where they think you belong. I didn’t tell them nothin’ though. I ain’t no rat. They found Icepick in the trunk of his own car, parked in his driveway. He had got shot in the throat. His mama tole the po’po that I was his girl so they came to my house and I tried to run, but they took me in. I just kept tellin’ them, that mutherfucker lef’ me at the park wit’ no ride home. But I was thinkin’ about how when we was in the car Icepick tole me he didn’t want to put me in danger. He was afraid Jimmy would find out he knew what was in those boxes. Poor Icepick. That’s when I said I was gonna’ go wash my hands. What was that pendejo thinking? Of course Jimmy’s gonna’ find out! He’s my cuz’ and we gotta’ watch out for each other! That’s just the name of the game, you know? I don’t trust no nervous mutherfuckers. Neither does Jimmy. When I called him he tole me to go to the park wit him one more time and then sneak out so that Icepick wouldn’t see me and then tell everybody that Icepick lef’ me there and I did. Too bad, though, cuz’ he was so cute. But that didn’t do me no good, right? It ain’t no big thing, though. Now I’m free to see that guy they call Chuey. Have you seen him? Girl, he’s so fine!
Seattle Transit Police Allen Forrest, 2012 Oil on Canvas, 20x30
Aunt Patty’s Stories are On Every day after school—when the babysitter brings you home and you don’t care to call your mother at the number she’s written on a cardboard box in your room, but you take comfort in hearing her mother stomp her feet and sing along to B.B. King and his guitar, Lucille, in the kitchen while a pot of okra slowly disintegrates into the slime you have to eat that night—you lie next to your aunt in your grandmother’s bed, watch Emeril Lagasse chef it up on the Food Network and chitchat about the day while puff, puff, passing on a Newport 100, like two old friends shooting the shit. It’s time for my stories, your aunt says, turning to Channel 2. You want to hear Emeril say Bam! one more time, but because your aunt is a recovering addict and has never had any children, you feel sorry for her and let her watch As The World Turns. When the cigarette is down to its filter, your aunt stubs it out in a glass ashtray that is caked with ash and overflows with butts; there is nothing left to divert your attention from Carly and Jack Snyder sharing a passionate kiss, so you begin to fidget. What’s wrong with you, girl? You got ants in your pants? Carly and Jack are undressing each other. You smile bashfully and point to the television. It tickles down there, you say. That’s what happens when a girl gets in the mood, she says. You don’t know why she says this or why she allows your eight-year-old body to be ravaged by nicotine when she knows you have asthma, but you like it. For a couple of years after that, you and your aunt share in this secret meeting of sex talks and cigarettes until one day, she moves far away to escape the temptation of another relapse. *** Aunt Patty, what’s a condom? you whisper, the moment she picks up. You’re eleven. You take the cordless phone into the bedroom you share with your mother, who comes and goes, and crouch between the wall and dresser with Tiny, your mother’s old and ornery Chihuahua, hoping that your grandmother doesn’t find you, take the phone and realize that you’ve made a long-distance call. It’s what a man puts on his thang, Aunt Patty says, and you chuckle imagining her grabbing between her legs to emphasize her answer, because that’s just what she does. What’s it for? Why? You thinking about doing it? Blotterature 5
No, you say, and tell her about the earlier conversation with your sixth-grade friends. They talk, you nod, smile, and listen for some clue as to what it is and where it goes, but that information never comes. It keeps a man from making babies, she says. Tell your friends that. She pauses, then: I want you to promise me that when you do it, it’s safe and with someone you love and who loves you, okay? Most of these men out here—they just want a woman for her body. But you don’t let no man take advantage of you . . . You got to show them your mind first, you hear me? And, if they walk away from that, they ain’t no good for you. The one who falls in love with your mind—now he’s a keeper. Okay. And when he does it right—from a place of love—it won’t hurt. Okay? Okay. Promise me. I promise, you say, and tell her that you love her but have to go because you hear the floorboards moaning under your grandmother’s feet. *** A year later, Aunt Patty is still just a phone call away. She assures you early one summer morning that no one climbed down the airshaft and broke your bedroom window to stab you in your lady parts in the middle of the night just because you woke up to horrible pain in your abdomen and an underwear full of blood. You’re becoming a woman, she says. Ask grandma to get you some sanitary napkins and keep track of how many days you bleed. You are horrified. Am I gonna have to go to the hospital? She cackles and munches on something, and you wonder how she can eat and be so calm when your life is on the line. Relax, you ain’t gonna die . . . at least not right now. You’re having your period; every girl goes through it in order to become a woman. You exhale. In a year, you have had countless conversations with her and your grandmother hasn’t said anything about the phone bill, so you leave your room just as she emerges from hers, say Good morning and lock yourself in the bathroom. So I’m okay? you ask Aunt Patty. Uh-huh. Ask grandma to get you some sanitary napkins, she repeats. Then, with a bit of hesitancy: You ain’t did it yet, right? No. Blotterature 6
Good. Aunt Patty? What. Can you kiss a boy and get pregnant? you ask, squatting in front of the bathroom sink to stuff toilet tissue in your underwear and wipe a mix of dry and wet blood from the inside of your thighs. You secretly wish she were there so that you’d be saved from the embarrassment of asking your grandmother for pads because her daughter—your mother—never cared to broach the subject. Who told you that? My friend. That ain’t a friend if they’re feeding you lies, she says. You let that sink in, but just to be sure: So I’m not pregnant? Girl, no! And stop listening to that fool! You and Aunt Patty talk for a while longer, and when you get to school the next day, you give your friend a play-by-play of how babies are really made. *** Aunt Patty moves back to New York, into her own apartment, and you spend the rest of middle school and all of high school getting good grades, reading romance novels and catching snippets of conversations between other girls about how sex with this guy wasn’t all that and how that guy did them good. A few weeks later, the smiles on those girls’ faces are replaced by uncertainty as they confess to their besties in a hallway or the lunchroom that their periods are late and later, they’re pregnant. You ain’t let no boy fuck you yet, have you? Aunt Patty asks, looking up from a romance novel that you’ve let her borrow. No, you say. You are fifteen and sitting next to her on her bed. Good. Find love first. It is six years before this happens and ten years that you wait patiently—devouring the likes of Bradbury, Cather, and Achebe—to make good on your promise to her. One man turns around in a huff and walks away after only a few months of “wanting to get to know you,” and the second, for two years while in college upstate, pretends that you are just a friend—until he comes home on breaks, nips at your neck like a hungry dog, and gives you all the reasons why you should have sex with him. You are twenty-one and two months into the fall semester of your sophomore year when, on campus, you meet the third man. His name is Michael. He makes you laugh Blotterature 7
until you cry and shows you every day that chivalry isn’t dead; he is a well of both useful and useless information, and the two of you stroll hand in hand exploring the nooks and crannies of Central Park while passionately discussing the works of Faulkner, Morrison and Marquez. Three months later when, after class, you rush into Aunt Patty’s apartment to gush to her about how you lost it two days before in Michael’s queen-size bed while his parents were at Walmart, she squeals proudly and congratulates you. Did it hurt? she asks, lighting a Newport 100 and pushing the smoke out through her nostrils. You smile. No. See? I told you, she says. You don’t smoke, but just for old time’s sake, you chitchat with her about the day while puff, puff, passing on the cigarette, like two old friends shooting the shit. She waves her hand dismissively and turns to Channel 2. My stories are on, and sit down out of my way -- your mama ain’t made outta glass. As The World Turns has been canceled, so Aunt Patty settles for All My Children and you realize that there is no need to feel sorry for her because there are many mothers, and who cares if she’s a recovering addict who’s never had any children? You are her child.
Yinka R. Reed-Nolan
Seventh Grade That was the year I cut myself on the arm with a kitchen knife after watching an episode of 90210. And Eric Sylvester called me a skank, so I’d chase him around the park at lunch, sliding on the grass, swerving between trees and park benches until I caught him, dug my nails across his arms, made him bleed because he liked pain as much as I did. That was the year I told my best friend Sonia that I had a crush on Ryan Moody. And she decided that he was pretty cute after she thought about it, so she asked him out and I felt betrayed and jealous even when Ryan grabbed her by the wrist and smacked her, and she got what she deserved. That was the year I got my first cell phone. And Jamika’s pager went off in class sending our English teacher into a rage because he was sick of our jelly covered devices, and secretly hated kids, his job, his life. Jamika lied about needing her pager for emergencies, called our teacher an asshole and broke the mug on his desk. That was the year I ate chocolate chip bagels on Friday mornings even though they hurt my braces because the girl I loved brought them to class. And George talked about taking long baths to get away from his mother, and how he touched himself between the legs while thinking about Alice because it felt good. That was the year I sat across from Dr. Trotter on her sticky leather couch. And she deprived herself of food, sipped a concoction she called detox – hot lemon juice and honey because she wanted to be thin and pretty like a high school girl. And I wondered why I was the one who needed therapy.
Robert Duvall Played Boo Radley today I went to the bookstore and bought myself the 50th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird I remember seeing the movie a long time ago but I never read the book and I remember Robert Duvall played Boo Radley in what I think was his first film role and he didn’t appear until the movie was almost over hiding in the shadows behind the bedroom door and when he finally stepped into the light he never spoke a word and I bought my girlfriend a journal because I’m trying to get her to write more and because I like to buy her things I really hope she likes it and it’s okay if she doesn’t want to show me the things she’s written I’m going to see her tomorrow and give it to her then
I Remember Her Name Was Wynter I remember her name was Wynter with a y instead of an i and she lived with her grandparents in a red brick house because both of her parents were dead I think she told me what happened to them but I don’t remember now it was the summer before my freshman year and we spent a lot of time together at the pool Wynter never seemed sad she was always laughing and having a good time one day when we were walking home cutting through the alleys the way we always did even though her grandmother didn’t like it we suddenly stopped and I kissed her her hair still damp from the pool and I remember how she laughed when our lips touched her arm going around me and she leaned her head against my shoulder and I felt my skin getting wet through my shirt but I didn’t mind before school started in the fall Wynter moved away but I don’t remember why I think she sent me a letter but after that I never heard anything from her Blotterature 11
Seattle Transit Station Mezzanine Allen Forrest, 2012 Oil on Canvas, 18x24
BELOW BRIDGES I brought my bums with me to the swings on third; we were not the loudest. Next my bums came to the library with me, because I needed the air conditioning and to catch up on some things. The best part about that particular library was the air conditioning, my bums preferred the magazines. About noon, after a nap, my bums hit the liquor store. The concrete got hot but the pay is surprisingly steady. Dusk found my bums on the tracks like they all used to. Two more bums joined. We tried to walk to Reno but we all knew how far it was and how long it would take. Traded a watch for some Gatorade and directions in a parking lot. Two of my bums were named Jason as it turned out. We caught a Greyhound there, eventually. The whole bus was to ourselves, the Jasons were sport-stat masters we found. Even the driver was in on the bets. The streets were obviously empty, and one of the Jasons showed us a spot by the river he knew, follow the bank, trust the stump and climb down. The grass was soft and the river cold; the perfect clearing. Mark caught fish for us and the other Jason bought and carried the beers. Coors Light, not bad. Not bad at all. We laid there together and drank, we sang Sweet Jane. The sun came up faster than we all expected it to. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s what I remember best about my bums.
BURNOUT My father came home all summer carrying boxes of glazed donuts with red sprinkles, the kind on sale in the window on his way home, that he would almost finish on the drive back, but tonight, he finds himself carrying candles instead. After his smoke, after wafting it out from the garage, and hitting the kitchen lights, the oven, our rooms at the end of the hall, he finally woke us. “Girls! We are baking a cake!” For us, all for us. Such a thoughtful Dad. Such a great father. The night we baked the cake he was stoned again, but we were all giggles, eyeballing the counts, trusting the pours. The cake came out wet, and grey. My mother sighed, unsurprised, and I no longer wanted a piece, my sister cupped her eyes to accept it. But then my father seized a spoon and he shoveled the slop down his throat, returning for fourths and fifths. And I couldn’t see the content; flour and sugar and egg in the tile crack, scatters of old news blanketing the hall, the Christmas tree still up, perfect areas of boot print from door to door. There wasn’t a reason to put candles on it. But there wasn’t a reason not to.
SuzAnne C. Cole
MY DANCING MAN Father working graveyard shift making airplanes, the war’s still on and the money’s good. But Mother’s afraid of being alone at night with me, three; and my brother, two. Wind shrieks through windows, mysteries creak and rattle and once, thumping under the sink reveals a limping rat dragging a dreadful trap. Nerves shredded, Mother hires an old woman we call Granny, who wears a wrinkled, soiled housedress with tattered bedroom slippers and smells of mothballs and tobacco. She commandeers the rocking chair, chews and hawks and spits into a jagged-edge coffee can. Plink. Plonk. Splat. Mother dislikes but needs her. Granny has no respect for Mother—what 24-year old mother needs a sitter?—but she takes her money. Mother keeps me awake as a barrier between the two. One late night I’m half-drowsing on a footstool, half-hearing Granny mumble another tale of the perfidies of men when I see a black man, dapper in top hat and tails, tapdance across the room. Beaming, he twirls his cane, winks and tips his hat to me. I laugh and clap. What is it? asks Granny. That man, I exclaim, pointing, the dancer. He’s so nice. What man? cries Mother. Where? That black man, I say. There. But he’s tapped right across the room and disappeared. She saw the devil, moans Granny, someone’s going to die. Don’t be ridiculous, says Mother. She’s just dreaming, but her voice cracks. Check the doors, please. Creaking, Granny rises and plods to front and back doors. All locked. Mother, sour with nerves and fear, walks me to the bedroom and tucks me into the top bunk, my brother fast asleep below. I drift off and my black man dances through my dreams.
CONFLAGRATIONS, DIFFERENT KINDS The scarlet engine raced past my brother and me, and disappeared around a corner, its banshee wailing ringing our ears. Running to catch up, we stood in shock when we saw the vacant lot abutting our grandparents’ small frame house blazing, fiery tendrils licking skyward. Hoses as thick as anacondas were uncoiled, and water flooded the conflagration. Excited, we ran to join our grandparents and Mom, who held our sick baby sister. To our shrill What happened, what happened? Granddad said, Maybe a cigarette. Our dad smoked and tossed butts, sometimes still lit, on pavement and yard. Often, he forgot to crush them out. If we found one still glowing and no one watching, we’d grab it and scuttle behind the garage. Then we’d add dead grass and twigs to start a pocket blaze. If it devoured our offerings and grew, we’d quickly quench it. Once my brother even peed on one while I watched in horrified glee—and envy. But this time we couldn’t be blamed; we’d been safely warehoused in the three-story brick schoolhouse several blocks away. The house, which belonged to our grandparents, often smoldered with anger. Five of us crammed into one bedroom: my parents in a double bed; my brother and I in clumsy, Army-issue bunk beds; and my sister, after her long hospital stay with birth defects, in a bassinet. My father, just out of the Army and only 25, struggled with family responsibilities and medical bills, sometimes working three jobs at a time. My mother’s dislike of her mother-in-law caused Mom to choke her way through most family meals. At night, when Mom and Dad thought we were asleep, they’d begin hissing like water on flames, their quarrels bred of resentment, humiliation, fatigue and worry. Dad was usually too tired to argue, but sometimes, he’d explode into the hothead he still was and remind us of the fragility of our safety. But now, the blaze was quenched, hoses were rolled. The driveway was slick with wet ashes, and the stink of burning aggravated our noses. You were lucky this time, said someone. Try to keep that lot mowed. Our Grandpa nodded, then fetched a broom. Grandma went to start dinner, and Mom disappeared into the house. My brother and I began walking the burned lot, hoping sparks that could be kindled might still lurk beneath the ashes.
Wedding Bell Blues I was invited to a wedding in an abandoned storefront. A serial killer with a pleasant demeanor checked invitations at the door. “Keep moving, keep moving,” the cops ordered the gawkers clogging the sidewalk. The elderly bride wore long sleeves to hide the tattoos of sunning mermaids and leaping dolphins on her arms. Some of the guests still couldn’t sleep that night for fear of drowning in bed. Others of us felt more surprise than fear, like when you slice your finger on a piece of broken glass. You just hold your hand above heart level until the bleeding stops.
A Federal Offense The U.S. postal inspector who came to the house wore a Glock on his hip. He admired the wallpaper in the kitchen, dark red flowers with sky blue centers. A man named Petey Wilson had stolen the outgoing mail from our mailbox. I might have lost everything. And yet months passed without my even getting a cold. Petey Wilson was all the way on the other side of the country, hiding out in a pile of feathers, or maybe it was leaves. We received an official letter. Now thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s almost no place in New Jersey to make a left turn.
Crush It is raining outside, so hard the trees are barely visible and bending halfway over, submitting to the wind. I see one unfortunate stranger run past the blurry glass windows and I feel pity for him. I imagine him entering the building he is running toward, his clothes darkened from the water, his shoes squeaking on the waxy tile floors, his arms covered in chill bumps. It is raining outside and I am staring out the windows when the power blinks off, and we are left in the dark. He and I are left in the dark and he plants one on my lips, gently plants a seed from which sprouts a thousand lies and smiles and silent almost-pleads for rescue. He plants one and I plant another. I walk into his room, his workspace, and he is wearing a yellow sweater. I should have taken it as a warning sign, like Eliot’s yellow fog. He permeates and molds and suffocates me with that yellow sweater, covering my cognition with yellow fog, a fever of misremembering memories and misdirecting affections. He hadn’t washed his hair. He curses too much, and at a volume far too loud for my comfort. We begin working together, and I get to know a different man, a man I am attracted to. He offers me cigarettes during the summer and we leave our desks to retreat in the sun for a few moments. We sit in the shade and watch a bird hop around in a tree. The sun’s in my eyes. He speaks, and I notice his eyes are the same color as the sky behind him. I look deep, straight through his skull through holes in his head. I thought it was a miracle, a divine quality, to have eyes the same color as the sky. I failed to notice he had no eyes at all, just holes drilled through the back and there was nothing there, nothing but the heavy air and haze of summer and too many pills. But I love him. I loved him at that moment, and for a few moments after, but I don’t love him anymore. That’s what I tell myself. He tells me If the circumstances were different, if we were in a different place, with different people, I would have a crush on you. I do have a crush on you, actually. I did before I met you. I think it strange that he uses the word crush. I find it juvenile, and inferior to other phrases meant for confessing affection. But he started it. I find his earthy demeanor charming, and his gentle fatherly gestures melt my entire being into a puddle—I am worthless and shameless and I write him a letter. He starts it and I keep it moving. And it keeps happening. Notes, confessions, stolen glances and smiles and cigarettes and then the afternoon he kisses me and I am a puddle of shame, a puddle of doubt, and transfixed—held by a magnet to this strange affair I have found myself in. I knew it would be beautiful. I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew it would be crushed. He’s married. We discover that we share psychological disorders. We both have panic attacks and abnormally high levels of daily anxiety. He swims in it, drowns in it. I am an avoider—I Blotterature 19
repel confrontation and friction and try my best to keep my internal harmony intact. That is, until I’m bored or interested in something or someone. He disrupts my equilibrium and I find it satiating for a while. For the summer. A season for every feeling. I panic and seek his solace. I am euphoric, overflowing, and he is my ocean of understanding. He understands, it’s like warm water, but he doesn’t aid. He antagonizes. One day I have some leftover time and he takes me to meet his mother, a semirecovered drug addict. It’s hot, August, and I crawl into his car and roll the window down, already enjoying escape. We hold hands on the way, and it feels like high school. He’s not promised and bound to another and I’m not thinking about home. He lets go of my hand to change gears. The wind rumples my hair. We’re alone in our love and cigarette smoke. His mom is darling and warm, just like him. We all sit on her bed in the dark, the curtains drawn. We talk about drugs and marriage, and I love her too. He teaches me to play a song by Jane’s Addiction on the guitar. You’re my Classic Girl he says. The song makes me cry now. Electricity spills from his hand to mine, guiding my fingers over frets and strings and he is warm. I am warm. My heart beats quickly under my ribs and I am spellbound. He creeps into my nose, the smell of new passion, of cigarettes in the afternoon sunshine when everyone is home for the day and we are the only people on the planet—leaning too close to one another. He puts his hands in my hair and whispers I love you into my ear and I say God damn. He pulls the air from my lungs and the floor from beneath my feet. His room is my sweet and sorry cave, too warm like a grandparent’s home, windowless and dimly lit by the yellow-green glow of a lava lamp. For a while I find a strange sense of comfort in his room, uninterrupted by florescent buzz and people. I enter and feel no feeling, see no color, remember not my lover at home, waiting. His room becomes a hiding place for stolen affections, a junk drawer of secrets and bad music and tears. I don’t like the music he listens to. It’s loud and muddy and over-full. He keeps his records scratched and dusty and I find that quality offensive. I move past it easily when he turns off the sound, turns off the light, and takes me in his hands and cradles me and my bruised brain. He comes to my house late one night at the height of everything bad and beautiful. We smoke a joint on my front porch and I am deadened by the hour and the herb. We watch Garden State. He leans over me and puts his hand in the small of my back—the perfect magical place that only he ever found—and he stops for a moment after I ask Should we? It was our only attempt at consummation, a failure. I fall asleep and he drinks half my vodka and leaves around four in the morning. He has a home to go to and I wake realizing he and I cannot keep this together. I am a student married to my words and he is a father with his priorities so skewed, so rearranged, and so wrong. I am left alone, disappointed and empty. The real feelings, the bad feelings start the first time he borrows money from me. It’s only five dollars for cigarettes, but because it is for himself and for his own selfish ends,
and not for his beautiful children who need it more than he or I need it, the gesture makes the whole thing ugly. Guilt makes you ugly. I become ugly in that moment. I am rotten, rotting, guilty. I confess to my sister over the kitchen sink. It’s dark out, and chilly. I tell her I think I fell for him. I don’t feel God anymore and I’m not sure I ever did. I think I don’t believe in God anymore. I weep for mercy and she soaks it in and casts no judgment, though I see a shadow behind her giant green eyes. Somehow saying it out loud made it real and bathed it all, soaked it all in cold water and wrung it out like an old rag. There’s grace in Confession. I need out and he senses it. He becomes open about his drug abuse. He is an addict conveniently covered by doctors who readily treat his ailments with Xanax and sedatives. He takes them all in a week or two and falls apart until his next prescription. I am witness to the mayhem, his constant cursing and abuse, his bursting into fake tears while I stand at the door of his room, black and judgmental. He reels me in and in and in. Can I come over tonight? I know it’s over—it’s finally over—when he leaves his wife. He says it’s not because of me, and I don’t believe it is true until he does it again much later—after I had broken it off between us. He takes off his wedding ring. She keeps taking him back. He does it as a self-indulgent gesture, I have decided. For the attention. He tells everyone he knows, especially when I’m around. He answers the phone one day and it’s her, I locked my keys in the house and I have the kids and I need to get in the house so what are you going to do about it? He tells her I’m at work. What do you expect me to do? Fuck you. He is a man to me no more. He never grew past adolescence, needy and ignorant and arrogant and ugly. Clumsy. He takes my head in his hands and looks into my eyes for a brief second, still and calm, only to jerk and move and speak and become the ungraceful creature he really is. He moves his head and blinks to make more meaning or pretend he’s crying and somehow I am caught up, infantile and helpless. He tells me he swallowed a bottle of Valium last week but don’t freak out I’m okay. He has his wedding ring on again after a week and I am finished, and it is over. Christmas comes, a chance to be away from him, and I examine the holy days. After the break, I return to visit. Its spring again, the sky is turning blue. He tells me he thinks he’s been kicked out of his house again because he struck up fancies with a woman he used to love. They talk, and his wife finds the undeleted remnants of conversation. You hurt me she tells him. He is doomed to an endless cycle of loving and leaving. He tells me I don’t regret it. I look away and say I don’t either but I would have been better without him. He overcrowded my brain and my life. I’m glad it happened, and I’m glad it’s over. Blotterature 21
Affairs must be loveless and for utility. I wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t do it the same way again.
Plots Full of Holes Big dreams, questionable sized cock, is that the problem? Oh please—don’t tell me you’re in the grip of that cliché. Well, wriggle out. These musings are more common than you think. In the world of humans, everything preposterous enjoys a substantial following. Relax. You want to bring something to the table, make your mark, and stake your claim. Trouble is your claim isn’t clear. And then there’s Sally, red curls, old school curves, massive vocabulary. When you see her, your buzzer goes off. If she’s got a buzzer, it’s hidden or it has a silencing device. Maybe it’s composed, likes to take its time, doesn’t rattle, doesn’t shake. Not right away, possibly later. Hope for that. Then again, maybe a woman’s buzzer is just different, pastoral or something, a country garden, not a fucking alarm clock like yours. That’s not a criticism. We come the way we do. You’re stuck with yourself, like the rest of us. Let that similarity be a comfort. You are from a small town, a fact to which, weirdly, you attach a self-diminishing component. All this concern about ‘size’, its metaphoric and possibly literal implications. Look at you, checking your penis several times a day, assessing its fluctuations, its many guises, its, shall we say, wavering sense of itself. What is it you say?…that you are ‘looking in on it’, as if it were an elderly relative whose medication you were supposed to monitor, or a neighbor’s dog you were charged with keeping an eye on while they were out of town. Troublingly, your penis demonstrates no reliable proportions that can be counted on to persist. It retreats, it goes into an acceptable middle ground, it fills out, sometimes stretching into an almost inspiring grandeur, usually in the afternoon. You’ve taken to calling it the three o’clock cock, repeating the phrase with a spooky kind of glee. Not a good use of your time. Do not do this in mixed company. This unexplainable swelling, your own private crop circle phenomena, may be the highlight of your day, but it hardly leaves you with any reliable data on which to hang your hat. Your sense of style is shaky, your wardrobe odd, misshapen haircut, khaki pants, rope belt, fluffy white socks, topsiders…but you are not without the potential to be made over. And you want nothing more, isn’t that so? To be made over, re-shaped, taken in hand, seized. Quite understandable, I myself dream of capture by transcendental pirates. You are no fool, and know how easily that wish can be exploited, a fact that does not bother you; on the contrary, you find it encouraging, not that you want to be exploited in the shine my shoes, clean my car, sort of way; no, that is not what you are after. Your interest is exploitation in the form of something sexual, the details of which, for you remain perplexingly unclear. You are missing the ‘pictures’ you believe ought to accompany it. You feel it out there, hovering, beckoning, winking at you, but just can’t
pin it down. This may be a sign of life; an appreciation of mystery, innocence through which marvels can make their entrance, but this has not occurred to you. You are left imagining men whose penises present no riddle to their owners, men who hail from ‘larger’ towns and have well organized sexual fantasies, spelled out, and plotted in advance. Something along these lines perhaps: “Sweetie, there is a large orange colored object that you can feel free to think of as bendy sculpture, located in the bottom left hand drawer of the kitchen cabinet. I know, it looks too cumbersome an item to be linked to lust, and the glowing parts do bring to mind holiday decorations, but it’ll take us there, believe me!” Perhaps you hanker to become like the person with the above referenced plan for pleasure; a man who always knows where his sex toys are stored. In your kitchen cabinet, only plates, cups, and saucers lie in wait. What, is it you think you need to get hold of what’s bubbling up inside you? My friend, something is always bubbling up. The soup we all inhabit is on too high a setting. You’re keen to set goals, want to piece together a coherent erotic wish list, a well ordered mixtape of pleasure inducing sensations. But it is not like that, not for you, not for anybody. If one thing unites us, it’s a penchant for odd, disabling notions. What you’d like to say if you could get the words out is: ‘Go ahead and exploit me, and I’ll let you know if that’s what I had in mind.’ Not a bad plan, but you can’t get the words out. No one can really, which goes some of the way toward explaining the existence of poetry. Be assured, your longitude and latitude are not traceable by instruments of mind or body. What’s calling you has no ruler to place aside your unpredictable member below stairs. We are complicit in our own reduction. There are more compelling expansions than the one you wait for in your trousers. Sally likes you. She sees that befuddled look of yours, the way you hide your desire for her, in order to tame it until you get it right, until you have a plan, until the clock strikes three. It’s touching as well as ridiculous. It makes her smile. To win her, spend more time with your thesaurus. Mutter words like empyrean under your breath. She’ll feel the bliss of better worlds emanating from your person. She does not need or want you to fumble around your apartment looking for erotic toys to play with. She’s quite at home in the muddy swamp of no road map at all, the very swamp you think you’re stuck in. Let yourself sink. Her arms will catch you.
Hypoxia Creepy Willis sat on all fours wearing a creepy cream stained wife-beater and otherwise remained naked from the waist down leaning ever the more slightly forward, towards the MacBook screen on the floor displaying the creepy photos—cleavage shots and upskirts—he’d taken at grocery stores and bars and the Laundromat across the street from his creepy apartment complex in the creepiest part of town—creepy photos taken from the creepy extra high-definition extra digital extra high-strength zoom lens on his extra expensive camera. And next to the computer, of course, sat the source of the trackpad’s sticky sheen coating—a bottle of extra-long lasting lubricant—purchased at the extra creepy adult bookstore with the extra jumping midnight parking lot full of other creeps like Creepy Fred and Creepy Joe and Creepy Larry. Creepy Willis’ face was turning blue just above the belt wrapped around his neck and tied to his bedroom door’s knob. Bluer and bluer it turned as each beat of his fist grew faster and faster, and then it morphed again into a deep purple when Creepy Willis’ release happened. It was as if a thirty-year-old golf-ball-sized cyst in his heart had been punctured, and finally all the fluid was pouring out in droves and taking the pain with it. It was as if he had spent years obsessing on the perfect singular feeling, and then he found it, what he’d been waiting his whole life for. The completion of that life’s work. His opus. The perfect orgasm. Body, Mind, and Soul all combining and blending into a potency of paralysis and drool. And then, well, there’s no other way to describe it than floating on a cloud of double-D titties, bouncing up and down gently as if he were lying on an otherwise dormant trampoline. Up and Down, Up and down, up and down, each bounce growing shorter as he began to hear a train whistle in perfect C major, a sweeping sound that—along with the room emitting the smell of fresh garlic—left joyful tears running down his bloated cheeks. His jaw clenched, his teeth began to grit, and then his vision faded and whitened as if he had just opened the exit doors to the movie theatre after a matinee showing. With the blindness came the realization that pain wasn’t going, it was coming, and it was the only thing that could produce a pleasure so great. He knew it when he started to feel the stabbing in his gut—the penetrating stabbing of an auto-frottage—the glimpse at femininity—what he’d never understood before. And then there was no more understanding. Just the end of shame—caked into the carpet fibers along with his last human creation.
Ax Man Meghan Larsen, Ink on Paper
Bitch Tits I think about stealing babies sometimes just to see if I could take care of one, floral dresses make me feel masculine, but a dog juggling bones while wearing a hula skirt turns me on—don’t tell Mom. You’re all talk and no walk like Stephen Hawking, but without the genius IQ, sometimes I wonder if Dr. Crusher wanted to beat the shit out of Wesley, instead of just slapping him, but refrained because she wanted in Picard’s jumpsuit—make it so, ooh la la. If I don’t graduate college, there’s always Plan B: assume the title Shredded Cheese Authority at Kraft, become so obese that the only sit-ups I can do are when my recliner goes back and forth, and live a life of happiness and constant constipation. Listen, you son of a slut nugget, I may not be pretty but I sure do have a fantastic resting douche face, and at least my hobbies don’t include autofellatio and coporphila. I throw up whenever I see your neard and you really need to lay off the protein injected broatmeal and become the urban renaissance man your stepmother wants you to be. Two Wrights do not make a Wong, unless Mrs. Wright has been banging the Chinese mailman but is in full denial because Mr. Wright is a successful investment banker and the Missus has grown accustomed to Louboutin shoes and being a lady who lunches and brunches. Must be those pesky recessive genes she says. No one knows what kids are going to look like nowadays. Aw fuck it, drop the mic—hey bitch tits, are you insane? That’s an expensive piece of equipment! You must be fun at parties. Sometimes I think I was born backwards and that cats are liquid, the horse is out of the barn, and dogs are people too, and I write about it, but it’s the kind of bullshit only found in college Blotterature 27
admission essays. Holy mother of Google Christ, why is my poop green and what do dreams mean, sweet potatoes aren’t that orange and bananas are radioactive clones, cows produce human breast milk, your momma’s got nothing on me, but your sister is a vampire and your brother is an Italian plumber with attention dating deficit disorder and horrible sewage farts and he always uses the managerial ‘we.’ Yeah, everything’s just ducky, flim flam floom flarp but you know I’m no good but we should go to pound town on the fuck truck and do the pensicola pelican, I hope you like finger painting like Jackson Never-Left-Behind-Pre-School-Art Pollock or else this is just pointlessism.
College Lawn Days or The Laws of Social Thermodynamics: On the Effects of Collegiate Habitats on the Processes of “Getting By” 2a. “On beginnings…” My university didn’t have a quad. It didn’t have the massive stone courtyard that Columbia does, where students recline on gray, granite steps and pose like hipsters for candid college catalog photos. It wasn’t like Harvard, where there are towering trees, ever in the mood of autumn, lining the sidewalks; and it didn’t have rolling forestcovered hills like Sarah Lawrence. You would never find kids sprawled out in the grass all day reading philosophy or discussing Blake, but you might spot a few stoners tossing around a Frisbee come spring. Granted and all things considered, it had slightly more than just a patch of grass or a law—certainly not a field or a plain, but … well, I guess you could call it a “quad,” just a sorry excuse for one. But that’s not the point. The point is that regardless of what it wasn’t, our “quad” worked. Most of the time it didn’t, but when the air was just warm enough or even too hot, but you sat underneath just the right tree with just the right amount of shade and a nice breeze; or when the sun slid through the restless leaves, shimmering on someone’s cheeks and glimmering in their eyes, it worked, even if that person’s cheeks are sullen and eyes will scarcely rise to meet yours. But this isn’t a nature documentary. It’s not the quad that’s important, but the girl who sat in front of me, cross-legged on the not-quite dry lawn, dew soaking into the canvas of her sneakers and darkening the denim of her shorts. She never looked at me, too busy pulling at the emerald grass, as I gazed (read: glared) at her, trying to fish out the truth... “It’s nothing. I was just kidding” Cassie lied, “There’s nothing wrong. I’m fine, Max.” “Bullshit. I think I know you well to tell when you’re really deep in it. And we’re not leaving until you either tell me what it is or I have to Sherlock Holmes the answer out of you. The truth shall be revealed, my depressive friend.” I gesticulated wildly for dramatic effect, which warranted a half-smile, a tired smile, reminding me of all the tired smiles I’d been seeing from her, plus all the glassy eyes and outright tears she’d been hiding behind her hay-colored bangs. Those bangs are like a stage curtain: You can yell and scream all you want, but the band’s not coming back out until they’re good and ready. And she’s the headliner.
After about another two hours of poking, prodding and penetrating questions, I made one final declaration. “I think I finally have it. I think I know what’s bothering you.” “Okay.” “Ready?” “Sure.” “I think that … you’re … gay?” When I said that, it was more to eliminate all possibilities or to break the tension that was choking out all the air. Actually, I thought that she was about to lose her scholarship or was having trouble at home or something “easy” I could fix with just a kind word and a little effort. But when I said that, either the breeze or the slightest of movements swung her hair back from her eyes, and she held my gaze with them, sky-blue in the sunlight and peppered with surprise and affirmation. “That’s it, isn’t it?” “Yeah,” she said, monosyllabic and so quiet I don’t think even she heard herself. I throw my hands up in the air like an Olympic judge and yell, “Awesome!” And for the first time in two weeks, she smiled. 6. “Nothing ever really ends; things just change.” A year later, it’s early March, and even though a winter storm was pelleting all of Chicagoland with frozen fury, inside the Bottom Lounge, we were all sweating as the sound system screamed against the black walls and drowned out the droning of the wind outside. Weeks of waiting, a too-dangerous ride in a cramped, humid SUV sliding precariously down a snow-covered I-94 and two hours of waiting in line in a blizzard had brought us there, and I lost myself in the ocean of the crowd’s movements, the stage lights blazing down on the scenester band me and Cassie drug all our friends to see. The beat drops on the chorus, and we rose off our feet like it was the Rapture and bounced to the rhythm like stupid kids—because that’s exactly what we were. I looked to my left, scanning for Cassie, expecting to see her glistening face to be smiling back at mine. I found her, her smiling face buried in the hair of the girl she likes to hold: arms around her shoulders, hands held, fingers interlocked. I kept looking, willing Cassie to see me until they kissed; the crowd shifted, and they disappeared across a sea of sweaty brows and wild hair. I turned away and watched the lead singer work the crowd, and I could swear she looked right at me as she sang. At the end of the night, Cassie drove everyone home in her dad’s truck; I was the last to be dropped off. She and I had been friends for almost two years (which is like five in Blotterature 30
college years) and it’d been a year since I first sat with her in the grass on the quad and she told me those things she’d barely been brave enough to tell anyone else. Since then, she’d told everyone at her job, all our friends, and her parents; I was so proud. They’d been dating for about two months before the Bottom Lounge (she and the girlfriend, not the parents). Afterward, in the The-Dad’s-Truck, her girlfriend sat in the front passenger seat, fiddling with the radio, and I stared out at the last misty stirrings of the storm through the backseat window. The truck rolled over the crunchy, groaning snow up to my driveway, and I got out following a friendly good-bye. Again, the snow groaned beneath the truck’s weight as the two of them sailed off down the street and into the night; I could just hear the bass of the radio pounding through the windows, echoing through the icy wind. Inside, my house was silent. 3. “Entropy” In the philosophy of hedonism, pleasure is the only intrinsic good; the main motivation in life is to maximize one’s pleasure. If you’re looking at the world from this viewpoint, then everything you do is for yourself and is meant to make you feel good, whether it’s hanging out with friends, going to a strip club (if you’re nasty), clubbin’ a few baby seals (“SCHADENFRAUDE!”) or passing out food to the poor. (If it’s the last one, then, firstly, god(s) bless your heart and favor you all your days.) Yet, even THAT was for your own benefit. According to hedonism, you only did that to make yourself feel better. “Altruism” makes you feel good, so you do it, which makes you a hedonist by default. But no judgment, I include myself in this. The day we sat in the grass and Cassie finally raised the curtain on her internal drama, she told me a lot. Not everything, of course, but I could tell it was more than she’d told anyone in a long time. You could see it in the way she moved, head high and shoulders back, as I walked her to her car, not the fatigued and pitiable way she’d carried herself that morning. You could see it in the sway of her hair, free and unafraid to dance in the warm afternoon breeze, dancing just the same as it would even in the frigid blizzard winds outside the Bottom Lounge, though I’m the one holding her only one of those times. But I was happy that it wasn’t pulled down over her face and eyes. I was happy she wasn’t hiding behind anything anymore. I made a lot of promises that day, the same promises you’d have made if you were in my position. You’d say how you’ll be her friend no matter what. You’d say how she’s beautiful despite what anyone says, thinks or does, and if anyone makes her feel otherwise, then you’ll deal with’em—“with a pipe.” You’d make these promises because, as she believes, you genuinely feel this way. But, if you’re like me, you’d make these promises because you’re supposed to, because she’s your friend and what else are you supposed say? “No! You can’t be gay! Fuck you!” Even so, you like being there for people —being there for her, at least. She makes it easy for you. The look in her eyes makes altruism effortless—fun even, which isn’t really “altruism” at all, is it? She smiled again in the parking lot and hugged me, holding on to me longer than usual. Then she’s behind the wheel and the slightly tinted windows, still smiling as I waved her
away into the distance. I tell myself that she kept smiling just because of me. We tell ourselves all sorts of things. 1. “Law of Conservation (of mass and rumor)” It’s late February, and five young men stood in a tight circle outside the campus cafeteria. All tall, all dressed in dark clothing. A meeting like this would make anyone wary, if only because of profiling stereotypes. “Are they planning a crime,” a person might ask. “Should I call the police? Will they set upon me as rough-handed men? What ever could they be doing, posted up so nefariously?” They were gossiping, gossiping like gals. Gossiping about someone else’s relationship, the five of us discussed why Cassie had broken up with her boyfriend and what should be done about it. We are a war council: Love is our battlefield, and meddling is our weapon. “Well, I don’t really give a fuck about him. I always liked Cassie better,” one of our number said: Bo, the biggest, most threatening, and most caring of us all, “I’m more worried about her.” So say we all—or, at least, so said I. 4. “On misery and company” Weeks later, long after the war (love) council meeting and just a bit after my time on the quad with Cassie, I tell her, “I think you should tell Bo. He seems on the level.” “’On the level?’ Seriously?” “What?” “Nothing,” she said, “Right on, jive turkey. I’ve been thinking about telling him next, but I don’t know,” “Come on. It’ll be fine. We’ll take him out onto the quad, sit him down, have a little chat. It’ll be a nice, warm, home-y, bonding experience.” She rolled her eyes at my put-on exuberance. “And if not, I’ll just whup his ass.” “Sure,” she said. We both know I can’t, seeing as how one of Bo’s wrists is bigger than my whole body, but it’s the thought that counts. 5. “Equilibrium” Sometimes, I feel like I’m living in a story, like a legit narrative with story arcs, characters, recycled set pieces (dictated by budget), thematically appropriate weather, the works. Not so much like The Truman Show, but more like (the) God(s) saying, “Eh, let’s see what’s on the tube today. Jesus! Where’s the remote?” All this to illustrate my Blotterature 32
interest in the fact that when Cassie, her gayness (insensitive word choice?), her trepidation, myself, and Bo sat down in the quasi-quad, the sun shone the same as the day she told me and bled through the restless leaves the same, the light danced on her skin the same and the just-wet-enough grass dampened our jeans the same. But Bo was there, sucking up all the imagery with his humongous-ness. Three is definitely a crowd, but I could tell that Cassie liked the company. Same as before, after all of her Hee-ing and Haw-ing, she “came out” with it, Bo making the same promises I did, and I wondered if he really meant what he said or if he was just following the script of things you’re supposed to say in such situations—the “Good Friend/Altruism” schpiel. In either case, promises and affirmations spilled from his mouth as the three of us walked to Cassie’s car, the two of them walking arm-in-arm and me trailing behind. Before she drove away, Bo was the one she hugged, not me. Part of me was just a tad jealous. “Why does he get the big, LGBT-ally hug and not me? She wouldn’t have even told Bo if I hadn’t have vouched for him.” But another part of me (a part I don’t really like to talk to/about because he’s kind of a dick) was glad that someone else knew, that someone else could be the one with all the support and smiles and “We’re-there-for-you”s, because I couldn’t always stomach it (there’s that dickishness I mentioned). After Cassie’s gone, Bo turned to me. “So, we’ve got our token gay friend. We are so diverse. We should make a club. Would we get extra funding?” “Shut up, Bo.” 2b. “…and endings” At this point, I just want to be clear: I am not an altruist. Wait, correction: I was not an altruist when I looked into Cassie’s eyes and saw the hurt and confusion. I was not an altruist when I walked with her and sat with her in the damp grass. I wasn’t an altruist when I made a friend’s promises and I smiled so reassuringly, a grin pulled tight across my cheeks to keep the heartache from leaking out. I was an opportunist with a hedonistic lean. If life is a narrative (The Real World: Everywhere) and everything played out like an awful romantic comedy (as it often can), what would you do if you’d just got out of a terrible relationship and were down about it, unsure who you were or where you were going? If you were having an honest-to-the-gods existential crisis, complete with draining post-adolescent angst, but then one of your best friends (of the opposite sex— three cheers for heteronormativity) was there for you, to catch you before you bottomedout. What would you do? Well, if you were Katherine Heigl in this RomCom situation, you’d fall in love with said opposite-sex best friend and the two of you would share a climatic embrace as the sun sets to the sounds of Burt Bacharach. The credits would roll; the audience would cheer. Cassie, as I found out, is no Katherine Heigl, and I certainly wasn’t the plucky Nice Guy. She didn’t want (read: need) some unlikely Romantic hero to come save her with his love.
But before I knew she was a lesbian, I did have a love that I’d been waiting to give her, and I saw the sadness in her eyes as my chance to show her—to tell her the “truth.” I wanted my Bacharach and my Happily-Ever-After sunset, but she had her own greater truth to tell: her own love she’d been waiting to show everyone. Our two truths, our two loves, floating there, awkward and expectant—hers made plain for me to see, and mine still hidden behind my back. Even though a part of me, that dick-ish part, wanted to kick and spit and tear at the grass in a childish tantrum after she told me she was a lesbian, there was still love there, and love doesn’t abide tantrums. So I smiled, because smiling is easy. We talked, and I promised. We hugged, and she drove away so that one day, she could give her love away. I held onto mine as a souvenir so that one day, I could put it away on a dusty shelf in a closet in my chest. And one day, I’d forget all about it as we usually do with such things, a new better kind of love taking its place. One day, we’d sit on our campus’ sad simulacrum of a quad with no secrets clogging the air between us, no deeper meanings, metaphors or things hidden. The shimmering rays of sun would be just light, and the grass just grass; and it would be a far better story, one of many to tell long after we’d left, graduated, moved on, drifted apart and come back. And in that way, I guess that’s why our quad worked, why every quad works. It is (or it can be) a place for our stories—a place where the best stories begin, and where they eventually (always, inevitably) end.
Call In His skin smelt like hazelnuts and tobacco. Not like cigarettes, like tobacco. Like great forests of fresh, green leaves. He was my nicotine. Inhale and feel the calm spreading. We lay still in bed, the glimmer of morning sun peeking through the gap in the curtains. At some point he got up to make coffee and I wound the covers around my legs. His heat lingering on the mattress, I lay across his indent. When he returned he sat two steaming mugs on the bedside table and peeked out of the window. ‘Looks like a beautiful day,’ he said. ‘Shame to waste it at work. What do you think?’ He picked up his phone as I cradled my coffee. It smelled rich and strong and I grinned. ‘What’ll it be this time?’ he asked. ‘Stomach bug? Flu?’ ‘Ooh, we could both have food poisoning?’ I suggested. ‘We had food poisoning last month, remember?’ ‘So we did. The day-trip to St. Andrews. Go with the flu then. You’re good at sounding like you’ve got the flu.’ His voice changed when his boss answered and he really did sound sick. I watched him, tried not to laugh, and then took a long sip of my coffee. It was going to be a good day, I could tell.
Marriage to a Widower This morning, at breakfast, my husband regales me with stories and poems, bits and pieces of yesterday’s news, so many memories crowding his mind. Yes, it’s sweet, but throughout his long litany, the word we rears its hissing head and I am left to wonder: to what degree are the dead really dead, how much more than an urn of ashes under the snow, under the marble bench engraved with both their names? I’ve pulled out my best recipes, my checkbook, my most alluring gowns. I’ve lotioned my limbs, made warm the marital bed, but who can compete with this ghost from the grave? I find her in the hallway, her ear pressed to the wall. She creeps into the bedroom. Above our love-making she whispers, staring down at me from the airy ceiling.
Monster Party Meghan Larsen, Ink on Paper
THE CALL TO ACTION I lost my legs when the railroad came through my living room. I was sitting there watching television when the foreman ran in, set up a few surveying instruments, sighted along my foyer wall, and called in the crew that laid out the tracks. A few hard clangs and a rattle of steel spiked into my carpet, and there went my legs. Two feet more and they would have had to run the line right through my chest. As it was, I sat there nearly two hours considering my stumps, until a nice man with both a clipboard and a cell phone told me I had to be moved, as the trial hand car would be through at any time, and there would not be enough clearance if I were still in my seat. Two well fed men picked me up and asked where I wanted to go, and out of a lack of imagination I asked them to take me to Mike’s next door. Mike and I had planned to watch the Ravens game together that afternoon; I would simply be a bit early. When we got to Mike’s, I realized I had not told my wife I was going early, so I borrowed Mike’s phone and called. “Honey, I went to Mike’s early. The railroad put in new tracks and I was in the way. With the installation, they cut off my legs.” “Oh, and how long ago was that?” I could feel her prop one hand on her hip and cock her head back. You cannot live with a woman as long as I have lived with her and not predict her body position from the mix of music and noise in her voice. “Well, honey, it was about two hours ago.” “Oh, well there will be no finding those legs now. You will have to learn to make do with stumps.” See—even you could feel her drop that hand, peer down as though to look for spots on her shoes, and you could sense her body begin to fold forward like a crescent. “I know, honey. And someone will need to come get me after the game.” We hung up still in love. It was an hour before even the pre-game. The Ravens were a two touchdown favorite. Not expected to be much of a game. But Mike had beer and a wall mounted LED system elevated perfectly across the room from a leather couch which always seemed just settled into my shape; and watching is something to do in the great gasless yawner of an
autumn weekend afternoon. My wife might be a bit late, but she would pick me up. Love is like that: punish a little, forgive a lot. By next week, she will have even given in to hunting for replacement legs, having an opinion on material, texture, durability. I will probably be watching the Ravens again when she selects a pair.
That Ain’t No Way to Say Goodbye It was a strange site for the post-Christmas party, that house. Dr. Caligari’s house, or maybe more like the mansion in that Bugs Bunny cartoon, the one silhouetted against the moon as a lone Model-T arrives out front. Tracy had informed me about the festivity. “A lot of film people will be there,” he said. Tracy had the best pot in town, so why not? My friend, Owen; my brother-in-law, Terry, and I went together. We hardly ever did anything together, but there we were. The East Tennessee weather hurried us into the Aframed house, only it wasn’t much warmer inside. We stood on the bare floors of the living room looking like undertakers there to receive our due. Tracy passed us a number. “Great party, right? Maybe you don’t know anyone, though?” Maybe not. I had been away from these parts for two years, and though I recognized some people, most had changed or gone on to other parties. From upstairs we heard the sound. After I had children of my own, I learned that this noise was the croup. A kid, barking louder and louder. The hostess, a waif in artist’s smock and tights, would excuse herself with each new series of woofs and head up to her baby, her darling. Her little angel child. We passed the number on down the line. Then a guy in drag descended the stairs. I knew him. I had kicked him out of my freshman English class once and for all three years ago. Without reading a word, he kept challenging any point I made—when he bothered showing up, that is. Once, I saw him skipping through the class building in a sailor’s outfit, singing something from “On the Town.” There is nothing like a dame. He enters our room and sits on the sofa. Taking his high-heels off, he begins rubbing those aching toes. “Buddy,” Owen says. “If they hurt your feet so bad, why do you wear the heels?” But no one answered. No one even looked our way. Once again the child wailed, and Terry said, “Anybody want to get out of here?” It was no way to say goodbye to Christmas, and yet it was all we had. Blotterature 40
M. A. Jackson
Depression Blues I’m pretty sure I’m depressed. It might be sub-clinical, but still, I think it’s becoming a problem. All the symptoms are there. “Withdrawn behavior?” I haven’t left the house in in two weeks. “Lack of energy?” The relationship I have with my bed is the only one I haven’t let go to shit (yet). “Erratic sleeping pattern?” I can’t remember what 9:00 in the morning looks or feels like—or 10:00 or 12:00 or 1:00—2:00 and I are starting to drift apart (me and 2:00 AM, though, we still tight). “Feelings of hopelessness?” Why the hell am I even writing this? It’s hopeless. Wait. No. Nope, it’s definitely, probably, maybe clinical, and either way that’s a problem because I don’t think anyone is noticing. Well, that’s not entirely true. My dad noticed. He told me so. He and I were riding/driving (respectively) in his soccer-mom minivan nightmare when he told me that if I didn’t change my “stank” attitude I was gonna get shot. “If you don’t change your stank attitude you gonna get shot,” he said. I’m still mulling over whether that was an aggressive complaint or a threat. #daddyissues. At any rate, “You don’t talk. You barely wanna say anything to anybody. You don’t go anywhere or do anything. You sleep all day, layin’ around in your drawers, and when you do get up, you walk around like don’t care. Don’t care about nothing and nobody, but yourself and what you want,” et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam—you get the picture. But, hey! At least he noticed, right? Can’t say I’m invisible. #daddyissuesFTW. He went on for bit about how much of a buzzkill, li’l shit, and overall awful person I was to be around these days, and I didn’t retort or refute, just stared ahead, watching the road. One mustn’t grumble. “Keep calm and carry on,” and all that. Besides, he was right. I didn’t—don’t care—about anything, not even myself. Y’know, because of the depression. I wouldn’t have even cared if I’d cut the wheel, stomped the gas, and crashed his soccer-mom minivan nightmare off the side of the highway overpass. But, I didn’t—because our insurance doesn’t cover suicidal rages. Damn cut-rate coverage. Now, I know you’re figuring that the main rub of all this is my dad basically attacking me verbally for the crime of (maybe, sorta, probably) suffering from depression. Granted, he wasn’t aware of it, but that’s still kind of a big no-no on the suicide prevention worksheet. But, no; the kicker is what his solution was to my post-adolescent delinquency. “Y’know what? You need to find a job,” he said, “That’ll help with your attitude. Maybe being around people’ll mellow you out. Remind you that there’s other people in the world other than you.” Which I thought was rather unfair, my woefully-unemployed status notwithstanding. I’m very much aware of the fact that there are loads (literally, metric fucktons) of other people out there. And, I care; I care so much that I think they’d all be better off without me. Blotterature 41
…Damn. Sorry, that depression acting up again. Anyway… My dad’s end-all solution was for me to get a job and out of his hair, because hard work (apparently) fixes all psychological and behavioral maladies—like military school. Labor: For when ass-whuppin’s just don’t work. To many, all this may seem a bit odd and off-color, approaching depression so carelessly, even the yet-to-be-/self-diagnosed kind. But, there’s a simple explanation: We’re Black. I wish all issues could be answered so simply. “Man, I am Black! I don’t have to explain myself.” But, okay, the longer answer is that my family is African-American, and blacks don’t tend to put too much faith in the mental healthcare system. You know how Christians don’t believe in gravity or Bill Nye (the Science Guy)? Same thing with Blacks and psychology—or like scientologists. Yes. Blacks are just like scientologists. Plus, you have to admit, the scientific community doesn’t have the best track record with “The Community.” The Tuskegee Experiment, HeLa cells, gynecology (seriously, look it up)— the list goes on, long enough for anyone’s Uncle Sambo to be a tad leery of anyone with too many letters behind their name trying to tell them how to live their life, shrinking their heads and all that noise. Why pay hundreds of dollars for some strange doctor to “talk out your problems,” and prescribe you a bunch of funky-looking pills, (which sounds like a load of Kentucky-fried malarkey), when you can just pray to Jeezus and ignore the problem until it goes away? Keep any quirks or idiosyncrasies between you and the Lawd; that’s the African-American way. So, you see? That’s the real reason my dad was upset, because I (silly me) was just fermenting in my depressive stupor when I should’ve prayed the gloom away. My kind of “attitude” could make a guy lose his Race Card membership; I’m surprised the NAACP didn’t audit me. Because all those labels: “bipolar,” “manic depressive,” “major depressive,” “clinical paranoia”—they’re all just fancy words. Put one foot in front of the other and keep your nose to the grindstone, you’ll be just fine. We survive, my brother. To retort, I present a bulleted list:
John Spence/No Doubt (1987) Rob Pilatus/”Milli Vanilli” (1998) Shakir Stewart (2008) Kenny McKinley (2010) Chris Lighty (2012) Don Cornelius (2012) Lee Thompson Young (2013) Karyn Washington/”For Brown Girls” site creator (2014)
This is but a small list of people lost to suicide, people who just happened to be black, and then, only the most prominent and relevant are listed. Each death shocked their respective fandoms and media outlets (for as long as such things last), because all of them went without prior signs of stress or mental illness; no one expected them to die, especially the way they did—and yet…
Now, I can hear the nit-picks and gripes already, “People (unfortunately) kill themselves all the time, and America isn’t even highest in suicide rates. Japan and South Korea’s statistics make me wanna jump off a roof myself? Not impressed. Try again, kid.” And to that, I respond, “Shut up, tryin’ to troll me. This ain’t Reddit.” In addition, while it is true suicide is a universal problem, there are often clear indicators beforehand, red flags, warnings that sound before the end, for whatever (little) good they do. We are all too aware of the effects bullying, social pressure, and mismanaged grief can have on a person’s mental state. We know to be mindful of past problems with depression, to watch out for signs of self-harm or substance abuse. Despite what issues that remain with public (mis)conceptions about depression, there is a clear image of what depression can look like. There’s everything from crisis centers and hotlines to Buzzfeed long-reads, Huffington Post articles, and Tumblr gifs about it; awareness is awareness, man. But, how many times has the “for-example” focus of that HuffPost article been a hypothetical African-American? Or how often has the teary-eyed, sepia-toned subject of that suicide prevention photoset on Tumblr been a black kid? Reference your mental images for that. However, while there are issues with the image of African-Americans, this particular issue comes not from outside, but from within the Black community. Society-at-large has a hard time realizing that depression is a legitimate illness; many Blacks barely believe in mental illness at all. This all reminds me of a time a few months before my dad’s counseling session when my aunt visited us, gray with worry over the irritability and general emo-ness of her 30year-old, unemployed, live-at-home son. “Honestly, I really just think he’s depressed,” she said, wringing her dark hands together, my parents voicing their sympathy. “I just think—I wish he could just find a job, and I think that’d do him a lot of good. Give him something to do to with his life, and help him get over it.” My parents nodded vigorously with assent. In a perfect world, whenever the term “depression” comes up, it should automatically be followed by the words “treatment,” “care,” and “professional,” in any order you like. Calls should be made, appointments scheduled, interventions held, and, of course, insurance coverage reviewed (shrinks be mad expensive, yo). Instead, too often, we just want to fix the problem or more accurately, we just want to get rid of it. Like a cold, we don’t really care about anyone getting better, we just want to take care of the symptoms and get on with our normal lives; a person can heal on their own time. And so it was in my parents’ living room with my aunt, and in the family van with my dad, and how it is in millions of living rooms and vans across America: no talk of ways to get better, just ways to get over it. Now, this is the part in the essay where I’m supposed to start really deconstructing the problem, identifying all the main factors, and pitch a few ways that we, as a people, can overcome these obstacles to help those suffering from such mental hardships (clue: make sure to read that last bit in your best MLK voice). Unfortunately, I have no idea Blotterature 43
what the main cause of this societal problem is or how to even begin to fix it, and if I did, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t sum it up in the next couple paragraphs. Maybe it’s the overall distrust of institutions I talked about earlier, with Tuskegee, the syphilis, and that whole slavery and systemic racism thing. Or maybe Blacks are taking the old stereotypes of the preternaturally-wise Magical Negro and the Strong Black Woman a tad too seriously, believing our own hype—subconsciously trying to live up to the image of the indomitable Black Spirit forged solid as steel through the fires of oppression and adversity to the point that even individuals think themselves supermen; no obstacle is too great or impossible for “Us” to overcome. There’s even a song called “We Shall Overcome.” I mean, come on, right? It’s right there. Digression: If you were to do a street survey (like, literally walk down the street and ask folks), asking Blacks you meet what their opinion of African-Americans in relation to depression and suicide, you’d sooner than later encounter the expression, “Black folk don’t get depressed/kill themselves,” which implies belief in a hidden spiritual strength of “The Community.” “We” don’t commit suicide or get depressed because we’re too strong too ever fall that far; after everything “we as a people” have been through, there’s nothing that can push one of “us” to take our own life. “The Black spirit prevails”—such is the idea. An empowering thought, to be sure, but when a person in emotional or mental peril comes up against such thinking, what further effect might that have? When you’re suffering through so much pain and doubt that you’re pushed to the limit, only for the norms of the community from which you forge the very basis of your identity maintain that such sadness itself is wrong, what does that do to you? The disbelief in Black mental illness can make one feel that they are less-than the optimal “Brotha” or “Sistah,” that there is something wrong with them, the individual, with you (more so than being depressed in the first place) that allowed you to fall into the depression. Your pain is delegitimized then compounded. You’re already messed up because you are depressed, only for you realize that you’re only that way because you’re not a real (read: emotionally impervious, supposedly) African-American, so you’re even more messed up by the end. And so, could it be that the very thing that uplifts and empowers a people can be misconstrued to the point that it comes back to damage them? I certainly hope not, but hey, shit happens. It’s all so random. You can’t win. Why even try? It’s pointless. It’s all so ludicrously pointless—and, I’m rambling again. Sorry. Depression… At any rate, it may not be any of these things or it could be all of them at the same time, but in ways we haven’t even imagined. Maybe we needn’t even discuss cultural factors as this whole problem is just a side effect of the entire nation’s (nay, the whole world’s) ineffectual attitudes toward mental illness. Then again, perhaps this whole line of discussion is too hasty, and excludes too many other determinants that affects an individual’s or group’s approach to depression. Maybe depression is just that complex an illness that it’s damn near impossible to quantify or neatly categorize. Maybe we should stop trying. If we stop trying to come up with easy explanations for depression, maybe we’ll stop trying to invent easy solutions for it, whether it’s blindly writing Blotterature 44
prescriptions or just trying to ignore it to death (Get it? “To death?” Ah, I kill myself). Depression isn’t just about feeling sad or lonely or being too stressed. It’s not about rainy days or cold, winter months. It isn’t merely a neurochemical imbalance that can be knocked back into sync with a little pill every morning. It’s not a product of boredom, an idle mind, or a desperate ploy for attention. Depression isn’t just some Millennial personality quirk, and it certainly isn’t about someone’s lack of faith in Lawd Jeezus. It is so often something so deep and dark, so personal, and so great and awful that you can barely comprehend it unless you’ve had your own personal black cloud haunting your days. But, that’s what someone who’s suffering through depression really needs: comprehension—understanding; not just pills or prayer, tough love or a stiff upper lip. They—we—need someone who understands, and move forward from there. And yet in the end, these are all just my forlorn musings underlined with the pitch black ink of my own self-pity, and are worth diddily-shit, because I’m still in my dad’s soccermom mini-van nightmare (metaphorically, of course). After missing my chance at the overpass, we moved on down the highway, and my dad moved on to ranting about— whatever else old men are wont to rant about. ED and Swollen prostates, I guess? There’s no further discussion on my “troubling” behavior, and no rebuttal from me, to be sure. Why talk about it and feel feelings when you can just repress it? Freud would be so proud of me. And so to celebrate, I went home, sat in the dark, and listened to old Evanescence songs until Two-in-the-Morning (my old friend). And that was my day— and my next day—and my next day after—and the day(s) after followed much the same pattern, ad nauseam et infinitum. …I’m pretty sure I’m depressed.
Seattle Transit Train Arriving at Station Allen Forrest, 2012 Oil on Canvas, 36x24
The Poetry of Dandruff Today, it’s my turn to pick my mother’s dandruff. She is sitting on the floor, back against the couch, reading me and Rebecca and Caleb a third-grade history lesson. I am on the couch, legs crossed against her back. I examine her graying roots, nick a flake from her scalp and slide it down the length of her short hair, flick it onto the piece of scrap paper she holds in her lap for the purpose. When I have picked the largest of the flakes, I part her hair down the back of her head and tie the left side at the nape of her neck. I brush the other side and smooth away the static with my palm. I French braid her hair, starting at her forehead just behind her bangs. I scoop a strand from her part and tug it into place, then a strand from her temple. She takes a sharp breath, legs tense, cheek winces. “Sorry,” I say, and continue. When I finish, I tie it with a neon scrunchie and begin the other side, two symmetrical braids. “You should keep your hair like this when you go out to dinner with Daddy tonight,” I say when she pauses in her reading. “We’ll see,” she says, and continues. The afternoon sun is warm. It thickens the air like amber and our movements become sluggish; my fingers slow as I finish the second braid, Mom’s voice slurs, and Rebecca slumps further into the couch beside me. Mom closes the book on her lap, sets the paper with dandruff on the carpet beside her. “Go do your math,” she says, leaning back against the couch. I return later to find her in the same position, legs stretched in front of her, crossed at the ankle, hands folded on the orange book in her lap, head bowed, pigtails sticking straight up, old navy cardigan flecked with dandruff at the shoulders, an exhaustion I do not care to understand. I tiptoe behind her, down the hallway to my bedroom. “Rebecca, Mommy’s asleep,” I whisper. “Let’s play Barbies.” In half an hour, my mother will wake and lay the paper with dandruff in the trash. She will wash the lunch and breakfast dishes while listening to Jay Sekulow on the radio, running her hands along each plate’s surface to ensure it’s clean. She will sit on the carpet in the study, teacher’s book and student’s book open side-by-side, red pencil in hand. I will sigh when she calls me from my Barbies to look at the red marks. She will remove the scrunchies from her hair, work out the braids, and wash away the kinks, the last of the dandruff rinsing with the soap down the laundry room drain. At dinner tonight, she will talk with Dad about important things—Rebecca still doesn’t get fractions, maybe it’s time to put them in school, Jay Sekulow’s voice was especially Blotterature 47
urgent today. She will not say that her daughter once again wanted her to wear lopsided French braids and mismatched neon scrunchies in public, which her scalp still throbs from those braids. That today was Rachelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s turn to pick dandruff.
Add Your Comments Here's the news in raw, brute formâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; Add your comments. Only the losers have war criminals. It takes days to bury a queen Minutes to fill a mass grave. Only humans can do these things.
At The Dentist I hold still, prone While she picks at my teeth Methodically working through Crannies and crumbs. I have a moment of unity With my monkey kin, That careful examination of the fur Picking off parasites Poring over another's skin Patiently and thorough, like me and the hygienist. The spell broke with the computer Processing my bill And when I got into the car I was nothing but a carbon atom Dying of combustion
Small Adjustments You ever feel like you're a chew toy for the gods? I say. You saying the gods are canine? I smile. I shrug. We're on the boardwalk waiting to be photographed in one of those scene-props you stick your head through. Young heads filled with bric-a-brac, and diamonds, and farm equipment. Five months together; ice cream headaches intermittingly twisting our faces. You think too much, she tells me, her head though one hole, mine the other. You think? I say. In a rocket ship; painted hands out of portholes, waving. Surrounded by stars in velvety space, heading for a distant planet. Our real hands at our sides like shovels. Deep in this earth.
So Much Changes, So Much Stays the Same In the car she's telling me what it would be like if Iran got nuclear weapons. A Joni Mitchell song is playing, and Joni is blue as if she were listening. Can you imagine? she says. Fuck. I'm thinking about my in-laws at the other end of this highway. The turkey, the table exploding. *** Will you look at that, my mother said once, holding open a '50s magazine. Pointing to the fancy fallout shelter; the smiling family in their perfect world. Better Homes and Gardens perfect. And I tried to squeeze what she was saying into the little space I had for such things. Pushing out stickball and marbles, to make room for blood-boiling light. Like the Ritz, my mother said. *** Well, let's hope, I say. Hope what? Hope they don't get them. Hope, hell, she tells me, as though I'd gotten all the answers wrong to a quiz. I'm waiting for Joni to cheer up. Christ, nobody plays a sledge hammer better. There is macro. There is micro. Whatever fits. Outside it is sunny. There are wildflowers, then an accident in the traffic going the other way. Wildflowers again.
Vitamin Express There are no guardrails in Hell, you say, studying a bottle at Vitamin Express. Tap a lacquered fingernail against it, reading the label. I straighten from a bottom shelf. Ever notice how metaphors start to look like the people that use them after a while? The way certain pets look like their owners? I say. Humm, you muse, shaking the bottle almost musically. Hope is like a pair of old socks on the line, you tell me. Horizontal and plump with wind. I can't tell whether she looks more like the socks or the wind. I have my doubts these bottles will ever give us what we are seeking. The woman behind the counter points at the Economy-Size section, and tells us they're kinder on the pocketbook. She has a look, like ocean-tamed beach glass. Smooth, easy on the eyes. Even a dozen fat angels cannot buckle the sky, I tell my girlfriend, straining to lift a bottle onto the counter, as she measures the words against my countenance. Pretty in sunlight, and saltwater-fresh, the cashier rings us up.
Brief History of the Fourth of July Each Fourth of July their blue school bus would slowly approach the pavilion in the park, and even though the midtown streets were paved, it always seemed to arrive in a cloud of country dust. The singers, too, seemed countrified. Country fried. Slowed to a deep summer grease. Though they introduced themselves as being from all over—a heroin junky from New York City, a meth and codeine man from Kalamazoo—though they sang, “This is my country, land that I love,” with voices like jackhammers, their country was obviously the blue school bus; their citizenship, the blue tuxedos; their penance, the matching plastic lapels, those funny recovery shoes.
Port of Seattle #2 Allen Forrest, 2012, Oil on Canvas 16x20
Good Christian Soldiers The movie, United 93, had unsettled her stomach, my girlfriend told me afterward. She had seen more graphic ones, of course, but most of them were not Hollywood versions of real-life events, and those that were depicted events that happened forty, fifty, sixty years ago—she hadn’t even been alive when they occurred, and she most definitely had not watched them unfold before her eyes on the televisions at the private college she attended at the time. But the plane she watched go down on the big screen had only in real life gone down less than five years before, and while she hadn’t seen the real United Flight 93 fall from the sky into a field forty miles from where she lived, she had seen, live and in rerun—over and over and over again—United Flight 175 be swallowed by the south tower of the World Trade Center. It happened in the proverbial blink of an eye. It had never stopped happening since. Hijacked planes gave way to hijacked letters, the dust of New York City to the dirt of Afghanistan, al Qaeda to Iraq, the Taliban to Saddam Hussein, the War on Terror to Operation Iraqi Freedom, weapons of mass destruction to weapons of mass deception, “We will never forget” to “We will never learn.” I picture her then, not much older in September of 2001 than the students I was teaching at the time—being interrupted, as we all were, from her daily schedule; hearing about it in class or on her way there and rushing to the nearest TV screen; her green eyes wide and afraid, full of tears; her heart hurting in her chest, her brain asking over and over again, “Why, why, why?” Maybe she asked the kids around her to link hands with her as she offered up a prayer to God for the dead and dying; maybe she wanted to but didn’t. Maybe she saved this for later, when she was with her own kind in some Christian collective of college students, if such a thing exists at a private liberal arts school. The girl at this school at this time in her life was not the girl I would know after she graduated from it. The girl who watched those towers fall was living her own life, in her own way, not the life she had no choice but to lead before she went off to college— the same life she had no choice but to return to when she moved back in with her parents and fell once again under their rules and those of their God. That life I too had lived, at least in part, on and off for close to four and a half years. And I’m here to tell you: It is a hard life indeed, because the Bible, when taken literally as her family takes it, contains a slew of contradictions. And because the ideology of the Christian Right—of which they are most definitely a part—is borderline schizophrenic (I’m being generous here), the folks who live under these yokes tend to operate according to a set of illogical rules that no outsider can understand let alone follow. Taking good care of your home and your car and your local park and having a lot of nice Blotterature 56
things is something that must be done, even though you won’t be able to take any of these things with you when the Lord calls you to be by His side. Taking care of the environment as a whole, however? Fuck it. Abortion, of course, is oh-so-wrong, but capital punishment and war-sanctioned killing are oh-so-right. Likewise, the ancient Hebrews were morally spot on when they slew all the inhabitants of Jericho for being corrupt, but al Qaeda was morally reprehensible for slaying Americans for the same reason. “There is no God but God,” the Muslims say—which is exactly what the fundamentalist Christians believe, but there’s no way in Hell that they and the Muslims are talking about the same God, so don’t dare to even say such a thing in their presence. (Unless you’re Bill O’Reilly. If you’re Bill O’Reilly, you can say anything you want and they will love you. Fair and balanced these people definitely are not—especially not balanced.) Later on that evening, after the movie, she took a call intended for her sister from her sister’s friend, David. “I’m going back,” David told her. “Back? Where?” she asked. “Iraq.” “I-raq! Why? Are they sending you back?” “No. I re-upped.” He had been there before, at the beginning, was part of the invasion of Baghdad. Spent a year in that city, at the heart of it all, alternating between making war and keeping the peace. That was three years ago. This time, he would be guarding a river he never heard of, a tributary of the Euphrates, part of what once was the cradle of civilization that had since gone to pot. Podunk, Iraq. Middle of nowhere. A West Virginia native, it would be like going home, he joked to her. She got off the phone and cried and cried. The next day, she told me about the call from David and commented on the connectivity between what she had watched on the big screen and what was happening to David. I told her I didn’t see the connection. “One has nothing to do with the other,” I said. “Of course they do,” she replied. Later on the phone, after I had some time to think on what she had said, I decided to continue the conversation even though I knew I probably shouldn’t. “An interesting thing about the connectivity of yesterday’s two events, your viewing of United 93 and David going back to Iraq.” Blotterature 57
“Yeah, what’s that?” she asked. I said they weren’t connected in the way I knew she meant. In other words, what I meant was that the events portrayed in the film, the events of 9/11, had no connection to the war in Iraq. And it didn’t, at least not in the sense the Bush administration had been trying to make of it: that Saddam and al Qaeda were, if not one and the same, then in cahoots. However, 9/11 had given the government the authority (read: the people’s blessing) to invade Iraq. So they were connected; without the one we would not have had the other, but not in the way originally ramrodded through the general public. In other words, 9/11 had brought into being the war in Iraq, but Iraq hadn’t brought into being 9/11. The connection that wasn’t a connection placed al Qaeda in Iraq, I told her. However, they weren’t there until after we had invaded Iraq. All of this was lost on her. Though my logic was sound, it wasn’t the proper logic of the times, a logic that threw itself to the wolves of misplaced patriotism and public manipulation, a logic that both fed and feasted upon the illogic of the American Christian Right. In short, I wasn’t speaking her language, and when I didn’t, when she was exposed to a reality outside the one Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, KLOV, her grandfather, her parents, and her church had carefully constructed for her. Her only reaction was either outrage, like when a colleague of hers had given her a copy of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by the liberal Christian evangelist, Jim Wallis. I made the mistake of suggesting she read it before she got upset because it merely existed and someone she liked and respected had given it to her; like when I first learned of the Vote for Change tour taking place during the 2004 presidential election season and told her I’d have to check it out; like when she told me that an article she had read about Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, said the scientist didn’t believe in evolution because he was a Christian, and then I read the article and discovered that it said no such thing and told her so, to which she replied, “No true Christian can believe in evolution,” and then basically freaked the fuck out; or ignorance, as in “let’s change the subject.” “Can we talk about something else?” she asked when I had finished. *** I met her in July of 2003, the very same week that Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed in a shoot-out with U.S. troops. The first time I was invited into the house she shared with her parents and her sister, I noticed a small bulletin board on the wall behind the back door situated above a small white board and a hanger for car keys. Flanked by pictures of her best friend and her cousin in their Coast Guard uniforms hung a picture of Saddam Hussein encircled by the crosshairs of a rifle. It hung there in 2003; it hung there through 2004 and 2005 and 2006 and 2007; it hung there even after Hussein was captured, tried, convicted, and executed; it might still hang there today. The poster reminded me of the times I saw the Damn Yankees in concert, a band that included Ted Nugent, now right-wing radio host, among other known musicians from other known bands. This was during the time of the first Gulf invasion, and at one point Blotterature 58
in the show, the roadies would bring out a life-size cardboard cutout of Saddam, and Ted Nugent would exchange his guitar for a bow, light an arrow on fire, and shoot it at the cutout. The crowd would erupt in cheers. But what were they cheering for, really? Nothing short of the death of a man who, while a horrible and unjust leader to his people, was, after all, still a man. Of course, it was easier to accept the gung-ho mindlessness behind Nugent’s act and the reception it received from thousands of pumped-up, drunk rock fans, because it was, after all, an act, a show, then it was—and is—to accept the poster that hung in what the inhabitants considered a very Christian household. What else could that poster mean except that these people delighted in the fact that thousands of army personnel were trying to kill the man on it? The fact that it continued to hang there long after Saddam was discovered hiding in a hole and sentenced to death by a court of his own countrymen displayed the mindless patriotism that made them put it up in the first place. I never asked her or her family about the poster, but, in the beginning, I often wondered to myself, “What kind of people would have a picture of Saddam Hussein in the crosshairs of a rifle hanging in their house?” And by the end, I knew all too well. *** On a Sunday morning after David had been sent back to the war, while standing side by side in their church during one of the many moments in the service when the congregation rose from their pews to sing Christian songs, her mother asked me: “Which one is Iraq?” She was looking at the large woodblock maps on the walls to either side of the altar. On our left hung the Western Hemisphere, on our right the Eastern one. While the countries were demarcated, they were not labeled. I turned to her to see if she was serious, and by the concentrated look on her face as she stared at the map—the one on our right I noticed with some relief—I could see that she was. Her question reminded me of a story Springsteen told in concert that was captured on a live CD of his about how the drummer in his first band showed up to practice one day and told his band mates that he was being sent to Vietnam but that he didn’t even know where it was. That story always made me sad when I listened to it, but the one unfolding before me only made me angry. How had this woman, who unequivocally supported both George W. and the war he and his administration got us into, dared to not take it upon herself until now to know precisely where said war was being waged? I would have had liked nothing better than to have screamed these very words at her, but if I had done so, if I had passed by this opportunity to educate her instead of denounce her, she’d probably never know which country was Iraq and I’d have been minus one girlfriend. “You see that big boot-shaped piece of land to the right of Africa?” I said. “The big country in that boot is Saudi Arabia. The bigger of the two countries bordering Saudi Arabia to the north, the one to the right, is Iraq.” “And which one is Kuwait?” she asked. “That little dink of a country at the southern tip of Iraq is Kuwait.” Blotterature 59
“And that’s why we invaded Iraq before? Because Iraq attacked Kuwait?” “Yeah,” I replied. “More or less.” *** On the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, before David was to depart for base then back to Iraq, he came to see her family and have dinner with them. I joined them afterwards at their house. Before David bade his goodbyes, we stood in a circle and, with hands locked, prayed for the soldier among us, placed him before the throne of Christ, baptized him with love and kind words and goodwill. Never mind the fact that four out of the five non-military members of that circle were the very reason David had an Iraq War to go back to. If he was killed over there, his blood was on their hands, the very hands that held onto one another and made complete this sacred circle, this illogical loop we were all caught in, where one thing didn’t and yet still did cause another thing to happen, where God was praised both for sparing so many lives and taking so many others on that awful and wonderful autumn day when the world changed forever or it didn’t change at all. Her sister said her own solitary farewell outside beside David’s truck, while the rest of us settled in to watch the President give his anniversary address before the nation. After a few minutes, she joined us in the living room, tears in her eyes, and I reached for her and pulled her down to the couch next to me, where we sat thigh to thigh and shoulder to shoulder like Siamese twins and listened to W. give his speech. When he finished and the pundits replaced him on the television, her father declared, “That was a pretty good speech, wasn’t it?”
The Eve of War Not an early bird. 10 a.m. Sunday I skipped church for extra hours in a soothing dream. Up in five minutesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; shave, shower brush my teeth, repeat after me: I am not the man in the mirror. English breakfast. Call Dad. Fresh tulips. The ground under my feet has already been painted red. Buy milk and bandage. Work the night shift. Watch Ms. Revolution's sleep.
Dog Years It starts slow, the itch behind your ear, the after-dinner walks, the urge to howl at the moon, not a triumphant tune, but a broken basset, wavering notes echoing off empty garages and every morning when you look in the mirror, more to shave. This is the year of the dog. The kind that takes more than most, bank-account overdrawn, bicycle broken, only friends the fleas on your back, and the one thing you count on: a check-engine light. The fifteen pounds you put on? Something to take away from this year of loss and carry around for the next thirty years or however long you have left, which you can never be sure of aging like this. You put off bathing for a day, maybe two, so that when your wife makes you sleep at the foot of the bed and finally the couch you don't think much of it. Not even when she brings friends home to stay the night, yipping like a Pomeranian in heat. This is the year of the dog. Where the most you can expect from a day is a handful of table scraps and a warm place to nap. Tail wagging less and less until it becomes a stranger when it thumps against the hard-wood floor, you turn to chase it, and a part of you has read this headline before.
In Her Father's Office there was new carpet and we wore the pattern of it on our kneecaps and the palms of our hands. When we kissed, her tongue tasted like mustard and her jaw clicked, the popping filling our mouths. I wondered if all vegetarians felt so fragile. She told me the history of the walls, the late nights her father worked, Sunday mornings perched on his knee, Christmas presents her parents hid in there, and years later, the door always locked, The Dark Side of the Moon always playing until she came home to hear the static hiss, the shadow of him in the chair, still gripping the gray gun, back of his head like a burst bulb, faint flicker of the filament in his eyes, the room growing dimmer. She told me she cried in his arms, his lungs working for a breath, chest rising and falling like ocean-swells, that her mother couldn't look at her, swaddled in her father's blood, and even after that, it felt forced. She put her father's favorite record on for us and we lay under his desk. She curled into the crux of my arm and I listened to her heartbeat, to how hollow it sounded inside. I imagined a smaller version of her, nested within, and inside that version a still smaller one. I wanted to shave slivers of myself off and tuck the pieces into their shoes so that they could stand that much taller. I knew it couldn't fill her, but maybe a start, a corner piece of a jigsaw, kindling for the blaze, the first shovel of dirt on the grave.
Seattle 1st Ave, Show Box Theater Allen Forrest, 2013 Oil on Canvas, 8x10
Around the Volcano
“My lover. Oh come to me again as once in May.” ― Malcolm Lowry
There is not anything I do not understand about the fog, and today, this is no ordinary bed of transmogrified moisture. It is a gift from the ocean rolling in above the bay of San Francisco, viewed from nature’s splendid dais that is the so un-very Hollywood Hills of Berkeley. Just off the serpentine road, aptly named Snake meandering towards Grizzly Peak, on the rocky pine and eucalyptus decorated shoulder, above the sleeping city, I stand, peeing. I have managed to remain alive some odd forty years to finally say these words, “Ahh, my element.” From this vantage point, it is much like flying. The cloudbank sifts in like roiling butter being boiled. It is a type of atmospheric gourmet cooking and nuagistic strip tease show in reverse. The excitement is in the tantalizing covering up of all that we wish to desire to see; the word “wisp” realized in all of its sensual onomatopoeia. The haze of the Great Smoky Mountains is mimicked, and the sky ruthlessly drowns the city lights in a deluge of pure naturalism. Goodbye, fair megapolis. The devil’s horns of Mt. Tam and Twin Peaks are all that are left. They seem to be floating. They are a form of evil that has put an idea into my head. How many millions of people live here—six, seven, eight—who do not even know about the presence of the hidden brush-covered spine of the volcano, the backbone of my queer project? She has no name other than the one attributed to her, Sibley, and she is a Sybil. This little known geographic formation is the destination, the backdrop, the canvass to which I bring my unsuspecting guests for their nearly private forms of revelation. The extinct volcano is my partner in crime, and my transgressions are only those of the emotions this place has the power to release. And release is what we all so desperately seek.
overture: The trek with Sarah with an H. The vixen’s main ability is not to tempt but to vex. Her body is twenty years old, soft feet, slenderness, blonde hair, but her face has pushed fifty and succeeded. She worked for the city and perhaps this was why. The stress that nine-to-five boredom engenders, or a life lived alone except with teenagers she sees every other week was slowly doing her in. A house in the not-so-good part of town, yet kept meticulously to counter the balance of blight framed by the large living room window. A stolen shopping cart, wheels up, by a fire hydrant. A solitary grapefruit tree in the sculpted yard. She would ask any one of her long succession of dates to squeeze the dishwashing sponge really hard so it Blotterature 65
wouldn’t retain water when the fool was kind enough to do the dishes after one of her amorphous chicken and vegetable creations, sans seasoning. The volcano needed her. To subside the stress she injected into her almost 6 foot tall high school daughter, who like her mother, suffered from uncontrollable bodily twitches when faced with certain forms of intimacy, even a simple hug. Or her son, who could not believe a guy like me would ever want to hang with him and reveal the secrets of dark humor and edgy wit and how to color the world in comic book ink so its weirdness would be readily comprehensible. Roundtop was the destination’s nickname. Who doesn’t love the great outdoors? Who couldn’t be enamored of the thought of a 1,700 foot extinct cinder cone poking up behind the rich indulgence of the Berkeley hills? Human nature was the hunt. The ultimate game: seduction. There was something about its longitude/latitude that brought out long forgotten states of being. From one viewpoint, through the coyote brush, ridges of forever could be seen. We were transported to an alpine hike, discovering Europe for the very first time, the air crisp, soon to smell of sweet German wine and then the first taste of a real fondue. From the perspective of a pause in the circular ruins of the root-intersected path, she almost instantly broke down. Mt. Diablo strained to reach its halo of shorn cloud. She told me of her husband who masturbated almost silently in bed, back turned to her unfulfilled desire. Of the kids whose lives she compromised in the inevitable divorce. Of the hardship it was of maintaining a living and making the modest payments on her lessthan-perfect home. She needed a hug and so much more. She had become, mid-trail, mine. The unspeakable afternoon we shared would become a memory she still savors to this day, although I wouldn’t know as after that day, she was no use to me. She had to be sacrificed.
intermezzo: She She was a friend but something else. She had been married to men, had lain with them, but now preferred the fairer sex. She was her own woman, living alone in a hilly section of Oakland where the last and final foothill dipped its toes into the muddied stream of violence and blight of ghetto land. She was a complicated mix of good-girl-gone-bad, daughter who still kept the hand annotated Bible mother sent, Internet date trolling romantic, who for the love of Pete could never find a heart as true as hers. She was my erotic sister. When we were together she made me feel like I was as young as I was when I first listened to newly bought albums by the Cars. Back when there were record shops. Little privately owned boutique record shops that smelled of incense that sold black light posters, but did not sell lava lamps. She was the kind of person when, out of the blue, I Blotterature 66
asked her if she wanted to attend an ayahuasca cleansing ceremony with a friend of mine, to take a soul bending psychotropic mind raping, she replied, “Game.” No hesitations. No double thinking. A kind of girl who’s kinda not girl. Her mornings started with coffee that was more so Bailey’s and a couple of tokes on a molten glass rainbow-y pipe, then even some more. What else was there to do, this So Cal exile now living in a gender-free zone. Her side of the duplex was full of art and not much more. Paintings everywhere. The smell of paint. She was a collector, not a do-er. An appreciator. One, who on a whim, would fly to New York city on an OKCupid date and stay with some trust-funder achieving a portion of all the clichés Gotham offered: a Broadway show, no two, a hot pastrami sandwich, the list only gets sadder. One Saturday, she Facebooked her desire to not drink for once, but smell fresh air. I couldn’t hesitate given such a moment of rarity. Before she could even get ready I was on the empty 580, the big blue circus tent of Mt. Tam in the distance, the stereo up. The thought of finally seeing her in shorts was more inspirational than the wind streaming in off the bay while what was left of the fog dissipated into a haze that could barely veil the sun. We arrived at the place a mere five miles from her home to which she had not been to in fifteen years. All that time, the volcano loomed over the once bright neighborhood—now leaning toward slum—and she was oblivious. No one she ever knew cared enough to take her there, and she, sadly, had never been called to seek it out. From their shiny, perfectly cleaned car, Berkelites in their online catalogue-ordered hiking gear emerged with requisite much too outdoorsy hats. They spoke of wealth and privilege and intellectual matter, such as the new all mac and cheese gourmet restaurant that had just opened. The sky had cleared and forever was hinted at, cauliflowered with stratocumulus. What a better place we were going than the endless parties in bungalows, the four star restaurants, the spontaneous trips to Vegas that had been her itinerary of late. Less than 12 miles from her home, this winding sacred path waited for her to use as a mode of detoxification for all that ailed her. We walked, her behind, because women always walk behind men for reasons unknown. The pine staircase, the antenna dwarfed by two redwood sprouts, the abandoned quarry, the smell of nature’s seductive frankincense and myrrh disguised as eucalyptus and huckleberry. Visions of manzanita menorahs. Halfway ‘round, she could no longer take it. Without saying it in words, not even through body language, she had revealed that her greatest desire she would never realize was that of bearing a child. She had become mine on our walk, exuberant with nature, laughing at the sun, capturing twigs and flower blooms, putting a long strand of grass in her mouth. Blotterature 67
More than anything she wanted a child, and when I looked behind me once, she walked with her hand cupping an invisible as she led it home to the end of the trail and that empty place secluded in her heart.
crescendo: Jennifer’s walkabout Jennifer or Jennifree, as I called her, was the next to request a trip to a place where she could finally see the sun. Living in Daly City, where awful weather reigned, she could never find the climate that matched her temperament. Duty called, and the volcano now dead, was always hungry for another meal. I picked her up that perfect Wednesday and forewarned her of where we were going. She realized it was a sacred space and secluding her trepidation in nervous laughter, she agreed to the experience. When we arrived in the lush parking area, she wanted to know how long it would be, how far. I let her know it would take as long as any epiphany does. A while. In a rush, rushing, she was always go–go–going. A mind that ran too fast for her own emotions. Happily married so she says, she still sought the fun of others, which she knew was healthy and entertaining for all involved, or not. Once, at the Top of the Mark, the bar in the City’s sky, she wouldn’t leave the waiter alone. His name was Victor and she kept addressing him, using it. “Thank you, Victor.” “Really, Victor?” “From Peru? Wow, Victor.” I would never forget that man. Today, she would greedily eat the bag of chocolate covered peanuts I brought for her and lick her fingers without shame or discretion as we climbed the steps made of root and rock until, near a puddle of mud, she would discover a banana slug. In her amazement, she would say, “You do know what that looks like, don’t you?” and I’d smile a somewhat fake smile knowing how easy it would be to unleash her, especially now. If the volcano could nod, it would have. She was doing her best to resist the charms of the surroundings while she breathed in the ecstatic air as she considered the possibilities of what might come next if she were not in her situation. She hinted that they rarely do things like this and her ample bosom swells and sighs to the rhythm of her fast beating heart. We were surrounded by absolutely nothing and everything. We wondered about the meanings of the clouds. The volcano had finished with us quicker than normal. She said, “I bet you take all your girls here.” What could I say? She had begun to figure me out. We reached the parking lot. She asked if we could stop at a gas station to wash her hands. Somehow she felt a little dirty. The drive down Snake Road was meandering. I took the sharp turns fast, leaning into her. She laughed. Too soon the release of the outdoors become a swank neighborhood, then the ghetto.
At the gas station with bars on its side windows, she asked me to go in with her as a form of protection. She opened the stained once white door to the restroom on a guy taking a piss. She told me she had to squat above the toilet seat, just in case. On the freeway ride home she kept her thoughts silent, a little spent. At an anonymous stoplight in the anonymous sprawl, she turned to me, “For a moment back there, I thought we were lost. Too bad we weren’t.” The light, then, turned green.
The Ballad of Joseph Späh Light a cigar and kick up your feet and I’ll recount to you a feat; This is the ballad of one Joseph Späh, an acrobat truly performing without a net. The little Frenchman was a professional pretzel, a vaudevillian contortionist par excellence; Ben Dova, his stage name, was most renown for the “Convivial Inebriate” comedy schtick. The era in which Joseph Späh made his fame was the intemperate Twenties going into the Thirties; A time when stage spotlights and old ratty curtains were yielding their charms to the mechanized Talkies. This is the Jazz Age, speakeasies and flappers, and newfangled gadgets that got bigger and faster; Such as the Zeppelin, that flying hotel, which could transport the chichi across the Atlantic. Ah yes, the Luftschiff, that great whale in the clouds, an astonishing pinnacle of Teutonic engineering; And even though emblazoned with a nasty swastika,1 the year is 1937, “peace in our prime” (more or less). Now, as it so happened, Joseph Späh was in Europe astounding the crowds with his trademark routine; A rubbery drunkard number with a top hat fumbling for a light to puff up a smoke. He veers to the left and back, then right with a swerve, bumbling steps like a spring that’s unhinged; All on a scaffold resembling a building, narrowly missing a perilous plunge. He then spies a light, it’s a gaslight street lamp, 1
Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, original manufacturers of the aircraft, went bankrupt as the first Hindenberg-class zeppelin was in development so the firm solicited investments from the recently-installed Nazi government in exchange for the vehicles’ use for patriotic propaganda.
which he shimmies up the pole to perch himself on; As he tries to light up his smoke, the lamp then starts drooping and swinging (like rubber) as he dramatically hangs on. This was the trick bit, the crowd-pleasing climax, a pendulum of mayhem, such insouciant burlesque; Ah, there’s nothing so bracing to buoy up the pulses of the hoi polloi like a man in jam. Ben Dova had starred in a silent film newsreel perfecting the gimmick atop a New York skyscraper.2 He wasn’t a Chaplin, a Keaton or Lloyd but the chap sure had pluck and his ship had come in. Well, with a mishap. After a good run on the vaudeville circuit in Europe, Ben Dova was scheduled for Radio City, the big glitzy ritz of a month-long engagement. But, lo and behold, the man missed his steamship departing from Deutschland to the U.S.A.; But there was still time to get to the gig with a one-way ticket aboard the great Hindenberg. What class! So swank! A luxury liner in the firmament replete with hot brandy, cigars and piano; And only the uppermost of gentle haut monde traversed this promenade of modern design. Verily, a palace for posh cosmopolites, a polyglot miscellany of trend-setting elites; Including our hero, the debonair Joseph Späh, coruscating his wit at the Nazis’ expense.3 Ah but he’s harmless, a diverting wisecracker, a man of the world and a jolly good sport; Besides, it’s a long trip, almost three days, so having a chuckle relieves the lollygagged doldrums. 2
The Chanin Building, located mid-Manhattan, is 56 stories high. Like Harold Lloyd’s breathtaking clock-hands stunt in Safety Last!, from which Späh’s act derived, trick perspective camera work was employed to imply great danger from great heights when, in fact, both actors were suspended less than 15 feet from a landable surface while performing. 3
According to various reports, not only did Späh comically ridicule the officials in charge of inspecting luggage at the departing hangar, but he continued to mock their bureaucratic zealousness in the form of many directly anti-Nazi jokes. (Because of the latter, Späh later would be briefly suspected as a saboteur involved in the disaster, a charge later dismissed).
It was rather stormy, and the view most unstellar, with rainy dark weather slowing down the passage; Indeed, the arrival was postponed several times as thunderous conditions proved somewhat unpropitious. Finally! The storm cleared and the Hindenberg readied for a dexterous docking at Lakehurst, New Jersey; Newsmen assembled and families awaited the 36 passengers and the 61 crewmen. Indeed, such a landing summoned a crowd for transoceanic flights were still dernier cri;4 And that prodigious mass of metallic balloon was an oddity of science, a contradiction of logic. Then, flash! Right at the moment of docking to mast a blinding conflagration enveloped the ship; Then, jolt! The floor swooped aside and everyone toppled as the Hindenberg precipitously did plummet. Flames, inferno, catastrophe, chaos! Screams and explosions, broken bones and crushed metal; The craft was in free fall, the outcome was dire, the heat was atrocious, denouement was lethal. But at this supreme instantaneous finale our hero Ben Dova was celeritously smart; He pushed out a window from the observatory lobby and extemporized upon his acrobatic finesse. Rather, his moves were a simple adjustment of the “Convivial Inebriate” comedy schtick; Except, for one thing, he was under duress like never before: some 200 feet! And that thin ledge onto which he did cling was burning with heat, he had to switch hands; Just like his esteemed lamppost comic trick, only now done with flight, height, flames and nigh doom. Some people jumped and plunged to their death but our man stayed firm, teeth-grittingly tight; Some people burned, collapsed into ash — 4
The latest rage.
survival determined in less than a minute.5 Although, for our hero, those few ticking seconds seemed like agonized hours, slow motion in torture; He even saw bodies dropping near where he hung, including one lost soul who tried to grasp him.6 What a nightmarish horror! An enactment of hell! Women and children condemned to a crisp; The crunching of bones, the stench of burnt flesh, the expiring sobbing of apocalypse’s gasp. Then suddenly the plummet was in its last instant and our hero’s moment had unfolded fast; Sensing the crash to come and seizing decision, he cast off his handclasp and rolled into safety. Oh the humanity! What a calamity! That was the end of the Zeppelin’s heyday; 35 died, 62 lived, some with good fortune, some others without. Often the question of where one is standing determines a life while others can take luck and shape it around; Doubtless colossal this saga of acrobatic aplomb: How Joseph Späh survived the Titanic in the Sky.
The Hindenberg disaster occurred in less than 37 seconds.
“Späh, who was holding onto the window ledge with one arm, facing outward, saw a man spread out like a dummy in midair. A moment later the man hit the ground and bounced. The other man gasped. Späh turned and saw him slipping. The other man grabbed at Spah’s coat, ripping off the lapel as he dropped. Späh watched as this man fell over a hundred feet, kicking wildly all the way down. The bow of the ship rose even higher. Späh hung on with his right arm even though the ledge was hot. He thanked God that his best acrobatic trick was holding onto a teetering lamppost with one arm. Finally he felt the ship failing slowly. Then, after what seemed hours, when he couldn’t hold on any longer, he dropped. It was a fall of about forty feet and he knew he had to keep his feet under him.” (Saturday Evening Post, December 8, 1956).
Naked We are not naked people. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s what my wife said about us soon after we started dating. Without explanation, I knew what she meant. We were not the kind of people who walk around naked, especially during the daytime. I don't even like taking my socks off, so if barefoot was intolerable, naked was out of the question. My wife's ex-husband was a naked person. He took great pride in his nudity. He slept naked rain or shine. He liked to walk around naked, even do household tasks naked, even work naked which was all quite possible being that he worked at home. Problem was, his wife wasn't so keen of the naked. While she clung to her flannel pajamas, he only felt more emboldened by his ability to remain naked. He might even have called himself a nudist, had he had a colony to be nude in but when you are one person and the only person not wearing clothes, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not really a nudist, just a naked guy. I figure most people who want to be naked refrain from doing so because it would offend those around them. Certainly my 17 year old wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t like me cooking dinner in the nude, furthermore should any of my teenage sons come to the table nude; I would likely drop the salad bowl in shock, on my naked foot. So when the kids all went to sleep away camp this summer, leaving us alone in the house for the first time since we married, we were tempted for a moment to take advantage of our newfound freedom. It started out quite by accident. We were lying in bed and the dog was whimpering. In only her underwear, my wife got up and tried to quiet the dog. I suggested we put the dog in the crate however being only partially clad evoked the specter of the bad porn movie. We both laughed and she said that she refused to have anything more to do with the dog crate until she was fully clothed. There we were both in bed naked except for my socks, both of us thinking there's an opportunity here to be had but neither of us knowing exactly what to do. The dog was getting louder and louder and yet neither of us moved to do anything. Finally my wife got up and did what could only be described as a pirouette, and then quickly jumped back into bed under the blanket. We both giggled at her boldness but were still left with the problem of the dog. Then in a daring move on my part I challenged her to put the dog in the crate naked. She cringed. I laughed harder. We both agreed it was a bad look. The nakedness seemed out of context. Moments later we gathered our clothes, got dressed and went downstairs to get a snack. Naked in the bedroom was as far as we got. Her ex-husband however graduated to a whole new level of naked. He and his girlfriend declared entire portions of their apartment as clothing optional. This was really more of Blotterature 74
a warning to those who visited them. Should they enter certain rooms in the house, be forewarned, naked people might be walking around, or folding laundry or doing whatever people like to do when they're naked. I often wondered if the announcement of clothing optional was more like an invitation to guests, should they want to shed their attire. I imagined him giving uncle Herb and aunt Carol a tour of his new apartment, and pausing as they came upon the den, this room he would emphasize, is clothing optional room. Then moving on to the kitchen, a room ripe with dangers should one endeavor to cook naked, is clothing required. I could see uncle Herb enthusiastically pulling off his shirt while Aunt Carol, aghast that her husband's behavior grabbed his shirt off the floor and pulled it over his head before anymore flesh would be exposed. I suppose the only people who took advantage of the clothing optional rule in his apartment would be people like himself. Perhaps there are those that felt so encumbered by their clothing, the only way to enjoy a pleasant evening with friends be to do so naked. Still, naked is not necessarily sexy. I suppose his naked friends were very much like him. Their nakedness elevated them as they sat around mocking the rest of us in our 100% cotton T-shirts.
Chain Letter As soon as Mark realized that his Spam Folder contained 172 messages he performed a set of 25 hand-stretches in order to prepare his fingers for the tedious motion of pressing delete again and again and again. When he felt his fingers were ready, he sipped his coffee and started reading. “New Sweet Potato Fries and Cheeseburger Deals!” “Try us FREE for a Month!” “We Have Great News: You’ve Been Pre-Approved!” These were all easy decisions. One-by-one he clicked “delete.” Then he saw the subject “Re: Friday Sale” from someone named Max Green. It wasn’t a familiar name, but Mark was known to forget names. This, of course, wasn’t a good attribute for the Head of Sales, which was Mark’s title. It was possible, if not likely, that Max Green had been a client of his. Perhaps one he had lost contact with in the wake of market changes. Obviously, he opened the message. “WARNING: Now that you’ve opened this you have no choice. You must forward this email to 50 people IN THE NEXT TWO MINUTES or your boss will break his skull and you’ll lose your job. You’ve been warned.” Mark took a long look around his Murray Hill office and used his now-ready finger to press delete. Then his boss, Jack, came running over. “Mark,” he said. “Got the Nixon file for me?” Mark nodded and pulled open his drawer. “Just like you asked.” “Excellent,” Jack said. He flipped through the file. “Where are the indents?” “You didn’t say anything about indents.” Jack put the folder down. “Really, Mark? You’ve been doing this how long? Do I need to say anything about indents?” “I’ll get on it,” Mark said. “Four o’clock,” Jack said. “No exceptions.” Blotterature 76
There were civil smiles between the two. Jack was walking away, but stopped. “Actually,” he said. “Before you fix that atrocity, Jill and I need you for a water delivery.” The company had just switched to a brand new, state-of-the-art water cooler. It was a big improvement over tap water, but since their tiny brown building was the only one in the area without a working elevator, it involved hauling huge water cases up the stairs every other Thursday. Today was water day. Mark nodded. Soon, Jill and Mark were downstairs holding a case of water. Jack grabbed two. “Little extra muscle,” he said with a wink. Jill blushed. Mark led the way up the stairs. Jill was behind him. Jack was behind her. When he reached the second floor, Mark heard a loud crash, like the echo from inside a drum. He turned to find Jack and his two cases of water tumbling down the stairs. Jill went screaming after him. Mark stood for a while, looking at the wall. Then he brought his case of water to the cooler and sat at his desk, where he logged out of email and finished the indents.
Seattle Post Alley Allen Forrest, 2013 Oil on Canvas, 8x10
DONALD, THE HORSE (For Savannah, 2nd grader) Her horses’ names: Misty, Moonscar, Lightning and Donald. And they say Donald’s the silly one because he rolls his head in circles whenever they ease a bit into his mouth. He chases jade dragonflies with pumpkin-colored eyes. He nips Misty on her flank, Moonscar on his shoulder, Lightning’s ashen mane, then hops away like a playful kangaroo. He does this over and over, and they don’t know why he acts the way he does! Such a silly horse, that Donald.
Contributors’ Notes Glen Armstrong holds an MFA in English from the University of Massachusettes, Amherst and teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He is also an editor for the poetry journal Cruel Garters. His recent work has appeared in Conduit, Digital Americana and Cloudbank.
Olga Gonzalez Avalos, a first-generation Mexican-American born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, has been writing for over 20 years and has received Chicago Arts Assistance Program grants for writing. Most recently she worked with Chicago Public Schools arts-integration grant programs as a writer and has published on-line nonfiction articles.
James Babbs continues to live and write from the same small Illinois town where
he grew up. He has published hundreds of poems over the past thirty years and, more recently, a few short stories. James is the author of Disturbing The Light(2013) & The Weight of Invisible Things(2013).
Terry Barr has appeared in Construction, The Jewish Literary Magazine, Sport Literate, and Full Grown People, among other places. He writes a music column for culturemass.com, and lives in Greenville, SC, with his wife and two daughters.
Rachel Belth is a technical communicator, creative nonfiction writer, and poet with a particular affinity for foreign words and Dostoevsky. She is excited about her impending graduation from Cedarville University, when she will receive a Bachelor of Arts in Technical and Professional Communication. She writes by turns from Cedarville, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Some of her work is published or forthcoming in *82 Review and Jewish Literary Journal.
Samuel Best is a Glasgow-based writer and also runs Octavius, a literary magazine for students studying in Scotland. Samuel's début novel will be published by Fledgling Press, and is about Scottish national identity, violence and running away. He tweets at @spbbest and has more stories available at http://samuelbest.weebly.com/
Pia Taavila-Borsheim grew up in Walled Lake, Michigan, and lives now in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She teaches literature and creative writing at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. Her collections include Moon on the Meadow (19772007) and Two Winters (2011). She has been published in various journals including The Bear River Review, The Comstock Review, Threepenny Review, storySouth, 32 Poems, Measure, The Southern Review and others.
Alan Britt served as judge for the 2013 The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award. He read poetry and presented the “Modern Trends in U.S. Poetry” at the VII International Writers’ Festival in Val-David, Canada, May 2013. His latest book is
Parabola Dreams (with Silvia Scheibli): 2013. He teaches English/Creative Writing at Towson University.
Peter Bullen describes his work as the place where poignancy and entertainment
form the central components of the wreckage. He is part sit-down comedian with an impulse to stand up, part happy confessor of tender human folly. His work has appeared in Sparkle and Blink (#'s 42, 43, 47, 49, and 53). Next Year he has a piece due out in Weave Magazine.
SuzAnne C. Cole is a retired college instructor with an MA from Stanford. Her
fiction and poetry have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and her essays have been published in Newsweek, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Baltimore Sun, Personal Journaling and many anthologies.
Alexander Drost was born in New Jersey. He is a twin. He has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Sculpture from University of Colorado. He currently lives and works in Boulder, Colorado.
Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S., he works in many mediums: oil painting, computer graphics, theatre, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College (receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production.) He works in the Vancouver, B.C. as a graphic artist and painter.
Howie Good co-edits White Knuckle Press with Dale Wisely, who does most of the real work.
Mike Hilbig is a writer from Houston, TX who finds writing third-person bios of his own writing credits to be frustrating and deflating. He has yet to be published in The New Yorker or Harper's, but he has witnessed his name on the byline in Red Fez, Miracle E-zine, The Bayou Review, and PenSpark. He likes to think of himself as upand-coming.
M. A. Jackson is a graduate of Purdue University Calumet with a fancy-new English degree, which he uses to swat flies and fan himself in the summer, and who dreams of becoming a great writer while lamenting the philosophical decay of post-modern consumerist entitlement-obsessed western culture in his spare time.
Meghan Larsen is a practitioner of art residing in Portland, OR. Preferred subject matter lends itself to the unusual or fantastical. Often the resulting paintings/drawings are childlike and poorly done, but always in the spirit of self indulgence.
Philip Kobylarz work will appear in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review and has appeared in Best Blotterature 81
American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco. A collection of fiction, Now Leaving Nowheresville, and a book length essay Nearest Istanbul are forthcoming.
Craig Kurtz lives at Twin Oaks Intentional Community where he writes poetry while simultaneously handcrafting hammocks. Recent work has appeared in Aji, Bird’s Thumb, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, The Blue Hour, Drunk Monkeys, Fishfood & Lavajuice, Literati Quarterly, Indigo Rising, Harlequin Creature, No Assholes, Reckless Writing and The Tower Journal.
Jenny McBride's poetry has appeared in The California Quarterly, Green Social Thought, The Prairie Light Review, and other journals. She has also published two short stories.
Yinka Rose Reed-Nolan is a doctoral student at Binghamton University (SUNY), and the editor of If and Only If: A Journal of Eating Disorders and Body Image. Her nonfiction and poetry has recently appeared in Brickplight, Foliate Oak, Niche, and The Dying Goose.
Ken Poyner often serves as unlikely eye-candy at his wife’s powerlifting meets. His latest collection of brief, quizzical fictions is titled Constant Animals. He has had recent work in Analog, Asimov’s, Poet Lore, Cream City Review, and spattered liberally all over the web (just ask any search engine). In the meantime, he and his wife strive to be responsible cat and fish parents.
Cliffton Price's work has appeared in Souvenir, Literary Orphans, Gingerbread House, The Barnstormer, Little Patuxent Review, Lunch Ticket, Inside Higher Ed, and elsewhere.
Sara Raffensperger is a demon masquerading as the most average Mid-Western
college girl on the planet. When she isn't hiding her demonic traits, she slacklines, harbors crushes on fictional characters, takes pictures, and looks forward to being the type of grandmother that says sexually inappropriate things and then crochets you a hat .
Shawn Rubenfeld’s work has appeared in 580 Split, gravel, SmokeLong
Quarterly, theNewerYork, and The Westchester Review, among others. A native New Yorker, he is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Idaho, where he teaches courses on rhetoric and creative writing, and served as Managing Editor of the literary journal Fugue.
Kenia Santos is Brazilian and has poems published in anthologies in her home country and in the United States. She has a degree in Education and she's been an EFL teacher for over 14 years. Her style has been previously described as anti-modernist and neo-feminist. She likes visual arts, world cinema, surrealism and philosophy.
Robert Scotellaro is the author of six literary chapbooks, and another due out by White Knuckle Press (2014). His story "Fun House" is included in the forthcoming anthology Flash Fiction International by W.W. Norton, and a collection of his flash fiction, Measuring the Distance, was published by Blue Light Press (2012). A full-length book of his micro fiction, Close As We Get Sometimes, is due out later this year. He coedits the online journal One Sentence Poems.
Robyn Segal is a writer and mother of four. Her short stories and essays have been previously published in The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, Equally Wed Magazine, Literary Yard, Connotation Press, Flagler Review, Gravel Magazine, and other publications. She lives in Connecticut with her four children and wife. Yvonne Washington is a freelance fiction editor living in New York City. When she isn’t working on a project, she wanders around the city with a cup of coffee, in search of inspiration for her next essay; when most people are asleep, she’s hard at work on her first novel.
Christopher Wilson Jessie Wyatt is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin. She grew up in the sunshine of rural West Tennessee and the shadows of fantasy literature and indie rock music. “Crush” is her first publication.