I s s u e N o. 10
D e c. 2 0 1 5
Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst
Copyright ÂŠ 2015 Buffalo Almanack. All writing and photography property of their respective authors. Cover by Daniel A. Jenks, June 1859. Buffalo Almanack is a non-profit publishing outfit founded in 2013. New issues are released quarterly, on the last day of March, June, September and December. Inquire online for submission guidelines. www.buffaloalmanack.com Like us at facebook.com/buffaloalmanack
For Lauren Vande Vaarst. Youâ€™re the best mom on the planet, and you always will be.
For this tenth edition of Buffalo Almanack, we’ve decided to get back in touch with our Western roots. Our cover, as you may have noticed, is not the creation of one of our contributors, but is, for the first time, a public domain image: a gorgeous watercolor and crayon illustration of Cherokee Pass, near the present-day city of Fort Collins, Colorado. It was drawn in 1859, by a man named Daniel A. Jenks. Jenks was, according to the Library of Congress, a Fifty-Niner, a seeker of gold in the Pike’s Peak Rush of that year. To find his gold, he drove out from St. Louis, accompanied by a party of fifteen men and one woman. In Kansas, they nearly froze to death. In Colorado, they camped in snow and slush, and his best friend’s wife gave birth to a child named in his honor (“An awfull
honor to be sure,” as Jenks noted). Everything was misery. As admonished Jenks in his diary, “You good people at home, who live a civilized life and have homes to go to when it storms, who probably never in your life knew what it was to have old mother earth of a bed and the heavens for a covering, can form no idea how pleasant it seemed when we first struck a fire in this rude hut...My John Bull [English friend] wants to know if I had any idea before what a devil of a big country this U.S. was.” The history of the U.S. West is great and complicated, filled with colonizing agents, Indian resistances, strange alliances and unexpected points of cultural contact. We include this short passage not so much to honor the supposed ‘pioneer spirit’ of men like Jenks, but to remind our readers of a simple and ever-true fact: The West is wild, oh yes, and it wants to kill us all. (Illustrations and historical information courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
Our Cover: The Story of Daniel A. Jenks
Sarah Katharina KayĂ&#x;
Forty-two Reasons Haris Durrani
Woodshop Talk Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox
Photography Julian Jackson
Versus Nathan Lauer
The 2015 Buffalo Almanack Pushcart Prize Nomination
A Few Glimpses of a Witch (Illustration) Laura Kraay
Sad Duppy, Dermis Changeling Cady Vishniac
Photography Marcus Mamourian
Woodshop Talk Marcus Mamourian
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
Rules of the Game Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
THE TAIL END Dispatches from the Artistic Frontier
Interview: Rocky Mountain Land Library Jeff Lee
Review: In the Body Where I Was Born Sebastian Sarti
PAST PERFECT Review: Lust and Other Stories Sara Lippmann
CRITS BY KRISTIN: The Best American Short Stories 2015 Kristin D. Urban-Watson
Buffalo Alumni Checking in with #BuffaloNation
Sarah Katharina KayĂ&#x;
Sarah Katharina Kayß
Sarah Katharina Kayß
Sarah Katharina KayĂ&#x;
Sarah Katharina Kayß
Sarah Katharina Kayß
Sarah Katharina KayĂ&#x;
Sarah Katharina Kayß
“Call me crazy, but I do love staircases. When other people take majestic
pictures of the tourist attractions in the beautiful cities of this world, I will be in search for my next staircase-shot. Primarily, because I think staircases are beautiful and I’m bored of the “typical photograph”—one that everyone has taken in the same place. I like the idea that most people perceive staircases as functional and simply don’t pay attention to them: small steps, thick steps, old ones, new ones - some used so often, that you can hardly imagine what they once looked like and others, in rather hidden places, hardly ever used. You cannot imagine how often people stop by and ask me: “What are you taken a photograph of?” “The staircase.” “Why? Is it special?”
Yes, it is. Staircases are a construction designed to bridge a large vertical
distance by dividing it into smaller vertical distances which we call steps and which can look very different. Staircases can be used in both ways: up and down. And they all tell a story. If only the story of my personal experience when I visited a particular place and I didn’t take a picture of the Louvre or the White House, but I surely have one of a staircase nearby.
Those four staircases are to be found in the UK and Germany. I took the
one in red-ish in Bremen, a Hanseatic city in the northwest of Germany. The one with the yellow stairs is the staircase at Queensway underground station in Bayswater in London. People hardly see this one, because the vast majority will use the lifts instead—it feels like a never ending exercise to take the staircase at Queensway...126 steps, 19 flat, 107 spiral...I took the picture of the staircase in black and white in an NHS surgery in Camden Town, London and the one with the bluish steps in a park in Potsdam, the capital city of the German federal state of Brandenburg where I moved to from London in summer 2015.”
Listen carefully. I got forty-two reasons your girlfriend works for the FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, S.H.I.E.L.D., Fringe Division, Men in Black, or Cylon Overlords, so drop this tapped line, find the nearest payphone, and take notes.
Reason Number One
She won’t call you Jihad. No matter how many times you tell her, she can’t get it around her head that
it doesn’t mean you’re going to strap dynamite to your balls, walk into Penn Station, and blow yourself so bad your head pops off your shoulders.
Truth is she doesn’t actually believe that bullshit, but the name does bother
her. So she calls you Joe.
You don’t complain because everyone calls you Joe, including you. You don’t
want to admit you’re experiencing a Black Skin/White Mask cultural inferiority complex, so you assume you’re also a spy sent to rat on your own self. You don’t know all the details yet. You’re like a character in a Philip K. Dick novel. You have no idea which you is the real you. You’re waiting for someone from the Impossible Mission Force to arrive with a secret task delivered in a knickknack that’ll self-destruct in five four three two one—BAM!—because, deep down, you really want to rock hot shades and ride fast cars and scale Burj Khalifas like Tom Cruise.
Jihad means struggle, but you’ve forgotten that.
Reason Number Two
She likes you.
For most people this is a good thing. For someone like you, it’s too good to
be true. She’s out of your league. You suspect she’s dating you because you’re three birds and one stone. Three more notches on her belt. You’re her first Pakistani, her first Dominican, and her first Muslim boyfriend wrapped in one. You know that. You know you’re her exotic boytoy.
Even that’s too good to be true. Before her, you hardly knew how to talk
to a girl. You hardly knew how to look at a girl. And suddenly in comes Glory Drayer with her freckles and her short-short jeans. She’s crazy about you. Once you hadn’t seen each other for twenty-four hours, and when she caught sight of you from across the school corridor, she ran through the crowd and jumped you like Scooby-Doo.
Too good to be true. You’re a nerd, not a player.
The exotic boytoy thing must be an idea she planted in your head. You know
the truth. She’s here to keep tabs on you, make sure you don’t sneak anthrax to school or plot a revolution or pray too many times a day.
The other girls in your Calculus class hit on you too. You suspect they’re
all in cahoots. Maybe competing agencies. Departmental rivalry is the bane of American national security. You know that for sure.
Reason Number Three
After you make out on your first date, she puts her ear against your chest
and listens. “You’re going wild,” she murmurs. You blush. She grins and says, “You’re gonna get in a whole lot of trouble with me.”
Bad girls don’t exist. There are only girls pretending to be bad girls. These
girls pretending to be bad girls are usually secret agents. QED.
Reason Number Four
She builds an army of paper robots. It’s taken three months for her to get this far with you because you’re not
very good at identifying that social convention called flirting. Now that you know she’s an agent, you realize why she made those origami animals for you in Calculus. You fear they are tiny paper Transformers that will come alive and slit your throat in your sleep. They sit there, red and pink, like a collection of evil dolls from something out of Stephen King. Foolishly, you keep them by your nightstand.
Reason Number Five She thinks you’re paranoid. It’s a smart move, getting you to question the depth of your insanity. You’re not actually insane. She’s in your head. You need to shut her out.
Reason Number Six She asks why you believe in God. It’s an old informant’s trick. Goad people to say crazy shit. You think about it for a while and you don’t really have an answer, not then, so you tell her something about the Qur’an being historical, that it’s lessons from history, history repeating itself. “But do you believe it?” she repeats. You’ll realize, later, that you can’t rationalize the conviction of your faith. At this point in time, you don’t have much conviction because you don’t know right from wrong. This is because you’re dating Glory. She’s good at her job.
Reason Number Seven
She tells you she’s okay not having sex.
This is bullshit. Of course she isn’t. Or she wouldn’t be, if she were for real.
After she helps you remove her bra for the first time—yes, she actually
helps you—you tell her you don’t know how far this is going, but you’re not comfortable going all the way. She asks you if it’s a personal or religious decision, and you tell her it’s both. She says something about planning to lose her virginity the summer before college, which is now, but she’s cool with your request. She smiles and squeezes your hand. You want to tell her you love her. You’ve got no idea she’s playing you, do you?
Reason Number Eight
You realize she’s been pursuing you since seventh grade.
About a month and a half into the relationship, you recall her Save the Tigers
project in middle school. You forgot you were in the same class. You remember her years later, asking you questions about your stories in sophomore English Honors.
This is when you truly come to terms with that word. Surveillance. It freaks
you out and you spend a day locked in your room. She bikes to your place, tackles you, and drowns you with kisses. You can’t help but feel light. You can’t help but reinterpret what you’ve remembered. She’s liked you all along, you tell yourself.
Reason Number Nine
In eighth grade, she traveled the world with her mom and dad.
This is a lie. She was training in Nicaragua. The family pictures are
By now, at the tender age of eighteen, Glory must be a pro.
Reason Number Ten She calls herself a nerd. Pay no heed to this ploy. She clearly has no idea what it means to be a nerd.
It’s like she’s reading from a script written by a washed-up Pentagon bureaucrat who’s sole research consisted of a Lord of the Rings marathon. For her, nerd translates to novice coding, an obsession with indie films, and enrolling in all the Honors and AP science classes—which basically every self-respecting stuckup does in your town, including you—even if she only gets Bs. She’s never read Isaac Asimov and the only Arthur C. Clarke novel she can name is Childhood’s End, not even 2001, because she had to read it for school. She doesn’t understand basic astrophysics, and quantum mechanics only gets her to tease you about being so smart, which you aren’t really. When you talk to her about black holes and parallel universes, she tunes out, waits for you to finish, says it’s cute, and smothers your lips with hers. You find this endearing and sincere, but really? She calls herself a nerd? Definitely a spy.
Reason Number Eleven
She googles Muslim dating rules and asks, “So if you date me, what am I, a
This is another attempt to trigger a reaction. Ignore it. She probably wants
you to try an honor killing, after which she’ll knock you out cold and violate you in a cell in a shithole like Gitmo or Abu Ghraib.
In fact, this is a clear violation of character. She complains to you constantly
about red tape at her YMCA job, and always questions the validity of your leftist media sources, yet somehow she’ll believe the first result Google spits at her.
You don’t tell her any of this. You say, “Don’t believe everything you read
online,” and lay your head against the cafeteria table. She rubs your back and asks you what’s wrong.
Reason Number Twelve She tells you not to mumble. “Say your mind,” she says. “Speak like you mean it.” Is she trying to make you incriminate yourself? What crime have you
committed? How do you stop yourself from saying the wrong thing? Before you realize it, you’ve assumed your criminality. You don’t notice this. You like what she’s told you. You like that she wants you to be you.
Reason Number Thirteen
She doesn’t think Apartheid is that bad.
You go to the MoMA and there’s an exhibit of Apartheid-era protest art.
You find out her African Studies class didn’t cover Apartheid. You think this is ridiculous, and you tell her so, and she looks away, mumbling quiet apologetics.
On other occasions, she’s been an apologist for everyone from Christopher
Columbus to George Bush the Second to your high school’s westerncentric
curriculum. She thinks affirmative action is racist and Othello isn’t.
She probably brings up Othello to fuck with you, see if you go into a
breakdown and smother her with a pillow or some shit like that, but you don’t, because you assume she’s stupid.
Of course, no one is actually this stupid. You’re the idiot. Clearly, the only
possible explanation is that she’s a spy.
On the train home from the MoMA, you calm down. You lay your head on
her lap and she strokes the hair from your eyes. You keep looking at her. Her eyes are grey and translucent, reminding you somehow of baby spittle. You have no other way to describe it, that look. It’s like a sedative. It’s probably hypnosis. She brushes her fingers over your eyelids and tells you, “Rest.”
Reason Number Fourteen
She asks if you think she’s dumb and racist.
You don’t have a choice. You have to reassess yourself. You have to become
understanding. You have to tell her that no, it’s cool, she just doesn’t know.
You know that’s bullshit. You know that doesn’t know is no excuse, especially
for a kid who grows up in a ranked school system like yours. Then again all the kids at school think like Glory.
Maybe you can’t blame her. Maybe she’s indoctrinated. Maybe she’s not a
Although you suppose spies get brainwashed too.
Reason Number Fifteen She has a dream your mom won’t let the two of you get married because
she’s not Muslim.
It gets you riled up, but you bite your tongue. You know she’s trying to
incite you to violence, entrap you for intent to murder. You’re not a killer.
Reason Number Sixteen You keep dating her. This is because you are delusional and you think you love her, which is
because, again, she’s a damn good agent. She’s got tomboy charm. She’s got long, Celtic hair. She may not be your type, but she’s made you redefine what you think your type is.
Reason Number Seventeen She says she loves you. You’ve told her the same thing about five times already. You’re making out half-naked in the back of her car, parked on the hiking trail behind the high school, when a cop pulls up behind Glory’s Jeep and scares the shit out of you. You sit straight like a meerkat out of its hole. She takes you by the shoulders and draws you down. “It’s nothing,” she says, pressing her hot skin against yours. You hear a car door shut. The cop’s flashlight beam fills the space above you, thick and blue on the roof of her car like the surface of a pool seen from below. The cop screams at the two of you to open the door. He points his flashlight like a scientist peering down his microscope. “Get out of the car!” You both duck onto the floor. Glory covers herself. “Fuck.” She fumbles in the dark. “My bra. My fucking bra.” You hand it over.
“Fuck fuck fuck.” “What do we do?” you whisper. “What do we do?” “I don’t know.” She wraps her bra around her breasts. “Do something. Fucking do something. Do anything.” She’s shaking. You try to rationalize her fear. You tell yourself this guy must come from a competing agency. You’ve never seen her tremble, never heard her voice falter. She’s no longer the tough girlfriend. Not the tomboy. Not the selfdeclared nerd in ripped short-short jeans. Not the jaded white girl. No longer wears the pants in the family. Not wearing her pants either. “Get outta the fucking car!” You’re both yanking your clothes on. “Whadoido?” It rolls out as one word. The flashlight beam is on top of you, eddies of light whirling across the dank upholstery. “Do something, damnit!” You reach around the front seat, grab your windbreaker, swing it around your bare torso, and launch out the door, jaw clenched. You tighten every muscle in your body, like a Jedi Knight rushing consciously into an ambush. Like Wolverine tensing, bracing himself for the pain of releasing his claws. “Can I help you, Officer?” you ask, looking him in the eye. “Is there something wrong?” “Park’s closed. What’re you doing here?” “Sorry, Officer. We didn’t know.” He takes you aside and questions you. Name, age, address, school. He flashes a light in your eyes to check if you’re tripping. Your bravery dissipates. You stutter and shiver, asking if this is going on your permanent record. The
repeated answer is “No,” but you know what he really means: Shut it pretty boy. He sends you back and calls for Glory. She returns ten minutes later and drives the two of you off the dirt path. The cop waits behind the wheel of his car, headlights filling the Jeep. He’s watching you. You want to know what he asked her. “He wanted to make sure you weren’t raping me,” she says. You listen to the crickets and the wind in the trees. You find another secluded spot in town, where she parks her car and climbs into the back with you. She slips your finger between her legs and asks you to pleasure her. She makes sounds as if she likes it and she gives you instructions so you don’t bruise her, which you’ll do anyway. It is your first time trying anything like this. She claims it’s hers too. It isn’t sex, not strictly, but it’s close. When you’re done, she asks you to do it again. “Do you know why?” “Why?” you say, looking up. “Because I love you, Joe. I love you.” “I love you too,” you say, believing it in the moment. Obviously, the run-in with the cop is a setup leading to her reveal. That way you’ll believe her. Of course, you don’t believe it’s a setup. You believe you’re in love.
Reason Number Eighteen
Your English teacher hates her.
He says she has a problem with authority. Secret agents planted in high
schools always have problems with authority. They know they’re better than
this. She must have failed her last mission. You’re her punishment.
She is good at hiding it. If you truly knew what was going down—which
you don’t—you’d decide to believe ignorance is bliss. That’s where you are now. Bliss.
Reason Number Nineteen On her nineteenth birthday she sidles up to you, dancing to the radio. She
crosses her wrists behind your neck and asks you to promise to love her forever.
This is an impossible request. It only happens in movies. It’s not genuine. It
can’t be. You find yourself compelled to say yes.
Reason Number Twenty There’s a raccoon on the fence outside her car, watching the two of you make out. You know it’s not a raccoon. It might be an alien. The interstellar community has some vested interest in you, and they’re competing with the government to farm your brain. Or else it’s a mechanized drone. You can tell by the impossibly white eyes and the perfect strips of grey and black fuzz, barely distinguishable in the haze bleeding from the dim streetlamp across the road. Glory is as shocked as you are. Her eyes are large and wet. She has yet to dig up any militant dirt on you, and you bet her boss in D.C. thinks she’s doing a shitty job. He’s probably set aside a small budget so his department can send animatronic drones to keep an extra eye on Glory. Make sure she isn’t doing her job wrong. To you, at that moment, it’s just a pervy raccoon. As far as you’re concerned, she’s doing everything right.
Reason Number Twenty-one
You love her. Again.
You’ve fallen out of love for a while. Or maybe it wasn’t real until now. You need to go to a robotics team meeting. The freshmen under your
mentorship have no idea what they’re doing. You have a competition in a few weeks, and you have to be there tonight. But Glory and your friends are going bowling. Glory begs you to come. Her friend Carrey tries to guilt you into it. Carrey’s your How-To-Date-Glory Manual, your human Siri for the labyrinth of young love. She got you to ask Glory out for the first time, after you were holding hands for a week without any real action. You suspect she’s in league with Glory’s agency.
“Joe,” Carrey says, “you need to spend time with your girlfriend. She’s my
best friend. She really likes you. Forget this robotics stuff this one time. Pete’s coming with Moira. He’s not going to your robot stuff, and he’s on the team.” Glory’s in the bathroom. You’ve just seen a movie at her place. “I dunno,” you say, placid, “I need to make sure these kids get their act together.” “Suit yourself.” You decide on bowling. What choice do you have? Glory doesn’t know Carrey has had a talk with you. She stopped begging before you even told her you’d decided to join their night out, and you’re in her car on the way there. You’ve done that thing you do, where you put your hand on the shift and she puts hers on top, guiding the Jeep in and out of gear, left hand on the wheel. She drives stick. “If you really need to go to your robot thing, you should go,” she says.
Your eyes meander from the road to her. She glances at you and smiles. “Really?” “Really. I won’t mind. Do what you got to do. I’ll drop you off.” You grin and rest your head against the window. “Thanks, Glory.” You exhale slowly. On the shift, she massages the back of your hand with her thumb. “No need to thank me.” It’s as if she’s read you. She probably has read you. She’s a secret agent. They read people for a living. Except in your head you believe she understands that this small decision means something to you. That she cares. She dials up the volume on her CD player. A song is playing. It’s cacophonous with words you can’t hear but have to pretend to understand. The kind of song YouTubers spoof with weird lip-syncs. “Fake Palindromes,” she says. You catch a piece of the lyrics. It’s as if you’ve popped briefly from beneath turbulent waters and caught the interrupted shriek of an onlooker before the waves take you back into muffled, fluid chaos. …Monsters... “What’s that supposed to mean, Fake Palindromes?” …Jesus, don’t you know that you coulda died, you shoulda died with the monsters that talk, monsters that walk the earth… “It’s a song, silly.” She squeezes your hand on the shift. “Listen. This part, here—” All you hear is something close to white noise. “I don’t get it. Sorry, my taste in music sucks—” “Oh, Joe.” She dials it back. “Right…here!”
You hear it then. The words emerge from the noise somehow melodic, not beautiful but with rhythm. Like a mundane conversation, overheard, echoing down an air duct and imbued gradually with a song not its own. …and she says, “I like long walks and sci-fi movies.” if you’re six foot tall and east coast bred… Glory yelps. “Just like you, Joe! Just like you.” The song finales in a riot of disjointed sound, somehow mellow. You think the song is silly, the science fiction reference included. It’s another thing Glory thinks will tap into your inner nerd. This time you don’t mind. She doesn’t get you, not totally, but she’s trying. She’s tried harder than anyone else you know. She gets you better than anyone else you know. No one really does understand you, including yourself, but she almost does. You hold no suspicions. No conspiracies, no qualms about aliens in your midst, no multiverse theory. None of that. If any of it is true, it’s irrelevant. Her eyes are grey and sparkling. Headlights from the opposite side of the road circle her pupils like neon bytes of data speeding along a racetrack in Tron cyberspace. This is when you know with conviction that you love her. You say the words in your head. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you Glory Abigail Drayer.
Reason Number Twenty-two
You don’t know how to make a secret agent argument anymore.
You’re tired of it. You really like this girl. She’s the best thing that has ever
happened to you. For the first time, you question your doubt. Maybe she is who she says she is.
Reason Number Twenty-three
She asks if you pray five times a day.
“Yeah,” you say, as if apologizing for something.
You’re not sure if this counts as a good reason to say she’s covert ops. But it
Reason Number Twenty-four
You have another fight, this time over what you’ll watch at your house for
movie night with her friends.
Your fights are always over mindless crap like this. You know it’s deeper.
You know it’s about being flexible and supportive in the little things and that guidance counselor bullshit. She admires your confidence, your adamancy. In fact, this is why she likes you. But sometimes it’s too much, she says.
You make up and make out. It seems too easy. You suspect you may
have slipped from this universe into an overlapping one, where the rules of physics are subtly off-kilter. Glory could be a Fringe agent sent to retrieve you, occupying a doppelgänger as part of the extraction mission. But you can’t seem to read her signals.
Reason Number Twenty-five
She’s not convinced by socialism.
You try to convince her but it’s not her cup of tea. You don’t know if it’s
yours anymore either, but you persist because it’s all you believe anymore. Railing against the system. You hate living in a town that’s ninety-six percent white. It bothers you in a way you won’t admit that your girlfriend is a stereotypical rich white chick who doesn’t think she’s a stereotypical rich white
chick even though she is. It bothers you that you’re another rich white kid like her, no matter the color of your skin. Snobby and dog-eat-dog and well-meaning and liberal and subconsciously racist.
Reason Number Twenty-six One night when the two of you lie scrunched side by side in the backseat of her Jeep, she looks deep into your soul and asks, “Joe, what are you most afraid of?” “I dunno,” you say. She locks the fingers of one hand with yours. “C’mon, Joe.” “War? Injustice?” “Really?” She laughs. “Yeah,” you say. But that’s a lie. What do you really fear? Spiders? The dark? You’re kind of afraid of the dark. But no. You’re afraid you don’t know yourself. Are you your DNA, the color of your skin? Are you nurture, this hellish verisimilar utopia called the modern state and its mass production of objects and people, like you? Are you history, the Dominican Republic, Hispaniola, Italy, Germany, Corsica— Pakistan, India, the King of the Pashtuns, a nomadic Jewish tribe crossing premodern Afghanistan? Do you belong to any of these? And if you belong to no civilization, do you belong at all? You remember playing on the beach as a kid. Mom asked if you wanted to play with your friend Andrew Chen. You said no. You wanted to play with Jon
Wyce. “He’s vanilla,” you told her. That is what you fear most, that that kid is lurking around inside of you, whispering in your ear like a symbiotic parasite, latched to your consciousness like a leech, incapable of eradication without obliterating a part of who you are.
Reason Number Twenty-seven
You give her a box of chocolates and she tells you her family calls you “a
keeper.” She says you’re the best boyfriend she’s ever had.
You believe her because you still love her.
Reason Number Twenty-eight
You think you’re unappreciative of her because you still harbor these
feelings about her being in the CIA or NSA or FBI or ICE or S.H.I.E.L.D. or Fringe Division or Men in Black or Cylon Empire.
They bother you, these thoughts. They are very dark and wrought with
conviction. Conspiracy theorists bear no dearth of conviction.
You are deeply troubled. You suspect this is evidence that Glory has
tampered with your brain.
Reason Number Twenty-nine
She calls you baby the morning after prom, when you wake up next to her. You rub noses and sniff each other’s halitosis. Neither of you mind. You like
it like this, without ornament. She’s not the kind of girl who’s into lipstick or nail polish. You dig that. You tell her so, and she appreciates this. In the morning sun, her dirty blonde hair is gold and her light freckles
disappear. “Do you think the freckles make me less than pretty?” she asks. “No,” you say. “You’re perfect the way you are.” She puts her ear against your chest and listens. She’s as quiet as your heart.
Reason Number Thirty
She stops calling you baby.
Reason Number Thirty-one
When you tell her you love her, she says, “Yeah.”
Reason Number Thirty-two
You start praying that God will end it for you.
You wonder if you can’t end the relationship yourself because you still love
her or because you simply lack the balls.
Either way, if you were going to become a terrorist or a revolutionary or an
enemy of the state or a telekinetic mutant emissary for Earth’s evil alien invaders or the Avengers’ next villain or whatever the feds suspected you’d become, you won’t become that thing. You’ve lost your edge.
She wins. The system wins.
Reason Number Thirty-three
She returns from a weeklong trip with Carrey and the two of you are in the
back of her Jeep within the hour.
You’re making out topless when you separate your lips from hers and press
your bodies together, tucking your chin over her shoulder and tracing your
fingers along the chilled, bare ridge of her spine. You’ve missed her. “Thank you,” she says. You keep holding her. “What do you mean?” She pulls away gently and points at the road, where two cars just sped by. “For covering me.” She smiles. You stare at the headlights across the trees as they decelerate near the opposite intersection. “Oh,” you say. You had no idea.
You suggest going one step further that night, doing something she’s wanted
to do for a while. She hesitates. She knows you had no idea about the cars. It’s not like she’s an agent. It’s like she’s actually hurt. This boggles you. She’s gone so undercover that she’s gone native. She’s apparently forgotten her mission, as you never had yours. There’s a kinship in this, that you are both lost.
Reason Number Thirty-four
You’re still waiting for your assignment-declaring knickknack from the
Impossible Mission Force that will self-destruct after five four three two one— BAM! You’re hoping it will tell you who the hell you are and what your mission is, because you have no idea what you’re doing. Not that you’ve ever had any idea what you were doing. You’re spiritually dead, in a no man’s land of the soul. She’s got to be a Cylon, a sexy cybernetic thing from deep space sent to unravel humanity’s darkest secrets from your mind. Nothing else could do this to you, take you apart not to question who you are but to make you realize you never knew who you were. Interrogation at its finest: subtle, alluring, hollow. You’re near the end. You’re a shell, a carcass, a desiccated thing. 30
Reason Number Thirty-five
She dumps you.
You see the signs. She doesn’t want to meet at night. When she picks you
up, wearing her dark red tank top and short-cut jeans, she makes sure to say hi to Mom and Dad, like she knows it’s the last time she’ll see them. You go to Subway. She doesn’t let you pay for the two of you. She mentions her first kiss on the ride to the beach. It was during Iron Man; this makes you jealous. You eat in silence beside the shore and stare into the grey clouds.
“Joe,” she says. “We need to talk.”
You two are incompatible, she explains. You have different interests. You’re
heading to college. Long-distance never works.
You nod, remembering your debates over Shakespeare, Conrad, Mandela,
and Marx. “I’ve been a jerk to you,” you admit, not sure if it’s true. “I’ve been meaning to say sorry.”
“No, it’s not that.”
You breathe. “I’ve been meaning to end it myself. I didn’t know how.”
She doesn’t have anything to say. It’s like HQ put her on pause, afraid her
cover’s blown. Why would he consider the idea? HQ is probably thinking. She did such a great job wooing you, understanding you, that it’s hard to comprehend. How you could you have fathomed breaking up with her yourself unless you knew she was an agent?
The reality is you’ve forgotten your paranoia. You no longer think of her that
way. You no longer think of her in any way.
Reason Number Thirty-six Before she drives you home—yes, that happens after all this—you embrace
one last time.
“I think I loved you,” you say.
“If you loved me, you’d know.”
Reason Number Thirty-seven She wants to meet up after the breakup. Over pizza, you tell her something
about Congress and the left and the right when she stops you to ask, “Wait, which one’s Republican, left-wing or right?”
It’s not possible to be that dumb, is it? She’s playing you. She’s got to be.
You’re not crazy. You know you’re not crazy. She’s got to be a secret agent or an informant or something. This can’t be real.
Reason Number Thirty-eight
She shoots you in the face.
It’s a dream but you’re certain it’s real. It’s a vivid dream, the kind you
won’t forget for years. You’re running through a glass tunnel that winds its way through the canopies of some forest. The town is chasing you, including the Principal. The Principal is a sleezeball, lets the rich white kids do whatever they want and lets their parents pester and sue the teachers dry and rolls around in his open-topped blue corvette like some kind of hotshot, which he is, because your high school is ranked first in the state. You open a door and your best friends are waiting for you. Glory is standing there in front of a big white van under a vast grey dome, like a spaceship hangar in Star Trek. She’s a surprise for some reason. Dream logic indicates she’s not supposed to be there, in your head, but she is. She brings a hot, black thing between the two of you and clicks.
You wake up terrified. If you ever had thoughts about overturning this racist piece of shit town, you forget them. You believe this is proof that inception is real.
Reason Number Thirty-nine
She gives you a call from college and says she’s changed. She thinks about
life differently. You’re not sure what that means. You think she’s defected.
Reason Number Forty She is a spy. It’s obvious now. It’s empirical. She got in your head and shot you in the
face and now she’s fallen off the grid. No one knows where she is. This surprises you. You never believed it was true. You thought it was an elaborate game you’ve played in your own head, a fancy of your imagination. You’re bitter. You liked her. You never saw it ending. What is it you miss? Do you miss being in love? Do you miss her? She’s a part of you now. She’s left a piece of herself inside of you, in your convictions, your fears, your desires. You wonder how the Pentagon decided you were such a massive security risk that they were willing to commission someone for six years to tabs on you. The national security budget dwarfs any other. You always wondered where all that money goes. It freaks you out. You don’t trust anyone again.
Reason Number Forty-one
You look up “Fake Palindromes” and play it on loop for hours.
You believe that Glory programmed your attachment to her, a hypnosis,
and that there’s a sensory trigger that will release you from the neural bond. A sensation that’ll set you free from whatever it is that makes you miss her. You’re pretty sure this trigger is somewhere in “Fake Palindromes.”
If it is, you can’t find it.
Reason Number Forty-two
You’re afraid you’ve never loved and that you never will.
At least you got to date a secret agent. Maybe that will land you a few
numbers down the line. It’s like a scar. Chicks dig scars, don’t they? Or is that just a thing people say? Don’t let the next one pretend to understand your nerdgasms or your racial confusion. Tell her you believe every word of the Qur’an and that you pray five times a day and that Apartheid is real and Shakespeare is a racist pig. Tell her your name is Jihad and it means struggle and that’s what people call you, and if she doesn’t call you that too then she can go to hell. Most importantly, make sure she doesn’t work for the government.
On February 22, Haris Durrani will unveil his debut novella, Technologies of the Self. To commemorate this release, we sat down for a roundtable discussion with Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox, his publishers at Brain Mill Press. This is Woodshop Talk. 35
An Interview with Brain Mill Press
BRAIN MILL PRESS: The editors of Brain Mill Press, Mary Ann Rivers and
Ruthie Knox, are happy to have the opportunity to discuss the work of Haris Durrani with Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst. Haris Durrani is the Brain Mill Press recipient of the 2015 Driftless Unsolicited Prize for Fiction, and BMP is publishing his book, Technologies of the Self, releasing February 22, 2016. Buffalo Almanack publishes Durrani’s short story “Forty-Two Reasons Your Girlfriend Works for the FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, SHIELD, Fringe Division, Men in Black, or Cylon Overlords,” in their issue 10.
It was happily discovered that the book and the story are linked by their
protagonist. “Joe”/Jihad, a Dominican-Pakistani American engineering student, recalls his high school relationship with Glory in Technologies of the Self, and in “Forty-Two Reasons Your Girlfriend Works for the FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, SHIELD, Fringe Division, Men in Black, or Cylon Overlords,” readers experience the complex beginning and end of Jihad and Glory.
The opportunity to discuss fiction about the young American Muslim
experience is particularly timely, important, and revealing. Brain Mill Press and Buffalo Almanack are honored to have this opportunity, especially as Durrani’s work is so engaging, witty, and makes the heart ache in the best way.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Hi, Mary Ann and Ruthie! Thank you so much
for organizing this roundtable. I fell in love with “Forty-Two Reasons” the moment I first encountered it, and Technologies of the Self has only further convinced me that we have a future star in our midst. In both cases, Durrani’s writing is clever and current, beach reading for the justifiably paranoid. These are stories about colonialism, neoliberalism, conspiracy bullshit, and a Trumped-out America at the gates of hell, which is why I find it such a miracle
that they’ve got so much time for family dinners and high school romances, too. Durrani’s mix of pulp culture, diaspora angst, and world/family history is so precise, I can’t help but think of Junot Díaz. And that’s not a superficial comparison—the writing is there, too. That’s the potential I see.
BMP: Maxine, it’s our pleasure. Ruthie and I (Mary Ann) pulled Technologies
of the Self out of the submissions to our Driftless Unsolicited contest at about the same time, with similar comments about the first several pages—comments that roughly boiled down to “!!!” When we did sit down to read the manuscript seriously, we couldn’t stop talking about the abundant depth of the human elements in a story that still manages to capture politics, sex, race, and identity so completely, possibly because this is an author who has the ability to remind us that politics, sex, race, and identity are human. Like, this isn’t just the stuff of essays and Internet fighting, this stuff is the reason we sit down to family dinners or not, and probably why our high school romance broke up. Or was doomed in the first place.
So yes, for sure, Junot Díaz, which is so great because we need more authors
like Díaz and Durrani, or ZZ Packer and Roxane Gay, and more characters like Jihad and for that matter, Pakistani-American Kamala Khan, aka comic-book heroine Ms Marvel. There are all these stories that readers have so far, because of too many invisible Trump walls, been completely fucking denied.
It’s really exciting to produce and publish Technologies of the Self because
it’s not just important, it’s fun. It’s a good story. It has great food and awkward conversations with ex-girlfriends and a crazy uncle sending his nephew on an actual spirit quest. And in the end, Joe from Washington Heights transforms into Jihad of the whole world, and that’s hope. That’s what Durrani offers.
An Interview with Brain Mill Press
BA: Oh yeah, Kamala Khan. You’re right—one of her creators, G. Willow
Wilson, is another good comparison. Many of her stories, and especially her novel Alif the Unseen, draw on these same issues: the challenges to love and compassion in an age of surveillance. For both Durrani and Wilson, the gap between lived political transgression and the sort of hero vs. villain showdowns we expect from comics are allowed to blur, because at this point our political worldviews are equally muddled.
Something I’ve noticed about superhero media is that the bad guys
tend to be analogues for our real-world ills, such as Kilgrave standing in for rape culture in Jessica Jones. The heroes, however, are never metaphors. That would be weak writing. The heroes are ordinary people, with powers exceeding those allotted to them by the government, by society, and by their own human bodies.
Díaz opens The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao with a brilliant
epigraph, borrowed from an issue of Fantastic Four: “Of what import are brief, nameless lives...to Galactus??” At first it seems like a non-sequitur, but as you read, you realize that Galactus is a lot of things. Galactus is the dictator Trujillo, Galactus is the United States, Galactus is capitalism, Galactus is privilege. Galactus, or “Santiago,” as Durrani calls him in Technologies, is any system by which some lives are discarded to favor others, and so we need to be superheroes to defeat him. We need to be better than ourselves. Joe, to me, is the great superhero Jihad, still searching for his powers.
BMP: Yes, that’s exactly right. Neither of the Durrani pieces we’re discussing
positions the protagonist as any kind of metaphor. In fact, the Joe of “FortyTwo Reasons” is as slogged down with the same sexist paradigms, homework, passive decision-making, and overfocus as any nineteen-year-old dude. His worldview is both sharpened and, as you say, muddled, but what he can see well is different than what his suburban white girlfriend sees well. His potential superpower isn’t accessible to him when he looks at himself as he imagines his girlfriend, Glory, looks at him, and so she keeps all the glory to herself. He can’t know how she actually sees him. How he sees himself is alternately as powerful and as prey in the crosshairs of American surveillance.
No wonder simply sitting in a car and making out is so impossible. Sex is
out of the question. Penetration. What I mean is, every one of these actions is impossible to ordinary Joe—to any ordinary nineteen-year-old Joe who doesn’t quite yet know what he wants—and these are equally impossible actions when viewed as political and spiritual metaphors.
Facing down Santiago in Technologies of the Self is a Joe who has been found
too powerless to be surveilled in “Forty-Two Reasons,” but too powerful to walk away from the fight. I keep thinking of the classic superhero trope, where once the superpowers are identified but not yet understood or under the hero’s control, the major impulse of the newly minted hero is to be “normal.” To have never borne witness to some secret war. To be made ignorant, and to have safety, to have a life granted by that ignorance. Once Joe calls himself Jihad, he is clear-eyed, powerful, and has a cape, yes, but his life isn’t anonymous or his own.
An Interview with Brain Mill Press
BA: It’s the classic Campbell call to action/refusal of the call/OK fuck it
let’s go story structure. I find it interesting, however, that you frame the call to action as the very experience of growing up as a person of color in white spaces. Believers are always speaking in terms of sight and consciousness (“Wake up, America! Have you opened your eyes to the truth yet?”). It doesn’t really matter whether what you believe in is God, a political ideology, or conspiracies. Even Díaz uses the Matrix “red pill” analogy to set up the “true account” of Oscar Wao. We’re all awake to some things and sleeping through others.
So for a brown kid like Jihad, there’s no snoozing past Apartheid. He
has no choice but to be awake to systemic racism, whereas 43 percent of the U.S. white population is living in some kind of daydream state, where “discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”1 But, as you point out, he’s just as likely to ignore (or even produce) gendered missives against women. The challenge for Jihad and all of us is learning to be as awake to the world as possible. He’s closer to that goal following his encounter with Santiago in Technologies, but he’s still not quite there yet.
BMP: Yeah, I think understanding that racism isn’t theoretical, that it
is a imposition on an individual’s identity, an evil that forces its way into developing, personal consciousness and tries to crowd out native gifts and desires, is an understanding that Durrani is particularly good at showing his readers, and in his stories, that call to action is very much married to the inescapable imposition and insistence of racism. Which means there is no 1
, Jones, Robert P., Daniel Cox, Betsy Cooper and Rachel Lienesch, “Anxiety, Nostalgia, and Mistrust: Findings from the 2015 American Values Survey,” Public Religion Research Institute (November, 2015), http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/PRRI-AVS-2015-Web.pdf.
“be normal.” Which creates such intense, incredible, fucking tension in the storytelling that manages to blow apart and expose the steaming guts of colonialism with his stuff like a short scene of a Pakistani-Dominican kid having a conversation over a meal with a woman he wonders if should be his girlfriend.
Santiago is terrifying, mysterious, thrilling, terrible, and we aren’t even sure
if he’s real, but we know he has to be defeated. How hard is that for a writer, an artist, to pull off? That punch in our belly of motivation and power and interest to a worthy quest? That’s why Durrani’s work is, first, page-turning. It appeals to our best and strongest impulses, and before we know it, we are getting awakened to all kinds of things that, before, were sleeping and unlit.
The stakes—they are freaking high.
BA: Now, I think, would be a good idea to explain Santiago to Buffalo
Almanack readers, who are of course coming at this conversation knowing only the plot to “Forty-Two Reasons.” In the universe Durrani has created, Santiago is indeed St. James the Moor-Slayer, who lends his name to cities throughout Latin America (most notably in Chile). He is the same James/ Santiago at the center of the conquistador cry, “¡Santiago y cierra, España!” (“Santiago and at them, Spain!”). He is the very personification of colonialism, and he is also, it happens, the Devil. Like, actually the Devil. And he comes after Jihad’s uncle Tomás again and again, often wearing a time-traveling suit of armor. There are a lot of fight scenes. It’s pretty awesome. Colonial history underwrites every page of Technologies, which is stocked with references to figures like democratic freedom fighter Pasquale Paoli. But these references are never purely historical. Paoli (good) and Santiago (bad) are alive in Durrani’s world, and you never know when some eighteenth-
An Interview with Brain Mill Press
century conqueror worm is going to jump through a time vortex and kill you. It’s alarming in the best way, and a fine representation of our relationship to the past. When you’re awake to oppression, Santiago ceases to be a name on a page. You are obligated to feel his power across time.
BMP: I have such a clear sense in my imagination of Joe/Jihad, and reading
“Forty-Two Reasons” made the Joe of my imagination terrifically palpable. Brain Mill Press readers have the unique chance to run over to Buffalo Almanack’s issue 10 and devour what is the prequel to Durrani’s book that Brain Mill Press will put out late winter. “Forty-Two Reasons” is one of those postmodern stories that is very “po-mo for the average Jo,” that is, entertaining, funny, and heartbreaking in a human way while stretching the short story medium’s possibilities. Joe of the “Forty-Two Reasons” story grapples with how the entire world others him while conflating those feelings and realities with feelings and realities that are familiar to so many nineteen-year-old guys trying to figure out a romantic relationship. I wish it meant more, nowadays, to apply the word “genius,” though John Crowley just told us that Technologies of the Self “presages a great career for a young writer with lavish gifts,” so genius probably isn’t overstating Durrani’s work.
I know I am stumping for issue 10 and the book, at this point, but such is my
excitement that everyone read this stuff.
BA: Hey, no worries. Stump away. And readers, check out Technologies of the Self whenever you can. Haris Durrani. Brain Mill Press. Coming out February 22, 2016. It’s a quick read, but it will stick with you.
Mary Ann, Ruthie, thank you so much for this lovely conversation. Best
of luck to you both in the future, and please keep Buffalo Almanack readers abreast of any other big releases you might put out in the future! Happy 2016, everyone.
BMP: Thank you, Maxine! It was our pleasure. We encourage our readers to
check out Buffalo Almanack for excellent short fiction, and especially issue 10 to read the prequel to Haris Durrani’s Technologies of the Self, “Forty-Two Reasons Your Girlfriend Works for the FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, SHIELD, Fringe Division, Men in Black, or Cylon Overlords.”
“We had been living in Thailand for over a month when we went to Cambodia to tour the Angkor Archaeological Park. During the month in Thailand I had taken several dozen photos of Buddhist monks in and around several temples. At Ta Prahm, walking among the mazes of fallen pillars, we found three young monks with the sun behind their backs. The sun gave them a glow that my camera couldn’t ignore. I’d already taken dozens of photos of monks in and around the ruins, but these three stood out. After taking the photos we went our separate ways among the ruins and I continued to amass a large count of photos of the Angkor ruins. Months later, after working on a couple of large projects, I came across the beatific smile of one of the boy monks. A halo seemed to emanate from behind his head, which made the photo perfect. The smile brought me back to those special days exploring the ruins of the Khmer civilization of Cambodia.” – Julian Jackson
Nikon D7100 with 28-105mm Nikon and Lensbaby lenses
Nikon D7100 with 28-105mm Nikon and Lensbaby lenses
Nikon D7100 with 28-105mm Nikon and Lensbaby lenses
Last night I dreamt I was a plagiarist. I was in graduate school in a U.S.
university that was, you know, like my high school but not my high school. It was the end of the semester, I realized I hadn’t been attending my classes, I hadn’t even begun the major project that was due that day, and I didn’t actually know anything about postcolonial voices in contemporary English literature, because, you know, I don’t. I knew that I had to plagiarize an entire paper, like that was the natural thing to do. And that’s the weird part: it was like that was normal, the logical and correct thing. That’s who I was. In this dream I wasn’t me, I was this other guy who plagiarized as a matter of course. I was in my room, kind of like my room that one semester at Antioch but, you know, not like that room. If I think about it, I wasn’t aware of being married, and I had that weird thing where, probably because I dropped out of high school, it was like, if I fail this semester I’ll lose my real job and lose the house, like that real panic-dream stuff. There was no internet, but then I thought that it was better to copy out of a book anyway, and I had the perfect book to copy from but that thing happened that always happens when I try to read in my dreams where I can’t: like it’s blurry, or the page is like blindingly luminous, or the letters make no sense even though they should, like it must be after a stroke. And then I heard a British voice, calm and soothing; enveloping, like headphones. I looked and I saw Salman Rushdie, and he told me not to worry, he was a friend.
I was about to tell him how much I enjoyed his work, but then I remembered
that I couldn’t get into Midnight’s Children and never even opened any of his other books even though they’ve been on the shelf for years now. (I guess I must have remembered being married at this point, right? They’re your books.) I don’t
know, somehow it felt wrong if I’d only read that one, like, it would be bad to tell him that I’d only read that one, even though I’d really loved it. Anyway, it didn’t seem to matter because pretty much right away he set about trying to help me with my problem. He said he’d tell me what to` write.
So he started dictating to me. It was again that soothing perfect post-colonial
accent of his filling my ears, and the words were so fluid that I quickly lost the ability to follow what he was saying. It became something other than English but with the same phonemes of English, like Dutch TV when you’re high, and the words coming off of my pen came out in strange new letters and markings. I lost control of my hand and it continued writing on its own. I don’t know how long that all went on for, but at some point I became aware of a strange feeling in my throat, like a numbness or a vibration or a fullness, and I looked down and saw that this like snakelike I don’t know tube or tunnel or I don’t know like a long strand of transparent goo was coming out of my mouth from deep inside of me. It distorted and diffracted the light and the stuff in the background, like those time arrow things in Donnie Darko. That’s what it was like: like a movie 3d computer graphic of like a snaking tube made out of water. Like that movie Sphere or Deep Star Six or whichever, the one about underwater aliens and one of them had a human face. But without the face. What I was feeling, though, was the movement of the thing being pulled out of my throat. It was weird but it wasn’t actually unpleasant. And I thought like, hey, if it’s not supposed to be inside of me I’m glad it’s getting out. I followed the length of the thing with my eyes and I saw that it was going right around to the back of Rushdie’s head and sort of phasing itself through his skull and into his brain. And then I thought he’s just taking my words. The vibration in my throat, the thing coming out of my mouth: that’s words, he was just dictating my own words back to me.
And it felt like some really important revelation, you know, the way things in dreams can, and as I was noticing all of this and realizing what it meant, I was feeling this building excitement and lightness and like almost sexual sense of impending I don’t know something (which I think might have been an episode of apnea because this was all before you woke me up to put my snore machine on). Then afterwards, in the next part that I remember, everything had changed. It was like I was watching Salman Rushdie as like an omniscient observer, but then other times I was Salman Rushdie, or at least I was the protagonist in these events which were featuring Salman Rushdie whenever I wasn’t the protagonist.
Salman Rushdie’s best friend is a thirtysomething mixed-race lesbian
graduate student with a weak grasp of postmodern literary theory belied by her mastery of the relevant terminology. Her name is Suzie. Suzie and Salman were having brunch in a sidewalk café just off the high street. Salman was having a fry-up. Suzie was having vegan buckwheat pancakes with jam. She was telling him about her half-finished dissertation on the subject of Pan-Asian and AsianAmerican appropriation of African-American cultural memes. “I’ve decided to take that article that got rejected last year on hip-hop appropriations of Hong Kong cinema tropes and rework it into a sixth chapter. I know it technically runs towards the opposite position to the rest of my theoretical framework,” She took a bite and chewed into her cheek as she continued to speak, “but I think I can make it work.” She swallowed with some difficulty, the pancakes were dry. “Oh!” washed it down with coffee, “I came up with the perfect title.”
The silence lasted long enough to draw Salman’s attention up from his plate
to meet Suzie’s enthusiastic eyes. He spoke with his mouth full, “Um? What’s that?”
She smiled and theatrically extended her hands in front of her as if unfurling
a banner reading the words “A Chink in the Black Knight’s Armour colon Pan-Asian and Asian-American Appropriation of African-American Cultural Memes.” She hung her mouth open as if gobsmacked by her own words. “I mean, do you love it or do you love it?”
Salman sat, rolled the title over in his mind for a moment. “That’s good,”
he said flatly, “That’s really good.” As if from a great distance, the Adhan, as delivered by the artist formally known as Cat Stevens on his The Life Of The Last Prophet spoken word cd, softly sounded. “Sorry,” Salman said, as he pulled out his phone and the sound of the call became louder, “I’ve got to take this.” He snapped the phone open. “Hello, Saul, how are you?” His literary agent had called to press him into making some difficult decisions that both men knew he would, left to his own devices, put off. Since leaving protective custody he found himself having trouble taking care of the day to day minutia of choice and action. Depression, they called it, but he knew it was something more. Depression was what he had experienced those first years in custody. God, what a nightmare that had been. It had taken the new book, The Moor’s Last Sigh, to pull him out. He owed everything to that one. It had saved his life as surely as the last book had tried to end it. Saul was trying to get him to commit, and he was being evasive. The conversation was setting him on edge and he couldn’t place why.
Salman rolled his eyes towards Suzie, pointed at the phone, and shook his
head, smiling. Like most successful artists, Salman affected the performance of a love/hate relationship with the businesspeople who managed the financial aspects of his career. He was far from alone among his fellows in frequently joking, when they had a disagreement, that he had “no idea why (he had) hired
that man.” In fact, Salman did not know that he actually did not know why he had hired that man. Saul Mandelbaum, of the Mandelbaum Literary Agency, was a highly skilled and sought after negotiator and deal-maker. He knew, had worked with, and was respected by all of the right people in literary fiction, historical fiction, biography, and highly specific niche history publications for general audiences. He made money for his clients, a lot of money. He had sought Salman out, given a pitch which included several well thought-out ideas for the future, and he was entirely understanding that he would have to wait for Salman’s existing obligations to expire. This was not the reason why Salman Rushdie contracted Saul Mandelbaum to be his agent at the earliest opportunity.
Saul was eminently successful, top of his field. Born in Queens but moved
with his family to Los Angeles at the age of 14. Solidly middle-class, father a grocer turned logistic systems manager for California’s second-largest asparagus distributor, mother an elementary school music teacher, now retired. History B.A., Berkley, minor in Comp. Lit.; M.B.A., U.C.L.A. A few false starts in the intellectual property acquisitions end of the movie business were followed by a steady and well-earned rise through the publishing world. He incorporated as his own limited liability entity at the age of 30.
He was a thoroughly secular, firmly leftist thinker, like his parents. Read
The Guardian online and The New York Times Sunday Edition on paper. Voted and donated democrat nationally, and did so by his well-informed conscience locally. One time he made a point of putting a glass down and telling the host why he did it when he found out that the delicious moscato had been produced in the Golan Heights. His daughters were both Bat Mitzvahed at the unconventionally orthodox age of twelve in the (very) Reform temple he and
his wife were loosely attached to, really as more of a social and charitable club. He was especially proud of the fact that Rachel had chosen to deliver, in lieu of the Torah reading, an oral report on Talmudic values and ethics as they relate to the concept of collective punishment, but had to admit Minh had outdone her two years later with her flawless Hebrew recitation of The Law of The Plague, Leviticus 13, in its entirety. Little fucking wiseasses.
His wife, the radiologist, was a beautiful woman of Saigon Chinese
descent. He wasn’t the type to run such numbers, but a review of his romantic history would reveal a greater than 60% skew towards an Asian-American demographic. His work car, the BMW Z series, had an automatic transmission, because what are we, cavemen? He was a sharp dresser, but never flashy. He looked a bit like that actor who always plays the stylish L.A. lawyer. He said things like “Salman, baby” on the telephone. He spoke like a normal person outside of his work environment. Unbeknownst to himself, Salman had hired Mandelbaum to function in his life as a living Jewish stereotype. Not toxic like the blood-drinking Hasid with his claws and his payots and his hooknose or the yarmulked cartoon shylock sucking the life out of an emaciated goyim family, but he was, in Salman’s unconscious estimation, just as thorough of a caricature: an embodiment of a generic mental image invoked by the word “Jew,” and for some reason Salman had sought out this thing and kept it close. “Salman, baby,” his agent said, “this is unquestionably a ‘while the iron’s hot’ kind of situation. I know that this is going to be the first time in public since that thing with the guy, but that’s over now, you need to put that behind you.” He paused. He would have accepted a response from Salman but he didn’t require one. He continued. “We contained that shit. With the royalty agreement he’s got no reason to start anything and a whole pile of reasons not to. What are
you afraid of? Nothing, that’s what. You’re Salman Fucking Rushdie. Author of the year, ninety-six. Whose book was the Booker of Bookers? Your brother buckin’ book was Booker of Bookers. Do I even need to start on the fatwa?” “No. No you do not need to start on the fatwa. Yes, you’re right of course. My life is in your able hands. Schedule away, and just tell me where and when to show up.” These conversations almost always ended this way. “You’re beautiful, Salman. Don’t ever change. Bu-bye. Click.” Did anyone actually talk like that? The man defied belief. “Sorry about that,” Salman said to Suzie, flipping his phone shut and dipping back into his eggs, which already were getting cold. “Don’t know why I hired that man.” Salman knew that Saul was absolutely right, was always absolutely right in these cases. He needed to get his face back out there. He needed to do readings. He needed to remind the world that he was still here, he was still writing, he was the source of the literature. It was the literature that mattered. The rest was sideshow. He forked a piece of turkey bacon. “Hmmm?” Suzie began through a mouthful of food, pointing at the meat with her fork. “When did you go back on the flesh? I thought you were keeping it green.” “I tried. I failed. This isn’t even the worst of it. For a month now, beef and lamb too, if the truth be told.” Almost a year ago, after a serious discussion with his GP over his serum triglycerides, Salman had resolved to limit his red meat intake. In the manner of addicts and compulsives, he found that his allowances for small quantities here and there were inevitably used as excuses and springboards for overindulgence, and so he found the best solution to be to cut meat entirely from his diet. Six month follow-up, his HDL still too low and his LDL too high, he began taking daily statins, but kept off the meat anyway.
Slowly, in the customary sequence of fallen vegetarians, meat had worked its way back into his life. Fish and poultry were eased back in, at first just to be polite at other people’s dinner parties, then, he thought, well, that line’s been crossed, may as well keep at it. He was able to maintain for some months, but his will was weak. He was at a food counter one evening and, outside of his control, found his mouth forming the words “Doner kabob, please”, and it was over. The very next time he was at the Swiss Cottage Market with every intention of buying a boneless chicken breast, his hand reached towards a sirloin wrapped in waxed paper. Eventually, all pretense was gone and he resumed unashamed meat consumption. “Beef, lamb? No swine, though?” “A concession to my more vociferous critics,” he joked. Pork had somehow failed to find its way back onto his menu, still with the stated excuse of reducing corruptions in his vital humours. On the rare occasion a friend would call him out on this matter, he played it off with this same joke. Suzie was just as uncomfortable with the joke as his other friends. He tended to avoid the fatwa talk when he could. Saul was the only one who could be trusted to joke about it freely. Most everyone else avoided the subject, both, he believed, out of concern for reawakening bad memories, as well as wanting to avoid giving the sense that they had a prurient interest in the matter. Which, of course, they had. Salman was used to discussing it at this point. He knew he’d even have to write the whole damn thing down some day. As long as he was in control of the story he was comfortable telling it, some details at least. Whenever the subject did come up, he would put on a cheerful or serious face, as the situation required, and candidly discuss his protective captivity. He especially hated the
idea that someone would know the extent to which thinking about it made him uncomfortable. He didn’t want his friends and acquaintances to know of his fear and weakness, however understandable they were in the context. At the heart of it was his shame. It was so predictable, so common, so trite. To even call it cliché was cliché. The oppressed immigrant voices he defended wanted him dead, the police bullyboys he had vilified were his saviors. It was the eternal cartoon Marxist intellectual inevitably, deservedly, and laughably punched in the face on his first visit to a working class pub. And then he had capitulated so completely and so ineffectually, not just to the pigs, that he could have handled. The game has always been rigged, and when push comes to shove the State holds the highest power: of course he had to go to the pigs. But he gave in on the one point he should have held onto the strongest. He went and told them he had renewed his faith and renounced his blasphemy. He told them he loved Big Brother and it still didn’t help. And even that was cliché. Because of course he capitulated. It was the reasonable thing to do. Of course you tell a crazy person with a gun what he wants to hear rather than letting him shoot you. Of course you do. The nights were the worst. As much as he hated the days with policemen his only company, the nights alone were so much worse. On the bad nights, he would spend hours clutching the bathroom sink, staring into the mirror. He was a vicious self-critic, but not a particularly creative or original one. It was the same old tired attacks over and over. “What kind of idea are you?” he spat out at the pudgy old paki in the looking glass. He hated the pedestrian irony of the words, of the moment, of the whole scene staged for no one’s benefit but his own. He hated that he wrote those words. He hated that he has failed to live up to those words. He hated that it was the inevitable outcome that he should
fail to live up to those words, that those who write noble and true words are of a different class of humanity entirely from those who would die for them, that in fact the class of men who readily die for ideas are for a large part incapable of forming too many ideas of their own, that anyone who has ever said “while I disagree with your words, I will fight to the death for your right to say them” was talking bollocks because fighting to the death is an activity better suited to bigoted young men than to middle-aged intellectuals who think a great deal about free expression. But he hated more than anything that he would stand there looking into the mirror and remember that he hated those words, and that he wrote those words, and that he would say them, that he would stand there and say them as if to an audience, and there he was alone performing for himself. He hated that most of all. Not all of his abuse and anger was self-directed. Salman began, after a couple of years under police protection, usually while drunk, to engage in acts of petty blasphemy. It began during a late night whiskey-sodden mirror monologue. His clouded mind was awash with images of the mindless faithful millions, and he spoke aloud, as if to them. “La ilaha.” A simple statement. A negation of faith. Not every night, but many nights, he would repeat this, as something of a ritual. After a time, he expanded this statement to his own partial Shahada: the Word of God, edited by Salman Rushdie to form a creed he could live by: “Ashadu an la ilaha.” I testify that there is no God. Sometimes he even said the full Shahada, spoken in the snarky overblown style typical of late 1980’s countercultural artifacts, that of the David Lynches, the Lydia Lunches, the brief period when sarcastic mockery had been mistaken for dramatic irony. Despite managing to put on a brave face for his protective detail most days, he very nearly went mad for a time. In retrospect, he considered, perhaps he had gone a
bit mad, perhaps that would explain the terrible thing he had done. The lieutenant in charge, not a bad sort, really, had been the one to contrive a change to Salman’s circumstances and routine. He’d seen the nervous ticks growing in frequency and amplitude. He’d received the daily reports of emotional outbursts and irritability. He’d counted whiskey bottles going in and out of inventory. Upon the move to the next safe house, budget cuts were cited and terribly sorry but we’ve got to consolidate operations here is your new roommate Giovanni Giraldi don’t worry it’s only temporary hey you two have something in common mister Giraldi is from India too innit. Telly’s not working? We’ll get right on that, sir. As the lieutenant had predicted, Salman’s mother had raised too polite a man to allow him to remain in his brooding state. Giovanni was a fascinating man, with a fascinating story to tell. Born in Madras just after the second world war, he was the son of a local woman and an Italian father. Signor Giraldi senior was part of a small group of P.O.W.s brought over from North Africa who preferred to remain behind rather than potentially face war crimes proceedings or lynching if they were repatriated with their fellows. Using the same skills which had ensured his meteoric rise through Il Duce’s ranks, Signor Giraldi quickly established with these men one of the most brutal and efficient criminal enterprises in the city. Taking full advantage of the chaos surrounding Independence, the so-called Mafiosi di Madras expanded their small operation to major international drugs, arms, and human trafficking. Young Giovanni grew up in this environment. After a tragic and irreparable falling out with the family and the prison time which had resulted, Giovanni had gone on to work for the Hindu-fundamentalist Shiv Shena Party. He had stories, and the two men had nothing but time on their hands. Just as the lieutenant had hoped, the
two weeks the men had spent together had a lasting effect on Salman. They seemed to have formed a real bond between them, and all the talk of subcontinental politics had awakened something in Salman. He was sad to see his new friend go off to testify and earn his allotment from the Crown Witness Relocation Scheme (somewhere in the North of Italy, Giovanni was praying), but the very same day Salman got out pen and paper and began creating something new. It was the one that would come to mean the most to him, the one that saved him, the one that brought him back. Still, at night, the emptiness had remained. Although he had quit the whiskey at this point, Salman continued his practice of reciting for himself the sarcastic Shahada. He would twist his face into a childish sneer and say the words with a mocking sing-songy tone. Later, as the days and weeks of fear and uncertainty wore on him, these layers of vanity and performance fell away. So it was that one evening last year he looked in the bathroom mirror and into his own tired, puffy eyes, and realized as he spoke the words that there was no god but Allah, and that Mohammed was his prophet. It was fucking terrible. The spirit of God moved in him and he was otherwise unchanged. It was like some horrible locked-in-syndrome of the soul. He remained fully aware of the absurdity of faith, yet was helplessly in its thrall. It would have been better, it would have been simpler, if it had come upon him like madness or rabies; if the God that had come had been the life-consuming God of Impotence, who needed Man to defend him. But that was not to be. The God that came was the Reasonable God. It was the multifaceted jewel of the Dervish, and the facet that sparkled his way just happened to be the one called Allah. It was the God of The Lower East Side and Tin Pan Alley, who solved The Problem of Evil with a smile
and a wry shrug and whose auto da fé was “Thou shall not eat lobster, why not?” It was the God of the Jesuit Scholar, who thoughtfully weighed each and every philosophical argument and just as thoughtfully disregarded them as irrelevant to the choice between the Grail and the Teapot. It was the God of California, who made no demands, who really didn’t know about quote organized religion unquote but still just felt really into spirituality right now. It was the God of White People that had filled the emptiness in Salman Rushdie’s soul. That was the worst part. He didn’t talk about it. Ever. He knew God didn’t mind, because He is so fucking reasonable. Soon after his brunch with Suzie, courtesy of Saul, Salman was back on the festival circuit. After his first reading and meet-and-greet he had practically forgotten what it was he had been afraid of in the first place. These were his people. They loved him, hung on his every word, and no matter how long of a reading they had booked him for he always left them wanting more. He was riding high and nothing could stop him until he stepped up on the stage at the University of Exeter and his heart crashed as he saw him in the audience. Catching Salman’s eye, the man raised his crippled right hand, more Johnny Tremain than Moraes Zogoiby, and waved. Salman never could figure out if Giovanni had planned the whole thing out. He had been perfectly pleasant five months earlier sitting across the table at Salman’s solicitors’ office. He claimed that it was all simple precautions he had read about in some “how-to-publish-your-novel” guide, his airtight legal evidence: a meticulous writer’s diary of the time they had spent together as well as the time spent working on the project which, if the diary was to be believed, was already in the form of an early completed draft at the time they met; several old drafts showing progressive revisions; multiple sealed copies of the final
manuscript time-stamped by various government and private entities, one of which was presently unsealed and slid across the table for Salman’s solicitors to review. Giovanni had said he was really sorry about the way that things had turned out. He had been too embarrassed to talk to The Salman Rushdie about his own modest literary ambitions. He claimed he never even knew that Salman had used his stories. It was only when one of many rejection letters had congratulated him on the size of his bollocks for attempting to plagiarize the most recent work of the winner of last year’s Nibbie for Author of the Year that he had realized what must have happened. Of course his version was a pale shadow of only part of the narrative of the The Moor’s Last Sigh, but it was still his story to tell. Salman had stolen his story. It didn’t take long to determine that what Salman had done was not defensible. Giovanni’s solicitors leveraged a flat payout with a handsome percentage of the royalties. The publishers were kept in the dark but Salman had wanted Mandelbaum involved in damage control from the word go. Of course Giovanni submitted to a confidentiality clause. No one would ever know. Salman finished his reading at Exeter with some difficulty, and was for the very first time grateful that he was one of the few people in the world who was immediately and unconditionally excused for appearing flustered or anxious in public. It was not even commented upon, except in empathetic whispers. He canceled his next several appearances and went into seclusion at his flat. And my dream left him there, writing for months in a gratuitously contrarian tone.
Salman dreamed up a strange new work, one attacking the sitting King of Siam as, among other things, a serial rapist and Machiavellian puppet-master of
all of Southeast Asiaâ€™s atrocities. Naming names, he detailed violations of entire female family lines of Bangkok-Chinese restaurateurs. He painted heartrending pictures of trembling second daughters clutching paper sacks filled with takeaway soups and curries, walking flanked by dead-eyed palace guards through golden doorways into chambers they only knew to be the places from which their once-giant Mothers returned forever changed: bent, meek, quieter except for the frequent jags of weeping. In increasingly poisonous prose, he laid forth a battery of charges against the now elderly monarch, culminating in the claim that His Majesty was in fact the highest authority behind the Red Khmer insurgency, all part of an elaborate plan to demonize international Maoism/ Marxism. The work became evermore complex. Pages were filled with detailed reports listing times, dates, and locations of in-person and proxy meetings and phone calls between His Majesty and high level Anka officials. Anecdotes suggesting possible code names of key figures, places, and events were cited, and seemingly innocuous documents were presented in light of these with sinister doublemeanings laid bare. Conversations in jungle tents were transcribed. As Saul Mandelbaum skimmed over page after page from the large couriered envelope he had the distinct mental image of the author working from a psychotically elaborate half-wall corkboard covered with innumerable thumb-tacked photos and large words scrawled in magic marker on torn-off sheets of A4, all connected to one another in elaborate webs of at least three colors of string, such as are used in television to depict the mental work of master detectives or archparanoids. Through Saulâ€™s office window high above downtown Los Angeles, I looked out over the Hollywood Hills. I dreamt I saw a rising of two great powers in
opposition, armies poised upon opposite sides of a narrow valley. On the one side were arrayed the proud forces of science and reason, and on the other stood a vast matrix of candyfloss and bile. The cords of candyfloss spread high up over the horizon like airplane contrails and traced patterns in the complex geometries of crop circles. And amongst the cacophony of voices blowing in on the sweet and sour wind I heard people speaking of airplane contrails and crop circles. And as the candyfloss grew and spread in evermore complex configurations, I saw that everyone in the vicinity was drawn inside the web. Some were snared by kittensâ€™ barbed claws, while others were stuck fast by inflamed clots of insoluble gluten, for the sweet ropey strands held all manner of traps and sucked with a false gravity which bent time and space. Once inside, they would submerge themselves in great brass tubs of bitter emulsifying humours. I saw that, on the opposite hilltop, those who had been numbered amongst the armies of reason, too, had run or been pulled across the no-manâ€™s-land and were now enmeshed in the sticky web. Only as I narrowed my dreaming eyes was I able to see a single mid-sized open-plan office space on the now lonely hillcrest where a small group of men and women were frantically producing ropes of spun sugar, stopping only to vomit into large funnels. And then I woke up, or something. That was the dream I had last night and everything is fiction in a dream and all likenesses of actual public figures were dreamt in a parodic manner, I guess. Except for King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. Seriously, fuck that guy. Every word is true.
How to decide the ‘best’ story of 2015? It’s a challenging question. Every year, Buffalo Almanack publishes sixteen original works of fiction—sixteen out of the several thousand that we receive in our submissions inbox. These are the crème de la crème, signifying only the most provocative, only the most moving, only the most humorous and only the most well-crafted stories to land on our desk. This year that meant black comedies like Eric Boehling Lewis’s “Pressure Flaking,” and dreams of escape, like Jessica Barksdale’s “Caught.” It meant half-drunk vignettes of summer sadness, like Anna Schott’s “North Fork of the Yuba River,” and junior detective adventures like Dan Moore’s “The Big Sleep Together.” In all, we published sixteen stories this year, and every one of them was its own kind of masterpiece.
Yet Pushcart Press has come calling once more, and we must choose.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
Unique among literary magazines, it is the policy of Buffalo Almanack to
select only one story each year for Pushcart nomination, rather than use all six nominations allotted to us. This is in part because of the small candidate pool, and in part because we want this honor to mean as much as it can. We want our nominee to know that their work truly stood above the others, and ranks conclusively as our “Story of the Year.”
This time around, that story is “Collaboration Horizontale,” by Erica X
Eisen. Those of you who have read it will know that this is a greatly deserved prize, for Eisen’s story expertly imagines the great injustices committed against women in post-Liberation France. It is a hard and moving invention of historical fiction, and yet the piece is wholly Eisen’s, and everywhere she is in strong command of her language and powers. Those of you who have not read it...go. Do it now. It’s in Issue No. 9 (Sept. 2015). Trust us, it’s worth your time.
Congratulations, Erica! We’ll see you in 2017, when you are due to appear in our first quadrennial Issue of Champions!
Pigma Sensei pens and Koi watercolor
Pigma Sensei pens and Koi watercolor
Pigma Sensei pens and Koi watercolor
Pigma Sensei pens and Koi watercolor
Pigma Sensei pens and Koi watercolor
“This piece incorporates the unusual with the everyday. I have found that people I initially perceived to be different than myself share some, if not many, common traits. This piece hopes to capture those small, yet important, connections. (Of course, with a twist.) To create this piece, I used my beloved set of Pigma Sensei pens. I treated myself to a set of Koi Watercolors. When I bought them, the craft store worker expressed concern that I would spend over $30 on “just watercolors”. Thankfully, I offset the cost because many years ago, I acquired over 50 paintbrushes at a yard sale for under a dollar.”
Sad Duppy, Dermis Changeling
Back when he ran the gift shop at Round Valley Resorts, Jacob lived in a crumbling apartment building reserved for mid-level staff. Each week he’d pay a Round Valley driver to take him to the great honking supermarket in MoBay, where an air of security prevailed. But for his medicine he stayed closer to home. The one day he walked down the dirt road to the town of Hope River, where the Chinese grocer housed a pharmacist, which is where he met Hige, and now he sheds his skin. When he came into the grocer that day, the owners, a young couple from Tianjin, were repairing a colossal fan they’d installed to chase off mosquitos. The pharmacist sat at a wooden table. He got in line behind a frog-looking granny to wait. Try to understand the town was a site of legendary violence. The resort was the territory of white people, white people were the territory of the resort, and outside the resort some Jamaicans were smart enough to be furious. Jacob lived in guilt, was sometimes chased from Hope River back to Round Valley by a ragged madman who would wield a machete high up in the air. “White boy, rich boy!” the madman would shriek, and Jacob couldn’t blame him. Tourism is nasty. He’s in better since he went home to Connecticut, finished his degree, became a regular substitute teacher at a couple middle schools in Hartford. Our insides fit inside anything. He can, for example, wear an infant skin, even though infants are comparatively small. He practices in secret, usually at night, and it helps if he has a picture. He’s done famous actors or politicians. He’s been any and all colors. The skin is the trick, the only hard part, the stretch of it. He sheds like a snake, puts himself back on like comfy sweatpants. What can it mean that Hige chose him? The truth is he didn’t like Round
Valley, didn’t like the desperation of Hope River and his own complicity, didn’t like the heiresses who were always breaking flip-flops. The teenage boys in Jamaican Me Crazy t-shirts. Jacob only washed up there because Uncle Rob used to own the place, and because he’d been no good in America, in the sense that he failed out of college three times and couldn’t hold down a job either. You could tell him to take a year of French or walk a stranger’s pit bull, and his motivation was nil. His mother’s favorite word for that was “recalcitrant.” She told him he could go train to take over from her brother or he could sleep under a bridge. Either way he had to get out of her house. Hige was disguised as a woman from the south coast. Visit Treasure Beach-which is a place where wealth and poverty don’t reach the same extremes, where tourists and normal people walk together on the beach without breaking out machetes--and you’ll see the locals tend toward purple eyes. Germandescended, Dutch, Scotch. So Hige’s eyes were purple that day, her cheeks sienna, her back straight. Once he finally took note of her, the look of Hige made Jacob feel relaxed. He liked her shorts, the curve of her arms. She smelled like salt. He could slip into her skin, and out. The frog-looking granny went bought painkillers for a knee she’d busted five years before, then it was his turn. But what he needed wasn’t in stock. Shipments had been held up, as they sometimes are when you’ve got only a couple distributors for the whole city, province, country. “The drug stays in you, so you won’t be hurting.” The pharmacist reached across the table and patted his shoulder. “Come back here two, three days. A small delay.” There was nothing for it. He walked home past the autobody shop, past the baker that only sold hardbread, and when he noticed Hige walking beside him
Sad Duppy, Dermis Changeling
he kept on. As they walked, she asked questions. How old was he? (Twenty.) How tall? (Six foot even.) How long since he’d been with a woman? (His whole life.) “So we’ll go back to yours,” she said, and she gestured with her tongue. He should have pushed her off but didn’t. They walked up the road in quiet. He tried to tell his mother later, but she didn’t believe him. “You were off your meds!” she said. Which was a deliberate misunderstanding of how his medicine works. He also asked one of the resort drivers, during his final trip back to the airport. Who was she? The driver was certain it was Ol’ Hige, the witch. “But she was young,” Jacob said. The driver clucked and laughed and nearly ran off the gravel highway. He was certain, regardless, that it was Hige. “She got a sense of humor,” the driver said, “picking on a white boy like that.” It’s true that he’s been marked by a place that isn’t his. Even now, he closes his eyes and sees a madman on a dirt road, a loaf of inedible hardbread, the impassive faces of resort staff who were cordial without offering a solid friendship. He goes to sleep and dreams he’s done something rude, that he’s imposing on an entire country. Would he dream this without Hige? He’s convinced he licked a witch’s hips. He rubbed against the smooth of her until his beard left a rug burn on her witchy neck. He jumped out of himself and slid back in, out and in, until he came down with a heavy conscience and a mystical STD. What does Hige look like when she’s not the woman from Treasure Beach? He knows it. They wore each other like pelts just to see if it made them feel any different. (Not really.) Then they stood in the bathroom in front of his only mirror, the better to admire their familiar selves, draped over their underlying samenesses.
“These photo collages are , and manifestations of experience, or, perhaps, of time passing. They exist, but I’m not sure if they’re significant, have value or meaningful content, and I’m quite certain they don’t speak to any banal universality. They explore no hidden truths, serve no explicit purpose— ; which, perhaps, is precisely why one can look at them and really see them. To invoke the great Thomas Bernhard, they are indications.” - Marcus Mamourian
Marcus Mamourian Nikon N70 35mm
Marcus Mamourian Nikon N70 35mm
Marcus Mamourian is a photographer and winner of the Inkslinger Award in visual arts for Issue No. 10. Here we chat with him about his process and his art. This is Woodshop Talk.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Thinking on your compositions here, the
most natural questions all seem to involve suture. Why did you choose to present these particular images in this particular order, and in vertical film strip-style?
MARCUS MAMOURIAN: I suppose this was an experiment with
framing based on aesthetic intuition. They’re vertical rather than horizontal or diagonal etc. because of the format of my printer/scanner. I was scanning these photos to my computer and wasn’t patient enough to do one at a time--I think that’s where the layout came from. But I like collages, mixing up existence to synthesize something else...montages in old films with clips of subjects interspersed with clips of objects, machines, like in Vertov and Eisenstein...the rift between subjects can emphasize some otherwise muted qualities.
But I don’t know, whatever I’m doing or making really depends on
how I’m feeling at that moment. Thought can often inhibit creative creation...intellectualizing can be destructive.
BA: Your statement challenges us not to dwell on the content of your
photos, treating them as “indications,” rather than flashes of place, time or identity. Yet there are faces here, faces which look at us, which engage in contemplation with the camera, and ask to be dwelled upon in turn. Who are these people? You’ve given us the answer you want us to have, now tell us something about what we think we want to know.
MM: They are images of two of my good friends. They’re both great
people and dear to me. But I don’t know about representation. I think pictures can only indicate and suggest.
BA: As the middle image in each composition, landscape appears to
represent the bonding agent, the glue of your story. Why this emphasis on space and environment?
MM: I have a strong affinity for space and spaces. A great space can do
wonders. But the space is necessary to the subjects, without it they would just be portraits. With the space in between, there becomes some cohesion between the three images. I don’t think they make a “whole,” but they make something. The sunset is at an edge of the United States. I’m guessing it looked more profound in person, because when I look at it now, I don’t know why I took the picture. I think I wanted to finish the roll of film to get the pictures of my friends developed.
The other space is central park. I took it about a year ago when I was
An Interview with Marcus Mamourian
going to school in New York. I met my friend there. I hadn’t seen him in seven months or so. I love the parks in New York, particularly Tompkins Square.
BA: Let’s say these compositions each had a fourth frame to them, or
a fifth, or a sixth. Where do these stories go?
MM: I think that would be too much. If anything, they should be less
one photo. Half a photo. Just of a picture of snow next to a fence might be better than these triptychs. I think we should do less. There’s already a lot of good photos and movies and books and music. If we stopped now, we would have enough to last us a long time. We shouldn’t stop, but we can definitely slow down.
Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
Rules of the Game
Another night at John’s, another game of ring around the nostril. The coke
was dope, fishscale phylum, and they were on their third gram. John handled things—the mirror, the asbestos white cocaine—and carved powder rails large enough to cast shadows on the glass. He saw things. Blinking lights that danced on the ceiling.
Rule number one is Stop Using When You Start Seeing Things.
John was breaking rules again.
Kelly and his girlfriend, January, were on the couch in John’s basement.
Their faces were numb. They scraped gums. Kelly’s tongue a bucket-brigade pouring flora and fauna into her throat.
John, armed with a straw, chased the asbestos away.
The lights on the ceiling blinked until they didn’t.
The couch in John’s basement was really his mother’s couch because it was
really his mother’s basement; John just sometimes paid the rent, the cable bill, but mostly he squatted with Kelly and hatched get rich slow schemes.
“So we’ll be doormen, then?” John said.
“No, not really, dude,” Kelly said, taking the mirror into his lap. “Think
John was confused so he said, “I’m confused.”
January wiped her nose across her arm. “It’s simple,” she said. “The Berlin
Wall needs guys, not bouncers really, screeners. Go-betweens. Rules say it’s hands-off but girls date anyway. You guys make sure everything goes right.”
Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
“So…we’ll be like pimps, then?” John said.
“Not really,” said Kelly. “More like middlemen.”
“No,” January said. “John’s right. More like pimps.”
Rule number two is Stop Using When Your Nose Bleeds.
John breaks that rule whenever he can afford to.
He can afford to tonight because he’d already jumped the postman, filched
his mother’s check, doubled down on a deviated septum. Bills were due the fifteenth and social security came on the first. He spent the mean time trying to make the latter meet the former.
The latter hardly cooperated.
It was a hard fight, but Kelly leased him some muscle. Besides squatting and
hatching and coating his sniffles with powder, Kelly was good at other things: ambushing mail carriers and keeping close proximity to money. It was a gift. Like serendipity but with aforethought. The malicious kind.
Kelly was also good at having a bank account.
“That your mother’s check?” he’d asked then. “Sign it over to me and you’ll
see at least double in a week.”
This is how plans are hatched.
“Double?” said John.
“In a week,” Kelly said. “Trust me.”
If you choose to trust Kelly you’ll find the way to double your money is to
spend it all first. The trick is to buy enough for a deal, but not so much you sit on the onion. Money isn’t the only thing with a short shelf life. Kelly was full of little wisdoms. Did you know they’re paying more than triple the price in at least three states between the west and the mid? he’d say. Or, we can stay here, cut this with
Rules of the Game
baby laxative, get a motel room in the city and really make a killing. Or, we can troll the Greyhound, poach a few souls willing to peddle themselves for a bump.
“Listen John,” Kelly said now. “If you don’t get high on your own supply,
how in the hell are you supposed to get high? Sniff once and inspire that entrepreneurial spirit.”
John origamied Andrew Jackson cylindrical, said, “Baby laxative? Soul
poaching? People still go for that?”
“People still go for everything. The bait and switch. The pig in a poke.”
“Guys selling TV boxes full of bricks taped to the bottom…” January offered.
“Exactly,” said Kelly. “A fool and his money soon part and all that. All you
gotta do is keep their gaze. Never flinch, dude, and the possibilities are endless.”
Kelly told John of all things possible and endless, and popcorned the brick
with a hanger, gorging on blow until rule number two came pouring out of John’s nose in globs and greebles, bloody horns that painted his face a Gaucho mustache.
“Dude,” said Kelly. “You’re getting red on Jackson.”
The former president, a cylinder no more, just a bill, blood smeared and
John tried to wipe it clean. “My mom’s going to kill me,” he said.
“Jeez, dude,” said Kelly. “All I have are these crummy singles.”
Rule number three is Never Use Crummy Singles.
No one follows rule number three. Get them high enough people fucking
lick George Washington’s face, his chalky hairline.
Or get them drunk enough, people try to fuck you with them.
John and Kelly know this because January said so. Sitting on the couch, she
said, “And you can just tell some guys iron their ones because they smell like
Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
starch. The ones, I mean. Ironed flat but still grimy—give your pussy a paper-cut on purpose.”
January says all tricks are sadistic, right on down the line. Like all deadbeats
speak the same language. She said, “That’s where you two come in.”
“Yeah, dude,” said Kelly. “The girls need us to translate.”
“Uh-huh,” said Kelly, winking, “Tell me: how’s your German?”
The Berlin Wall was built some time after the original was razed. Rumor
spread like a whispersong that the owner was an old Eastern Bloc national, and the bar a tip-of-the-hat to the Iron Curtain, but January said the old man’s only nation was “Jew.” The hat a black kippah.
“The first thing you’ll notice is the smell,” January said. “Like body sweat
and baby powder. The way bum niggas hot-press dirty jeans, spray cologne instead of bathing. But it isn’t ‘til you reach the private rooms that it all turns antiseptic. A coat on every surface. Like, if these walls could breathe they’d burp bleach.”
January said most tricks don’t notice cuz they’ve got twat on the brain. She
said it just like that: Twat.
She said, “That is where you’ll be most nights, between the stage and the
back rooms. All you have to do is stand guard.”
There was a large Hawaiian man whose job may not have been anything
more than being large and Hawaiian. His name was Rock. All the girls said he was a teddy bear; his tattoos said he’d rather die than be dishonored.
“But you don’t have to trip on him,” January said. “He only covers the door,
Rules of the Game
John’s post would be the no-man’s land between the baby powder and the
ammonia. Screening for potential sodomites and papercutters.
Something like a pimp.
If San Lorenzo houses had foyers, John would’ve been standing in one.
The consolation prize a cubic yard of tile—real marble, faux luxury for the rent control demographic. The air was dense, tart with the copper coin smell of his mother and TV dinners. She was in the living room, stabbing chicken fried steak with an oyster fork, watching TV.
This time it wasn’t MASH.
Tonight was courtroom drama, a police procedural: cigarette smoke in the
interrogation room, good cop bad cop. John sat next to his mother, fingered the lace doilies and worked the remote. She coughed pieces of herself onto the floor, while he explained to her the nuances:
“He’s the one who did it, Ma.”
John dissolved pieces of black tar in a Visine bottle, sniffed deeply to keep
from nose-diving into the carpet fibers, squeezing her hand to maintain spatial orientation.
The detective played the hambone card, the perp wilting under the
combination of palm strikes and police jargon:
Where you’d hide the body, pervo?
Nights like these he’d squeeze her hand and say, “It was him, Ma.”
But mostly it was MASH.
Hunnicutt and Hawkeye.
John changed the channel.
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“You were named after him,” his mother said, spitting flecks of food past her
“John Kennedy,” she said.
“That’s Alan Alda, Ma.”
“It was right after he died, remember? And the flags flew half-mast?”
“I was born in ’78, Ma.”
“But your father didn’t have a flag so he named you after him.”
“He never said nothin’.”
“After Kennedy,” she said.
Ma probed the insides of her cheeks, tongued the crest of her lips, searching
for disintegrated crumbs. “He had high hopes for you.”
John said his father said nothing and it was true. He came from a generation
that spoke mostly with their hands and wore blue collars like millstones—yoked masons and silent rebar twisters.
A working class hero.
Sodium of God’s strata.
“I said your father said he had high hopes for you,” she said.
“Could’ve been President,” said John.
“Not that high,” she said.
On the TV, two surgeons traded barbs back and forth—lunge, riposte,
repeat—while a dress with some sort of man inside sashayed around the room.
“Looks like some work’s coming up, though, Ma,” John said. “A respectable
place, too. Liquor license.”
Ma stared miles into the screen. “Look who’s hoping now,” she said.
Rules of the Game
John does not remember rule four, but it should be Don’t Trust Kelly With
A week after they should have seen at least double the money back, John
and Kelly were standing in the living room, staring at snow.
“So what happened?” said John.
“I think it’s called white noise,” said Kelly.
“I meant the money.”
“Oh, that. Crazy, dude. First I grossly miscalculated supply and demand for
stepped on blow in our beloved Bible Belt. Stepped too hard, we did. Plus my mule got arrested.”
“I am mule-less.”
“That is totally fucked.”
“She was on her way back. It was kinda random apparently, a totally
“My mom’s going to kill me.”
“—except they found the money on her.”
“So in a way I guess it does relate.”
“What happens now?”
“To her? Nothing probably, a court date, juvenile probation, maybe.”
Kelly clicked the remote, surfed static. “You need to pay the bill,” he said.
They stared at the TV screen, the army of black ants marching.
“At least we have January,” John said. “At least we have some work.”
“Au contraire, mon frère,” said Kelly. “I have January. You have an interview.”
Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
Kelly looked at a watch John hadn’t noticed before. “In T-minus ninety minutes. So, you know, look sharp or whatever.”
John looked himself over: Fruit of the Loom wifebeater and a pair of denim
jeans that sprouted from the loom, Pro Keds. “How do I look?”
“Like a shoe in,” Kelly said, clicked the remote.
Don’t Tell Them You’re Here For The Pimp Job.
Before he broke rule five John went to the Berlin, dressed in a Polo shirt and
khakis borrowed from his father’s closet, his blue-collar formal wear. He stood outside the club and checked his reflection in the tinted windows. The shirt had an embroidered reptile. The khakis cuffed under the rubber soles of his Keds. There was a sign above the door that said The Berlin Wall and a German Shepherd leashed to a truck tire, sleeping.
John looked at its ragged ears, the button of callous on its nose. He reached
into his pocket and then dumped a pinch of powder onto the meat of his fist, sniffed it. He addressed the dog.
“Here goes everything,” he said, projecting indifference.
The sleeping dog snorted once, projecting the same.
Inside the club the shift was changing. New dancers. A man in a grey shirt
and a pompadour shoved a mop around, while the old guard—journeymen dancers grinding the rent—spent the last part of their shift with the alkies, trying to fleece them for singles, maybe a shot of Beam for the cab ride home. The DJ stacked his records. Rock was behind the bar doing barman things: polishing glasses, toweling top. He pointed a martini glass at John and said, “You’re here.”
“Yes, I am,” said John.
Rules of the Game
Rock slapped the towel over his shoulder and placed a rotary phone onto the
bar top, hunched over it like he was calling the Kremlin. The phone was all red bulbs, no numbers, the center of the dial like an all white eyeball.
The Kremlin answered.
“Man says he’ll see you in a minute. Just wait here by the bar.”
One of the dancers, an old guardian in leopard print, saddled a barstool next
to John’s, fingered his collar. “I love your shirt,” she said. “Crocodiles are, like, my second favorite reptile.”
Before John could ask about her first, a voice said he’s not a barfly.
“He’s not a barfly,” said the voice. “So you might as well give it up.”
January, a cigarette dangling from her lip, shooed the leopard away and,
leaning in, gave John one of those one-armed hugs where tits kiss the chin. “You gotta light?” she said.
She was wearing a dye job and china bangs, body glitter and pasties, cat ears.
Because everyone likes pussy she told me, just like that.
“You ever wear those for Kelly?”
“Used to,” January said. “Not lately. Withdrawals, I guess. It’s been, like,
whiskey dick but without the whiskey.” “Crazy.”
“No dick, either.”
“Is there anything I can do,” John said. “I was named after a president, you
“Yeah, which one?”
“I don’t know. The dead one. ”
“My favorite.” January tossed her cigarette into a beer stein, prompted a hiss
Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
of smoke. “I’m up next.”
John worked his elbows on the bar top. The DJ worked the ones and twos,
the wobble bass.
The strip tease is an awkward waltz, but tricks don’t notice cuz twat’s still on
the brain. For most girls the pole is more prop than dance partner, something to grab while you fling your box at the crowd, shake stretch marks invisible. Even experienced girls are graceless, in any other context an oddity—think back-bend contortion or Cirque de Soleil without the esteem—an oiled down and sparkling hood ornament. But January was a star, a constellation even. She got on stage and spread her singularity, breathed life into shitty metaphors. On the brass pole, she made dubstep feel like Mozart.
John wondered how long it would last. How long before the lambskin
pops and she’s squatting an eight-pound hatchling? How long before she’s just another quivering mass of black leggings and swollen ankles stuffed into pink Crocs, a stoop mom smoking Newports to the filter, yelling at the back of her son’s head? Will the son look like Kelly? What color would that be— tan? Is mixed a color? John remembered when flesh came in the Crayola box; remembered, too, that it was a damned close match.
He took a powder bump for nostalgia’s sake.
January spun back up the pole, her redbone legs like chopper blades.
“It’s like she has an extra hand down there.” He wondered what her flesh
“You keep those dick beaters in your pockets,” Rock said, pointing to John’s
dick beaters. “Come on. The man will see you now.”
The man had an office upstairs with one-way glass that oversaw the club,
and a bank of closed-circuit televisions that assisted the overseeing. The man
Rules of the Game
was old, reed-stalk thin, his face all bone and sharp angles, skin like cracked porcelain. “Can I offer you something to drink?” he said. “Water? J&B? Rock, get…I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“John, sir. Like the President…”
“Right. Rock, get John here a J&B.” The old man smiled. He looked like
something carried by the neck, a patchwork of wrinkles stitched to the ears. He sat behind a desk too large for the room, for himself, probably for the world. An oak desk with nothing on it but the old man and a steel nameplate that read: Obadiah.
The old man smoked electronic cigarettes that blinked red when he inhaled
and produced vapor instead of smoke. “I’m trying to cut back, you see. Doctor says four packs a day is four packs too many. Had a cancer scare a while back, turned out to be nothing, but still…”
John pictured scopes and forceps, bits of larynx sandwiched between cover
slips. He cleared his throat. “It’s never too late to quit, I guess.”
“Wise words, young man. Just because something’s broken doesn’t mean
you keep on breaking it, am I right?”
“As rain, sir.”
“Please, call me Obadiah,” the old man said, tapping the nameplate with his
Rock came back with the J&B and stuffed it in John’s lap—a scotch-blend
joey in the crotch of his jeans.
“So,” the old man said. “What do you have for me?”
This was John’s moment now. His alone to prove he belonged with the real
world schemers—the ones outside his basement, the ones who live up to their namesakes and straddle desks like gods do. Because the real world is more than
Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
hoping and hatching plans. It’s execution. It’s sitting down and looking the man in the eye and making him flinch first, give up the goods. Or at least a prevailing wage, some bennies maybe.
John looked the man in the eye. “The first thing you should know is I’m a
man of rules. Lots of them. I believe a man is only a man who lives by certain rules, parameters and whatnot. The second thing is I do not believe in resumes; that’s one of the rules. I cannot stress that enough. But in the interest of full disclosure I should tell you, my résumé, if I were to have one, would appear a tad spartan. You see, I’m a family man. I don’t have any kids, per se, but I do have a mother, an ailing one. I take care of her. I take care of the bills, too, and the doctor’s appointments, the medications. I believe family should always come first; my father taught me that. Another rule. He taught me a lot of things, my father. He was a blue-collar guy, a union man, real salt of the earth, worked with his hands, tools.”
The old man cocked his head some. Rock leaned back on the wall, crossed
his arms, glared.
John cleared his throat. “What I’m getting at Obadiah…”
“Sir,” said Rock.
“Umm, yeah. I mean, what I’m getting at, sir, is what I lack in actual job-
market experience I make up for in real-world experience. I’d be a valuable addition to the staff.” John unbuttoned his collar then buttoned it again and, trying to muster up some Kelly courage, said, “I never flinch, sir.”
The old man leaned back in his chair, impregnating pause. Rock flexed his
wifebeater tan and exhaled through his nose. John could feel the wobble bass through the hardwood, wished he could ride the sound and bodywave himself back to his small world, his mother, her basement. He stared at the spot in
Rules of the Game
between the old man’s eyes. The old man finally spoke.
“I am confused,” he said, turning toward Rock. “Rock, are you confused?”
“Very confused,” Rock said.
Rock slapped the darkness into John. “Cut the shit!” he said and slapped
him back to light.
The old man blew vapor and watched Rock slap John out of his chair, rip the
collar off his shirt.
“Where’s Kelly, John?” said Rock. “Have you seen Kelly, John?”
John saw stars. “I don’t understand…”
“Neither do we, John,” Rock said. “Kelly owes us money, John. Kelly said
he’d pay us, John. Kelly said he’s sending John with the money, John. Where’s the goddamn money, John?”
Rock punctuated his words with his hands. He took John by the ears and
thumbed the lobes until the cartilage broke and through him cackled blood and pain. He forced him to his feet, held him by the hair to keep him standing. He looked at the old man who looked back and said, “Well?”
Rock stuffed his hand in John’s pants, cupped his balls, ripped the pockets
off his khakis.
“Well?” the old man said. “What?”
“Not even a wallet, just some scale.” Rock held the baggy up, tongued it.
“Ours?” the old man said. “Jesus Christ, Rock.” He came from around his
desk. “We don’t care what you do with it as long as you pay for it. Don’t they know that, Rock?”
“They don’t even know,” Rock said and put a knee in John’s stomach.
Daniel Riddle Rodriguez
“Please,” John said. “Pleaseplease.”
The old man leaned in and said, “Please?”
“Please,” John said.
“My god, man. Where do you think you are?” the old man said. “Don’t you
know why you are here?”
“I only came for the pimp job,” said John, his lip busting blood.
Rock leaned in, busted some more.
When John woke up he was back in his basement, shirtless and not alone.
January in poom-poom shorts and a scoop-neck sweater. She brought ice, held it on his puffing mouse, his cauliflower ears. “At least he didn’t close his hand,” she said.
“He’s a real teddy,” said John.
“They actually make you look tough.”
“Tough is always good.” She switched hands. Dripping water traced her
“How’d I get home?”
“Checkered cab,” January said. “Tipped extra cuz of the blood.”
“And my mom?”
“She’s up there. I was going to make something up about your shirt but I
don’t think she noticed anyway.”
January and John sat in silence for a while. And then they didn’t.
“Kelly’s sorry, you know.”
“Yeah?” said John.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Probably.”
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She dropped the bag in his lap and shook water from her hands. She pulled
a wad of bills from the nest of adipose tissue, due south, and peeled off a crispy few. “For the cable,” she said. “She’s staring at snow up there.”
John followed her red calves up the stairs, her fingertips on the banister. He
heard the front door close and static from the television. He got up and palmed the money, squeezed it.
In the kitchen he warmed his mother’s dinner—black bean patty and
broccoli, something she’d have appreciated back when she remembered to appreciate things—he knuckled digits, prompted the whir and the yellow light. He leaned his crotch in toward the microwave and imagined the next scheme he hatched to be a sightless, wailing thing. Its primordial ooze made mordial through electromagnetic waves, dielectric heating. He’d leash it, drag it around the important places: Yellowstone, Stonehenge, all the stones. Even the corner where he copped stones. He’d hoist its dwarfined body onto his shoulder, sing praises into its soundless Tiny Tim ears.
“I have hopes for you,” he’d say.
The microwave dinged and his mother came salivating, dragging her walker
with the tennis ball feet. John imagined another life in which her entrance would’ve been accompanied by studio applause, canned laughter, an obligatory nod to Pavlov. A world where a sandy-blond, Tiger Beat cupid would play his son, spout out wisdoms too wise for his age. John would trade barbs with him until he was too old to trade anything, his son old enough to hatch his own schemes, pilfer his own Social Security checks. He would let him shoulder the world for a while. Inherit a rule or two.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
Review: In the Body Where I Live Novel by Guadalupe Nettel Review by Sebastian Sarti
Jeff Lee Director Rocky Mountain Land Library
Crits by Kristin: The Vactioners Novel by Emma Straub Review by Kristin D. Urban-Watson PAST PERFECT Review: Revolutionary Road Novel by Richard Yates Review by Alexa Dooseman
Rocky Mountain Land Library
BUFFALO ALMANACK: We first encountered the Land Library when
or over twenty years, Colorado bibliophiles Ann Martin and Jeff Lee have had a dream. A crazy, incredible, spectacular dream. They call it the Rocky Mountain Land Library, and if you’re ever in the area and itching for a good read at 10,000+ ft., you might want to give them a call. It is perhaps too easy to call Ann and Jeff’s project a “library,” for at its heart the R.M.L.L. is something far more transformative. It is a historic preservation mission, as its volunteers work long hours to restore a string of nineteenth-century homesteading buildings. It is an educational resource network, consisting of a children’s collection and public sustainability workshops (cosponsored by the University of Colorado–Denver). It is a sanctuary for naturalists, containing dormitory space, a cafeteria and the fixings of good mountain living. And yes, it is a library, and at its heart sits a 32,000-volume deep collection of Western history, literature and cultural works. Buffalo Almanack is pleased to present this brief conversation with Jeff (pictured below), and we encourage our readers to seek out further information on the Land Library at landlibrary. wordpress.com.
one of our friends—a particularly intrepid Western outdoorsman and administrator for the Wyoming Conservation Corps—conducted some volunteer work for you, helping to renovate the old homesteading buildings of the Buffalo Ranch site, now your Library. The logistics of the project seem overwhelming, through twenty years of book collection, then land plotting, historic building preservation and repurposing, and of course the costs involved. It doesn’t feel as though two ordinary bookkeepers employees could pull something like this off. So...how did you and Ann do it?
An Interview With...
JEFF LEE: Well, we haven’t been alone! We’ve had help from the start,
whether it’s financial support, the offer of advice, or the selfless donation of time and energy—exactly what your Wyoming friend gave to the cause.
BA: All kinds of Colorado institutions have embraced the Land Library,
from the Tattered Cover bookstore (our all-time favorite!) to the University of Colorado, the city of Aurora and the South Park National Heritage Area. What draws people to a project like this?
JL: I think it comes from a deep love of both books and the land. People
know that the Land Library is all about a love of learning, and taking the time to know and appreciate where we all live.
It’s a project with a lot of respect for the past—for instance, all the embedded
human experience contained in every Land Library volume. But people also realize that the Land Library is even more about our common future. With all the environmental challenges ahead, we’ll all need a land-literate society—and one that finds a lot of its joy in the natural world.
BA: Why Buffalo Ranch and the South Park region? Were other areas of
the Colorado Rockies considered?
JL: The Land Library spent a few years searching for a just right site, and the
community partnerships we would need. We met so many wonderful people along that road, but all the pieces finally came together when we met with Park County (CO). They are nationally-known for their heritage tourism program—
Rocky Mountain Land Library
something very akin to the RMLL’s place-based focus on a region. It wasn’t long before we (and other partners) began to talk about bringing new life to Buffalo Peaks Ranch, one of South Park’s earliest homesteads. It’s a site that has been vacant for over 20 years.
BA: More than just a room full of books, the Land Library is a complex,
containing living quarters, meeting space, room for educational workshops and a children’s learning center. What makes each of these elements so critical to the fulfillment of your dream? Have you had to jettison any ideas along the way?
JL: We’ve always tried to keep any design ideas loose, and ready to accept
something new. This will be a “residential” library. Folks will be able to stay over as long as they want, especially after we get the bunkhouse restored. We’ll offer both a quiet environment, and plenty of good workspace, but lots of people will probably just want the freedom to explore the shelves and the surrounding
An Interview With...
We’ll also offer writers and artists workshops, and natural history field
classes. At this point we haven’t had to jettison any ideas, but we may at some point—just depends on the Land Library’s focus, which is all about the ties between people and the land. That won’t change, but maybe the balance of activities will.
BA: It’s our understanding that you came to Colorado from Connecticut.
Hello fellow Eastern transplant! Western writers and scholars like Wallace Stegner, Richard White and Patty Limerick have spent decades ‘decoding’ the West, so maybe it’s not fair to ask this in the framework of a brief interview, but all the same. What does the West mean to you?
JL: Maybe it comes down to blue skies and wide open spaces. I still love the
Rocky Mountain Land Library
East, but it was the West were I had my first long immersion in a landscape. I worked with the U.S. Geological Survey. We had a mapping project, and for four years, you might say that my whole job was scanning the horizon, noticing old mining scars, cattle trails—the landscape of the West. I loved it, and those days always stay with me.
BA: What are the essential, can’t-miss works of Western writing?
JL: I love that question, but I have to admit, I’m not very good at answering
it. Partly, I’ve always felt that a reader’s experience is such a personal thing -and that trumps any “top ten” list I could come up with. But you asked about essential Western books. My personal list would have to contain William deBuys’ memoir of place The Walk (set in northern New Mexico), Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, and an old anthology I loved in my school days: John Bierhorst’s collection of Native American poems & songs, In the Trail of the Wind.
And this is geographically off topic, but have you read Robert MacFarlane’s
The Wild Places? Macfarlane is a young British writer, and his book is all about searching for the last wild places in Great Britain and Ireland. It’s a wonderful book, and I’ve never encountered anyone who writes about landscape as Macfarlane does. He’s a beautiful writer!
An Interview With...
BA: You once said that the mission of this project is “to create a place
where people can slow down to nature’s rhythms, and appreciate their ties to the land.” It seems then that the ‘land’ is as important as the ‘library’—but what do we make of that? What bonds exist between knowledge and place that make this kind of ‘in the field’ learning space so necessary?
JL: That’s a great question. I might not have an answer, but we’re always
thinking about how the land and the library interact. The land inspires a real love that makes it a joy to learn more about what you see and experience. That might be part of it. The library in turn gives you some of the tools you need to not only understand the land, but also to appreciate people ties to it.
I also think that being on the land quiets a person down. And that makes for
calm observation, and the ability to feel connections that we miss if we’re too distracted.
BA: Where do you see the Land Library five, ten or even twenty years
down the road?
JL: We would love to see this old ranch fully restored to its new life. A horse
barn will become a library, the bunkhouse will remain a bunkhouse.
I hope the Land Library remains open to new ideas, and in twenty years, I
hope we’ve had the good fortune of having many people come to Buffalo Peaks Ranch, and then, here’s the big hope: have those folks return home feeling even more connected to the land, and to the places where they live.
Rocky Mountain Land Library
BA: What are some ways in which our readers get involved with the Land
JL: People should reach out to us in any way they like. We’re still involved
in ranch renovation, but we’ve already launched educational programs at the ranch—with more to come in 2016!
Review – In the Body Where I Was Born
In her newly translated novel, The Body Where I Was Born, Guadalupe Nettel uses the same quiet and naturalistic style from her short story collection Natural Histories, but rather than explore discrete episodes of crisis in which solitary characters graft their stories and emotions onto animals, her novel has each event permeate into the rest of the narrator’s life. The added space allows Nettel to expand on the collection’s themes and form a more complex and nuanced work. The novel portrays an adolescent girl’s attempts to graft the traits of others onto herself, only to fail and have to start again, in order to find the semblance of identity she desires. The narrator recounts her childhood and adolescence, one of unexpected turmoil, to a silent psychologist. Her need to confess her life
to a psychologist already hints at the persistence of her wounds. From birth, her body is a burden. A white spot over her right cornea reduces her sight, and the treatment done in hopes of future vision causes her to spend half the day with the other eye also blind. Each day, the world appears in indistinct blurs until she is allowed to use her left eye. It is then that she cherishes the tightly contoured world, absorbing and describing all the clear and vivid details. Through their unorthodox approach, the narrator’s New Age parents only exacerbate her struggles. They tell bedtime stories that start with descriptions of pregnancy. When she’s six, they describe sex and explain it is for pleasure, “like dancing or eating chocolate.” Later, once the parents have separated, the mother takes the narrator and her brother to live in a commune where they consider everything public property, including the children. Yet the mother has her own traditional instincts, which reveal themselves as the story progresses. She constantly berates the narrator for her poor posture, calling her “Cucaracha” (cockroach). Though she spoke of sex openly, when she discovers the narrator masturbating in a household staircase, she orders her to do it only in private places, establishing it as an act of shame. Even the commune event shows her inability to fully embrace the bohemian lifestyle—she leaves after only a few days. These inconsistencies give narrator very little with which to anchor her life, and the problem worsens once her mother goes to France to study and leaves her and her brother with their grandmother. While she praises her grandson, the grandmother scolds her granddaughter more harshly than the narrator’s mother had. The narrator’s life becomes a series of quiet struggles and resignations waged and lost against adults. It doesn’t help that the narrator seems dispossessed of her own body. Her bad vision, poor posture, and physical inability to compete with boys all seem to conspire against her. Eventually, the children reunite with their mother in France. They move to a poor neighborhood, and the narrator’s loneliness deepens. She makes 118
Review – In the Body Where I Was Born
few friends, and often the friendships are short-lived. Nettel shows these relationships for what they are: transient acts of lasting effect. Though her relationship with her mother is as intimate as it is turbulent, it degrades rapidly and forces her to return to Mexico and her grandmother for her last year of high school. Her relationship with her mother worsens, and she returns to Mexico and her grandmother for her last year of high school. Throughout these episodes, the narrator doesn’t have much say about the path she is on. She appears as a malleable object, grafting others’ identities onto her own and tossing them off once she realizes they don’t coalesce. Her parents, grandparents, and peers determine her course, and even in a rare act of violent assertion, it is as if her body “started acting by itself. In Mexico, back with her grandmother, she begins to gain freedom, grabbing at it in spontaneous bursts. She develops agency, if not exactly identity, and she connects with her bold cousin who encourages her rebellion. Still, rather than a pronunciation of self-discovery, the novel ends with an inconclusiveness; it is likely that she will soon shed this new identity as well.
Since there is no singular driving force for her life, the novels’ formless
structure mimics the narrator’s disjointedness. Nettel does not try to squeeze shapeless lives into cohesive narratives. Instead, in her stories, life passes by, drifting, with occasional fits and starts. The changes accumulate at an almost glacial pace. At times, the narrator becomes anxious and disrupts her story to ask the silent psychologist rhetorical questions, revealing that the turmoil from her narrative, though many years in the past, has not completely receded. These deliberate disjunctures can at times cause the narrative to feel too slow or too inconclusive. The lack of a clearly defined plot causes each anecdote to appear isolated. Yet Nettel connects these disparate accounts through her constant reference to the narrator’s body as an object that’s been thrust upon her. The novel’s title locates the narrator’s body as a place, and the body’s geography determines much of her life. It gives her poor eyesight, which, 119
ironically, leads her to make detailed observations. Her growing breasts limit her ability and end her obsession with soccer, and her newfound hormones spark a curiosity in boys. Her poor posture gives her the nickname Cucaracha and stifles her confidence. Most importantly, these traits isolate her and cause her to turn to books and corners, where she finds an affinity in the shadows’ cockroaches and Kafka’s
Samsa, and where, most importantly, she discovers the liberation of writing.
Her writing prevents the novel from being one of endless restrictions
and turns it into one of discovered agency and loosening borders. From her interspersions, we learn that she has published books, has met Octavio Paz, is friends with Alejandro Zambra, and has traveled throughout the world. Most of all, her love of writing gives her the power to tell her life’s story and make it her own. Yet, ultimately the novel revolves around issues of maturation. The narrator sums up these incremental transformation best when she says, “Many of the people and places that used to make up my recurrent landscapes have disappeared with astonishing ease, and many of those remaining, through accentuating their neuroses and facial gestures so fiercely, have turned into caricatures of who they once were. The bodies where we are born are not the same as the ones we leave the world in.” This transformation from quiet object to narrating subject occurs in a style reflective of the soft, unnoticed manner of life’s minute changes. Nettel’s eyes and voice allow us to see what we so often overlook, and so her lithe novel becomes like one of those incidents about which she writes so well. It is short in duration but long in effect. In the Body Where I Was Born Guadalupe Nettel Seven Stories Press 208 pages, $18.65
Past Perfect Review – Lust and Other Stories
When I was 22 I knew a guy, a magazine writer a handful of years my se-
nior with whom I’d become friendly during a summer internship. He gave me a present: a used paperback he’d discovered on one of those book-for-a-buck tables along Broadway on New York’s Upper West Side. I was in the market for a mentor and boom, here was a token of his: beloved grad school professor, Susan Minot.
He called me Lippface and handed it over. I took one look at the cover of
Lust and judged. The artwork featured some chick in a ponytail (was that a
scrunchie?), big hoops and faded jeans, the colors a Tama Janowitz blend of electric blues and yellows and pinks. The slim volume contained fewer than 150 pages. The font was large, the sentences short. I mean, didn’t he know I had serious aspirations?
I wasn’t long for magazines. An editorial assistant at an established glossy,
about the best gig I could have landed as an aimless lit major out of college, I was restless. I had a roach-infested ground floor studio whose rent I could barely afford, shared only with a black cat that pounced on the resilient critters, leaving behind the kindling of their match-thin limbs. At work, I answered the mail and the phone and replaced the toner cartridges, but I was writing. Writing more than I expected, ratcheting up clips, but I was a chameleon, determined to meld my style with the editorial voice of the publication. On the one hand, the disappearing act taught my young self about character, about inhabiting voices unlike my own; on the other hand it felt false, trying to infuse my lines with the cool nonchalance and swagger of our male lifestyle brand. Who was I? I was hungry for something else.
Then I read Lust and it changed my course. The book cracked me open. It
was sad in a way that I knew in the depths of my bones: Minot’s sensibility was one I understood intrinsically. She did not hide behind ornate language but laid out her thoughts unvarnished on the page. They beat without apology. Here were sentences so crisp as to feel almost unwritten; stories at once startling and yet, oddly familiar. My heart charged with new energy. More, I wanted to write fiction.
I always knew I loved fiction, but up to this point my interest had been
somewhat superficial, my infatuation childish, naïve. One note, if you will. Writing for me was primarily about the musicality of words, the rise and fall of lines
Past Perfect Review – Lust and Other Stories
on a page. I’d spent four years in college drunk on language in a school itself drunk on language, where rhythm and style reigned supreme at the expense of urgency, where I could not get enough of Carole Maso, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf (and in Ireland, Beckett and Joyce), but I didn’t understand the first thing about craft—or how to tell a captivating story.
Here was Minot: unconcerned with lush prose or long sentences or linguistic
pyrotechnics. Her voice felt refreshingly plain. But—let me be clear—not simple. To the contrary, her work is deceptively complex. Unadorned. Authentic. Above all, hers. The title story, “Lust,” captured female sexuality at a certain age, which I experienced as a reversal and rejection of Harold Brodkey’s indulgent “Innocence.” Minot wrote with precision, without sentimentality. When I read her, it was as if I had been waiting my whole life for this, and so off I went to find myself and lose myself and fail and fail better and claw and scrape wildly through the literary muck of it all.
When my story collection Doll Palace was published last fall, more than 15
years later after my first Minot encounter, I heard from that initial writer/friend who’d sent me down this dark and crooked path, whom I had to credit—or blame—for my leaving magazines, for going to an MFA program, and all the rest. I thanked him. We exchanged books. I started to think about Lust again. Would it hold up?
I revisited my dog-eared, underlined, much-loved paperback. Minot’s style
invites imitation, and has been copied so much by contemporaries that I found some of the raw purity and starkness that rattled me all those years ago a bit stale, deflated. I, too, am guilty of cheap pastiche, and have attempted to ape that tricky second-person direct address, a point of view more often annoying than intimate. (Thankfully, my Lust-like story lies on the cutting floor.) But, still.
However “done” it felt in places, there are lessons to glean.
Sex is inextricable from character.
Okay, it’s embarrassing to admit I had to learn this from a book when duh,
human beings are first and foremost sexual in nature, but this is one of the first places where I saw sex played out in a manner that felt blunt and honest and real, that spoke to me and all the ugly, awkward truths about interaction. All too often, sex scenes are coated in a veneer that feels put on, full of itself, which plenty of people may gobble up but that irks me. I get cranky towards sex writing that sounds in love with itself, tangled up in its own poetics. Because sex isn’t poetry—a lot of the time. Sex is as basic as shitting eating sleeping. Just because everyone does it doesn’t make it interesting. Just because everyone does it doesn’t justify a blown-out scene. Where sex becomes interesting and instrumental is where it helps define who we are and who we want to be, fueling our identity and steering our actions and decisions in the world. Sex establishes a locus of power. How does this dynamic affect the character, what does it say about her and the world, how does sex reflect her outlook on a shifting landscape?
“They turn, casually, to look at you, distracted, and get a mild distracted sur-
prise. You’re gone. Their blank look tells you that the girl they were fucking is not there anymore. You seem to have disappeared.”
Own your voice.
From Minot I learned to check my bullshit meter, and to embrace first-per-
son narration, particularly the illusion it creates, as if parting a curtain and drawing the reader into a private world. There is an intimacy to her voice, unsettlingly close, that I admire. Minot does not waver. There is no benefit in hiding what you want to say in long, circuitous sentences. Like many young writers,
Past Perfect Review – Lust and Other Stories
hopped up on language and painfully inexperienced, my tendency was to overwrite. My prose was like that garishly overdressed prepubescent cousin at the wedding. Short sentences are powerful and direct. They get down to business. I went on to discover writers like Rachel Sherman and Grace Paley, who do not shy away from confrontation or unease. Writers with voices that make it clear muscularity is not reserved for men.
Mine the well between thought and action.
“Eat your supper, I wanted to say, or Take me home and make me better, but
instead I nodded and looked—I don’t know—away.” Sentences like this, which show both incredible self-awareness and self-doubt, abound in Minot, revealing the disconnect between thought and action, exposing the contradictions of human nature and the human heart. They are forever compelling to me.
Get in; get out. Chisel. The fewer words, the better. If you go for imagery,
select one that does double-duty, deepening the reader’s understanding of that character. Heaping on the similes or metaphors can be distracting, and detract from the story. Be precise.
There is power in white space. In what is left unsaid. Not everything needs
to be written out, every flashback fleshed in. Minot’s story, “Sparks,” exemplifies this. The narrator has been mentally unwell, hospitalized, had a boyfriend likely much older who’d moved away for law school, but the intricacies of their relationship, the catalyst of her breakdown, is unknown. It has something to do with him, with her, but the rest is open, a wound. That’s where the reader comes in. In a recent New Yorker essay entitled “Omission,” John McPhee writes about selection, about dialing back authorial intrusion.
“The creative writer leaves
white space between chapters or segments of chapters,” McPhee writes. “The
creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Leave judgment in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author. If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost. Give elbow room to the creative reader. In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.”
It is okay to put demands on the reader.
Strictly, I didn’t learn this from Minot. In college I fell deep for the modern-
ists, authors who made you work and wrestle and unpack their prose, which I found exciting and challenging, like tackling a huge puzzle. But this was different. If it was a thrill to discover the accessibility of Joyce and Stein upon close reading, in the case of Minot, it was almost the opposite. Judging from the thin packaging, her work didn’t strike me as particularly literary. Which is what makes her fiction that much more deceptive. My shallow assumption—from the cover to the content—domestic, quotidian, straightforward sentence structure, was this would be easy stuff. I was wrong. Minot’s stories possess that rare quality of a living, breathing organism, where you are not done after finishing; rather, the last page is an invitation to begin again, to recapture and tease out the complexities that might have been overlooked on a surface read. There is constantly more to find. It is this imperative, this demand not just to be read, but also reread, that I still find enchanting after all these years. Lust and Other Stories Susan Minot Vintage 160 pages, $10.94
Review – The Best American Short Stories 2015
T.C. Boyle is this year’s The Best American Short Stories guest editor.
Boyle is certainly a worthy choice, as he is the author of ten collections of short stories, and of fifteen novels. Selecting stories from both American and Canadian publications, The Best American Short Stories is made-up of twenty hand-picked works of fiction. As Boyle notes in his introduction, many of the stories he picked have a powerful narrative, even if the story itself falls flat.
As a whole, the 2015 release continues the series’ strong reputation, featuring
good, and sometimes brilliant, literature, although not every piece is deserving to be considered “the best.” If you know Boyle, you won’t be surprised that the overall tone of this one-hundredth edition of Best American is full of dark, and
Kristin D. Urban-Watson
oftentimes, brooding (and long) short stories.
Despite this, there are a few that have a comedic voice, as in “Unsafe At Any
Speed” by Laura Lee Smith, which tells the story of a suffocating husband and father. Then there is Louise Erdrich’s “The Big Cat,” which is a light read about snoring.
Of the few stories that end on a positive note, Kevin Canty’s “Happy
Endings” tells how widower and lonely father might find solace and a new perspective on life after venturing into a massage parlor.
In “Mr. Voice,” Tanya, a grown woman, reflects on a transitory stage of her
childhood. Written by Jess Walter, the author of several novels, the story largely focuses on her once-damaged relationship with her mother. “Mr. Voice” has an organic development, and is one of the few stories within the anthology that contain a positive, even hopeful, message.
“Madame Lazarus,” by Maile Meloy, is one of the gems of this year’s
collection. Boyle calls it “the most moving story” of this edition, and it certainly earns this claim. Simply stated, it is the story of a retired man and his little dog, the growth of their love and care the two have for each other. The story is littered with passages that are relatable to anyone who has had a beloved pet: “I struggle to my feet and pick her up, ignoring the people who stare...I can feel her heart beating against my arm. We take the tiny elevator—I have no strength for the stairs. In the faded bronze mirror, I have never looked so old.” Maile Meloy is the author of two novels and numerous short stories, and it is obvious from “Madame Lazarus” that she is an author worth following.
If you aren’t a voracious magazine reader, and aren’t sure on which authors
you should follow, The Best American Short Stories is always a safe starting point. And while the 2015 edition has some mediocre pieces in it, there are also a handful of stories that will make you forget where you are, and engross you. The Best American Short Stories 2015 Edited by T.C. Boyle and Heidi Pitlor Best American 416 pages, $8.50 128
aris Durrani (@hdernity) is an M.Phil. candidate in history and philosophy of science at University of Cambridge. He holds a B.S. in Applied Physics from Columbia University, where he co-founded the Muslim Protagonist Symposium. His debut novella, Technologies of the Self, received the Driftless Prize and is forthcoming from Brain Mill Press.
ulian Jackson’s recent photography has centered on Southeastern Asian subject matter from Angkor Wat to the northern gardens of Thailand to the Great Wall of China. He specializes in street photography, with a flair for putting locals at ease when capturing their dynamic images. Julian currently lives in the northern Chinese city of Shenyang, Liaoning, where he is often found tooling about the city with his camera.
arah Katharina Kayß is an internationally published author and winner of the manuscript award of the German Writers Association (2013) for her poetry and essay collection “Ich mag die Welt, so wie sie ist” (2014). Sarah edits the bilingual literary magazine the Transnational and is currently a PhD student in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. You can visit her at sarahkatharinakayss.com.
aura Kraay is originally from Holland, Michigan. She’s currently working on her MFA at Texas State University. Her work has also been published by Hobart.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
athan Lauer is an American writer living in Hong Kong. Nathan writes novels and the occasional short piece in an effort to not look stupid next to his wife, the professor, whose career has taken him from his Western Massachusetts home to foreign societies like North Jersey, East Texas, and Philadelphia. An excerpt from his novel Bardo was included in the Spring 2015 edition of the Asia Literary Review.
ara Lippmann received a B.A. from Brown and an MFA from The New School. Her stories have been published in Tupelo Quarterly, Joyland, Jewish Fiction, The Good Men Project, Slice Magazine, and elsewhere, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and included in wigleaf’s Top 50. Her debut collection, Doll Palace, was longlisted for the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.
arcus Mamourian is an undergraduate student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He was raised in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and is 19 years old. He can be found online at schizoscription.net.
aniel Riddle Rodriguez’s real name is Daniel Riddle Rodriguez. He is a full-time student and father from San Lorenzo, California, where he lives with his son. Previous publications include Juked, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Stream Magazine, Fourteen Hills, and others. Winner of the 2015 CutBank Chapbook Contest, his book Low Village is forthcoming. He is thrilled to be here.
ebastian Sarti is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. Heâ€™s had previous reviews published in Word Riot and Mulberry Fork Review. He currently lives in New York.
ristin D. Urban-Watson is a writer, art teacher, book reviewer, and yoga enthusiast. She enjoys good books, nature walks, and spending time with her black lab.
ady Vishniac is a first-year fiction MFA at the Ohio State University. Her flash appears in Corium and Hobart, her poems in Rust + Moth and Sugar House Review, and her short stories in CutBank and New Letters, where she won the 2015 Alexander Cappon Prize for fiction.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
M axine Allison Vande Vaarst is a scholar, writer and critic, as well as the
founding editor of Buffalo Almanack. She has lectured at conferences from Paris to Toronto, and her stories have been featured in numerous publications, including BULL, Inscape and A cappella Zoo. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming with her wife Alissa and is pursuing an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Wyoming. Max is a proud transgender woman, and an even prouder daughter of the great(est) state of New Jersey. She is an unapologetic fan of the New York Jets and doesnâ€™t care that you know this.
Katie Morrison serves as Visual Arts Editor for Buffalo Almanack. She received her M.A. in Art History from the University of Colorado and is presently committed to spreading her love for art throughout Indiana, through her work with both the Tippecanoe Arts Federation and Purdue University. Her research tracks issues of race, violence, and urban identity in American photography. She is an avid cat enthusiast and possesses a deep passion for iced coffee.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
J ohn Gummere operates Studio 264, a graphic design studio serving
businesses, institutions and non-profits coast-to-coast. Illustration has long been his specialty, and he works in a variety of media and styles depending on what is most suitable for his clientâ€™s needs. He received his B.A. in architecture from Columbia University in 1977 and lives in Philadelphia.
lesser-known element of the famed Paul Bunyan legend, Johnny Inkslinger served as Bunyanâ€™s office clerk and bookkeeper. To keep up with the demands of his bossâ€™s outsized work, Inkslinger invented a heavy-duty fountain pen, which drew its ink from a barrel-tap and hose. Buffalo Almanack is pleased to have established the Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence in his honor. This award is issued to the best short story and individual visual art piece of each issue, as selected by our editors. The cash prize as of now is $50 per winner, though this amount may be raised in the future as more funds becomes available. There are no fees required for entry into the Inkslinger sweepstakes and all submissions to Buffalo Almanack are automatically in the running. Winners are notified shortly before the release of their respective issue and are recognized on the Buffalo Almanack website, as well as in the pages of our digital journal. A pair of money orders will be delivered to the winners via the U.S.P.S. sometime during that same month.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
Founded in Denver, Colorado in 2013, Buffalo Almanack is an attempt to dredge the online arts journal—as saturated an endeavor as any these days—from the morass of clinical snobbishness. We don’t care if our contributors hold fine arts degrees or just okay arts degrees no arts degrees at all, and we sure as hell don’t care if our readers do. Our lone desire is to showcase talent to the world, regardless of how that talent finds us.
As such, Buffalo Almanack considers fiction of all styles and genres. We neither discriminate against the traditional nor the experimental, neither the “literary” nor the fantastic. Our interest in domestic micro-fiction is as great as our interest in space-travel novellas and we’ll always save a seat for the remarkable and unexpected. Concerning the visual arts, we invest in a diverse range of subjects and styles, and welcome submissions from each and every medium under the sun. We are attracted foremost to strong composition, skilled technical craft and assertive authorial presence. We want art that tells stories, whether through a single frame or a broader narrative series. We want art that makes us ask questions, that leads us to wish we had been there behind the brush, pencil or camera ourselves. 136
CHECKING IN ON #BUFFALONATION What’s the old saying? A buffalo never forgets? Publishing with Buffalo Almanack isn’t just a fantastic way to share your art with the public, it also marks you as a proud lifelong sister or brother in our big, sexy litmag family. On this page we check in with our past contributors to see what kind of accomplishments they’ve secured in the time since they appeared in our pages. JESSICA BARKSDALE (Author, “Caught,” Issue No. 8) I’ve been teaching up a storm at UCLA Extension and Diablo Valley College and walking my dogs. My story “Summer Water” just came out in the London Journal of Literature, my novel The Burning Hour is forthcoming from Urban Farmhouse Press, and I’m gearing up for teaching in Tuscany (spaces available) also in March.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
BRUCE LOUIS DODSON (Photographer, Issue No. 8) I’ve been having some success with a photography project, projecting images from 35 mm slides onto nude models. MATTHEW DUFFUS (Author, “Fishtown Down,” Issue No. 8) While I haven’t published any new stories since appearing in Buffalo Almanack, I’ve had poems accepted, or published, in the Healing Muse, Poetry Quarterly, and Iodine Poetry Review. This summer, I finished a novel and am currently focused on finding a publisher for it. KATHERINE FORBES RILEY (Author, “What the Sea Brings,” Issue No. 5) I have a story forthcoming in Storyscape, with a number of others still out for review. JUDITH GOODE (Author, “Breakage,” Issue No. 6) I am in my first year of graduate studies at Empire State College in New York. My major is creative writing, but I have two semesters of required courses to complete before I can write fiction. It’s a good but strenuous program! GRANT JERKINS (Author, “EBT,” Issue No. 5) I published a novel called Abnormal Man. It’s the manuscript my publisher (and every other N.Y. publisher) rejected for being too dark with no one to root for, so I put it out as an ebook and trade paperback for curious readers with a taste for the wicked. Beyond that, I’m working on a screenplay for The Ninth Step, my 2012 novel published by Penguin/Berkley. Hope springs eternal... JACOB MICHAEL KING (Author, “Quo Vadis,” Issue No. 7) I had a story appear in Permafrost this summer, and my novelette, “Postmortem,” was officially released by Onyx Neon Press. KEVIN MICHAEL KLIPFEL (Photographer, Issue No. 8) I had a story appear in Permafrost this summer, and my novelette, “Postmortem,” was officially released by Onyx Neon Press. EMILY LACKEY (Author, “Rise and Fall,” Issue No. 4) I am working as an entertainment writer for Bustle. That’s been a blast!
ETHAN LEONARD (Author, “The Diary of Ella Monroe, 1852,” Issue No. 4) I am now enrolled in the fiction program at the University of New Hampshire. I used my Buffalo Almanack story in the portfolio; I’m sure it’s the reason I got in. KEVIN MICHAEL KLIPFEL (Photographer, Issue No. 8) I had a story appear in Permafrost this summer, and my novelette, “Postmortem,” was officially released by Onyx Neon Press. NICHOLAS LEPRE, (Author, “Violator,” Issue No. 5) I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editors of Stoneboat. I have story in their current issue (6.1), which came out in November. I also came in second place in Blue Mesa Review’s Summer Fiction contest, and that story comes out on December 4th. My book is like 98% finished, I’m still revising the final story. JOSEPH LUCIDO, (Author, “A Tank Without a Gun,” Issue No. 3) Currently, I serve as Prose Editor for Black Warrior Review and editor of Atticus Review’s “More Than Sports Talk.” I’ve got about a year-and-a-half left in my MFA here at the University of Alabama. I’ve had some pieces recently appear in wigleaf, Booth, Heavy Feather Review and Whiskey Island, and have a story forthcoming in WhiskeyPaper. I’m getting married in April, which I’m really excited about. BRANDON MC IVOR (Author, “Foxhole,” Issue No. 1) Since I’ve last checked in, I’ve been mired in new and bigger projects that, realistically, might never be seen to completion. But they remain exciting to me for now, so I’m continuing work on them. In between work on those bigger projects, I’ve gotten a ghost story of mine published in the autumn issue of the Corner Club Press. My first story ever published, which was so graciously picked up by Buffalo Almanack, was something of a ghost story as well, so I’m glad to say I’ve been keeping up what we’ve started. IAN RIGGINS (Author, “Comfort,” Issue No. 1) I’m now working as a National Scholarships Advisor in the University of Pittsburgh Honors College (as of August), and my story “A Boy Right Here in Town” was published in Burrow Press Review at the end of October. It’s also been nominated for a Pushcart.
Issue No. 10 - Dec. 2015
TAMMY RUGGLES (Photographer, Issue No. 8) Since publication in Buffalo Almanack, I’ve had additional photos and finger paintings published here and there, but the most recent development is that I don’t actively shoot photos anymore, except for family shots or very special exceptions. But I still work with the body of photos I have to get them featured or published in various places. I’ve put my camera away as of July and would like to try to get my work exhibited in galleries at some point in the future. ROBERT JAMES RUSSELL (Author, “Born to Ramble,” Issue No. 2) My new novel Mesilla came out in September from Dock Street. CHRIS VANJONACK (Author, “...Jenny McCreary...,” Issue No. 6) I have a story out in the Winter 2015/2016 issue of the Writing Disorder that I’m pretty stoked about.
Published on Dec 31, 2015
Featuring short stories by Haris Durrani, Nathan Lauer, Cady Vishniac and Daniel Riddle Rodriguez. The witchy art of Laura Kraay. An intervi...