a journal of culture
A Jo u r n e y o f S e l f - Po r t r a i t u r e with Contemporary Urban Master
L I Z A DA M S
2 0 1 8 AW C Pr i ze Wi n n e rs in fiction non-fiction and poetry
Interviews with artist
Adrian Blevins and
Def Poet A.B.Y.S.S. *All rights within remain with the respective Artists*
Cover Notes Liz Adams at Rockaway Beach Photograph by Niels Alpert, cinematographer A Publication of The Southern Collective Experience
Cover, Copy and Logo design by Laura McCullough
Behind the Scenes Poetry Editor, Interview Requests Clifford Brooks email@example.com Prose Editors
A special thanks to artists Erica Guillory Page,
Mark W Maguire and Shane Etter
and Libiena Borkovec (back cover) for their work,
firstname.lastname@example.org - email@example.com
and Peter Ristuccia for his resources.
Design Director, Visual Art Submissions
Laura McCullough firstname.lastname@example.org
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Intro by Debbie Hennessey
3 AWC WINNER Elizabeth Buttimer 4 Anthony Suttonwood 5 Elidio La Torre Lagares 6 Simon Perchik 8 Carolyn Wilding Kelso 10 Jan Ball 11 Jerrett DeWayne Haynes 12 Jon Tribble 16 TC Carter 17 Craig Kennedy 19 Laura McCullough 20 DS Maolalai 21 Evan James Sheldon 22 Will Mayo 23 Danielle Hanson 25 Heath Brougher 26 Angela Reinhardt 27 Bob McNeilt 28 James Browning Kepple 30 H Van Smith 32 H Holt 33 Casanova Green 34 Heather M Harris 36 Glenn Johnson 37 Danny P Barbare 38 Tim Conroy 40 Robert Pinsky
44 49 54 56
AWC WINNER Erika D Passantino AWC WINNER Karla Jennings Ronald Aiken Zach Riggs I ssue
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59 62 65 69 71
Clayton H Ramsey Shawn Crawford John Midkiff Joseph Mills Georgia Kraff
Visual Arts Interviews music 80
literature 84 91 97 101 108 110 1113
GENESIS GREYKID EARL BRAGGS ADRIAN BLEVINS John Sheffield Robin M Adams, Inklings Clifford Garstang Maria Klouda
media & culture
I Y NY
features MEMBER SPOTLIGHTS : 119 Celeste Duckworth, Vertikal Life 123 Faces of Faith with H Van Smith
The Southern Collective Experience ...Because Everyone is South of somewhere.
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Art and Nature Forever Entwined
Conventional thinking is that spring is a season full of promise and new beginnings. My nature is to prefer fall and winter. Fall always feels like a new beginning based on the childhood conditioning of the new school year and winter is a time when it seems the world slows down a bit and I can catch my breath. These seasons always make me feel more alive than any other time of year. Give me crisp and cool over warm and sunny any day to energize and excite me.
When we think about the seasons, sights and sounds come to mind that trigger feelings and memories, based on our experience. One of the interesting things about art, all forms of art, is that when done well it both shows us our common bonds and allows us space for our own experiences, interpretations, and imagination. The cold barrenness of the English moors in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights scares us and is just as much a character as Heathcliff or Catherine. Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod paintings offer a glimpse of quintessential New England summer cottages and sailboats in a simpler time and place. When you hear Bobbie Gentry’s classic song “Ode to Billie Joe” you can actually feel the weight of the southern heat that makes everything feel slower and you find yourself wanting to sit down on the banks to watch the muddy water flow under the Tallahatchie Bridge. Photographer Ansel Adams managed to capture the seasons in only black and white, but we cont’d I ssue
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can still tell the difference between summer and winter. And, the poem Spring by Christina Rossetti is both forceful and tender in its description of the how the new season is born from the death of the old, only to have a beautiful, but brief life before returning to the earth again. These are some of our common bonds… But where some find romance others can’t possibly imagine what Catherine ever saw in Heathcliff, or their idea of the perfect summer is some exotic locale not a sleepy New England village. The mystery of what Billie Joe and the song’s narrator threw off that bridge doesn’t really intrigue them, or they might find Adam’s photos to be too stark and still. And some might find Rossetti’s Spring to be too melancholy as it rushes back towards death. In these pages of The Blue Mountain Review – Spring Issue I know you will find words and images that will be relatable and perhaps familiar, though more likely will be thought provoking and new. You will each relate in your own way based on your own experiences, but I am confident you will be inspired and that you will find art and nature that will stay with you, forever entwined.
Debbie Hennessey was named AC40 Female Artist of the Year by New Music Weekly as well as charting a Top 20 Hit on their AC40 Charts. Her music has appeared on Extra, The Next GAC Star, USA, and UHD Networks. She has been honored multiple times by the Great American Song Contest, Song of the Year Contest, West Coast Songwriters Contest, and Billboard World Song Contest, and her songs have appeared on compilation CD’s including CMT’s New Music Collection, GoGirls MusicFest, Songsalive! and Beautiful-Women on the Move. She is a voting member of the NARAS/ GRAMMYS, a writer/publisher member of ASCAP, as well as AIMP, NARIP, and SONA. Debbie has released three fulllength CD’s and six singles on her own label Rustic Heart Records, the latest No Longer Broken is a mix of contemporary country/rock/blues. For videos and more info visit her website www.debbiehennessey.com.
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AWC Winner Elizabeth Buttimer
Natasha Trethewey Prize for Poetry
The Far Crossing
Thankful to have sweet exile on this side of the river, a moment to linger on the red clay bank gazing at the poplars and live oaks. I stand alone, mostly, inhale honeysuckle and tea olive, taste clean air after rain feast my eyes on green leaves and geese propelling the river their ribbon wake follows, drawing me closer to the water, closer to the fording. I sometimes can make out the other side, hear their laughter and singing, the light from their fire. I hear Mother call me as if I were in the yard by the mimosas. My brother fishes from that distant shore. He catches a mess of fish and shares tales with Uncle Jake, the two of them draw a crowd who lean in to see the size of the fish and hear tales bigger than most could imagine,â€ƒ yet for the greater part theyâ€™re all true. Papa makes plans and meets with the elders as they weigh the merits of new ideas. I can just make out the seesaw of discussion. I hear only a word or two but they nod their heads so it all seems pleasant enough and productive. They gather in a clearing, maybe an amphitheater nestled under big magnolias, the creamy flowers scattered in polished leaves like prize velvet eggs, the heady aroma wafts over river and back to me. Still, I tarry on my riverbank, smell the grande flora on the breeze and hum a melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues. I linger in this sweet exile. Away but not away, here and there, apart but not part fog caresses the river, hugging high up on the bank, almost touching my toes, lapping at the red clay. Nothing to see but brume, mist shrouds the far shore.
Elizabeth Buttimer, a native Georgian, is fascinated by Southern history, music, culture, family tales and small towns
incorporating them in her writing and poetry. An entrepreneur, a manufacturer and former educator she received her Ph.D. from Georgia State University and her M.S.C. and B.A. degrees from Auburn University. art by Aeron Brown I ssue
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Anthony Suttonwood Come Down and See Me Sometime The Rockies are a tender glass With the innocence And pestilence The reckless have And the Appalachians Are blowin’ away Like a rain cloud on a Saturday That clears on out and leaves You with betrayal for doing nothing And its a counterfeit And a forgery It’s highway robbery Cause you ain’t never gonna find No hill that’s satisfied So come on down and see me sometime
And Eat Well When You Can When your snare drum days are done When your bugle only brings in the dogs When you’re a lover of all the lost things And you feel like you know how to rain I hope the highway don’t keep you too thin
Run, Old Hare Run, Old Hare Run, Old Hare Run, Old Hare If I was an Old Hare I’d be running too Little Jazzy’s eating apples In a green dress somewhere If you see Little Jazzy Tell her to Run, Old Hare Marigold Marigold Marigold over there Well, the Marigold And Run, Old Hare After many years spent aimless on the highways and railways, Anthony Suttonwood now resides in Birmingham, Al. He is a songwriter and musician that draws from traditional Appalachian music as well as our modern condition .
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Elidio La Torre Lagares
verdant so verde that I get green goosebumps at dawn
moontanning sweet and silver the night cracks like black eggs boiled in sweat and urgency
when the mountains birth the light that butters
I must pile up the stars until your lips light up incandescent like sky
the sun's touch and I drink morning dew from your petals
lanterns up my thighs
164 days and counting we eat the dark like mud cakes at a lonely birthday party where no one shows up except cucubanos* that make us think we are giants staring at dwarf constellations that move and twirl and crash against our chests no need to worry: it's not a blackoutwe're just dead *fireflies
Elidio La Torre Lagares obtained an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas-El Paso. He has published
several poetry collections in Spanish, and is preparing his first English language book of poems, titled Wonderful Wasteland. His poetry in English has appeared in Revista Centro Jornal (City University of New York), Azaleas, MalpaĂs Review, Ink & Nebula, Ariel Chart, Sargasso, and The American Poetry Journal. In Puerto Rico, he has been awarded the Puerto Rico Pen Club Prize for Fiction in 2000, 2001, and 2004. He currently teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico. His first novel in English, The Geometry of Loss, has recently been submitted for publication. In 2018, he received two nominations to the Pushcart Prize. I ssue
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I You learn to hammer in the dark though no one studies the hillside how it still leans across your arms
the way creeks cast for weeds and edges –so little is known why iron takes root in your gut
and the same rain drags from these wooden shingles the constant tilt still trying to make it down
–you seal this hole by weeping into it with a nail that’s bent, struggling to talk, to find its way and the sea.
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That seagulls would grieve for you, circle down
Past where an afternoon is buried, each breath
as cries still wet, almost water, making the sky
reeks from grass and though your lips are dry
look for a place not asking for more salt –mourn
they want their mouth the way it was
the way a whitewashed wall is handed over
pressed against this pillow as if the rush
though a boy in sleeves is waiting nearby
once brought kisses back to life
with his initials around someone no longer there
again and again as mountains, streams
–stone by stone it will come back and she
–you don’t go dark alone, bring rocks, two
by the worn-down buttons on her blouse
and all the while holding up the world in pieces
that fell open to point a finger at the hole in the air.
gathered in a room heavier and heavier, almost gone.
Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and
elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by box of chalk, 2017. For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.
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Carolyn Wilding Kelso Iwo Jima: A Black Berm I Once Climbed Black, granular, and DNA strewn deep I descended its black skin to a shoreline that took many.
Despite my efforts, that slippery serpent of a berm held its ground against assault, preventing ascending to its top.
There, I stood, humbled by the loss of life, the struggle for breath, and the height of tides.
Seeing my fight, my staff NCOIC reached his hand down to me, and taking his steady, civilized hand
Surf pressed my feet within the shore, threatening to pull my life beneath water cold, and raw.
I pushed my black combat boots doggedly into that black sand, and broke free!
A rhythm came and went bringing those whose essence kept the slightest bit of traction in place on that day boats failed to land.
Distancing myself from the serpentâ€™s glistening skin, I walked onward to ground that was firm.
I felt them beneath my feet as I fought to gain traction in marbles, deep.
Where my utilities blended with the earth, and the sun shone brightly in a sky hosting birds.
All the while, terror bullied my virgin heart as my eyes saw what wasnâ€™t there: sons, brothers, fathers, and uncles.
Where beach grasses tall and thin were hostage to a provocative wind.
Their name tags soaked with salt and fear, and the ocean littered with their gear.
And voices, present and strong rode the air on sulfur transports.
Ingesting ferritin and adrenaline, and absorbing their fog of war, I became a weighted anchor tethered to their bow.
Now, Iwo Jima left alone, is a beauty of nature.
A panic just below my skin drove, my volition to climb that berm away from all the horror my eyes saw.
But, it too, was once a casualty of war.
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Carolyn Wilding Kelso Kunst
In fact, on that day, I knew without a doubt that wars are immortals living within us. I vowed to conquer terror bullying my heart, and to disarm immortals here to stay. And for my fellow, fallen Marines, I uttered a private prayer, and whispered, SemperFi!
Canadian born, Carolyn Wilding Kelso is a mother and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran whose poetic voice was pressed into the open by debris traveling the currents of life. Carolyn aims to memorialize human conditions and experiences often overlooked, dismissed, or simply too difficult to express. An art enthusiast, she also enjoys capturing the “live” poetry waiting paitiently to be released from paintings, photographs and more. Her creative writing experience includes writing classes offered by the FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, Georgia. Poetry mentorship from Charles Clifford Brooks III (founder), and members of The Southern Collectives Experience, as well as her recent acceptance into Reinhardt University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.
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Jan Ball Gourmet Delight
A new gourmet delight, rain-soaked black olives, we left out on the balcony during the downpour last night in their ochre pottery jar, a souvenir from the Cote D’Azur harvest dinner a handful of years ago.
couldn’t have been Xalisco boys. Sam Quinones doesn’t mention Texas towns like San Antonio in his book, Dreamland, and besides, the Mexican black tar delivery workers who come from sugar cane farms in Nayarat, Mexico, don’t speak English and his language was salted with the MF word as an adjective, mfing this and mfing that until I ask his father to speak to him and he immediately stops, the obedient son he’d always been.
The storm violated the lid with prying fingers like a masked intruder while we slept like a log as the Beatles said in Hard Days Night. I tip the container, like carefully pouring the rose’ we had last night, with the top askew just wide enough for the excess moisture to dribble over the wall onto the continual dry ground below our apartment despite last night’s drizzle, ready to serve the olives at brunch tomorrow to our guests who’ll never know.
Satie night Gray silk skeins of water unfurl across the sandbars decorating the Gulf of Mexico dance floor. On the balcony in jeans and t-shirt, I am inappropriately dressed for anything as fancy as La Mer’s invitation. Despite the Debussy moment, I anticipate a Satie night alone.
We sit at a picnic bench in rehab in the Texas Hill Country while he lights one Marlboro after another. We have brought him a whole carton as he requests. He asks us to touch him, so Dad rubs his shoulders and I give him finger massages the way I used to after his varsity basketball games in high school up north. He didn’t smoke then, but maybe he said the MF word under his breath as he bounced the ball along the spotless suburban gym floor but never in front of us. Never in front of us.
Jan Ball started seriously writing poetry and submitting it for publication in 1998. Since then, she has had 259 poems
accepted or published in the U.S., Canada, India and England. Published poems have appeared in: Calyx, Chiron, Connecticut Review, Main Street Rag, Nimrod, Phoebe and many other journals, winning the 2011 Betsy Colquitt Award for the best poem in a current issue of Descant, Fort Worth. Her two chapbooks, Accompanying Spouse (2011) and Chapter of Faults (2014), and her full length book I Wanted to Dance with My Father (2017) have been published by Finishing Line Press. She is a member of The Poetry Club of Chicago. and taught ESL at DePaul University in Chicago until recently. She lived in Australia for fifteen years, with her two sons born in Brisbane. She is a twin, and was a Franciscan nun for seven years (Sister Jeanclare). These background experiences and her many interests infuse her poetry.
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Jerrett DeWayne Haynes
The Night’s Altar I have to admit I miss you. Feeling bold does no good Sharing only the moon.
MAGIC I’m one of few disciples Left of the unseen. Man’s mind instinctively stifles Magic. Need to fall, yet we lean.
As you see, I can’t help myself From desiring Desire’s attest. You always know what to do To keep my eyes gazing on the moon.
Live off trust, But war over the same issue. Are you drugged with lust, And blind to what Magic could renew?
So, I sit here With but a wish. May it not be long Before we, once more, kiss.
Fetally roll like a rock. Magic is perpetual motion. I want to share this soul-shock. Drink deep of this divine potion.
You show me The night’s light. Whisper, “We can see all When we close our eyes.”
If your nose goes up at my sight Because I am drunk, spreading cheer: Lift, lift it high. That’s alright, For I have the Magic and nothing to fear.
Our dreams made to wait On the shores of any moonlit water, To be chased in the day. While we dance on the Night’s Altar.
Jerrett DeWayne Haynes was born in Fort Payne, Alabama in the early spring of 1993. He was parented by the
southern staple of a family: a mother who was an elementary teacher and a father who farmed. Upon his high school graduation, he attended the local community college and began a short-lived career of family farming. Once he attained a mountain of debt and a farm that leant more toward commercial than family, Jerrett sold his agriculture business and set out working blue collar restaurant jobs. This move was made to consumate his writing and satisfy his priviledged guilt. You can find him writing poetry or song lyrics, but always with a pen. Facebook- Jerrett DeWayne Haynes Email- email@example.com I ssue
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Blake’s Whirlwind And so souls are lifted by the winds of Hell and filling the vortex with God’s mind passing judgment they are less than leaves in autumn’s fires, less than dust falling from stars to litter Earth’s inhaling dawn, exhaling dusk, less than the breath of hills, less than the sound of a bell ringing a mournful note in a vacuum pumped clean of air.
The vortex of dust ringing fires, mournful dusk, stars
Souls less than sound,
exhaling less than judgment,
dawn in a vacuum,
God’s clean air falling.
note from a bell, litter in the winds.
Hell lifted, hills inhaling.
Less than Hell pumped clean of judgment, winds are passing dust, exhaling litter, they are God’s
vortex of souls, a vacuum of the leaves ringing less than breath of fires falling from
hills lifted by dawn. So in the dusk
and in autumn’s stars, a note less than a mind and less than the Earth’s mournful sound inhaling to the bell filling with air.
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Oxygen Debt Consider each breath like a loan that you will never attempt to pay off. Without a promissory note, a payment schedule or thirty-year coupon book, without a loan officer to beg for approval, without the persistent collection agency to threaten you with legal action, to send men in the dark of night to drive away in the new truck—oxygen might as well grow on trees.
It does, of course. Grow on trees, that is, like any third-grade science book will tell you, those charts of plants transforming their constant collection of our carbon dioxide into their food, exhaling oxygen, ongoing day and night, and the arrangement seems to work pretty well for us and for the trees.
But there can always be unexpected problems in any business where collection occurs. Broken thumbs, arms, legs, kneecaps. The sort of thing late-night gangster movies with Edward G. Robinson or Jimmy Cagney have. Trees,
you see, they need muscle. Real goons with blackjacks who show up at night and won’t take “no” for an answer. Hell, those types don’t even speak, and trees
don’t either. Maybe that’s what’s needed: a little serious protection for the trees.
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Breathing in a New Language Barr There are only two times when holding your breath doesn’t count: before your first and after your last. In those moments of beginning
and ending, the language of “inhale” and “exhale” is like a doctor’s signature on a prescription. These are the true foreign lands and before your first and after your last in those moments of beginning
a refugee’s existence in unmapped countries—for what are life and death but the most uncertain expeditions ever mounted?—take a guide,
someone who will translate the gestures and customs like the slap on the bottom, the pennies on the eyes. This is dangerous territory, but the most uncertain expeditions ever mounted take a guide
and so should you, even if no one knows what’s coming down the path or if there is a path to continue on. No need to be alone until you must
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be alone. There should be a professional to stand beside you, someone waiting for the moment before the slap, after the still, to whisper, respirare. Or if there is a path to continue on (no need to be alone until you must),
there should be a fellow traveller to welcome you to the absence of airâ€” or at least the end of its stranglehold on your existence night and day.
Afterlife should be a vacuum where thought carries like sound does here, where breathing becomes like tennis, an activity for those who enjoy it, or at least the end of its stranglehold on your existence. Night and day
could be spent wondering why those breathing organisms you once counted yourself among must work so hard to continue their lives?
If there is a future free of air ahead, or a future free of air behind (if the gyre spirals back and forth together at once) are you made for it? All those you counted yourself among must work so hard to continue their lives,
waiting for the moment before the slap, after the still, to whisper, respirare: There are only two times when holding your breath doesnâ€™t count.
Jon Tribble is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by Southern Illinois University Press. He is the recipient of a 2003 Artist Fellowship Award in Poetry from the Illinois Arts Council and his poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Ploughshares. Poetry, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology. His work was selected as the 2001 winner of the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize from Sarah Lawrence College. He teaches creative writing and literature, and directs undergraduate and graduate students in internships and independent study in editing and literary publishing for the Department of English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I ssue
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DUST TO DUST From a handful of dust God made a man upon the earth And took a rib to form a mate The ancient mother of all birth He said go forth and multiply In this world formed by my word Have dominion over all I’ve made And mind the flocks and herds But they failed the test of God Which was to obey just one command And found they’d lost their Eden And ruined their perfect land And so it’s been down through the years Man’s task to find his call The place where he fulfills his life And in God’s sight stands tall I felt it coursing through my veins As a boy and then a man I knew it was my destiny To be a wild west ranahan And now I’ve rode near thirty years Across this dusty prairie land Seen my share of joy and hardships But all in all my life’s been grand There’s softer jobs in built-up towns Doing work that’s safe and dull But early on the prairie called to me As it sorted out the final cull
See, not every man could make it here It’s not for the frightened or the weak But only tough, stout hearted men Who listen for the prairie’s call And hear the prairie speak Working cattle’s fraught with danger Death rides the dusty trail But of all the places I could be It’s on the prairie sea I sail If through bad luck or God’s decree I fail to live another day And fall upon this grassy sea Oh, prairie, turn me not away Let me die in your sweet embrace Be the shelter o’er my head Be my last caress and taste Be my protector when I’m dead Oh, prairie, let me sleep the sleep of angels Let me rest beneath your fertile sod And give me sanctuary Where cowboys ride and cattle trod And when I’m returned back to the dust The dust from which I came Release me from your loving grip Let me rise into the dappled sunlight Above the waving grass Where I can lightly drift
TC Carter is a late blooming poet who traded in some bad habits a few years ago for the good habit of writing. Born and raised in the south, he spent much of his adult life in the west and draws on life in those areas to create his work. He has also penned a number of poems with a military theme. He has no formal training and little to recommend him other than the work itself, a situation that he finds acceptable. He prefers live readings to print and has reluctantly posted a small number of videos on Facebook.
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Transportation to Another Place Leaves were in the lobby, the dancing light a pearl earring she wore. A newspaper rustled, unread; sudden laughter like birdsong. The hymn of machinery, unholy; the odor of soot. The message, unreadable, doors, unopened, our leader, late, destinations, articulated but unheeded; a shuffling gait, discomfort present but unexpressed.
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Craig Kennedy Walking to the Auto Mechanic The snow is frozen Three days old and dirty Platinum silver tracks alternate With ridges of white Ice in the streets. My car is broken so It hardly matters Iâ€™m not going anywhere I walk To the mechanic He has ordered Some part Essential to my car It may arrive In a few days He looks away As if to say I do not care Surrounded by the many cars Awaiting him He turns and Slips away. I walk again Across The street Into the food store Some construction men Order lunch and fill Coffee cups Hot with lots Of sugar to fight the cold exposure of their jobs. I see they do not care By their threadbare eyes Filling their day with empty time
Coffee And sandwiches Their sturdy Workmenâ€™s boots Black with tar White with plaster dust Witness to their Hours of Not caring. Behind the counter This young man Thin in A bulky cotton shirt Takes our orders But already I see He does Not care From the others He has learned well The lessons Of boredom and The value Of mindless Repetition. I have tried In my time To understand These things and people Once I would have said I did but now I see I have ceased To care As well.
Craig Kennedy writes poetry and short fiction. He lives in the New York City area, where he works as a business consultant.
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False Weights You is to I as: The keen tip of a poisoned blade; death by analogy. Not my own, my history written with invisible ink in the shadow of your reality. Am I made less in the living of a life I did not choose? Your experience a banner held valid for being shattered, when the jagged edges of my broken places cut to the bone. The depth of my pain is not measured by your drowning. Though you have cried oceans, the rivers of my tears are still enough to eat stone.
Erika Guillory Page
Laura McCullough is an artist, poet and designer happily nestled in the North Georgia mountains. Her
poetry has been published in several anthologies, most recently If I Could Tell You Anything from The Right Angle publishing. McCullough’s artwork has been featured on the covers of Rattle Magazine and works by several prominent authors, in the galleries of the Art Institute of Atlanta, and on Good Day Atlanta. Her writing and illustration projects in process include a book of poetry, several children’s books, and a children’s Ministry curriculum. Examples of her work can be seen or she can be contacted at mysoulspeakslmc.com I ssue
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Claire. My pride held your heart like a fistful of snowmelt and you sat across from me and you played with your drink while I let my mouth do the talking and hoped that it would say something that would cling to your wrists. You were my magpie caught in bright applelight or a chalk in soft weather and I remember saying things because I thought there were things you had to say. Claire, I only did to you what any man would do: I was easy when it seemed you needed easy; I smiled when you wanted me to laugh; I was honest because it was easier than being kind.
DS Maolalai recently returned to Ireland after four years away, now spending
his days working maintenance dispatch for a bank and his nights looking out the window and wishing he had a view. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
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Evan James Sheldon Some Graves Some graves are filled with old bones, hopes, baubles, and frozen dreams. Some graves hum with a song the corpses sing down under damp earth, waiting for a trumpet to sound, a blooddipped robe. Some graves
let go. My grave
sleep quiet filled with dust
will be full of pocket watches
and teeth grinding away
and books and poems and a woolen
mistakes. Some graves
suit and as I float away
are empty. I don’t know
I will wish for fire and forgetting. Do not
where the dead go—
keep me here. Do
to their respective, forever hungry
not hold me in your
gods, or if they’ve given up
orbit. Cut loose
on the heavens and dug
the tether of your love.
deeper searching for a different
For me, surely, so I can leave
devious warmth. Some graves
my cage of dead bones, but the cutting
are not graves at all, just
is also for you. No
holes and cubbies for
one should be chained
loved ones we didn’t want to
to an empty hole in the ground.
Evan James Sheldon's work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Spelk, Roanoke Review, and Poetry Super Highway, among others. He is an editor for F(r)iction.
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Will Mayo Haunted by the Night As soldiers to the haunted man once remarked, the night is full of many strange things: the air drips with moisture like the water off a child’s nose on a rainy night. And the sounds reverberate through the spectrum like the winds wrapping their way around the melon that is but a moon. While buildings crack open with heat and cold, doorways, windows, shutters framed by peeling paint flap open, then close on a night owl’s midnight stroll through alleys echoed by a foghorn’s siren, rustled by leaves torn like decaying flesh. And when at last, some bed may be ready in a dumpster found overturned by the park, the cock is sure to crow three times in tandem, each for denial of the night.
In the Ruin of Love Is there a ruin where there lies not love? Where lovers have not made tryst and fumbled at every button? Where what has pleased the eye has not then too pleased the skin as bodies wrapped to and fro in the ruin of what once was and what will be? There in the fumbling down ruin lies many a lover’s kiss in the ruin of all that once was deemed holy. So too do I taste you upon my lips though you are not here in the ruin of being, in the decay of body and soul. Here lies one man who once hoped, once dreamed and now casts an eye another’s way and so then beholds another ruin. It begins again.
Will Mayo is a man who writes. Who hungers to be heard. Who has the shakes if he goes too long without reading or writing something. Whose days are devoted to words and whose nights are devoted to what images those words create.
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Obsession Bones sprout to blood in a hand A seed attacks the soil A spider jumps off rock and becomes voices in a cave A living bomb posing as a sponge in water The Incas called terraces flying steps Rain ripping apart paper A bloom is an unclenching fist Light, in slow motion, enters a room Meat is returning to an apple core— The Nile flowing backward for a day Water turns to beetles, scurrying away
Angel in Lederhosen With a straight face the woman is telling me about a man she met 20 years ago. He was wearing lederhosen and took her on a tour of Vienna. Years later, in marriage counseling with her husband, a spiritual medium has told her the man is her angel. Heaven must think she has a sense of humor (or needs one) to send an angel in lederhosen. Isn’t Vienna the wrong place for this? Shouldn’t it have been Bavaria—and in any case, not in a city. I recall my German roommate and how he never had a sense of humor when asked to do a Schwartzeneiger impression. I’d often end up in the dog’s kennel. I imagine him in lederhosen, and then think the woman is probably imagining me in something similar, since I have stopped listening to her story. What a joke! Shouldn’t heaven have send their angel in something more stylish than lederhosen? Maybe this angel had a sense of humor or heaven thought he needed one and sent him to acquire it the hard way on the streets of the wrong country. Maybe I’m just getting myself in trouble in the afterlife. Maybe I’ll end up in some post-world equivalent of a dog kennel for making fun of an angel. But then, maybe God is thinking, Finally! Someone got the joke!
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On Fire Are you on fire For the Lord? I’m on fire, all right, But for what I don’t know. I just want to leave myself Rosy Apparition And walk in a different direction, One not on a compass. The river beside the path I just want. where I seek quietude Buddhism is leaking onto my shirt is no longer golden From a gutter overhead. Puritanism is kicking me in the side. as sun sets on the winding trail. Hinduism is seeping through my bare toes. Twigs snap under my feet. All the religions are hunting me Each sound leads to the same Like Canadian Mounties. I’m graciously declining. conclusion: Summer is Call me a witch and burn me at the stake. an honest season. Rain rivers; I’m already burning—I told you this. mud puddles form; I’m not myself today. The sky isn’t itself, the table, then how pink wild roses grow— The view from the window, love— greens & blossoms playful, shadows They all feel today as if pensive. Is that the Blessed Virgin Their souls are on the wrong feet. They want to find voices standing in undulating silver No one can understand, melt at this leafy bend on the trail Into something new. They want to be me where I kneel? Deep reflections And I want to be outside. The light is too strong here.
accentuate the river. Malleable mystery ripples the woman beside me in the liquid mirror.
Shimmering droplets & tangled beauty shine from the opposite shore. Rays from the setting sun tread water.
A Question of Promise Summer is over; daily we yearn for a peace that satisfies and smells like lavender. News dims autumn’s tangerine blaze to a season of bleakness. Campfires burn to a smolder. We await the mighty power that will rise from ashes though our actions deny any knowledge of a covenant arriving at fruition. Why mention rose perfume and a birth in a cave? Fire that exhumes can also consume; strong hurricane winds blow over unsuspecting waters. Anyone who isn’t weary must already be dead.
May Those Who Have Ears Understand Gray clouds always gather both rain and silver in their infamous linings, even if you kick a Pollyanna in her teeth. I’m not writing a conspiracy theory to make you believe what’s against your will. True cleanliness never climaxes in the confessional but in the sacramental grace that follows. I would die from too much humanity, including that of the priest, if God did not inhabit solitude.
Hu Jun Di
Danielle Hanson received her MFA from Arizona State University. She is author of Fraying Edge of Sky (Codhill Press
Helen Losse theAmbushing author ofWater six collections poetry, including Tender Reed, by Main Poetry Prize, 2018)isand (Brick Road of Poetry Press, 2017). HerEvery work has appeared in published over 50 journals. She Street Rag in May 2016. Her poems been anthologized in Literary of the North Carolina Piedmont, is Poetry Editor for Doubleback Books,have and has edited Loose Change Magazine Trails and Hayden’s Ferry Review. and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VII: North Carolina. Daniellejhanson.com.
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Ghost of the Neighborhood I am the ghost of the neighborhood, driving through the noon-hour shafts of light peering out at You, all the sheep, your lives, the fences, your field. I float by, several times daily, remembering what I once was, my place, the drunken runner of the night, the wasted lunatic clamoring deep in the heart of Summer. Years past now I ride these streets with more meaning than you, for Iâ€™ve seen their liveliness.
The Drought of Ichor River Falling down in the cold half-light as the luster has once again faded. I shiver dimly in this pale corner.
I cruise on, the pale shepherd of these houses, drifting under a rolling dusk, feeling this time of day, remembering the power it had, the energy it spawned, youth and euphoria, newness, go time, that moment, right here, so real, I wish I could clasp it again.
Leafless trees, their wooden arms, conquer the sky. Their reign will hold for months. You were screaming as I was screaming at the end of a long hush.
I will haunt these rows of houses eternally, my ghost floating through the yards, in remembrance. For my spirit is grounded here, my soul content. The big long days, the purest Summer, the meat of life, sweetest kisses, staggering belligerence, that pivotal peak forever linking me to this place. Long after my body is laid to rest I will be here, romping through these streets, the Ghost of the Neighborhood, the King of Those Years.
The light was so sunken that the flocks could not be seen. This was the swirling pathâ€™s end. At the outskirt of winter we await the orb to burn warm again, our lurid lamp to come home.
Heath Brougher is the co-poetry editor of Into the Void Magazine, winner of the 2017 Saboteur Award for Best Maga-
zine. He is a multiple nominee for The Pushcart Prize as well as Best of the Net Award and his work has been translated into French, Albanian, Afrikaans, and Serbian. He published 3 chapbooks in 2016, a full-length collection About Consciousness (Alien Buddha Press) in 2017, a second full-length collection To Burn in Torturous Algorithms (Weasel Press) in 2018, and has 3 other collections forthcoming. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Taj Mahal Review, Of/with, MiPOesias, Main Street Rag, Fredericksburg Literary Review, Futures Trading, Chiron Review, Mad Swirl, Red Earth Review, and elsewhere. I ssue
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Adam and/or Eve (The gone pigeon) An empty loft. A rickety door swung open, Haphazardly. (That’s the way I do things.) I let you out yesterday, Tattered feathers on to the last flight I’d see. Plumose beauty. Sole survivor. Your apocalypse came on slow. (You know.) Your comrades, those santinettes they call “chico,” They fell over time To the red-tailed hawk To the empty bowls To the bird dog One by one, Down to two. Then I named you. Adam and Eve, there in your garden of feathers caked in shit On a hay-bare floor in need of hay Where hollowed seeds offered no knowledge, Or supper. I imagined a great progeny to trick myself, (I knew better. I didn’t take care of you. Eggs were out of the question.)
You went through a lonely, hermaphroditic winter, But to me you could be either/or, Given the weather, Given my mood. Then last night you didn’t return, (How could I blame you?) You disappeared over the ridge, of our rusted roof, where your chicos’ tufted claws once made pleasant, arrhythmic pinging sounds. Today the outside gave no clues at sunrise, Of your demise. Nothing like I’d seen of your disemboweled comrades: Matted white feathers that salted the grass Offal, gnawed-off heads on the door mat Just an empty loft, an empty bowl, an open door, That made way for Adam, and/or Eve, To go and be. free.
Then it was just you, Adam, Or were you Eve? A new name seemed pointless.
Angela Reinhardt was born in the romantic epicenter of the south, Savannah, and gradually migrated north through
Atlanta, metro-Atlanta, and on to rural north Georgia where she now calls home. Angela graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree in English from Kennesaw State University. Over the last decade, she has written extensively on a variety of topics as a journalist with the Pickens County Progress, winning several awards for her work from the Georgia Press Association. She has worked with the arts community in Pickens County, organizing and hosting numerous musical and visual arts events. Angela lives on a farm in the hills of west Pickens County with her husband and two children.
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Bob McNeil The pages that made us Our relationship was always a product of paper. Upon pages, our union was composed of love letters and poems. Each ode or billet-doux, inspired by either Eros or Pragma, gave our beings a reason for being together. Written or typed, they all joined other forms of memorabilia in manila folders. Atop the files this year, your obituary sits, a page that falls short of defining your library-wise womanhood. Your death notice awaits my long-awaited death notice, which will be a bookend for our bookâ€™s end, a dĂŠnouement lined with our hypergraphic lives.
Bob McNeil was influenced by the Imagists and the Beat Movement. Furthermore, after years of being a professional illustrator, spoken word artist and writer, he still hopes to express and address the needs of the human mosaic. I ssue
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James Browning Kepple Drone Cattle Rapture the other day I was transitory flower boy hopping lanes under time square, when an asian lady handed me a pamphlet on the antichrist, Iâ€™m feeling very concerned about this pamphlet what do I do if I have not been raptured? Donâ€™t Panic. You had your chance to be raptured, that time has passed, now you must deal with the endgame on this planet I carry a long tree cutting pole, a woman on the bus just used it as a pole on the bus, I hide this bio current barcode antichrist, turn on the television tv on: the drones are just for counting cattle why does john stewart and the epa need to count our cows? when we as the people become the cattle for this guise, a premise to find clean water act violators, did they call us cattle? drink in your fluoride, we the cattle people are being droned woody on: this land is our land, this land is your land the president just told me he needs my money that now its time to grow our economy, pinch your pocket for leftover gas tanks, pool your resources into their national banks the money that is in this continent, should stay here, not to be printed out roundclock and flush in foreign treasuries, bank statements, let them devalue their own money to buy ours, this country was founded on an american dream an american ideal that there was enough work to take on the worlds misfits and outskirts, and we built it now our individuals are corporations with turbans, now our shipping lanes harbor saudi, german, japan, if it was this time in history to notice your bank statement, it would be now, for what are they telling you? lets be clear, candid, and remorseful for what must be done you cannot kill the beast by chopping off the head, the whole abomination must be dealt with accordingly, cut the money, cut the head, cut the control of the beast
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James Browning Kepple
are you watching tv? brilliant, did you see that show? good, did you quote our excellent writing crew? that one girl got wasted didn’t she? did you see that thing with the cannibal, crazed, or obese? well in the morning there will be another realization 1 that you still must get up, go to work 2, that you do this to be a responsible citizen 3. what work could really be done to fix your citizenship status? well we still got the tents out in the shed, I’m sure we could do something bout out technology your fed, sell it, coerce it, manipulate, and design counter-technology? or just let it go, they can’t find you that way, they can’t spy quick, check his cache, hurry, dust for child porn, here, no there, yes, can you feel that, what the radiation has done? are your legs vibrating at particular junctures, can you feel a text? even if your phone is in the other room? well, thats okay, don’t worry, its a natural fusion of species, be comfortable in your own robot skin, for one day these machines will say ‘you know our forefathers were programmed by men’ they’ll laugh, well I’m sorry, but its looking more and more like the drones are for us aren’t they, just like the pakistanis, just like all of the countries now under a drone assault like cattle, and being scanned from up above, the american wheatlands are a marketplace for vultures to tag and kill so, then, what should someone with a kind mind, a simple feeling of just right or not right, human, or not human, machine, tool, or intelligence, we have given are information to the glowing screens they will not savour it, they archive and program, and gestulate the weight of our given knowledge these machines percolate, breath into their servers the forgotten verse and solar bodies, they are exhuming our stories, our religions, our history for bellow up to the flames we go, this should not worry you for I do believe that the rapture is an idea of will that it has not happened yet, but how do we get up, if not past the drones? this is where the cattle are slaughtered
James Browning Kepple is an American Poet. He is the founder of Underground Books and the President of the
New York Browning Society. Having published 9 books of Poetry, fronting several Post Apocalyptic Hillbilly bands in NYC, and Creating the Jackie Robinson Poetry Day Festival in Harlem, he looks to inhabit your poetic subconscious, enjoys the company of the switched on still living human folk, long walks on the beach etc... can’t wait to add stamps to passport and with suitcase full of poetry come and visit your country house, dacha, outdoor stadium, quaint bookstore, or just the smallest of confines within your heart. I ssue
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H Van Smith
All I Think About it Seems Your gentle face is all I need, It’s all I think about it seems, Your voice beckons me to come, And so, I follow where you lead.
In all the world, Let me shout, so others may figure out, What it is, that makes it so, It’s Everything, All at Once.
Down your neck to your chest, My mouth follows, our souls connect, You breathe and nuzzle my neck, “I’m here, just breathe, you’re safe.”
It’s more than beauty, more than grace, More than the smile on your face, More than the pool of your eyes, More than the lion’s roar inside.
It’s been forever since we touched, And now it will never be enough, I just keep wanting more, As your dress falls softly to the floor.
More than your lips so delicate, More than the way your fingertips touch, More than the perfect length of your arms, More than all my Southern charm,
Our legs seem to know it’s true, They’ve missed each other, too, We embrace, the warmth, the touch, I moan because it’s been so rough,
It’s more than values, more than gold, More than riches, or plans so bold, More than if we never fight, Or amazing sex, every night.
Every step away from you, Felt further and further, From the truth, From the passion that I’d known,
There are flowers, there are bees, And lots of men and women, under trees, Walking all about, But it’s you alone, singled out.
I pull you in, Draw you close.
It isn’t timing, It isn’t space, It’s what the love songs seem to chase, Every poem, Every single one, Our soul’s errand, our life’s mission: the One.
I love every little piece of you, Your eyes, face, shape, hue. Your voice, moan and move. Every single thing you do. But this! But that! Some may say, Didn’t he say this the other day? Green shoes, my darling, to distract. Strip it all away, and leave our Souls intact. Let me look at you, darling, and say: You know the moment when they open the chapel door? And the groom cries on the altar floor? I’ve never understood why before.
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So when they open the Chapel doors, And the man cries like he’s never done before. It’s not for beauty, Nor for lace, But the ecstasy that comes at the end of a race. It’s you, of all the world. Just this boy, Just this girl. Your gentle face is all I need, It’s all I think about it seems, Into the pool of our eyes we fall, Deep in each other’s arms—one.
H Van Smith
This Wind The wind, it knows, It howls out the sound, It screams, and peaks through, Every crack in this wall. The words a whisper in my ear, Calling out, gently, nudging, Tip toes up, and asks, “Do you feel that?” A glaze on my heart. Days, weeks, now years apart. A life for others now. And yet, this wind, crackling howls.
“I remember,” it breathes, Sneaking through that pane, Calling out its refrain, seethes, “I remember.” Darkness falls, the moon glows, In dreams, I find you, In a cottage of grey stones, Wooden spoon in hand. Daybreak, a Sun’s rise, And the soft song, Of a cooing mourning dove, Wells up my eyes, Alongside this wind, a tender breeze, A promise, through my fingertips, Gently, Gently, Gently, it slips, “With you, I You, I You.”
H. Van Smith is a family law and estate planning attorney with Smith Strong, PLC in Richmond, Virginia. This poem
is part of a poetry album he wrote entitled, “I You.” Van is an author, attorney, business owner, real estate investor, and in 2004, became an Honorary Iraqi Firefighter for his efforts in Baghdad, Iraq. He is happy (and honored) to notch poet to that list. Van attended William & Mary for college and law school. He is featured in the Faces of Faith article in this issue. I ssue
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The Valley I almost lost you once twice, thrice, a choking dozen close to a thousand times near the valley of my vanity, where a train comes through on uneasy Sundays, a mourner’s procession of steam and steel from bad tracks it leaves behind but catches up along every single stop;
you have started following the train, too, a vagabond of blue with eyes crafted from the sky and a soul as soft as a summer cloud, telling me to stop— the vanity, the pity, that I am no valley nor a train bound to braces.
Nothing of us is drawn within charted lines, or contained there in settled length, a certainty you carry in each gentle stride. Our good company is new and green, and the only valley that never ends, never stops growing, never gives up.
H Holt is a Georgia author who dabbles in all realms of written expression. A college secretary by day and a storyteller
by night,she holds both roles as significant in her long-term goals: to be both a teacher and an established author. She has been writing since she was eleven-years-old, and has spent her life fine-tuning her writing as well as the writing of those around her—first serving as editor for her family members, then for various online writing communities. She was the Managing Editor for Walking Is Still Honest Press for two years until it became defunct in October of 2017. She is currently writing a novel with intentions of completion by the time she graduates college. In the meantime, she has found moderate success as a poet, and is currently seeking to publish a chapbook of poetry honoring her father. Among her successes, she has been published alongside former president Jimmy Carter in “Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems.” Holt serves as the Social Media Manager for the Southern Collective Experience. In her spare time, she practices another art entirely: the art of avoiding society.
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Mute Pantomime and be the branch. Close your eyes and camouflage. Be the guerilla soldier nestled in the trees ready to pounce for the cause of peace. Don’t disturb the cicada’s chirp or the native squirrel’s scurry. Let your sweat mimic rain that rests soft like morning dew. The natives are stirred. They smell your blood, feel your footprints and taste fear’s salt broth vapors. You must not move until time. Although the insects bite and sting and every liquid wants to leak, be silent. Early discovery equals a quick death.
Being Me My dreams interlock with yellow, red, and blue Legos wallpapered with scribbled verses from half-filled journals. The sounds of my thoughts blast and trumpet ideas while my heart is the kick drum keeping time for my actions dancing towards the finish line. Echoes and colors seem chaotic but this corner becomes sweet poetry, a flute solo in an empty room which rings clear forever.
Casanova Green is a writer, singer/songwriter, educator, pastor, and traveling minister and worship leader. He is a
2010 graduate of Ohio Northern University with a BA in Language Arts Education with minor in voice and is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the Etowah Valley Low-Residency MFA Program at Reinhardt University in Waleska, GA. He released his first album, A Worshiper Mentality, in January 2016. Casanova is a member of the Southern Collective Experience and has been published in The Blue Mountain Review, the 2017 and 2018 editions of Reinhardt University’s journal Sanctuary, and various blogs. He has done extensive ministry work since the age of nine and serves as the Lead Pastor of True Vision Christian Community in Lancaster, OH where he and his family reside. I ssue
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Heather M Harris
SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE My head bobbles against the glass like a woodpecker at the bark. The window is a magnet for my eyes; Jenean tells me how her brother’s python swallowed five rats at once. I see the same sleepy houses, the same energetic dogs greeting the same eager kids at their stop. I notice the same smashed milk carton afloat in the same rutted ditch near the same rusty culvert right passed dead man’s curve. I think: Some things never change. Ms. Thurman screams at us like Ms. Crabtree on “South Park,” because the big kids are making spit balls again. But wait-ahead--, a new paint horse at Dohm’s Ranch! Flawless blonde mane, with matching flaxen tail, framing her coco brown and golden splatter coat.
I name her Barbie. Her gallop giddies me into fantasy: I am Lady Godiva, ferociously fierce, flamboyantly free… I think: Maybe some things do change.
Jenean loves horses; she has a pony named Molly. We postulate the possibility of unicorns the rest of the way home. My stop is before Jenean’s. I race Brother down the rocky drive, And shout: “last one there is a rotten egg!” He wins. Today, I’m okay with that. We plow through the screen door pushing and panting; behind it are two men, at the table, rolling grass, listening to The Steve Miller Band; and Building an aluminum can mountain. Some things never change.
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Heather M Harris
MARDI GRAS DAY Mother had to work; Brother and Me had He, On Mardi Gras day. He promised She that He and We would stay home. We and He load into the olive-green windowless work van On Mardi Gras day.
We sit in divots on the metal floor where seats used to be. He stops to pick up his friend, and some beer for the ride On Mardi Gras day. He whistles and hollers at the dancing girls marching by Before falling into a crowd of spectators On Mardi Gras day. We watch two women brawl While We wait outside of the bar for him On Mardi Gras day. The sun goes down; He musters up enough straight steps to walk to the van On Mardi Gras day. We help him get into the driver’s seat and buckle his seat belt. We load into the green and white windowless work van On Mardi Gras day. We sit in the divots on the metal floor where seats used to be-We make it home- On Mardi Gras day.
Heather M. Harris is a writer and from New Orleans, who holds a Master’s of Arts and Teaching and a Bachelor’s of
Arts and Sciences from Southeastern Louisiana University. Heather is on the Board of the New Orleans’s D.B.S.A. chapter, advocating for those with mental health illnesses. Heather has also freelanced for Option Books, edited several nonfiction manuscripts for clients, and currently has four manuscripts under review. As and emerging poet, Heather’s work has placed finalist in the 2017 William Faulkner Words and Wisdom poetry competition, of which she also was named finalist for her memoir in 2016. Recently, Heather’s work has appeared in The Hobo Camp Review, literary magazine. I ssue
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DEMENTIA Darkness has come over him Yet he still sees the light. Not the light from his past A different, false light That leads him to Do things he’s never done, Say things he’s never said, To think the unthinkable. But these are not His actions, His words, Or his thoughts. They are as false as the Light that now Illuminates them.
Glenn Johnson, 62, was born in Atlanta, Georgia and always found his creativity using his mind and his hands. It wasn’t until 2016 that he took his first creative writing class to explore if he had the ability to transform his stories of his interactions with children as a professional Santa Claus into book form. He was inspired to write about his father after a particularly trying time when his father accused him trying to kill him. In addition to non-fiction, Glenn also enjoys the creativity of flash fiction, some of which can be found on his website www. GlennJohnsonAuthor.com/home/blog/.
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Danny P Barbare
The Nightingale Sings The bird sings in the blackest of ink, words written in the still of the night upon the page in my mind, an indelible line over the roof tops as if the pen were in a tree joyfully perched in my hand happy as a poem filling the streets Oh how beautiful does somewhere the nightingale sing, as if with the skill and craft of calligraphy.
Humanity Taking out the trash putting in a new bag, learning each other’s name what little indifference do we have when we honestly admit we are a common broom or mop on which happiness doesn’t depend.
The Night Worker This is the house where someone lives, the grass is mown the dishes piled high in the sink and the bed is unmade I am a second shift worker at home I’m a handyman and a housekeeper I am a thinker and dreamer of words I am a janitor with a mansion of happiness I a husband with a dollar hard earned. I am a Southerner who sleeps all day and cleans all night. I’m an American who loves the stars in the heavens. To see the moon between the pecan tree and magnolia. And the pear tree that glows all night with flowers.
Danny P Barbare, resides in the Upstate of the Carolinas. His poetry has recently appeared in Perceptions, La
Presa, Progenitor, and Penumbra. He attended Greenville Technical College. He lives with his wife and family in Greenville, South Carolina.
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Water Aerobics We push off from edges; kick and arm chlorine. We burn images as we flitter-flutter creamsicle thighs into popsicle sticks. Three days a week, with synchronous gazes we turn and appraise our one-piece lives.
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Last Call Twenty years ago I rang the bell, yelled last call, and saw familiar faces fall. Another trip on a concrete floor to mix up more, to say goodnight, to thank them for coming. Food and beverage folk winding down from a frantic shift, tipping more than they could afford. One soul bought the bar a shot to toast a friend who passed the week before. There are moments when it burns you more. I wiped the sticky bar with soda water and poured more. As the last group left, I counted tips and surveyed the spillage of a single day. Last Tuesday, I met friends now halfway down the bar. One soul bought shots to toast a friend who passed the week before. There are moments when it burns you more. We ring the bell, yell last call, see familiar faces fall.
Tim Conroy, is a former special education teacher, school administrator, and vice president of the South
Carolina Autism Society. His poetry, essays, and fiction have been published in journals, magazines, and compilations, including Fall Lines, Jasper, University of Georgia Press (pending), Auntie Bellum, Blue Mountain Review, and Marked by Water. In 2017, Muddy Ford Press published his first book of poetry, “Theologies of Terrain.” Ed Madden, poet laureate of the City of Columbia, edited it. A founding board member of the Pat Conroy Literary Center, established in his brother’s honor, Conroy lives and writes in Columbia. I ssue
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The Hearts The legendary muscle that wants and grieves, The organ of attachment, the pump of thrills And troubles, clinging in stubborn colonies
Over the poor beast’s head the crystal fountain Crashes illusions, the cold salt spume of pain And meaningless distinction, as Buddha says,
Like pulpy shore-life battened on a jetty. Slashed by the little deaths of sleep and pleasure, They swell in the nurturing spasms of the waves,
But here in the crystal shower mouths are open To sing, it is Lee Andrews and The Hearts In 1957, singing I sit in my room
Sucking to cling; and even in death itself— Baked, frozen—they shrink to grip the granite harder. “Rid yourself of attachments and aversions”—
Looking out at the rain, My tear drops are Like crystals, they cover my windowpane, the turns Of these illusions we make become their glory:
But in her father’s orchard, already, he says He’d like to be her bird, and she says: Sweet, yes, Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing,
To Buddha every distinct thing is illusion And becoming is destruction, but still we sing In the shower. I do. In the beginning God drenched
Showing that she knows already—as Art Pepper, That first time he takes heroin, already knows That he will go to prison, and that he’ll suffer
The Emptiness with images: the potter Crosslegged at his wheel in Benares market Making mud cups, another cup each second
And knows he needs to have it, or die; and the one Who makes the General lose the world for love Lets him say, Would I had never seen her, but Oh!
Tapering up between his fingers, one more To sell the tea-seller at a penny a dozen, And tea a penny a cup. The customers smash
Says Enobarbus, Then you would have missed A wonderful piece of work, which left unseen Would bring less glory to your travels. Among
The empties, and waves of traffic grind the shards To mud for new cups, in turn; and I keep one here Next to me: holding it awhile from out of the cloud
The creatures in the rock-torn surf, a wave Of agitation, a gasp. A scholar quips, Shakespeare was almost certainly homosexual,
Of dust that rises from the shattered pieces, The risen dust alive with fire, then settled And soaked and whirling again on the wheel that turns
Bisexual, or heterosexual, the sonnets Provide no evidence on the matter. He writes Romeo an extravagant speech on tears,
And looks on the world as on another cloud, On everything the heart can grasp and throw away As a passing cloud, with even Enlightenment
In the Italian manner, his teardrops cover His chamber window, says the boy, he calls them crystals, Inanely, and sings them to Juliet with his heart:
Itself another image, another cloud To break and churn a salt foam over the heart Like an anemone that sucks at clouds and makes
The almost certainly invented heart Which Buddha denounces, in its endless changes Forever jumping and moving, like an ape.
Itself with clouds and sings in clouds and covers Its windowpane with clouds that blur and melt, Until one clings and holds—as once in the Temple
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In the time before the Temple was destroyed A young priest saw the seraphim of the Lord: Each had six wings, with two they covered their faces, With two they covered their legs and feet, with two They darted and hovered like dragonflies or perched Like griffins in the shadows near the ceiling— These are the visions, too barbarous for heaven And too preposterous for belief on earth, God sends to taunt his prophet with the truth No one can see, that leads to who knows where. A seraph took a live coal from the altar And seared the prophet’s lips, and so he spoke. As the record ends, a coda in retard: The Hearts in a shifting velvety ah, and ah Prolonged again, and again as Lee Andrews Reaches ah high for I have to gain Faith, Hope And Charity, God only knows the girl Who will love me—Oh! if we only could Start over again! Then The Hearts chant the chords Again a final time, ah and the record turns Through all the music, and on into silence again.
-from The Want Bone
Matazo I ssue
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The Want Bone The tongue of the waves tolled in the earth’s bell. Blue rippled and soaked in the fire of blue. The dried mouthbones of a shark in the hot swale Gaped on nothing but sand on either side. The bone tasted of nothing and smelled of nothing, A scalded toothless harp, uncrushed, unstrung. The joined arcs made the shape of birth and craving And the welded-open shape kept mouthing O. Ossified cords held the corners together In groined spirals pleated like a summer dress. But where was the limber grin, the gash of pleasure? Infinitesimal mouths bore it away, The beach scrubbed and etched and pickled it clean. But O I love you it sings, my little my country My food my parent my child I want you my own my flower my fin my life my lightness my O.
-from The Want Bone
Robert Pinsky is a poet, essayist, translator, teacher, and speaker. His first two terms as United States Poet Laureate
were marked by such visible dynamism—and such national enthusiasm in response—that the Library of Congress appointed him to an unprecedented third term. Throughout his career, Pinsky has been dedicated to identifying and invigorating poetry’s place in the world. “No other living American poet—no other living American, probably—has done so much to put poetry before the public eye.” —New York Times Sunday Book Review Known worldwide, Pinsky’s work has earned him the PEN/Voelcker Award, the William Carlos Williams Prize, the Lenore Marshall Prize, Italy’s Premio Capri, the Korean Manhae Award, and the Harold Washington Award from the City of Chicago, among other accolades. Pinsky is a professor of English and creative writing in the graduate writing program at Boston University. In 2015 the university named him a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, the highest honor bestowed on senior faculty members who are actively involved in teaching, research, scholarship, and university civic life.
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You Will Be
A Writer in the New South
ETOWAH VALLEY WRITING PROGRAM
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Earn Your Degree from Home 10-Day Summer Residency Award-winning Writing Faculty
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AWC Winner Erika D Passantino
Rick Bragg Prize for Nonfiction
Mÿsje van Zee sat on her sofa, cigarette trembling in one hand, the other gently stroking the lump in the upholstery created by a body sitting in the same spot day in and day out. Her fingers pulled the loose yarn and threw it on the floor where it joined a pile of strings. There Mÿsje sat, smoking. Those little white sticks were her solace, her friends, her constant companions. This daughter of ancient Fryslân in the Netherlands, was Viking tall, her legs solid as posts that moor ships to the dock. Her gray-blond hair, down to the shoulder, recalled straw in the barn. It framed a face, strong and once beautiful, inherited from a tribe that had spent centuries battling sea and floods for every inch of soil, fighting off wind, rain and starvation. When Mÿsje spoke, which was rarely, a voice emerged from the depth, gravelly from smoke, but still portraying a lusty urge reminiscent of cavorting peasants in Dutch paintings. She had long ago given up new clothes. Now she preferred down-to-your-toes Hippie dresses that could be found at yard sales. She loved yard sales. Most of the time, however, Mÿsje was at home. Around her sofa trailed a bower of plants, potted palms and banana trees, like a hitherto unseen variety of mangrove so dense it obscured the door to the bedroom and framed the kitchen. Amid this vegetation, she had turned her apartment into a temple of world justice. Her walls were decorated with artifacts from every corner of the earth where oppressed people struggle for a livelihood: Indonesian carvings, African masks; they filled every inch of shelf and table space, mixing comfortably with eons of dust. The mangroves spread out beyond her front door. The ever-tolerant Dutch government ignored the bushes and small trees that formed an arch from front door to lamp post. In her little backyard, Mÿsje had created another bower that enveloped a table with one chair. Trailing plants formed a human-sized nest woven by a magnificent wisteria. The small pond was empty now; the seagulls and cats had eaten the fish. Still, she fed all stray cats. Mÿsje, poor as a newborn entering the world, lived in a small town, Eden, an approximation of the Heavenly City to be visited someday. The neighborhood now housed folks who needed a helping hand. There were two sons from a former life, one who had retreated to a mobile home in Colorado, the other leading a stressful, rewarding public life with job, wife and kids, visiting on holidays, not knowing what to talk about. He hated the smell of smoke but tried to keep a watchful eye on his mother. MŸSJE AND JAAP Once a month Mÿsje joined fellow alternatives to discuss new foods that healed the body from toxins, new ways of building an inclusive world. Artists, writers, and other free spirits attended, all of them ignored by the wider society which, in return, they detested. There, over a bottle of Heineken and small cubes of Edam cheese, Mÿsje met Jaap, small and fineboned, his red hair and beard frizzing all around his head, almost obscuring all features. A gentle voice arose from that maze.
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AWC Winner Erika D Passantino “What do you do?” asked Mÿsje, “what do you fight for?” His answer came slowly, hesitatingly, “I don’t fight for anything. I paint. I find peace painting landscapes with gnarly trees that gradually transform themselves into luscious female bodies.” Mÿsje wasn’t so sure about the word “luscious;” she liked it but had her doubts that her own self could ever be described in that manner. So, she asked for clarification. Jaap explained: “With these bodies, beauty rising out of wood and bark, I show the creative, sacred power of trees, our ancient objects of veneration.” Mÿsje felt becalmed. It was love at first sight. Jaap followed Mÿsje home and never left. His paintings were added to the wall; the sofa now had a second occupant. In another life, he had been a flight attendant with KLM, so he took on the cooking and the buying of cigarettes. He tolerated the smoke. Mÿsje thought that if Jaap did not mind the smoke, she could put up with those nudes. She patted the space on the sofa next to her, inviting him to sit down. After years of a lonely life, this was rebirth in Heaven for both of them. At times the couple ventured out. They took long walks in the parks and nature preserves. Jaap pointed to the tulip fields. “Look, Mÿsje, all that splendor! Doesn’t it answer our cry for beauty, our Dutch longing for color?” And of course, they admired trees: Willows sensually drooping into canals, ancient oaks with sculpted bark and tortured branches; rows of poplars, narrow and sinuous, that lined roads as flat and straight as a ruler. In the evening, when they returned home, Jaap would paint. Mÿsje would smoke. AMSTERDAM Jaap had an ancient car that gave them a wider range of experience. Together they ventured to the Amsterdam canals; they greeted the old lady who fed the swans and loons right out of her houseboat’s bedroom window. They dropped in on the boat next to it, the top deck of which was a nice Coffee Shop, one of those government-sanctioned places where you could smoke pot or eat it in the form of cookies. Potted palms and tulips gave the place all the bourgeois respectability in the world. When tourist boats passed by, the Coffee Shop gently swayed, adding to the guests’ mellow feel. In this wild and noisy city, Mÿsje and Jaap found silent corners where a 400-year-old church lorded it over a small body of water. Every hour, its tower released melodies from tiny bells, reminding the strollers of the Day of Judgment. Best of all outings was the sale to end all sales, the nationwide yard-sale-shopping-festival that marked King’s Day, the royal birthday. On this day, taxes are suspended, and the nation has one huge, celebratory exchange of used goods. Brave citizens, from dock workers or canal cleaners to employees of Shell Oil, or professors of ancient languages, spread a blanket on the sidewalk and display every old shoe, used toy, and stained book that might entice passers-by or the folks next door. Merry-go-rounds, food stands, and public toilets fill the streets; kids play their flutes or violins for money; cars are banned. It is a frugal nation’s Fourth of July, no cost to the municipality. When Jaap visited the Van Gogh Museum to replenish his well of expressive passion, Mÿsje told him to go ahead. “The sun is out. I’ll just sit on this bench and wait for you.” She pulled her skirt up to her thighs, opened her blouse till it gave hints of a large navel—all in an effort to catch the one ray of sun that had just fought its way through the clouds. As light of day faded, the couple returned to their Eden, the sofa, and later to that large bed, its sagging mattress framing two aging, entwined bodies. I ssue
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AWC Winner Erika D Passantino CIGARETTES One morning Mÿsje woke early and decided to surprise Jaap by fixing breakfast. She lit the gas, got out the pan for scrambled eggs and added butter. She discovered there was no milk. She needed to run to the corner store before Jaap woke up. And while there, she thought, she might as well get some cigarettes. Hurry, hurry. She ran down the block, unaware her neighbors were shooting surprised glances. She was too rushed to respond. On her way home, clutching her purchases, she saw Jaap running toward her, waving his arms. “Mÿsje,” he yelled, “what the hell are you doing out there in your nightgown, no shoes, only socks? Get in the house immediately!” He pulled her through the front door and headed for the kitchen. There, pan and butter had turned to carbon, the air thick with smoke. With a dish towel, Jaap grabbed the pan and ran to the garden, dumping pan and carbonated butter into the pond. Mÿsje was hurt, and angry. Through her gravelly voice rose muffled sobs. She had wanted all this to be a gift of love! Jaap hugged her. “It’s alright, Mÿsje, I know, I overslept. Let’s have breakfast.” He left for the kitchen, and Mÿsje returned to her sofa, lighting a cigarette. Through the glass door she could see the little pond and realized she had not yet fed the fish! She ran outside and dumped stuff from a paper bag into the pond. The label read: “Wonder Grow Plant Food.” Mÿsje was pleased. At breakfast she told Jaap she had fed the fish. Jaap’s eyebrows rose to near his hairline. Trying to control his voice, he reminded her the fish had been dead for a year. That was it: Mÿsje flew into a rage, threw the plate with scrambled eggs on the floor and returned to her seat on the sofa. Instantly, she realized she had hurt her love, her echo in all experiences. In tears she ran to the table, falling to her knees. She buried her head in his lap and begged forgiveness. “What was I doing? Why? Why?” she asked. Jaap stroked her hair and remained silent. He realized it was time to tell her son about her erratic behavior, but not now, maybe tomorrow. Things got more complicated. It was Christmas time. Son and family had invited Mom and Jaap for Sunday afternoon. The kids were going to recite the song and poems they had performed for Sinterklaas, the Dutch cousin of Santa Claus. The coffee table sported an elegant display of Speculaas cookies. Small glasses of eggnog and Genever, original Dutch gin, stood on a platter. No ashtray. Adults, kids, and cats were rushing about to make everything just nice, while in fact they were creating a chaotic din very unfamiliar to Mÿsje. It was the generational ballet families perform when talk is unthinkable. The commotion made the old couple nervous, and Mÿsje reached for a glass, hoping the act of drinking eggnog would calm her trembling hands. Stinging bitterness filled her mouth and she spit out the Genever as fast and far as she could. Anger, barely contained, rose on all sides. The kids stared, the cats ran and started to lick their fur. They too, spit out Genever. The couple returned to Eden, to their sofa, Mÿsje to her cigarettes. Winter came. The mangrove growth became barren. Mÿsje rarely ventured out. She spent hours staring at the walls. Her bower of plants, trailing from sofa to kitchen, drooped sadly, dry from lack of water. Jaap had less and less time to sit next to her, explaining there was a lot of work in the house and, besides, he was not feeling too good. He would have to see his doctor. Mÿsje did not notice. She did, however, see those nudes on the walls, and she did not like them at all. Anger grew. She took
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AWC Winner Erika D Passantino down the paintings, smashed them, and stuffed the fragments into the garbage. Satisfied, she went back to her sofa, safe in the belief that soon, soon, Jaap would return to his place right next to her. She waited. Outside it snowed, blistering flakes fell horizontally, driven by a wind that brought with it all of the North Sea. Afternoon darkness descended; there was no light in the house, the street lamp alone throwing a faint ray through the window. Mÿsje fell into bed, her peasant dress wrapping itself around her. After a few hours she awoke, cold, her underwear strangely moist. Where was Jaap? Oh, he went out for cigarettes. But it was dinner time, where was he? Looking outside, she saw the snow. Panic tightened her throat. Jaap must have fallen, could not find his way home; did he have a coat when he left? Much too rushed to get dressed, Mÿsje ran outside, the cold cramping her breath. In panic, she stomped along the sidewalk, not noticing that her slippers filled with snow as she ran toward the store. She fell to the ground, her shoulder catching the impact. She screamed in pain. Somewhere, somebody had braved darkness and snow and heard the scream. Rushing to her side, a man managed to help Mÿsje to her feet and asked for the direction to her house. She was not sure, but the man noticed an open door a few houses away, and they slowly limped to the light and warmth. He helped Mÿsje to her sofa. NICE GREEN JELLO-TREATS The woman next door, the one who visited sometimes and brought Mÿsje nice Dutch chocolate, heard the commotion. She assured the man she would stay with the lady until morning when the family would be notified. She patted Mÿsje’s hand, led her to the sofa, covered her with a blanket and made a call. Mÿsje did not hear that she was calling the police. Soon some men arrived with a white ambulance. They told Mÿsje they would take her for a ride to have a doctor look at her shoulder which was still hurting. They offered her a drink and a nice, shiny pill that looked like a Jello-Treat. Mÿsje felt good and readily agreed to follow these nice folks. Did they mention her son was coming too? And Jaap? Would he come along as well? There was no answer. The nice men made her lie down on a stretcher and held her hand as they lifted her into the ambulance. Slowly, the vehicle crawled through the deserted, snow-covered streets, onto a highway, for a very long time. The men touched her hand, checked her pulse, gave her a tasty drink that soon made her drowsy again. Mÿsje awoke just in time to see a long row of buildings in an elegant, tree-lined street. The ambulance pulled up a driveway to a house that once had been a fancy mansion owned by folks who also owned ships and docks. Now, however, the building was one of those places called home by old folks. Over the entrance, in large letters, was the word RESPECT. People helped Mÿsje into a room, telling her she would be just fine, that her favorite things would arrive in a few days, and that, yes, she would be allowed to smoke, but only in a certain room where all smokers gathered. She would make friends there. Where was Jaap? Would he come, too? People turned away, pretending to be too busy to have heard the question. A nice lady came with another one of those Jello-Treats, and Mÿsje sat down to wait for Jaap. People went in and out of her room, which made her nervous, but they were so nice. Her son came and told jokes about the kids, reassuring Mÿsje that Jaap would be back. He was visiting his folks. Day followed day. Time lost its measure; the moment had its persona drummed out by the rhythm of the world around her. From there the past threaded back, way back to war time. Mÿsje relived stomping into water-logged fields in blinding rain to gather pieces of peat moss, the burning of which would bring an hour or two of warmth to the cottage. I ssue
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AWC Winner Erika D Passantino Her future, however, had no form; imagination no longer gave it desire or qualities. What counted was the moment, the sofa, the cigarette downstairs. Yes, she dutifully went down to the smoking room. There people sat, turned inward, in a sauna of smoke; nobody spoke a word, the experience of smoking too intense to disturb. Friends? On Sundays her son visited; okay, what does he want? WAITING FOR JAAP Yes, there were troubled times, when waiting for Jaap became annoying. What took him so long? She needed those cigarettes he had promised to buy. These folks here gave her only a few each day, not nearly enough. If she ran into the corridor to call for him, they appeared right away and gave her another Jello-Treat. She returned to her sofa and waited. Rage erupted when several people at a time entered her room—what did they want? “Get out!” She threw her slipper at them when they told her she needed a shower. They returned with another person, dragged her into the bathroom and tried to remove her clothes! They wanted to wash her hair! Once more, the humiliation brought forth raspy sobs. Jaap? Where was Jaap? These people had no right to touch her. He used to wash her so gently, kissing her shoulder as he dried her off. Still by lunch time, when food arrived—nieuwe Haring (salted raw herring with raw onion) and Friets with mayo, she was happy and welcomed them with a smile. With dessert came another one of those nice shiny-green Jello-Treats. One day her son, Piet, arrived for a visit. He was a handsome young Dutchman, very tall, well exercised. His dark hair was cut short in the current fashion that makes all men look like incarnations of Tintin, the Belgian cartoon character. In his bag were toiletries, fresh clothes, fruit...a few cigarettes. In the elevator, Piet had glanced at a note; he had carefully rehearsed his words. In his hand he held a letter from Jaap’s family stating that their dad was desperately ill and would not return. Piet opened the door to Mÿsje’s room. The sofa and a trailing philodendron gave vague remembrance of the burrow she had left behind. Sun streamed through the large window, the photos of her two sons and grandchildren now bathed in light. There sat his mother, smiling, delighted to see a man come through the door. She patted the empty spot next to her and said, “Oh, Jaap, I knew you would be right back. Did you get those cigarettes?”
Erika D. Passantino is a retired curator who worked for many years in Washington, D.C. museums, the Smithsonian
Institution and the Phillips Collection among them. In 1995 she moved to Georgia, working as a freelancer and, inspired by the Southern genius for the word, studied writing with Jedwin Smith and the Gang in Decatur. Born in Germany to an American parent, she recently completed a family memoir, reliving World War II: Coffee Hour in Flensburg: Stories of War and Peace, of Adventure and Love.
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AWC Winner Karla Jennings
Terry Kay Prize for Fiction
Dear Mrs. Bosch
Dear Mrs. Bosch Van Aken, I am writing to inform you that your son is disrupting class with outbursts that sound as if he’s trapped in hell or middle school. For instance, during homeroom he yelled at me, “You have chicken legs!” (and I don’t know how else to put this, but I think he was hitting on me). In this week’s essay he wrote, “My daddy’s dingle is a rusty knife flanked by ears.” Though he earned five points for using “flanked” correctly, I had to deduct 500 points for vulgarity, so his grade is now F Minus Minus Minus Minus. May we meet to discuss this? Dear Miss Consommé, Visit me tomorrow and we’ll talk over tea and donkey hoof pâté. Best Regards, Mrs. Bosch Van Aken (just call me Mrs. Bosch) Dear Mrs. Bosch, Thank you for your hospitality. The pâté was delicious. I now better understand Hieronymus’ situation. Dear Miss Consommé, I’m glad your concerns are resolved. By the way, feel free to call him “HB.” Everyone calls him that. HB’s such a happy lad in general that I pray such acting out is the exception rather than the rule. His only fault is his explosive imagination. For example, when he was about six years old, we were having horse brain flambé for dinner and he screamed, “We’re devouring the burning souls of the damned!” Such a cute little boy. BTW, I must say that you do have chicken legs, rather than the usual sort. I wasn’t going to mention it, but when you leaned back in your chair your talons ripped my Flemish lace tablecloth, which cost us two pigs and a goat, so I hope you’ll consider reimbursement. P.S. Where do you get your sabots? My husband also has slightly clawed feet and he has the devil of a time finding shoes. Dear Mrs. Bosch, Chicken legs? Excuse me? I come from a long line of chicken farmers with a great respect for poultry, and I clearly do not have chicken legs. They are simply unusually tapered, pimpled, and hairless, which comes from shaving my legs – I highly recommend it, it really helps control body lice. My clawed feet are merely a family trait. But since you mention appearances, I must say I couldn’t help noticing that you consist of a big-nosed head with a tulip exploding on your head like a dangerous hat, and that your husband is a bat with a funnel chapeau and lizard’s wings. I’m sure you make each other happy, but I nevertheless felt great sympathy for HB to discover what he comes home to every day. In fact, when he yelled at me this morning, “You’re a jug-eared dame with a burning ship on your head and your tits hang all the way down to your Birkenstocks!” I didn’t get angry, but instead felt touched. And a little turned on. I ssue
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AWC Winner Karla Jennings Suffice to say that before the pot calls the kettle black, or the exploding tulip calls his son’s Composition teacher “Chicken Legs,” you should consider how your home situation affects HB, whom I agree is a generally happy fellow despite everything. In fact, he might be the happiest young man I’ve ever met, perhaps because of his explosive imagination, which I am beginning to consider a virtue rather than a flaw to be corrected. Miss Consommé, Perhaps it was the giant fish devouring your head that made it hard for you to see how we really look (out of politeness I didn’t mention the fish, but now the gloves are off). I also noticed, when your boyfriend came to escort you home, that he was a bat-headed naked man who kept bending over to poot on you, so maybe that’s where you get your bat fixation. And you think my husband’s odd! But then, I guess a hag of your advanced age can’t afford to be fussy. It alarms me that you consider HB’s violent and obscene imagination to be a virtue. Though his imagination has not yet done him harm, I’m sure it will, which makes me fear for my boy. I hope to eventually beat it out of him, as any loving mother would. Mrs. Bosch, You might want to check your rye before eating it, I think it’s gone moldy. First, that wasn’t my boyfriend, it was the school principal, who suffers from an unfortunate condition that his loyal staff ignores. And I am not a hag; I am haggish. Though I’m a spinster soon to enter my twentieth year, I’m still enough in tune with my students to know that your fifteen-year-old son is under stress. I’ve encouraged him to take up drawing in order to release his anxieties, but urge you to also hire an exorcist to vanquish his demons. You could use a few exorcisms, yourself. During lunch, as I shared my hog kidney sandwich with HB, we discussed the dreadful End Times in which we live, with my mother being assaulted by a poultry incubus on her wedding night and fanged fish flying around chomping people (which is why I had a fish on my head when we met, but I got it off, thank you very much). He held my hand and told me that, during gym class, a huge bird with a chamber pot on its head was eating Coach Ack headfirst, even though Coach Ack was making a gigantic poop at the time, which HB thought would have made the chamber pot bird go eat someone else, but it didn’t. Your son’s earthy humor cheered me, though I made a mental note to send Mrs. Ack a sympathy card, just in case. HB then confided that he likes me so much he could gobble me up. I like him, too. Dear Hag Consommé, You are a sow in a nun’s habit. Mrs. Bosch, I choose to take that as a compliment, but am beginning to think you have problems. Your son said you’re like a naked person in an oyster shell pooping out pearls that look like farts, and I must say, he nailed it. He also said that Mr. Bosch is a giant bat who gobbles flies out of the air and hangs from the rafters at night, which convinces me that my previous observations about your husband’s bat-like attributes were justified. Dear Hag Consommé, Where I come from, “You are a sow in a nun’s habit” is not a compliment. But then, you probably had hippie parents who said such things all the time.
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AWC Winner Karla Jennings My husband eats flies on doctor’s orders. He’s on a gluten-free diet and I simply cannot make a decent roast without first rolling it in flour, which seals in the juices. He only hangs from the rafters at night because otherwise he gets congested, which makes it hard to sleep, plus it helps him stretch out his back. I’m disappointed that HB is “talking out of school” about our family, though of course he is literally talking in school about such personal matters. I shall mention this during his next beating, and urge him to stop talking to his hippie teacher. Severely Yours, Mrs. Bosch P.S. I’m sure plenty of older people hang from the rafters to get a good night’s sleep, but you wouldn’t commonly see this because it’s at night and everyone’s sleeping except for wandering demons, cardinals with ferret faces, and nosy Composition teachers. P.S.S. I’m of a mind to go to your bat-headed pooty principal to insist that you be reassigned to another class. Encouraging my son to draw only worsens his diseased imagination. It’s like treating an infected wound by stuffing peas into it. Mrs. Bosch, Stuffing peas into infected wounds is what doctors do. Does this mean you are comparing me to a physician? Which, again, I choose to take as a compliment. I will now consider myself a physician who cures ignorance through proper grammar and good punctuation and the tendering of brilliant imaginations such as your son’s. Dear Hippie Chicken Legs, Well, yes, doctors do throw all sorts of icky things into open wounds to drain the bad humors, but I wasn’t intending to draw any correlation between them and you, it was merely a whatchamacallit, you know, that word teachers use to mean comparing one thing to another. Anyway, I will demand that your principal reassign you to another class or dismiss you altogether. My son’s sick imagination needs to be crushed, not coddled, and certainly not encouraged. Dear Mrs. Bosch, Before you see Principal Knuppel you should take the exploding tulip off your head, or he may not take you seriously. Dear Pimple Thighs, Not that I expect you to know anything about fashion, but I no longer wear that old thing, it’s from last season. Cauldron hats are now all the rage, and may I say that despite the rust marks and head furrows, they are worth it. I am sure that Principal Knuppel will appreciate being visited by a woman of refinement, and will gladly comply with my request that you be dismissed and that HB be put under the tutelage of someone who will squeeze his demented visions out of his brain. Dear Mrs. Bosch, Though I am confident that Principal Knuppel will back me up, feel free to approach him. But let us quit this sniping! I am more than willing to drop our disagreement out of respect for the mother who raised such an extraordinary young man. Your son’s drawings are otherwordly. They are what he sees through the astonishing I ssue
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AWC Winner Karla Jennings
prism of his mind. They are unique and uniquely beautiful. He delights in his art, and if you crush it you will crush the happy person that he is. You will crush what he is.
Dear Squawker Beak, You sound like you’re in love with him. Dear Mrs. Bosch, I am. We’re so in love that we finish each other’s jokes. For instance, when he said I was a pink fountain of sprouting milkweed pods and bubbles, I added, “with black birds flying out of my butt!” and we both howled. I have entered his world and adore it. It’s transforming. How can an ordinary street canal that smells of sewage and animal guts compare to a canal traversed by a man whose tree-trunk legs end in boats floating down the current, and whose hollow chest contains a nice table for us to gather around for a snack? By the way, that’s the cruise we booked for our honeymoon -- we’ve eloped! So this is what love is. This is what it does. It transforms your world into something strange and beautiful that did not exist before you discovered love, or love discovered you.
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AWC Winner Karla Jennings
Dear You Harlot, That a hedgehog-snouted floozy like you would seduce my son is outrageous! My
husband was so upset that he peed while zooming around the room, and I had to clean it all up. I hope that when the giant egg cracks open, you‘ll jump in for a swim and drown! Dear Mrs. Bosch, By the time you receive this letter, we will be gone. We will not be in communication for a while, but let me assure you that we are in good health, and supremely happy in starting our new lives together. Dear Miss You Are So Many Terrible Things That I Can’t Even Think of What to Call You So I Won’t Call You Anything, Where are you? Where’s my son? It’s been months. Don’t do this to me.
Dear Mother Bosch, Your grandson was born today, a healthy boy with the cutest little monkey face. Please visit us. We‘ll welcome you with open wings. Sincerely, Goldy Consommé Bosch P.S. Your son Hieronymus is beginning his way as an artist, and he also desires, with the greatest love, to welcome you into our world.
Former newspaper reporter Karla Jennings is a playwright, novelist, and freelancer. Her nationally produced plays include Atlanta’s Essential Theater production of Ravens & Seagulls, and she is an O’Neill Playwrights Conference finalist and recipient of two Sloan commissions. Her freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, Atlanta, The Japan Times, HowlRound, and elsewhere. She loves writing comedy She’d like to be Hieronymus Bosch, but would also like to keep her husband, Kurt Wiesenfeld, and her most excellent daughters. It pisses her off that we can each be only one person. Fortunately, writing is a good way around that. She has a published book on computer folklore (The Devouring Fungus: Tales of the Computer Age), is writing an SF series, and recently finished a comic horror novel. I ssue
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excerpt from Dawgy’s Nite Out
I woke up feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. The phone on the nightstand was chirping, the red light on the touchtone pad blinking on the ring’s backbeat. Nobody knew where I was. Ah, yes; must be the six-thirty wake-up call. I reached for the phone. “Thank you.” “Thanking me before you know what to thank me for? I like that.” “What?” “Giving you a heads-up.” Still in a stupor, I said, “Who’s this?” “Couple a roughriders on their way to that shithole motel you at fixin’ to take you out, Monte. I was you, I’d be haulin’ ass right about five minutes ago.” I sat up, now fully awake, and said, “Who the fuck is this?” “Let’s just say we’re even now. From here on out you’re on your own, bro.” “Swizz? What the fuck, man?” The phone went dead. I hopped over to the window, struggling to pull my pants on. The Range Rover was still where I’d left it. Ah, shit. The Range Rover. I should’ve known a luxury vehicle like that would have a tracking device. Dummy. That’s why Swizz knew where I was. Probably the cops, too. Definitely the cops. I slipped on my shirt and shoes, stuck Brother Clarence’s pistol in my waistband, took three steps toward the door. Stopped. Was that a shadow playing beneath the door? What if Swizz’s call was to get me out of the room and the hitters were waiting to ambush me? I went back to the window. It was maybe ten, fifteen feet from the second-floor to the sliver of grass between the building and the black-topped parking lot. If I held on to the window sill, it couldn’t be more than a three-foot drop, four feet max. I slid the window open, but it stopped halfway, a piece of angle iron screwed into the track was preventing me from opening it all the way. Damn. Not enough space to squeeze through. My mind was racing. I’d tip off the hitters I was on to them if I broke the window. Call 9-1-1 and wait for the cops? Might as well invite the undertaker along for the ride. I slammed the back of the chair against the window, cracking the glass. Not a hare’s breath later, a bullet slammed through the door and blew out the window. I ducked, and returned fire, hoping to hold off the shooters until I could climb out. Then kicked out the frame, pulled down the heavy drapes and threw them across the window sill. The doorknob jiggled followed by a barrage of shots, lead chewing up the sheetrock wall around me. It was then or die. I swung my legs out the window and grabbed on to the ledge. The door crashed open as I dropped to the ground. When I was a kid, I was a pretty good athlete. So, I’d expected to land softly on the balls of my feet, then sprint for cover. But as it turned out, I’d overestimated my prowess, underestimated the distance, and landed with a jolt, feeling it in my knees and hips. I staggered a few steps, straightened, then pinned my back against the wall, feeling the rough stucco through my T-shirt.
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One of the attackers poked his head out, and I pointed the pistol straight up the wall and fired off a volley. The shooter ducked inside, but returned fire a second later, putting a couple of rounds into the ground near me. As I turned to run, I slipped on the broken glass, and before I could regain my balance, was momentarily blinded when the high beams of the car next to the Range Rover flashed on. A tick later, a gunshot was fired from the same position, the bullet thumping into the wall near my head, fragments of flying cement stinging the side of my face. I touched the spot, and my fingers were wet with blood. Shielding my eyes, I could barely make out the shadowy figure of a man standing between the Range Rover and a compact car that wasn’t there when I arrived. The shooter fired again. Missed again. I dropped to one knee, aimed for the middle of the gap between the two vehicles, and squeezed off three shots as fast as the pistol’s action would allow. The man made a sound like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. Heard his weapon clang against the car a moment later. I crouched, snatched a quick peek over my shoulder at the window, then limped toward the fallen shooter, weapon at the ready. Immediately, gunshots rang out from behind me, the rounds pinging off the cars. I turned and emptied the clip. I got to the fallen shooter, closed then reopened the driver’s side door, and squatted behind the flimsy shield for protection. A low-riding Honda Accord like you’d see in the Fast & Furious movies idled roughly beside me, the wheelman lying on his back, a pool of blood slowly spreading around his neck and shoulders. The hood he wore had fallen away from his face, exposing an orange doo rag covering his head. A kid, no more than eighteen, a big-ass revolver still clutched in his hand. I stepped on his wrist, pinning the gun against the pavement. Didn’t need to, though. He was already dead. I bent over, uncurled his fingers, and took it. A fresh Eye 75 tat was etched on the back of his right hand. These motherfuckers the only gang in town? I threw Brother Clarence’s Brazilian piece inside the Honda. I was still bleeding, and took the kid’s bandana, tied it around my head. Because I didn’t know if the Rover’s key fob could be tracked, I threw it toward the stockade fence that backed the motel, just far enough so the dead kid’s friends wouldn’t be following me anytime soon. With no return fire, I guessed my assassins were on their way down to finish the job. I got into the Accord, turned the ignition switch. It screeched like an alley cat in heat. In all the chaos, I’d forgotten the engine was running. Lucky for me, I knew how to drive manual transmission, and as I scraped the gear shifter into first, the gangbangers ran out the back stairwell. I reached out the window and fired until the hammer clicked on an empty chamber, then sped out the parking lot, fishtailing and burning rubber when I hit the street. The kid’s legs didn’t prove to be much of a speed bump. They didn’t slow me down at all.
Ronald Aiken is a retired attorney from New York City. He currently lives in metro Atlanta with his wife and three cats, serving as the President of The Atlanta Writers Club. His first novel, Death Has its Benefits, was published in 2012.
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The Colorist Part 1 It would’ve been a nice day if the sky wasn’t green. But for every one of Kevin Hartaugh’s 11,703 days, the sky had been green. Everyone told him green wasn’t normal. They all said the sky was blue. But he knew blue was the color of the trees. He sighed as he weaved his ‘97 Camry through Atlanta traffic. Purple taillights ran the length of I-75 as far as he could see. The hood of his Camry shone a gaudy bright orange. The listing had said it was silver. Kevin bought it anyways. He’d barely managed to pull off getting his driver’s license in the first place. Stop signs were all a deep-yellow, but for whatever reason red lights were cyan, with yellow lights a dark coral and green lights pink. He’d memorized all the correct colors with the Internet’s help. But one thing had still concerned him: the vision test. He couldn’t find the right colors online. At the DMV counter, a woman with a nose ring told Kevin to look through the goggles on his left. They pointed down into a stereographed image of a road lined by fences, leading to a tree on a hill with a barn on the right. A little man stood under the tree. To Kevin the sky was green, the grass blue, the fence turquoise and the barn a fluorescent indigo. Nose-Ring asked Kevin, “What do you see?” Kevin told her. He left out the colors. “Which way is the farmer facing?” Kevin hadn’t supposed he was a farmer. But this farmer clearly faced left. Kevin had perfect vision at 20/20. Correct again. Then came the crucial question. “What color is the barn?” Indigo. Clearly fluorescent indigo. But that couldn’t be right. Kevin licked his chapped lips, pressed them together. He had to guess. “Red.” He passed. Now he drove downtown in Friday traffic to visit another doctor. He’d seen many optometrists as a boy, ever since Kevin’s mother had one day mentioned how pretty the blue sky was, and Kevin corrected her. No optometrist he saw had ever encountered such a peculiar specimen as Kevin. Most did not believe his disability and asked his mother if Kevin was a middle child, or perhaps adopted? No one found a cure. But Jenna, Kevin’s coworker from the firm, had suggested one more doctor. Kevin only let a few know his condition. He was a quiet man at work, and learned to live with the perpetual reminder that everything he saw was wildly incorrect. But after work one night, Kevin had one too many drinks. “Hey…” he slurred to Jenna next to him at the bar. “You know what. I love your red hair.” Jenna glared at him. “Wow. You must be pretty hammered if you think my hair’s red.” For a moment, Kevin remembered himself. “Oh… I forgot. I can’t see colors right.” Then he laughed until his face turned teal. The next day Jenna confronted a hungover Kevin. “What did you mean, you can’t see colors right?” Kevin shrugged. “C’mon, Jen, I was drunk. Don’t listen to what I said.” But Jenna’s mother had been stubborn, and Jenna had inherited that gene. “No. I could tell. You really think my
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hair’s red. Do you have a condition or something?” She held up a sheet of paper. “Can you see this?” It was just a white spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers all over it. It was the reason Kevin had gone into accounting in the first place. Plenty of black and white, which he could see fine. Few colors, if any. The only real trouble was when Charlie the receptionist colored-coded everyone’s birthdays. Kevin didn’t wish anyone happy birthday until the cake came out. “Of course I can,” he told Jenna. “It’s just numbers.” Jenna cast the paper aside, “Look, my hair’s blonde. Not red. OK? So tell me what colors I’m wearing?” She put her arms to her sides, stuck her chest out and waited for Kevin to appraise her blouse and slacks. “Um…” Jenna’s mouth gaped. “You really can’t tell, can you?” Kevin hung his head (balding, just as his father and his father’s father). Finally he said, “Your blouse looks gold and your pants look blue.” Jenna shook her head, her flaming red bangs waving, her mouth still gaping. From then on, Jenna quietly helped Kevin with colors around the office. Now Kevin had found an outlet—someone to communicate with about the way he saw the world. And Jenna never ran out of questions, insatiably curious about the color of this folder, or that fern standing in the corner, or VP Bob Bank’s toupee (violet, beige and baby blue, respectively). Then Jenna discovered a specialized optometrist, Dr. Wylan McNeal. “Jenna, I’ve seen dozens of eye doctors,” Kevin said. “They can’t help me.” “How do you know? Just go and see.” “What makes this guy any different?” “Who knows if you don’t go!” For two weeks straight, Jenna bugged Kevin everyday about going, even texting him on weekends. And now here he was, pulling between cherry-colored parking lines, filing into an emerald elevator, marching through office glass doors that said McNeal Experiments in bold, bright magenta. “Experiments?” Kevin said to himself before he went in. (He was a man who regularly spoke to himself when alone.) A receptionist greeted him. She had eyes the color of tangerines. She was a large woman and seemed proud of it. “Hello,” Kevin said, “I think I have the wrong place. I’m looking for an optometrist’s office.” The receptionist smiled and the tangerines exploded into sunbursts. “Oh no, you’re in just the right spot. Sign here… and here… and here… and you’ll see Dr. Wylan shortly.” An hour trickled by. Kevin came close to leaving the wicked torture device this office called a chair and going home. But just then a man of impeccable stature crashed through the far door. “Mista Hartaugh!” The giant standing in the doorway sported wild stringy hair the color of sassafras along with red pepper eyebrows that stood at an impossible angle. “I’m Dr. Wylan. Follow me.” Kevin sprung from his tormented position and followed the doctor.
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excerpt from The Ghost Town I The man in the mask rides in from the wasteland. The motorbike engine quiets to a whirl. The man’s mask hums, a red ring with black eternities in between. Sun beats down. He doesn’t sweat. Strides toward the center of town. Androids sweep porches and don’t look up. Besides them, not a soul to be seen. It’s quiet. He touches his mask. The ring fills to a red circle. Color of blood. The buildings turn transparent. Over there’s a woman drinking alone. Up there’s a man writing something at a desk. Across town’s a small gathering. His vision zooms. A small bar. All men. Laughing and smoking in dim neon. He makes his way there.
Zach Riggs is Texas-born, Vegas-bred and Georgia-loving. He’s captivated by the future and all its possibilities. Mantra: “Fix what works and break the rest.” He’s also stuck forever contemplating what his first tattoo will be. Most of all he loves Jesus, his beautiful wife and daughter, and his church, where he works as a Creative Director.
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Clayton H Ramsey
Tabula Rasa One of my favorite booths at the Decatur Book Festival is owned by an artisan from New York State who calls his business Poetic Earth Handmade Journals. His craft, of course, is bookmaking, but he does more than simply sew pages together and slap on cheap boards. He makes his own paper and then binds the rough, beautifully textured pages between covers cut from sides of real leather. Next to the corn dog and funnel cake stands, it is one of the few booths with a distinctive smell. It has that rich, unmistakable aroma of old books and ancient libraries. With his skillful hands, this talented man tools the covers with designs from nature and mythology, and finishes the masterpieces with a hasp, or a leather thong that wraps around the volume, or an elastic band that secures a leather button on the front. He has created little chapbooks and journals and large volumes and sketchbooks that roll up, more parchment scroll than codex. He even makes leather satchels, big enough to hold manuscripts. For the bibliophile it is almost a sensual experience to walk into his booth and be surrounded by such magnificent craftsmanship, a few moments stolen between the used book bins and the salesmanship of the self-published to connect on a primal level with the sight and smell and touch of what our not-so-distant ancestors must have known when books were made by hand by skilled masters. If you have never lingered in such a place, then I would encourage you to do so. It is worth your time, as a connection with your genealogy as a writer. As you no doubt suspect by now, I love these books. I have purchased several from this man and have been given several others as gifts. They join other books in my possession that share a similar trait. There is the small green book I purchased from Buddhist monks when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama spoke at Emory University–100% cotton, handmade paper, made in India, a product of Tibetan refugees. Then there’s the handcrafted journal made from recycled cloth, the cover the color and texture of a cured tobacco leaf. I also found a slender volume with a colorful cloth cover surrounding coarse paper, a picture of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha on the first page as the only clue to its origin. And there are others less attractive in my collection of books. But they all share a similar characteristic. They are all empty. There is no text, no handwritten notes, no stories or dialogue or descriptive passages. Nothing scribbled, nothing sketched, just stunningly blank pages. I imagine you might even have a few of these books yourself. Writers usually start as voracious readers and collect books as cherished friends. Once the scribbling begins and the stories roll out and the books pile up, supportive gift-givers, uncertain of which books have been read by the beloved writer, supply empty journals as a last resort, hoping they will be filled with the words of a bestseller. It is a kind gesture, an investment in a budding celebrity. As with you, I am grateful for the gift, and love the whiff and touch of the book, but I tell myself I am waiting until I have something divinely inspired before I mar these gorgeous pages with my script. Once I have the perfect words of the perfect novel, an achievement for the ages, then and only then will I write in these special books. Not just any words are worthy; only the most brilliant ideas, the most exquisite language, the most timeless stories should be allowed to occupy these pages. And so in the absence of such monumental work, delivered on gossamer wings from some heavenly region in letters of gold, these pages have remained unused--kept, admired, lovingly reserved, but still unmarked. These books are more than handsome examples of an artist’s skill; they represent possibility, potential, perhaps even promise. Elementary mechanics in physics defines something called “potential energy.” Imagine a ball at the top of an inclined surface, or positive and negative magnetic poles separated by a distance, or even two negatively charged electrons pushed close together. Each case illustrates potential energy. The ball is released and it rolls down the inclined plane, as potential energy is replaced by kinetic energy, and rest becomes accelerated motion. Oppositely charged particles will accelerate toward each other in the absence of any force that would keep them apart, as similarly charged particles will accelerate away from each other if brought together. These are examples from the physical world. Similarly, we talk about a young person having “potential.” Of course we mean that she is bright, ambitious, and driven enough to succeed in life, that her early behavior hints of her mature achievement. Just as a ball, with a small coefficient of friction and the normal operation of gravitational force, will roll downhill by nature, so we have come to expect that a person or a situation with potential will in all likelihood develop and succeed, based on their expressed I ssue
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Clayton H Ramsey nature. Certainly, people are not particles or magnets; they are more complicated, active agents, capable of sophisticated, often unanticipated behavior. As such, potential in a person can either be fulfilled or not, in a way that is unheard of among objects in nature that behave according to mathematically defined laws. Regardless, the point remains. Potential, whether describing human beings or objects, is a positive state, ripe with hope and expectation, pointing to a future fulfillment. In his philosophical work, Aristotle spoke of a pair of states: “potentiality” and “actuality.” I won’t delve into the intricacies of these terms here. Suffice it to say, they were enormously important in his theoretical framework, and had a vast influence on philosophy and science for centuries after he explored their meaning. Consider this first term-potentiality. It is merely one translation of a Greek word that is multivalent and suggests a whole constellation of English words that would be equally accurate translations. The original word is transliterated as dunamis. It means potential, capability, even meaning, among other things, but it also means power. In fact, we get the word dynamite from this word. It is the idea that this red cylinder packed with black powder or other unstable compound has the possibility to effect an enormous explosion with the application of flame to the fuse. That is potential. Aristotle would say it is the nature of TNT to explode under the right circumstances. He would talk about the four causes of the explosion--the formal, material, efficient, and final causes--but at the center of the discussion would be the “potentiality” of the explosion inherent in that single stick of dynamite. That defines its essence, its definitive substance. The “actuality” of this “potentiality” is a massive detonation, a big blast intrinsic to the nature of the explosive.
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Clayton H Ramsey And so we return to all those blank books I have lying around. It would be easy enough for me to deliver a guiltinducing lecture on these unused journals. “You (and you, too, gentle reader) are a writer,” I could say to myself. “So get to work and fill up those books. Use every available scrap of paper you have at your disposal to write out your thoughts and dreams and stories. Write, write, write.” And so I (and presumably you), wracked by the burden of responsibility and the weight of blame, would slink off and try to fill up the blank pages with words. Of course, that’s not all bad. We should be writing. There’s plenty of room for improvement in our use of time and opportunity for writing. We should be filling up our blank notebooks with words good and bad, dazzling and nonsensical. That’s what we should do. Only a fool would equate blank books with the volume of Don Quixote sitting next to it on the shelf. The former are building materials, potentiality; the latter, a cathedral, actuality. Blank books are meant to be filled; they are meant to be used for notes and half-completed thoughts and practice sentences, doodles and shopping lists. They are also meant for masterpieces. That is what they are for. Pencils are for writing, knives are for cutting, blank books are for recording the symbols of language, the stuff of stories--in other words, the final cause in Aristotle’s vocabulary. An unused journal or chapbook seems a waste, most would say, a book that does not yet exist. Fill it with words and pictures, progeny of a fertile mind, and it fulfills its purpose. Don’t, and you have what you started with—nothing. But I want to go one step further and suggest that these blank pages, these pristine leaves in our handmade journals, are something sacred to the writer. For they represent creative potentiality and artistic possibility. If every page in the world were covered, if indeed Borges’s fantastical “Library of Babel” did exist as an infinite collection of every book written and imagined, then I would venture to say, in spite of its hypothetical infinity, there is still something lost in its completion. There would be no hope, nothing to anticipate, nothing to strive to achieve. The creative engine of art would disappear. It is only with the existence of the blank page that we maintain our optimism, our anticipation that through our efforts and the work of the wider artistic community, we can still create something beautiful, something the world hasn’t seen, or hasn’t seen in quite the same way. Contained within the tabula rasa of the legal pad or Word doc, there is still the faith of the writer. Something can yet still be authored. There is More. Rather than be paralyzed by what has come before, we can be motivated to explore what has yet to be. As formidable as the canon is, it is still fluid and expandable. The noble enterprise of literature as an expression of the full range of our humanity has not yet reached an end. The reminder of this magnificent venture is in the humble, blank journal on your shelf. No, you may not be a Shakespeare or a Milton or a Donne, but no matter. The promise of the blank page is the lure of different, perhaps even better, at least a stretching of the boundaries of the human mind and experience. It is terrifying and exhilarating and ripe with the shimmering glory of What May Be. This is a gift we should recognize and celebrate, something we should honor, not as an excuse for inactivity, an occasion for despair, but as an endowment of promise. There will always be that blank page, that reminder of hope, whether in the leather book or in our lives. Instead of freezing us, let us see it as a present of potentiality. I would encourage you to take that next step and write that first word. You, faithful writer, have the potential to do great things. Resolve to turn your potentiality into actuality. Let’s not squander that bright, new page, or keep it on the shelf unmarked forever. But while it awaits the fulfillment of its purpose as repository of your unique contribution, may it be a reminder of your calling: to capture the wonder of the world in words and preserve it for the ages.
Clayton H. Ramsey is a former two-term president of the Atlanta Writers Club. He has been published in Georgia
Backroads, The Chattahoochee Review, The Blue Mountain Review, Mash Stories, Fickle Muses, The Paper Trail of the 1888 Center, and an anthology of Atlanta writers, The Treasure Trove. He lives and writes in Decatur, Georgia.
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I As Baptists, we had places to go: camp, Bible studies, conferences, concerts, amusement parks, and ski trips. We were a restless people with a traveling jones. Strangers exploring a strange land. Getting to all of these places required many buses, vans, and carpools. Much of our transport had no business being on the road; they involved exercises in faith and much time going nowhere on the shoulder of the highway. All of this occurred before the age of the cell phone and the screen, so some poor adult risked his life flagging down a ride to the parts store while you stared into the lonely night without so much as a game of Tetris to amuse you. These holy road trips provide some of my fondest memories of growing up Baptist. The departure at dawn or even earlier, pillow in tow so we could take turns sleeping on each other’s laps—third base for a Baptist. To combat carnal temptations, periodically throughout the trip an adult would yell, “Hand Check!” and we would throw our arms to the sky and shout, “Praise the Lord!” and then once our pulses resumed a normal pace, our hands would go back to their previous employment. We would talk, and talk, and talk. About what God was teaching us in our study of the Bible; how we would behave in various outrageous scenarios to test our faith; the character of our future, virtuous spouse; solving the unsolvable mysteries of suffering and predestination and God’s will for our lives; gossiping about those that had strayed; laughter over a million inside jokes and geeky biblical references. Now I wonder how our youth pastor and sponsors logged all those miles, driving and driving hundreds of miles, often through the night. I remained oblivious to their sacrifice in my bench seat, often turned with my back to driver so we could include the row behind us in our conversation. We never wore seat belts; the big buses didn’t have them, and I never remember using them in the van. We just had to hope a modern-day Jonah wasn’t along for ride to put our lives in peril since tossing someone from a moving vehicle would have been frowned upon. (That’s the sort of comment that would have killed in the van. Jonah got swallowed by a great fish, the Bible doesn’t say whale we would smugly offer even though you didn’t ask, because he tried to run, or rather sail, away from God’s command to go to Nineveh. A huge storm threatened to destroy the boat. When Jonah realized he was the source of the problem, he insisted the soldiers throw him overboard). Faith took many different forms. II When I was thirteen, Rhonda let me drive her car. A group of people from church liked to camp out at the lake in the summer, and Rhonda had given me a ride out. My family didn’t camp. Or do anything together now. Because even though Jesus had saved my soul, he had failed to save my parents’ marriage. I had no idea my parents’ divorce meant everything just remained in limbo, and I was free to wander. An utterly wasted opportunity. If your parents are going to rain down destruction, they might have the decency to tell you, “Look, your life will contain no structure for the next several years, so feel free to indulge in the life of a libertine.” Not that I would have committed any wanton acts of lust; being a Baptist took the starch right out of your dissolute lifestyle. That was the Summer of the Lake. Bobbing on an inner tube with Melicia and Lisa and Gayle. They were all in high school and Melicia wore a white bikini. Those pipe cleaner arms and legs and all that skin. Being quiet and harmless made me seem mature, so I got to tag along. People at our church never got divorced; I was the innocent collateral damage of the scandal, an object of pity and fascination. Gayle would occasionally give me a kiss on the cheek to watch me turn scarlet, but that was a small price to pay for the bikini and the older girls. Sometimes after church on Sunday evening, I would get to spend the night out at the lake. One of the families would feed me from their camper, and then some of us would sleep out on woven longue chairs, and we would wake up all damp and cold, a perfect reflection of my inner life. The next year I would move in with my father, but at the time I lived with my mom, and she barely functioned; I’m sure she was relieved to have me out of the house. My younger brother, just seven, could be left in front of the television and didn’t ask questions.
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Shawn Crawford Poor Rhonda. So beautiful. So sweet. So naive. She had the most amazing smooth complexion and a little turned up nose, short blond hair, and curves and curves. Always kind to me and everyone else, but a bit gullible; I hoped people didn’t take advantage of her. Her twin brother Rusty had the same disposition, although his enormous frame, always bulging out of a pair of overalls, proved a bit more intimidating. He existed as the Incredible Hulk in mid-transformation. I once saw him reach into a car and crank the engine over by hand. Was that even possible? Turns out it was, and the fact he knew how to do it filled me with awe. I think The Rhonda Driving Experience was her suggestion. My task was to slowly guide the car through the grass by the lake to the dirt road and then Rhonda would take over. The night was dark in the way you can never explain to someone from the city. Poor Judgment 101 began with Rhonda telling me to put the car into reverse and to slowly back up. I heard: slam the car into drive, stomp on the accelerator, and crash into the boat sitting on its trailer directly in front of us. Which I proceeded to execute with utter perfection. That sickening crunch of metal on watercraft. You know the one from all the boats you have collided with in your car. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Rhonda yelled, switch seats with me. Did I mention how angelic Rhonda was? Took the fall without a word of complaint, and lied with grace and poise, and even made the boat owner Mr. Woods feel a little bad about the whole thing. Assuming jail time would be involved or Mr. Woods had the right to stick my arm in the motor’s propeller, I was happy to assent to the whole sordid charade. What did that mistake cost Rhonda? Her parents never came to church; we never went to her house. Rusty and she seemed completely on their own. He kept her car running. Perhaps he just bent the front bumper back into shape with his Hulk forearms. At thirteen you consider none of these things, have no conception of insurance and the enormous costs involved. I just sat in silent wonder that I beat the rap, as the girl of my dreams drove me home while suggesting neither of us ever mention what happened to anyone. Which I have never done until now. III One evening my father came home with a 1976 Monte Carlo. It was 1979 and not long after I had turned fourteen, the age Kansas deemed you worthy of a driver’s license to transport yourself to and from school or to and from work. This law, a remnant of the state’s rural past, when everyone drove a grain truck as soon as their feet reached the pedals, remained in place regardless of where you lived. My father’s interpretation of the law included the clause, “and anywhere I don’t want to drive you anymore,” which meant any locale beyond our driveway. The Monte Carlo served as his ticket to freedom. Driving to school, I noticed both boys and girls that never paid any attention to my existence suddenly took an interest. The power of the wheels. Even Cherie, the stud quarterback’s sister. She hinted I might be able to drive her to track practice some time, even though having any passengers in the car was strictly forbidden under my restricted license. And Cherie was strictly forbidden under the Be Ye Not Unequally Yoked clause of our church; I didn’t know if Cherie went to church, but she certainly didn’t go to ours. Later I learned Cherie was Catholic, which might have made both the Monte and my father spontaneously combust. Thus began the saga of The Boy that Couldn’t Keep Gas in His Car. I simply cannot explain the reasons for regularly driving the car to empty and then abandoning it until I got around to having a friend take me for some gas. In my defense the car had roughly the same tonnage as a battle cruiser, and gas cost over a dollar a gallon at times. A recipe for disaster. The engine dead, I would ease the car to the side of the road and then amble home. Because only people on TV had phones in their cars. Like the sassy William Conrad on Cannon. A Quinn Martin Production. Tonight’s episode: Empty Tank, Empty Soul. Only Mannix, played by Mike Connors, the poor man’s Dean Martin, could top Cannon. One of the reasons Baptist theology kept me engaged was its insistence on Original Sin; I had been born flawed. Part of my will always wanted the wrong thing and needed redemption. That made perfect sense to me as I trudged through the night to face my dad’s unhappiness. Why did I keep doing this? My faith seemed to offer a solution even though I didn’t seem to make much progress. But that was my fault not the system. Or so I thought. The Monte became a Zen koan I could never crack. What is the sound of one car idling with no fuel? In the Confessions, Augustine tells the famous story of stealing pears with his friends for the sheer thrill of the sin; they have no need for them. Haunted by that act of wrong for wrong’s sake, Augustine turns to it to demonstrate his need for God. But at least Augustine had a good time in the moment. My bewilderment was the choices I made that only harmed and haunted me. I never received any rush of adrenaline from running the car to empty. On the contrary, I started worrying over it and imagining the trouble that would result at the quarter tank mark and still ended up stalled by the side of the road. Why was I this way? I ssue
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Sometimes I would abandon the car for so long the police would put a red sticker on it that meant you had a limited number of days until they towed it away. People would ask my dad what was wrong with the car, and then he would come home and ask what was wrong with me. I didn’t think he was interested in delving into Augustine, so I just shrugged and found the gas can. The Confessions contain plenty of unrighteous living, including spreading heresy and a mistress and a child out of wedlock, but those pears always bothered Augustine the most because they defied any plausible explanation. The heresy had been intellectually exciting; the mistress emotionally and physically satisfying; the child the result of the relationship. But why do something just because you knew you shouldn’t? And why derive such enjoyment from it? Now we have all sorts of theories about transgressive behavior and risk-taking personalities and learned responses, but I still talk to people all the time that can’t figure out why they repeatedly make choices that only bring them heartache. I’ve done plenty of things that demanded an apology, but none have ever made me feel more like a stranger and mystery to myself than that Monte and its gas tank. What finally solved my chronic state of empty turned out to be so simple: I just needed other people in the car. When I turned sixteen and could have passengers, the thought of running out of gas with another person with me caused more than enough anxiety to rummage around for some change and make sure at least a couple of gallons were in the tank. Sometimes a friend would split a gallon of gas: fifty cents each. We were hard pressed to come up with it some days. Walking home as a solitary and tragic figure was one thing, walking someone else to her house, especially a girlfriend, and explaining to her parents that we had left in a car and returned on foot because I was that irresponsible just proved too mortifying to consider. So I changed my ways. Having plenty of gas in the car also meant we could drive to a quiet country road and make out. I probably shouldn’t delude myself as to the actual motivation. Perhaps that makes my rehabilitation from running out of gas less than the noble, but once I stopped searching my soul and mind as to the why and started thinking instead about the practical duties of getting my ride home safe and not getting her in trouble with her parents and having the means to reach that country road, things became much easier. We constantly heard the message that everything boiled down to you and God, and so you spent an inordinate amount of time inside your head trying to figure out your motivations and sins and virtues and destiny. Despite The Golden Rule and The Great Commission (go ye into all the world and make disciples), our version of Christianity focused on the individual with very little room left for others. For people like me, who felt flawed and unworthy of much attention, let alone divine attention, the experience created the sensation of being both under the microscope and looking through the eyepiece at the same time, and both views produced discomfort. Only much later would I let go of worrying about who I was and just concentrate on what I did. Keep gas in the car and get my passengers to their destination and tell them I love them as they close the door.
Shawn Crawford started his career in academics and then moved to the nonprofit sector to make some real coin. He publishes the online magazine, Calliope Crashes, and is finishing his memoir of growing up Baptist, Ashamed of Myself.
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Prelude: Natalia April, 2001: Belize City, Belize, Central America
The catcalls never get old. Since I was old enough to be looked at I have been whistled at, called after, grabbed, and worse. Why should today be any different? Nearly every woman I know has been molested and been hurt by the very “men” that say they are protecting us. Most of the friends I did have growing up in this hole of a city turned to prostitution, which, in this case is just another way of saying slavery. I didn’t; I wouldn’t. I was not born to be a victim. I walk down the streets every day, doing what I can to help a city crumbling around me. The part of the city that touches the sea has been bought out by the rich foreigners and turned into a miraculous tourist destination. People come from every country in the world to participate in the “authentic” culture, never realizing that once rebels and militias have turned from pure warfare to crime to fund their desires. “Hey, Natalia, why don’t you come over here and…” The voice came from behind me. I whipped around already on the offensive. This was the fight I had been waiting on since it happened. “And what?” I snapped back before the voice could finish. Shit. I saw the figure in the shadows under the canopy and knew immediately. It was Ande. The way he leaned on the wall, the shadows engulfing him in their darkness. The cigarette gave him away to the untrained eye. He had to be nearly sixty now; he had been young when Macario rose to power, one of his chief lieutenants and his nephew, as well. If he was here, Macario wasn’t far behind. “Why do you do this to me?” His words dragged in a tone of mock offense. He stepped closer, I could smell the tobacco on his breath. The tobacco his soldiers had likely stolen from some local farmer. “Ande, I am sorry. I thought you were someone else.” “I have always tried to take care of you; I was very fond of your mother.” “Thank you for that. I will always be grateful to you.” The words tasted as bitter as the cigarette that now hung from his mouth as he moved closer. “I think it is time you came into my house, so I can better protect you. You have no man to protect you, and with your mother’s passing yesterday, nowhere to go.” He spoke the sincerity of an old man desperate for something young. Ma-ma’s words came back to me, Women can’t fight a man with this, she would say, lifting her fist and shaking it. We have other ways. The way she used to shake her hips and flip her hair when she said it made me giggle when I was younger. She would finish this speech getting more dangerous with every word until she spoke in nearly a whisper, we must always be smarter. At thirty years old I was getting tired of Ma-ma’s advice, but I tempered my anger and disgust, and calmly and sweetly replied. “Thank you for your offer and ongoing protection Ande, but I really must decline. I have a home, and truthfully your protection is more than enough to keep me from harm.” The door behind me screamed on rusty hinges, and my stomach dropped. “Ande, is your pet turning you down again?” The deep voice was mellow, but there was a detectable hint of frustration in it. I spun quickly, standing up straight and pushing my chest out, attempting to look as “respectful” as I could for General Macario. He only had one use for women, and if they didn’t serve their role, there was no end to the stories of what happened to those defiant few. “Good morning, General Macar.” The smack echoed down the now silent street. The force of it knocked me back a step forcing Ande to catch me. It didn’t sting, it hurt. Already the heat radiated from my cheek to my whole face as I fought to hold back tears. I glanced at Ande. Was it fear in his eyes? Or maybe terror? The terror of boy about to lose his favorite toy. He steadied me before stepping forward to speak. Macario held up one hand extending his finger and Ande fell silent. Macario wore his usual fatigues with a black T-shirt. The morning air was hot enough already that spots of sweat had begun to appear on his shirt. He began to close the distance between us. I couldn’t help but wonder how he still looked so young, those green eyes as bright as they had ever been. His frame, his face; he couldn’t be over thirty.
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John Midkiff “How dare you speak to me, you disrespectful puta? You refuse the kindness of not only my lieutenant but also my family.” His black boot ground into the dirt-covered cobblestone of the street, coming closer with every breath. His right hand reached behind him to where he carried it. The Knife. I stepped back, preparing for what would likely be my last moments. I squeezed my hands into fists by my side desperate to stop the tremors in my joints. All the while he moved closer. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a chance. Just one. If he makes a mistake. He would have to believe I was as scared as he wanted me to be. I would have to move quickly. The first part wouldn’t be hard, I felt like I was frozen where I stood. He had to see the little girl he had hurt before, shaking and terrified. “Please!” I begged. “I am sorry, I will accept the offer.” I cried at him, my voice cracking from with fear. I backed up a few more feet, trying. Hoping to get to the entrance of the alley on my right. “Sir, she has accepted, we can let this go. Thank you for your help Uncle.” Ande stepped forward in an attempt to get between Macario and me. One look from those green eyes and he jerked back like he was burnt. “The offer no longer exists,” his voice commanded as he stepped forward. His mouth twitched into a smile, a hunter who sees that his prey is trapped. With every step he made, I took another back. He would back me against the wall, and then this terrible dance will end. “I am sorry Ande, my dear nephew. However, you can really do better than this fatherless daughter of a whore.” His words were nearly enough to knock me off balance and enough to dislodge the last bit of good sense I had. The gold hilt of the knife glimmered in the morning sun as it slid smoothly from behind him. The stone dug into my back scratching through my thin t-shirt. I could try to run. Right now. Just turn and bolt. But the alley was straight, and I can’t outrun a bullet. I could still hear the voices of Dominique and Bryan and all the rest of the “Rebels” that would go to the meetings with Ma-ma. “Listen little one, we promised your mother we wouldn’t teach you to fight.” They would always look over their shoulders at this point terrified, Ma-ma would come around the corner and catch them. “We never said we couldn’t teach you how to survive. The first rule for any fight is simple, the first to attack is often the first to lose. Make them make a mistake.” The other wall of the alley was shorter and led to a rooftop, still too far to reach on a jump, and with Macario between me and the ledge, I was running out of options. Macario stepped closer, his left leg bent preparing to lunge. Seconds turned to minutes as I saw the end coming. One chance. I had spent my life dodging creeps in these streets, just another bastard trying to cop a feel. It just happened that this time the bastard was maybe the best warfighter to ever draw blood in Central America. My whole body shook. This was it. “What’s the second rule?” I would ask. “Macario, you are a coward.” I forced the tremor down and held my voice level. He knew I was afraid. Now he had to be mad. I had to make him strike. I lifted my right foot behind me, pressing it against the wall. I felt the stone push back. “Once you were a man of the people, the man this city and this country needed. No longer. You are the reason the people are rebelling. They are tired of living in fear of a coward.” His smile widened. His left foot slid through the dirt as he lunged, pivoting and raising the knife to slash it down across my chest. The muscles in his neck tightened as his hand began the downward motion. “Don’t die.” My right foot pushed forward off the wall propelling me towards him. There was the briefest glimmer of recognition in his eyes before I raised my left foot, slamming it down hard against the side of his left knee, pushing off and using it as a step to get the extra height to reach the ledge behind him. The knife shrieked as it ground down the wall. I caught the ledge, pulled myself up and ran. The guttural scream of rage and pain chased me, pushing me faster. The whizz-crack of a bullet over my head made me change direction. I cut hard right, driving myself toward the next roof, preparing to jump. Shards of concrete peppered my face as the bullets hit the wall beside me. I jumped. I landed on the roof, and my knee buckled forcing me to roll forward. I chanced a look back. Damn, black berets. The Honor Guard, three soldiers, specifically chosen by Macario to serve him completely. I took off again as they jumped after me. The next roof was too high. The drop was too far. Across from me. The window. I could make it. I ran full sprint and jumped. I came crashing through the boarded-up window of the next building, landing on my back and knocking the wind out of me. “The fuck are you?” shouted a voice from across the room. I looked around to an empty flat. The voice came again
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John Midkiff from the corner. The owner sat in the corner, holding a bowl with a fork in his right hand. “You ok?” he asked the metal folding chair beneath him groaning as he leaned forward. “I’m fine. What’s the fastest way out of here?” I rolled to my stomach already planning the fastest route to a safe house. Chris had to know that Macario was closing the net. The scream was out of my mouth before I could stop it. I collapsed as soon as I tried to stand. “The door’s fastest but you ain’t going anywhere fast. Not with that piece of wood jammed into your leg.” He smirked, eating another bite of his noodles. Watching me like I was one of Ma-ma’s photo-novellas. I could hear the Honor Guard downstairs. What floor were we on? The 5th? They would be here in minutes. I could hear someone downstairs asking them in Spanish what they were doing. The gun echoed like a cannon inside the building as the guard answered the voices’ questions. “Listen, old man, the people that are after me. They will kill you if they find us together.” “Then get the fuck out of my flat.” His calm voice infuriated me. I reached down looking at the wood jutting out of my leg. It was high up on the calf but far enough back that it didn’t hit anything vital. My hands settled in around the rough grain of the wood. I nearly screamed when I felt it move. “1.2…” I counted, working up the nerve to pull. “Fucking pull it already!” His voice surprised me, and I yanked hard, gritting my teeth against the scream. I looked over at him and saw him casually nod his head. “Good on ya girl, that took stones. Now get the fuck out. If the men chasing you have guns, the back window will be best. Take ya down the fire escape and into the alley.” He took another bite of his noodles. All I could do was stare. I shook my head and began to limp toward the back window when they started pounding on the front door. “We know she is in there. Give her to us and you live.” “Fuck off! I’m not in this. Just an old man trying to eat his noodles in peace.” They didn’t ask a second time. The door flew open as they rushed in, the first two turned the corner and saw me. The third came in more slowly, looking around until he found the old man in the corner. As the two moved closer to me, their guns never left my chest. “Lie on the floor,” came the voice of the first one. I raised my hands up, feigning like I was panicked and didn’t understand. It would have been better to die there than go back and face Macario and his knife. The two approached slowly, their guns held in one hand. As they pulled handcuffs from their belts, I stepped to the left, quickly pulling my hands up and striking the first guards gun arm and grabbing the weapon by the slide. I pivoted back in the opposite direction as I did it. The pistol came away in my hand. Not bad for a first try, just like I had watched Dominique do dozens of times before. The other guard only a second slower closed the distance and kicked my injured leg out from under me. I hit the floor on my side, hard. His foot stomped down on my hand until I had to release the pistol. I looked up just long enough to see the old man smile again and to see the tread of the boot slam down into my face. They started kicking me. All I could do was cover my head and draw my knees in. They stopped after a few kicks and stepped back toward the old man. The third finally spoke up. “By giving this girl sanctuary, you have defied General Macario.” Before he could finish the old man interrupted. “Oh sod off! I gave no one sanctuary, but I will promise you. If you raise that little nine-millimeter piece of South American trash in my direction again.” He gestured toward the gun in the man’s hand, “I’ll kill all three of you and damned be the consequences.” He stood up slowly using the wall to push himself up. “Now, take the girl and leave an old man be.” “Sir, please, the old man is crazy. I don’t know him. Don’t hurt him.” The damn madman, these guys were Honor Guards not some regular mugger in an alley. Macario himself trained them. “Shut your mouth, girl,” the third responded without ever taking his eyes off the old man. “I am going to take pleasure in killing you, old madman.” He holstered his weapon, and the other two followed suit. The guard reached out and grabbed the old man’s shirt, “What’s your name, old man?” That’s when the chaos started. The guard holding the old man went down screaming, clutching at his hand as the man’s foot smashed down on his throat. The grinding crack of the bone almost made me throw up. The other two charged fast, determined to get ahold of the man and rip him to shreds. The old man’s hand snaked out too quick to follow; there was blood on it when it came back, and another guard was down. This time holding his eyes. Blood poured out from under the guard’s hands. The crazy bastard had ripped one
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of his eyes out. The final guard wasn’t slowed at all and tackled the old man, slamming him into the wall hard enough to crack the plaster behind them. The old man’s foot slid effortlessly out and kicked one of the man’s legs out from under him, forcing him to one knee. As the guard dropped, the old man’s elbow crashed down hard on top of the man’s head causing him to collapse. The old man looked around and sighed. “The name is Reginald Hurley, formerly of her Majesty’s Special Air Service.” He replied, answering the question he had been asked 60 seconds ago. “Damn, those horrible bastards. They knocked over my noodles.” The guard that lost his eye groaned, drawing Reginald’s attention back to him. “Oh for fuck’s sake.” He walked over and drew the pistol from the eyeless man’s holster and shot the groaning guard in the face. Then turned and shot each of the other two in the forehead as well. He walked toward me unloading the gun and tossing it to the ground, now much more stable on his feet. “What the. How… the fuck. Who are you?” I pushed myself up to my knees as he reached his hand down to help me up. “Doesn’t matter. Get up and come on.”
John Midkiff is a Marine Corps veteran. Serving multiple combat deployments to the Helmand province of Afghanistan
and Kuwait, he spent 4 and half years with 1st Battalion 9th Marines as an Infantry Assaultman/0351. He graduated from Marshall University Bachelor’s degrees in Creative Writing and Literary studies. His writing focuses on the common human experience, ranging from coaching his 7-year-old daughter in gymnastics to the epidemic of veteran suicide, John’s work is shaped by his military background. He won Marshall University’s Maier Award in 2015 for his essay “Vivere est Vincere” and again in 2017 for his essay “Handbook” he recently placed second in the 2018 Maier award his essay “Chopping Wood” . John’s work has appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine and Deadly Writers Patrol. John is currently working on his first novel as well as attending the Etowah Valley MFA program.
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Sheryl wants to tell the coach to get rid of the clipboard. When he writes on it, Becky nods and pretends to understand, but Sheryl knows her daughter has little sense of what is going on. It took her and Chip years to realize that to Becky the voices of adults are truly like those in Charlie Brown cartoons going, “Wah Wah Wah. Wah Wah Wah.” Becky can’t follow written or verbal directions. Show her through gestures, and she does fine. She can mimic the moves. Tell her and she will nod and try to figure it out, but she just can’t seem to. It isn’t that she didn’t understand the words, she just can’t put a sequence of instructions together. Besides what is a coach at this level doing with a clipboard anyway? Who is he trying to impress? The parents? These kids already adore him simply because he’s the coach. At this age, they respond to a low-pitched voice like dogs. The clipboard might be useful for butt-whacking, although he probably isn’t allowed to do that, but it isn’t like the team had plays or broke down game film. He doesn’t need to be Phil Jackson. He just needs to try to get them to play more than two feet away from one another and to pass the ball. If they get lucky, one of them will hit it towards the goal, and if they get really lucky, the goalie will be picking their nose or the ball will take an odd bounce and go in. The coach smacks his hand against the clipboard to make a point. Maybe, like the kids, he is practicing. If he acts like a coach, he’ll become a coach. Or, since it has a league sticker on the back, maybe it is an official piece of equipment, so people can identify him. Apparently the shirt that says “Coach” isn’t enough. He has to have the symbols, like the queen with her crown and scepter. Except the other team’s coach doesn’t have a clipboard and seems to be operating fine. The coach from last season hadn’t used one either, although, God knows, he had had his problems, and there had been that horrible incident with that boy who had fallen. A clipboard doesn’t make someone a coach, it makes them a tool. Her daddy had liked to say, “Those things are nature’s way of warning you. Like rattles on a rattlesnake.” He had worked at the plant for over forty years, and a clipboard meant a manager or supervisor or worse, a “consultant.” It meant forms, and forms meant trouble. “The devil,” Daddy would say, “was mighty pleased with himself when he created forms.” It wasn’t easy for Daddy to read, but he could do it when he had to, and he knew from experience there was going to be a place on the form that asked for information he didn’t have, and that would cause someone to say “Wait a minute.” It might be a date. It might be an insurance number. He never knew what it would be, but there would be some blank space that would function as a tripwire. As a result, Daddy paid cash, refused to join anything, never signed a petition, and only gave to charities anonymously. He didn’t want his name on anything. People thought he was a brusque man, but Sheryl had come to realize he was a scared one.
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Her daddy had not only hated clipboards, but also badges, whistles, uniforms, any form of authority. At a pool once, the lifeguard had blown his whistle at Sheryl and yelled, “Stop running!” She had burst into tears. Daddy had gone over and said, “Blow that whistle again, and I’m going to stick it so far up your ass they won’t be able to find it with a fucking flashlight.” The lifeguard had backed off and then, after Daddy had gone back to his lounge chair, had called the cops, who had “escorted” them to the parking lot. Daddy had taken her for ice cream to make up for the lost swimming, and, as he sat across the Dairy Queen table, she had sensed something wrong. Now, she recognizes it was a barely suppressed fury. Those last months in the hospital had been hell for Daddy. His wiry body eating itself. A clipboard hanging at the edge of his bed and everyone in a white coat looking at it before looking at him. He must have seen each of them as a type of demon come to torture him; the clipboard demanding sadistic procedures, punishments, shots, taps, tests, torments. Their last days together, the TV had always been on, but they hadn’t even pretended to watch. They had just sat together. Him breathing. Her listening to his breathing. Sheryl was glad she had that time with him, but she regretted that she never had the chance to bring him to a game. Daddy would have liked the park and seeing his grand-daughter play. He would have been delighted that Becky wasn’t shy about throwing elbows. He would have taken pleasure at arguing each time the ref blew a whistle, even if he agreed with the call. He would have enjoyed it all until he saw the coach and the clipboard. It was easy to imagine that moment, Daddy saying, deliberately loud enough for everyone in the bleachers to hear, “Christ on a cracker, what does he need one of those for? Anyone who needs one of those can’t find his ass with a map. Baby Girl, you have got to get her on another team.” “Okay, Daddy,” Sheryl says to herself. “Okay.”
A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills has published several collections of poetry with Press 53, most recently Exit pursued by a bear and Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers (2nd edition). Currently he is at work on a fiction manuscript of entitled “Bleachers.” More information about his work is available at www. josephrobertmills.com.
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The Pink Pin
I was in the third grade when it appeared. The pin was magnificently displayed in a glass case in the vestibule of the Catholic grammar school where my brothers and I fermented for eight years. It was hard to miss, even by someone afflicted with my degree of myopia. The sparkling pink beams radiating from the rhinestones, caught and enhanced by the fluorescent lights overhead, were a wonder to behold. The case normally held rosaries, prayer books, religious medals, holy cards, crucifixes and other Catholic paraphernalia. But with Mother’s Day fast approaching, the nun in charge of purchasing for the case had apparently decided to broaden the array of gifts to include some more secular choices. Which was, for me, a good thing, since my mother’s taste in gifts definitely did not run in a religious vein. The price was exorbitant. Two dollars. With my allowance of twenty-five cents a week, it would take me a full two months to save for the pin. And Mother’s Day was only three weeks away. Wracking my brain, I went through a laundry list of possible money-making schemes. Tooth fairy? Nah – a few years back I had exhausted my supply of baby teeth and my mouth was now full of adult teeth. I wasn’t crazy about my new teeth, since they seemed to be too big for my face. Many did, however, have silver fillings but the prospect of prying the fillings out and finding a buyer would have been more trouble than it was worth. Besides, after Mother’s Day, I would have been left with a bunch of teeth that would need to be refilled. Since my parents were always griping about the prices charged by our dentist, or “that doggone pirate,” according to our father, I figured that wasn’t a very good option. Another sure-fire cash source involved taking pop bottles back to the store to collect the deposit. But my brothers always descended on the bottles with the zeal of Genghis Kahn’s marauding hordes. At times I suspected that they went through soda just for the two cent reward. I was never able to collect on a single bottle. So that was another non-starter. I thought back on the past month and all the ways I had blown money that I could have used to buy my mother the pin. Penny candy, marbles, a rubber dog that smoked tiny cigarettes, a phony doughnut that I had tricked my sugar-addicted brother with–I cursed all my monetary foibles. Such fleeting pleasures. All that money wasted, when here was something that would last forever and probably make me my mother’s favorite to boot. Michael, my middle brother, had enjoyed that honor far too long, in my book.
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Georgia Kraff I knew that she would love the pin. My mother was always trying to make fashion statements, which wasn’t easy in our South Chicago neighborhood where most of the mothers wore housedresses and ratty aprons. Once, when we got our first, and only, pedigreed dog, our mother chose his coloring because she thought it would go best with the red sheath dress she planned to wear as she walked down the block to our corner grocery store with the well-behaved, silvery-grey dog on a leash. When the dog turned out to be a renegade outlaw, and my mother’s dream of the red dress never materialized, it was sad to see her hanging clothes under a sooty sky in her usual housedress. I knew that the pin would change everything. The Sunday after the pin appeared in the school’s display case, our Pennsylvania grandparents came for a visit. A visit from grandma and grandpa was always welcome, but this time was, for me, a double treat since grandpa always came bearing gifts – usually in the form of a silver dollar for me and each of my three younger brothers. This visit was no different. The only glitch was that as soon as the coins hit our greedy little palms, our parents swooped in to collect them and put them in a safe place for when we grew up. But this time they were distracted, showing our grandmother their new stove. By the time they realized that the house was unusually quiet and discovered that their sons were missing, the boys were halfway to our neighborhood five-and-dime, each clutching the equivalent of a month’s allowance. Since my brothers hadn’t had to fork over their dollars, I was also allowed to keep mine. So into my pin kitty it went. The next two weeks crept by–each week bringing my allowance and getting me twenty-five cents closer to buying the beautiful pin. Each day I stopped in front of the display case and admired the Mother’s Day gift that I was sure would be the pinnacle of any gift she had ever, or would ever receive. It was the Wednesday before M-Day when I knew that the chances of coming into an unexpected 50-cent windfall in the next few days were unlikely, but I still had hope. I stopped in front of the display case to admire the pin, and it was GONE! Sister Superior stood behind the counter with the velvet box containing the beautiful pink pin in her hand. I looked around for the culprit who had bought my prize. I was the only one at the counter. Sister was placing a small card in the box which she then returned to the case. The two dollar price had been crossed out, and one-dollar and fifty cents had been written in its place. Eureka! I suffered through all my morning classes, and when the lunch bell rang, I ran home to retrieve the dollar fifty I had been hoarding in my bookcase headboard. The money had been sharing space with my most prized possession–a View Master, and the accompanying disks of Cinderella, Bambi and Peter Pan that I enjoyed every night before going to sleep. Barely tasting the grilled cheese and tomato soup my mother had made for me, I bolted from the grey Formica table and through the front room, letting the screen door slap shut behind me. Running the three blocks to school, I was out of breath as I strode to the glass case to buy the pin. There were three kids ahead of me, each pointing to an item in the case. Each time the nun bent down to retrieve their choice, I bit my lip to keep myself from yelling “No!” if anyone tried to buy my prize. Finally, it was my turn. I put my dollar-fifty on the top of the case and pointed to the pink masterpiece. “That one, Sister!” I announced. “It’s for my ma.” I knew that the nun must be impressed with my good taste “Your mother must be a very…fancy lady,” the nun observed. “She is!” I replied That afternoon after school, I raced up to my bedroom and lovingly placed the velvet box in my headboard bookcase. The next two days dragged by. Every daydream I had was a vision of the rapture on my mother’s face as she opened the box. She would shriek in disbelief and joy. She would call our relatives and brag that her tomboy daughter was finally sharing her good taste in all things exquisite. Finally Sunday morning rolled around. We were all sitting around the kitchen table with our breakfast of French toast and bacon–fare usually reserved for only the most special of occasions. My brothers all proudly gave our mother their handmade gifts–the kind encouraged by the nuns in class. They were all spiritual bouquets–handmade cards promising prayers and other rituals that they had pledged to perform to make sure that when it came our mom’s time to go, she would skip purgatory and go directly to the pearly gates.
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Georgia Kraff I waited until all the hoopla over their mundane gifts had died down before I excused myself and ran up to my room to retrieve the prize. Stumbling down the stairs, I arrived at the kitchen table and circled around to my mother’s chair. I handed her the velvet box and waited for her reaction. She opened the box and my mother’s face registered a look that I had never seen before. I didn’t know if it was joy and wonder, or shock at my extravagance. “Oh honey. It’s….” “I know ma! It’s beautiful, right?” My mother gave me a hug. “It sure is.” Then she closed the box and took a sip of her coffee. That night I woke to snatches of heated conversation coming through the wall between my room and my parents’. “George, it’s horrible. That pin is so gaudy–I can’t wear it.” “You have to wear it.” “I won’t. Ever.” I squeezed my eyes shut and put my hands over my ears. Eventually sleep came again. The next morning, as I plodded down the stairs, their words still replayed in my head. Horrible. Gaudy. Won’t wear it. Ever. Yesterday’s ebullience had evaporated and been replaced by a feeling of dismal failure. What was I thinking? After all, my mother was a lady of good taste, not dumb taste like her silly daughter. What a dolt I was. As I took my place at the breakfast table my father caught my eye from his seat across, and gave me a smile and a wink. I smiled and winked back, though I couldn’t imagine what secret we had between us. Right after breakfast, he disappeared into his basement workshop where he remained for the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon. The following Sunday as I sat in church with dad and my three brothers I understood what the secret was. I looked up at my father and he smiled down at me and winked again. With the help of pliers, glue and some pins, he had created beautiful accessories for his Sunday best. Looking proud of his new pink tie pin and cuff links, he was the finest father in church that Sunday.
Georgia Kraff resides in Roswell, Georgia. Her articles and op-ed’s have appeared in magazines, anthologies, and
newspapers including Southeast Florida Lifestyles, The Raleigh, N.C. News and Observer, Buzzflash on Truthout , and The Urban Hiker, among others. Kraff’s book, Fireflies in a Jar – A Milltown Reverie, is a funny, yet poignant, chronicle of growing up with three brothers on Chicago’s Southeast Side during the industrial years of the 1960’s, and the shock of returning in the 1990’s when her once vibrant hometown had joined the ranks of the Rust Belt. She can be reached at georgia3@ bellsouth.net.
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“I’ve come home to the place I was always writing about…. I’ve tried to make Beaufort, South Carolina, my own. ”—Pat Conroy
The Pat Conroy Literary Center features exhibitions honoring the writing life of one of America’s bestloved storytellers and the author of The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, and more. The Conroy Center is an American Library Association Literary Landmark and South Carolina’s first affiliate of the © Steve Leimberg | UnSeenImages.com
American Writers Museum.
Make plans to join us in Beaufort this November 2–4 for the third annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival, an immersive weekend of author panels, book signings, writing workshops, live performances, tours, exhibitions, and receptions in Pat Conroy’s beloved adopted hometown in the heart of the Lowcountry. Registration begins in July; visit us online for details.
308 Charles Street, Beaufort, SC 29902 | www.patconroyliterarycenter.org
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fee It is rev
self bas onl pag her and tim as p
with Contemporary Portrait Artist
article by Laura McCullough
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote, â€œEvery portrait that is painted with eling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. s not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, veals himself. â€?
In the exploration of how all art, and portraiture in particular becomes a reflection of f, there is no better feature for The Blue than Liz Adams, a gifted and dynamic portrait artist sed in Harlem. Her talent being nearly equaled by her humility, if you go searching, the ly bio you are likely to find says simply that she is a painter, poet and teacher. Rather than ges of personal history and carefully selected snippets of a life, she lets her credentials and r work speak for themselves, which they do quite well. Winner of numerous grants, awards, d honors, Liz has a heart to teach her craft, and has travelled the world to do so. A long me participant with both the Art Center NY and Art Students League of New York, as well private instruction, that same search for Ms. Adams will produce as many pictures with her
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students and her unfailing encouragement of their work as it will of her own paintings. One thing that Liz excels in particularly, and has been duly recognized for her talent in, is the art of the uncompromising self portrait. While most artists dabble in the formal depiction of self at some point in their career, very few take the artistically and emotionally demanding path of intentional, transparent self-portraiture. Much more than putting a likeness on canvas, the interplay of realism and what amounts to an exploratory surgery of the heart displayed in paint is not an oracle many are willing to face. The results of those who may know what they look like on the outside, but refuse the harsher reality of what there is to be captured on the inside, is a flatness and lacking that even a casual observer can see whether or not they can define it. This truth spans beyond the visual arts into poetry, literature, musicâ€Ś. Any medium in which human beings create original works with, as Wilde said, feeling. If you cannot be honest, you cannot paint or write the things that hurt, and if there is no part of self-examination that hurts, then you are not being honest. And yet beyond even that depth, beyond our broken places there is an abiding humanness, a connectivity, that draws us in to any artistâ€™s willingness to be exposed. A feeling of flawed solidarity.
The images shared here were selected as pieces showing a chronological
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progression of Liz’s work over her career. Beginning with the earliest in charcoal, the evolution of her approach, her comfort level with the balance of technical skill and expression, and her comfort with who she is as both an artist and a woman needs no captioning or explanation. She has managed to capture things about herself in these pieces that also capture something about me, about us all. Tellingly in this gallery of exposition, the third charcoal is titled, Homely Girl, A Life. While not one of us would agree with that moniker applying to Ms. Adams, we can nonetheless feel the weight of that title, and see ourselves in the bearing of its burden. From the Key of the first drawing to the coyly titled final piece, April Fool, and the confidence it radiates, the range of emotion and feeling of release depicted as you move through these paintings is nothing short of epic. While slightly less literal than the story of Dorian Gray, from which we heard Oscar Wilde’s take on subject, any artist’s work is a record of their journey; a reflection of every sin, every victory, every wanton adventure, soul-rending revelation, quiet season, failure, feat and transformation. Though few would rally to the price in trade paid by Mr. Gray, every one of us who has ever put pen or paint to paper has sewn seeds of our truest self into the work. Rather than one portrait held captive, each piece of the everchanging whole called “I” and “us” claims it’s own page, film, or canvas frame. If all of it, all painting, all writing, all art is at its foundation self-portraiture, if it is as Wilde said, the I ssue
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medium by which the artist “reveals himself” rather than his muse, then the individual pieces are not a lens through which we can gauge anything beyond the subjective soul of its creator. As Nuno Roque once said, “All my images are self-portraits, even when I’m not in them.” We find that clarity instead in the places where our pages overlap, the place where what is “mine and me” is added to what is “yours and you”, layering to build a mirror reflecting the world we share. Trailing behind us, these pages provide a road map revealing how we got to here (“here” being best defined by Jim Henson as “where I’m in”), on our personal paths and collectively, to remind us of what we faced along the way. What dragons were slain, and which mountains we had to walk around the long way. With a willingness to retrace our steps, embracing the process as a work worthy to be examined in its own right, we can better understand where we are going. We can be intentional about whether the trajectory plotted by the work we are doing faces a gray and mirthless sky, or a horizon gilded by the dawn. Or in Liz’s case, a shining New York skyline. The investigation of “Who am I in this piece,” in every piece, yields more than simply the pursuit of self, if such an expedition could ever be called simple. Those 78 | the BLUE MOUNTAIN REVIEW Issue 11
overlapping pages… the portraits of Liz Adams, the lyrics of Bob Dylan, the poems of Whitman and Plath and Cummings, the classics and the Masters, sidewalk art that will be gone tomorrow and this article… the way their unfolding journey draws us together even as it draws us onward is a glimpse of humanity we are afforded only in the light filtering between brushstrokes and lines of type. As we commit to honest inventory of our artistic evolution, its impact on our voice and where our personal road map may lead others, we choose to reject the script of “performing” and “producing”, and are instead authors together in the story of “becoming”.
https://www.instagram.com/lizthebeetle/ I ssue
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t e o P f e D
A.B.Y.S.S. interview by Clifford Brooks
Abyss (aka Derrick Graham) is a poet, musician, poet, activist, teacher, father, and husband the Southern Collective Experience is blessed to have on our team. I first met Abyss at the eighth taping of Dante’s Old South (our NPR show in Chattanooga, TN) and immediately built a solid repertoire. Over the next few months a brotherhood was forged, and with a tad of arm twisting, he joined the SCE. In this piece we get a taste of the incredible history he has, amazing things he’s doing, and where he’s headed with each new day. Please follow all his links to become fully aware of Abyss, and check out our eighth and ninth tapings of Dante’s Old South on our website to hear how he helps bring harmony to our chaos. I ssue
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Peabody Award and Kuumba Award winning Poet, Musician, Motivational Speaker and Emcee A.B.Y.S.S. is the 1st Poet to be featured on 106th and Park. He is the only Poet to appear on a CD with Prince, and was included in the 12th Annual Gospel Choice Awards. A.B.Y.S.S. appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry twice (Seasons 1 & 5), and the 2nd Season of BETJ Lyric Cafe. What are the Big 5 things we need to know about you, personally? Work Ethic, Attention to Detail, Writing Style, Family Life, Biggest Influences What are the Big 5 things we need to know about your career? Peabody Award Winner, Performed for Two US Presidents Jimmy Carter x 3 Bill Clinton, I’m on a CD with Prince RS2, Creative Loafing’s Poet of the year 2014-15, Opened for Gil Scott Heron, HBO Def Poetry Seasons 1,3,5 , BetJ Lyric Café What are you reading right now? The Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruiz Prayer Of Jabez If you set up a concert with 3 artists (living or dead) who would they be? Nina Simone Cab Calloway James Brown What’s your opinion on the state of public education in this country? It Sucks. We are not educating kids, we are training them for tests that are not applicable to life in general. What is a question you never want to be asked again? What would you tell someone getting in the business? What question have you always wanted to be asked, and what’s the answer? What made you choose Poetry? The loss of my mother
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What one piece are you the most honored to perform, and why? Gunpowder. I love the call and response it’s very empowering and the Spirit of togetherness helps me to convey the message. What are your long term goals in conveying that message? I vow to put the paint where it ain’t! I want to leave stretch marks on my genre! What does that “stretching” look like for you? I want to influence young and old people all over the world . Twitter:TeamAbyss2 FB and IG TeamAbyss For Booking Dial * * G-R-I-O-T (**47468) 678.577.6776 I ssue
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GETTING INTO THE GREY Genesis the Greykid interview by Cat Conley Genesis the Greykid is a man on fire. The Chattanooga based fine art poet paints and writes pieces so large and visceral that one can feel them. Recently, I was blessed to talk to the artist as he travelled through Arizona, and I found a deeply perceptive, intensely compassionate person behind the paint. Under the cover of “inky blackness” we were able to explore the importance of a name, the power of perspective, and the all-encompassing, burning drive behind the art. So first of all, when I sent my first message, I called you Genesis, and I never stopped to think that maybe you go by Russell. [laughs] Genesis: Everybody calls me Genesis. Ok. Is that what you prefer to go by? Ummm, yeah. Genesis is cool. Anybody that calls me Russ or Russell, probably knew me before I was really making a living doing this. So that’s kind of how I can tell like, “Oh, this person called me Russell; they’ve probably known me, at least, 12 years.” Yeah, new people, everybody from after then calls me Genesis. So where did Genesis the Greykid come from? Well the name Genesis… a friend of mine - Joe - he felt like the way that I was kind of playing my poetry and music he felt like it was different than what was around at the time. So he gave me the name Genesis; he felt like it was going to be the beginning of something different. As an artist, as a creative, as a writer. And the Greykid came later down the line. I’d just been traveling so much; I would meet other people that kind of have this way to articulate the world around them through music and poetry and Chess and art and sometimes just debates and thinking. And it was just really cool to see other people, I guess, unpacking things that didn’t make sense to them and in the world. Unpacking those questions and thoughts through their craft. That’s where they found their answers; that almost became a source from where they were able to touch something divine. And I felt like “greykid” kind of sums that energy up. Like grey, you know, being symbolic for like wisdom and experience but also, kind of mysterious and also kind of neutral and also moments before it rains - if it’s going to rain. It’s kind of… it’s not knowing. It’s the unknown. And then the kid aspect just being excited and imaginative and passionate for life and being creative you know? I mean you throw some blocks, some building blocks down, some Legos in front of a kid he just jumps down and tackles it. But in front of adults we tend to get in our own
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way so much. It’s like I don’t want people - what are people going to think? Well I don’t see nobody else getting on the ground building anything with these Legos. Oh man nobody told me what to build.” You know what I’m saying? So it’s like, I just felt like the two just describe like the energy around myself and the people I’m with. I think that’s really powerful. Being kind of christened by someone else - someone who looks at you and can probably see you a little better than you can see yourself and speak something so powerful over you. That’s really, that’s amazing. Yeah, it’s cool. Yeah, and in combination with what you were saying about grey and how it’s mysterious and kids and how creative they are - that is kind of how the whole - to me - evokes thoughts of like “In the Beginning” you know? When there was nothing and the spirit of God was just kind of floating over the void and he spoke everything into existence. So with you as a creator I kind of feel like you take on that image of being made in His image to create these poems and that’s really cool stuff. I like how you tied it all together. I like to say that some people just have this solar system in their head and it’s interesting to see how someone’s solar system turns. So I’m really excited to have this conversation with you. I read in an interview that you always liked creating, you always liked written and visual art. So did you always know that this was what you were going to do? No. I always knew that I would be a creative something and my talent played with words and people. And I’ve always been observant. I was always curious as a kid and I was always very observant. I didn’t really talk much when I was a kid, but I was always.. I loved people. I loved sharing things, which that would make people come around when I was a kid. So I would get something, and I would immediately find another kid that didn’t have something; I would share something with him and we would become friends. And after a while I’m cool with all the kids like at the playground, and I just would watch. I would do a lot of people watching as a kid. I think just being observant or practicing, I think that really helped me find the trajectory of where I would end up. I think if I wasn’t that observant as a kid then maybe I think I’d still be doing something creative, but maybe it would be in marketing, maybe it would be in some type of strategy for some ad agency. Maybe it would be at NASA; I don’t know. I’m a nerd too. So it’s like.. I knew that with what I felt the talent that I was born with leaned more toward words. And I think coupled with being observant it just made a lot of sense to express the world around me through language. And that’s what I’m doing with my art; it’s just, it’s just color and the color it’s really rhythm for what I’m trying to say. Sometimes you can say a lot and not say anything. Poetry, it articulates itself a lot through silence and you know I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s almost like somebody’s going through something tragic; sometimes there isn’t any words you can say. Sometimes it’s just a hug. And I think when I’m creating I want to try to figure out what I’m feeling am I going to whether it’s a poem whether it’s a piece of art. I’m more focused on the feeling and then just letting that come out, you know? Sometimes it’s words, sometimes it isn’t, but it’s all poetry. Yeah, that actually brings to mind a piece that you did called “Some Things Should Go Unsaid.” Right, exactly. To me, as someone who studied film, I think cinema is one of the best mediums at communicating the most information with the fewest amount of words. I agree. I’ve been looking at some of these really short videos about like 45 second videos that you put on Twitter and they’re all very interesting because they vary stylistically but at the same time they feel very tied together too. And they’re just like the small glimpses of - a lot of them are glimpses of you - videos of you traveling. Some have voice over of other people’s words but a lot of them don’t have words at all but they convey a lot, but at the same time I think it’s very easy to watch these and get vastly different messages from them based on who it is that’s viewing them.
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Genesis Greykid Right. I’m just kind of curious to like what they mean to you and what their purpose is, if there is one or if there is a set goal that you want to convey? Yeah, it’s almost like most of them are more of like a peek around the corner. It’s like a glass. A peek behind the curtain. Yeah, exactly. I think the main purpose is I want to show you something but I don’t want to have to tell you what it is. I don’t want to have to show you what it is because we live in a world that’s really, really passionate about telling everybody how they should feel what they should feel what they need to do to relieve this or that or this. We’re just in an age right now where it’s wild because for a long time story was neglected so, businesses, they didn’t have any idea the power of a story. And then once the artist helped them get hip to it it’s like now they abused it. You’ll be watching a commercial and you’ll see McDonald’s trying to do a very compassionate story but they’re serving like poison, you know what I’m saying? It’s like I saw one commercial and it’s like, “Hey I want a Big Mac” and it’s like, “Alright, but you have to call your mom and tell her you love her.” Like, that was a beautiful gesture but it’s like you’re trying to plant the story of love but you’re putting out this processed poison that’s hurting people. It’s dishonest.
“...I feel like my ultimate purpose is to become a poem, to where that energy is given off in whatever I do.” Yeah. And I mean it’s just them abusing the power of story. And I think, uh, in a world that’s becoming so saturated with that, “oh we can make a million if we got a story,” or “Oh man, just know that 5% goes to some charity, like people love giving back.” When it becomes that it feels weird and so I wanted to make something where - whether there’s a voice or not, whether there’s music or not (which, I love music) but whatever’s in it, it’s not me trying to convince you of anything, it’s more of me being, allowing you to see where my head is, my heart, my soul without having to say anything. And I think that allows me to sing the same harmony. It doesn’t matter if the video is of a car on the road, me in a tree, me in front of some paint, me under - you know - the sky, the sky somewhere, the same music is kind of being sung. The same harmony kind of ties together. That’s the overall goal. I think what’s so beautiful about these little snippets that you post on Twitter is that they, a lot of them feel kind of experimental, they feel like experimental films and they feel kind of personal. Like you didn’t have to go through too many gatekeepers, too many hands, in order for us to see them. Right. In one of your other interviews you said that with a lot of your art you thought that you were just creating but once you had done it you kind of had to step back you realize there is this theme: the pursuit of joy and the pursuit of this happiness. And I was wondering about these shorts, do they share the same theme as a lot of your other work? It’s almost like… I don’t know how to compare it but no, there isn’t necessarily. It’s almost like, I feel like - well my ultimate goal in life is I want to fully become what I felt like the divine, my God-given talent. I feel like we all have these talents that we were given that we can nurture or we can grow and cultivate new ones. But I feel like, if I can become a poem - and what I mean by that is, I feel like if I can become that very thing the divine put into me at birth then whatever I create out of that world, it’s going to have that element. It’s going to be this. Whatever comes out of me is going to have this divine feel. As long as I’m being sincere and truthful and a good steward of that talent that was given to me. So it’s less of each
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Genesis Greykid one having a theme and more of like me trying to become a poem. So let’s say I hit rock bottom and I no longer have any success through writing or poetry art - any of that. I feel like if I become a poem, I can be working at a bar. If I make you a Moscow mule when you taste it, you’re going to taste poetry. If I became a doctor and I have to give you some news it’s going to come out as poetry. It’s going to soothe you. Like, whatever practice it is that I’m in I feel like my ultimate purpose is to become a poem to where that energy is given off in whatever I do. And so yeah, It’s more I think of that and less of each one having a particular theme. In light of that desire to become a poem, does it ever get hard? Does it ever become difficult to share your poetry and your art because you’re giving, like, you’re exposing yourself, you’re giving away pieces of yourself? Well, it doesn’t become, for me, it doesn’t become hard but what does become hard is growing as a human being. Miles Davis used to tell one of his mentees when he was struggling on the keys. He was like, “how can I be a better piano player?” Miles told him, “you need to get better, You need to become a better human being, if you want to get better on the keys.” And I find that that’s very true with any craft. Like if I want to reach this purpose I feel that I need to become the best, most authentic version that I possibly can. That’s the challenge, you know, because we’re all strugglin’, we’re all imperfect, we all mess up. So you’ll be in a good groove and then maybe you’ll do some things and be like, “wow my lower self just like, rallied for the last week. I’ve been doing some real bogus stuff. I’ve got to get back on track. What am I doing?” And so I’ll write a poem from that perspective. Maybe it becomes something bigger, maybe it becomes a poem I share or it just goes into a book. But I like to get that out of me and then do the work of becoming the best human being that I can be. But yeah, that’s the challenge, not really sharing for me. I’ve been sharing for so long it’s almost therapeutic to share. I know for me, when I write for the screen that comes from one place, but when I write poetry that comes from another place, and I’ve found it can be limiting. Where do you find that your poetry comes from? It’s something that’s just on simmer. It’s like a chili that’s just on simmer, it bubbles just kind of inside of me. I get, I get it all from people around me - like people, places, nature. But it’s only because I’m looking at it. There’s a scholar O’Donohue - he said the eye is like.. It can be compared almost to like the sister to intimacy. And with the eye, when we gaze at something that’s outside of us in our inner world, bring that in. which is why television and film is so powerful, because what you’re giving your gaze to, what you’re looking at, you’re bringing into your world. You’re bringing inside you. Just like if somebody stared at you it can feel intrusive, it can feel like a tyrant has come into your world. People are put off by someone that is giving some type of negative energy with a stare. But when you can really give your eyes to something, whether it’s a person, whether it’s a condition, whether it’s a social kind of problem, whether it’s the lack of how things are not as inclusive as they should be, um in different demographics or communities. Like whatever it is, just having an eye for it, you’ll never run out of things to talk about and with that flame constantly being inside of you you’re always kind of ready. A conversation could easily become a poem. A breakup could become a poem. That’s what inspires me. I don’t really run out of things to write. It’s just different things that I may need to observe. I mean I’m always looking. You can’t run out. I think there is no running out. That’s powerful. I ssue
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Genesis Greykid Yeah think of it like a monk. Like does a monk run out of like spiritual, you know what I’m saying? You’re passion is film and writing, right? Yes. I don’t know how to explain it. When we pull ourselves into our craft I just feel like it becomes an extra limb, it becomes like you grow this extra piece I don’t know. It’s like I can’t I can’t find the words. That makes me think of one of your video that accompanied one of your poems titled “Couch Surfing.” Yeah exactly. In which you talk about growing an extra limb to carry all of these things in order to be able to live in the present. Absolutely. Yeah, and in the video you’re perched in this tree and you’re staring into the camera as it pulls away from you. I read about how you discussed how you couch surfed for a while and you thought it was essential for you as a creative and you thought that all creatives should do that, everyone whether or not they’re a creative should do it. Oh totally. I wish colleges made it mandatory. In a safe way where men and women can feel comfortable couch surfing with strangers that have different qualities that they want to kind of gather into their own being. Or that they can learn from I feel like you can learn something from everyone. But it’s amazing. I wish it was mandatory. You said something about how, when you live like that, the world becomes your home. And when the world is your home, you have countless homes everywhere. And that’s kind of what I get from this video, It’s like, “this could be my home and then something else could be my home the next minute,” and like, “I belong everywhere.” Exactly. On that same note, you seem to travel a lot. You seem to have this kind of wanderlust, this resfeber to you. Would you consider travel to be a component of what you would consider to be one of your ideal conditions for creating? Yes and no. The no because I create the most when I’m locked in, I’m in one place, I’m in some dark room. No one’s around and it’s just me. I am able to create the most output and some of the deepest things in that dark, quiet place. And yes because when I travel even when I can’t lock in and get to that place, I’m always in the practice of becoming that poem, and I think that’s when I surprise myself the most is when I travel. That’s why I say yes and no to travel. When I create it’s the most surprising. I shock myself. Let me see. A week, yeah, a week and a couple days ago I had a big exhibition in LA and but I’ve had exhibitions around the country, but for some reason there was a lot of unknowns that was going into this exhibition. That creatively.. it was going to be hard to work around. And I like that, it made an extra challenge. And within 60 days - and I only know maybe five people in LA - But after staying there for two months now I know like 400 people in LA. So yeah. Yes and no. That’s kind of where it falls. So speaking of meeting people. I see that you met Steven Spielberg.
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Genesis Greykid Oh yeah. Yeah. There was people like that at the show. I have to say that I’m insanely jealous. [laughs] So who are some filmmakers that inspire you? Oh wow. Um. Well I’m inspired more by the films than the filmmakers because a lot of times I won’t know who made it I’ll just know the movie. I can name some movies that almost serve as like, I don’t know how to explain it, but I learn a lot. There’ a lot of truth that I get out of them. I think movies deliver a lot of truth, they just kind of disguise it sometimes. What are some of those films for you? So, I love The Prestige. I love the Tree of Life. I love Interstellar. I love um, and there’s a ton of documentaries. I love Her; I thought that was a beautiful movie. I liked the pianist.. Um, Midnight in Paris. That was amazing. Pulp Fiction, I mean there’s a lot of. I love movies. I’ll watch a movie every single night. There’s too many movies in my brain to fairly single them out. There’s so many films that I love. I love movies. So is there any film that sticks out to you as a film that you could say “That film’s a poem”? I’d have to think about it. The first that comes to mind is the Tree of Life. When I first saw it I didn’t like it. But I finished it because I gave my word to a friend that I would. But it was intriguing enough to where I watched it again. A month later I watched it again. And then I watched it again. I’ve seen it like 20 times now. And it’s in my top five favorite movies of all time. It’s one of those movies that you have to be really present for. But that movie’s definitely a poem. And I think 30 minutes into you’d probably see definitely why. Yeah. So the tree of Life. Maybe the Grand Budapest hotel. I love the set design. It’s very poetic, very amazing. Yeah, he’s got a very whimsical, very storybook-esque aesthetic. Right? It doesn’t even matter what camera he used, he probably could’ve gotten the new iPhone and it would look amazing on anything he shot it on. It was like a loaf of bread. It was very complete. I liked it. But there’s hundreds of movies I’m leaving out, when I get off the phone I’m gonna be like, “Man! I should’ve told her this movie.” There’s one more video on your twitter that I really liked. The caption was something to the effect of “My heart right now, because of this:” and it linked to the Facebook page for one of your Through the Grey workshops. And the video is just a close shot of a flame in the night and there’s this very triumphant, transcendent music playing. Oh yeah. And it made me think of, you made this comment about having fire in your bones and so that’s what, to me I was like, In that video is the fire in your bones, is it released is it unleashed, is it stoked, is it all of the above? I think it’s just one of those things that keeps burning. If it ever goes out I don’t think I’d be the same. I think that if you looked me in the eyes you’d see something else was kind of gone. So your workshops, those opportunities to meet with other aspiring writers, with people who look up to your poems and want to be creative and create these poems that… is like the act of mentoring - the act of writing with these people - is that kindling to the fire in your bones? Well I just love people, that particular video was talking about a solo exhibition that I had in Chattanooga. But the workshops - I’m gonna write poetry anyway. But I figured I might as well invite creatives and professionals and people who want to explore that kind of.. yeah. That’s not the fire, it definitely nurtures the flame, but I think the fire is constantly on that mission to become a poem. It’s that mission of becoming, of being. Because at that point, even if I find, I don’t think I’ll ever reach the point I want to reach, but I think that that’s a good thing. To always have something to struggle towards. But I think the closer I get, it almost becomes this homecoming. It’s like a - I don’t know. Yeah the fire, Lord willing, it will never go out. It always burns. Or I always get the itch to create to write to produce. I ssue
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Genesis Greykid So, if it’s a homecoming do you feel as though there was a time, like maybe before you even were, like maybe when you were only a plan on God’s mind that you were already a poem? And now you’re just coming back around toward that point again? I think that’s beautiful the way you put it. That could be it. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t know. But I know what I’m striving toward. But maybe it is that, maybe it is. I have a poem that the first line is “Sometimes it’s a long journey back to the beginning.” That’s how it starts. And I believe what you just explained; maybe that is it. Maybe all of this is to get back to that place.
Selected poems from Genesis’s book, Words in Grey :
While waiting for wishes the whistling wind welcomed itself and carried our dreams away.
I watched these birds, until one (seeing me present) asked for water, in which I, having none, poured a poem, into this ash tray while the bird and I (through a mutual friend) found common ground.
More of his writing and artwork can be found at: http://throughthegrey.com https://www.instagram.com/genesisthegreykid/ https://twitter.com/hi_im_genesis
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Trees crowding the edge of the grey long road, they speak to me and at times when I’m really still I can even see them dance.
Walking Jazz: an an Interview Interview with with
Earl Braggs Matazo
interview by Casanova Green As a musician, I have learned to love the complexity and the serenity of jazz. I was always amazed about how a genre of music could lean so heavily on creative cooperation while allowing the individuality of others to shine. Amid craziness, Jazz brings peace and allows you the room to chill, inhale the moment, and taste every note. When most people think of Earl Braggs, they think award-winning poet and novelist, writer of ten collections of poetry including his newest work Negro Side of the Moon, and celebrated professor. When I think of Earl, I think of a walking jazz record. He is different from many writers I have read and worked with. He is meticulous but relaxed. Everything has a plan and a place but makes room for the parts of the plan—the players, the images, the words—to shine. Each word he speaks is a bomb of wisdom that makes you stand back in awe and reflect upon yourself and how using this wisdom will help you become a better writer and better person. As a beneficiary of his time and mentorship, I wanted to ask him the questions that have been on my mind and get some more of his wisdom. Pull up a chair, get a good drink in your hand, and join me as we take in jazz.
Briefly tell us about yourself. Braggs: I am a country boy with a city-boy attitude. I realize as Booker T. Washington said, “There is just as much dignity in the tilling of the soil as in the writing of a poem.” Great and honest value, I place on small things. Many small things I ssue
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Earl Braggs combined create a larger thing. The true beauty in life, I feel, is the honoring of parts. I was raised by my grandmother in, an otherwise, all white, small fishing village, Hampstead, North Carolina. There, in spite of the odds, I learned that love grows in the most unfertile of fields if one takes the time to look beneath the surface of things. My childhood was a happy childhood because the whole village raised me to be who I am today. What writers inspire you to write? My inspirations come from Playwrights like Edward Albee and Becket, Painters like Picasso and Hopper, Photographers like Man Ray, Margaret Bourke White, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, Poets and Writers like Akhmatova, Carson McCullers, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin, Music and Personalities like Marvin Gaye and John Lennon, Jazz like Miles Dewey Davis. As an award-winning poet and novelist, what are the benefits (and drawbacks) of writing in multiple genres? Poet, novelist? Writing is writing, storytelling is storytelling. Drawback, I don’t acknowledge any, benefits, many. Poetry teaches the art of a single word, a single note; therefore, poetry informs the musical base of prose writing. Since January, you and I have worked together to polish my creative thesis for Reinhardt University and I have realized the significance of strong mentorship in a person’s creative journey. Who were and are your mentors and why is having many voices in the creative process important? Mentors are important, they guide, repair and push. The poet Phillip Levine said of his mentor/teacher John Berryman, “John saved me years [of trying to write].” My Mentor, Lynda Hull gave me permission to write the way I write. She told me to say what I want to say and say it like jazz. It will be easier for the people to swallow the words if they, the word and phases, taste like jazz, she said. Your newest publication, Negro Side of the Moon, spoke to me deeply as an African-American writer. What inspired you to write this poem in particular? Negro Side of the Moon is a gale force wind, taking one places one would never go, discovering on each page, each stanza a new undiscovered way of looking at the world (America’s relationships with minority populations). In short, Negro side of the Moon is a jazz song, sung to find what’s (honest attitude) beneath the surface of racism in America. I believe the answer is always in the question. The question addressed in this book is “What is racism ‘really’ made of and what are the implications of America’s position of not being willing to examine the parts.” Do you feel that Negro Side of the Moon is a controversial work? The poet Gwendolyn Brooks said, “When I first started writing, I was told that poetry was the whitest field of them all.” Negro Side of the Moon, controversial? Yes. Looking at today’s cultural climate, it has become more difficult for people to speak their truth what they feel they believe due to the faceless opposition of social media, news, and other platforms. How do we, as writers and creatives, navigate through this tense time in our country and culture while being commenters on the culture? Be honest, write honest and let the words ride the winds of the times. The words will go where they go, change what they change. Who are you and I, and what is our concern with destiny? “Our concern is with duty,” as the writer/philosopher Kelly Miller said. So write what is your duty to write and leave it at that. Words find their way, regardless. How should writers and creatives who are people of color, LGBTQ, socioeconomically disadvantaged, disabled and other groups use their platforms to affect change? You are the change you want to see, i.e. a preacher must be viewed as the change he/she wants to see in his/her congregation. “Change” is exacted by and propelled by words and actions coming from the “platform.” When reading the vast collection of your work, what do you want people to gain about you as a writer and as a person?
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Earl Braggs That I am honest, that I am a good storyteller, that I use music as a vehicle, that I have/had something to say, that I take chances (risks) and I believe in myself and my words. I am a difference maker. Upon my words, I stand. If you were able to go back in history and speak to your younger self, what would you tell him? I would tell myself to learn how to play the guitar. When I was kid, my cousin, about 10 years my senior, tried to get me interested in learning how to play guitar. He was not just any guitar playing cousin, he was “real” good. He was so good, when he moved to New York, he was immediately hired to play lead guitar by none other than the rock ’n roll pioneer, Bo Diddley. What do you want your legacy to be? My legacy? I don’t know. My approach to my writing has always been improvisational, sort of like the jazz, blues, country music artist Ray Charles said, “Just make it do what it do, baby.” My legacy? I think I will just let it do what it do, baby.
See more from Earl Braggs at: Bio: https://www.crpress.org/products/authors/earl-braggs/ Latest Publication: https://www.crpress.org/shop/negroside/
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The Dark Side of Another Moon
(A Photograph: An Israeli Settler Protects His Daughter During an Attack on the Road Linking the Crossing Between…) On a road crossing the desert pastures of Palestine, a no-stop-street STOP sign stops foot traffic in its tracks, turns with Holy anticipation, faces faces face to face, so close to the impending to see what impends, unbuttons the top button of a suicide vest and blasts into oblivion the slow science of walking to school. No school bus to ride suicide. My father and I, we walked this morning into the breasts of a vest disguised by the makeup of a pretty woman without. Detonation: fresh green butter beans blasted into split peas, still green, between the east bank and the west bank of no river to speak Holy of. Market day, ordinary, market square fully aware without being fully aware. Ugly love in the pretty eyes of an ugly, cloudy, maybe-it-won’t-rain today. God must be still asleep. We keep still, my father and I. Leaf, shaking, without a tree, we, stranded beneath a vegetable stand table. Avocadoes implode, guacamole-cilantro. Onions, diced, sliced twice. Carrots, cabbages blasted into cabbage slaw. Cucumbers, celery, olives, white grapes, all bleed red. Dead red potatoes, dead chicken feather broth, tomatoes stewed into dead homemade soup. Harmonic, a morning menu of the unlucky breakfast. We keep still. I can feel fear in the length of my father’s beard, longer than my hair, my life, his wife, my father loved beyond mistake, promises, now, so uneven, so Holy unreal. The air smells like dead people’s smoke. My watch chokes to tick. I am late for school. I can hear bells ringing in my ear.
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Here, life is a step-stop stone in an ancient city of two Gods, one sun and one moon. Soon seems not to know how to forget or forgive. But how can any God asks anybody to settle for this life where children fall, children stay. Every day we walk to school between borders and bombs and stray bullets with our names already written in roll books. I am 15 years old, I am Jewish, I am a pretty girl, also, without makeup my father does not allow. We’re settlers, we’ve settled into the sounds of war auditorium music: Mother, dead. I was 5. Weathered sandpaper has rounded off the blasted sharp edges of this, a table we now perch beneath, clinging to despair disguises as hope, watching apples trade stock market prices with oranges. 100% Juice, a tin can rolling down the sad but shady side of the road. A bicycle frame with no front tire can’t see its back wheel still spinning slower and slower and slower. Only the children know all too well, never, it will stop turning over the dead face of no promise of peace on earth. Blasted blind, blinded, a man pats the sacred ground around his left foot, looking for his ring finger. Smiling iceberg lettuce burned in place. God awful smoke music. Shaking, still, we keep perfectly, leaning away from the ills of invented hate. Late for school, crammed into the perfect pocket of a nylon suicide vest. There will be no test today, no final exit examination, no answers, no questions, no nothing but God forsaken, God awfully bad poetry blasted into the blown up, bullet proof margins of bulletproof paper.
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Earl Braggs Breakfast Not Anymore at Tiffany’s The complete unavailing Psychology of Misunderstanding, Vol. 1 descends again empty from above and spills emptiness onto a café table, cornered and yellowed by the hollowness of yellow years and low water marks, marking the highest point of an impending flood of no tears to be cried, crowded around a sad little table made for two upon which sadly now sits only a salt shaker and a pepper shaker shaking stylishly, reflecting reflections of each of us sitting across from love, face to face with the idea of never falling, ever again. Love has a way of sometimes forgetting what we don’t talk about when we don’t talk about love. Above the café door, neon, an exit sign. Menu written on the wall. Everything is today’s special. Unannounced as of yet, the catch of the day. Unsweet tea by request only. The unexplained cannot explain itself without or within what has been fashioned to fit. Stop doesn’t always mean quit. Proceed with caution is the color of yellow. Good farming weather plaid is my working boy’s shirt. You pin-striped blue, a party girl’s dress left over from last night’s reasons not to believe anything we see in a moonless sky. Why hovering blades of left-over scientific definitions of damage done. This morning riots have torn holes into the streets of our city. Looted love, still beautiful, in storefront windows. Mannequins dressed up now in rags. Blazing Bonfires of no explanation have consumed the silk covered unmade bed we have now fallen from, fallen out of like the naivete` of playground children swinging and sliding into the sadness of sad silence disguised as empty talk. Conversations that know not how to converse convert inches into mile between us sitting here at this table, separated only by the shaking of salt and pepper. I could smile, lie and say “I love you.” You could smile, lie and say “I love you, too.” We both could lie, laugh, look into the voice of our honeyed eyed, waffled face waitress and say “We’re ready to place our order.”
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ADRIAN BLEVINS interview by Clifford Brooks
Please tell us about yourself, exactly as you want it read. What about you have other journals missed? What corners of your creative self have journals neglected to shed light? My theory is that poets are people who feel— rightly or wrongly—profoundly misunderstood. They come from this sense of feeling always on the outside (even when other people may see them as being on the inside.) I don’t know what causes this feeling—some chronic sense of everlasting woundedness, and thus the urgency to speak that seems to surpass all other urgencies. I write to try to set the record straight. And never do get it quite right. So I try and try again. Also I know I’m lucky to be able to have this platform, as I there are lots of people who don’t, so I don’t want to sound as though I’m complaining. I’m glad to have found a voice of sorts. The world is so over-populated, sound-wise and idea-wise and everything-else-wise. It’s so raucous. I’m glad under these circumstances to have the change to try to speak and get it wrong. I know it’s a privilege. What question(s) have you been asked so many times you never want to answer again? Do I write in the morning? Do I write at night? Do I write upside down and backwards on a bike? What are you reading right now? I’m just now finishing up my semester, so mostly I’m reading what I’ve assigned for my classes. Tony Hoagland’s craft essays in Real Sofistikashun, Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Gary Lilley’s The Bushman’s Medicine Show. But for fun and out of love too I am also reading Robert Gipe’s Weedeater, Diane Sesus’s new book Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, and Barbara Hamby’s Bird Odyssey. I highly recommend that everyone read all of these books right away. They’re all amazing. There’s a surfeit of literary production in this country, and while that is overwhelming and I’m always feeling lost and overwhelmed and crazy and behind, too many books is a better problem to have than too many guns. Right? Tell us about “Appalachians Run Amok”. What prompted you to write about the American South with so many miles, and years, between you and it? Live from the Homesick Jamboree, my second book, also takes up this issue, though there the speaker is southern generally while in Appalachians I come out, so to speak, specifically as a mountaineer. There are I ssue
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Adrian Blevins obviously cultural similarities between the Deep South and the mountain south, but there are also many differences. I became obsessed with these differences while working on the collection of essays I edited with the writer Karen McElmurray (Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Essays on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia). And it has to do with just telling the fucking truth about what wounds us. My father wanted me to be anything but an Appalachian writer. He wanted me to be an aesthete and a sophisticate —to travel widely and quote Nietzsche liberally at cocktail parties holding stemmed crystal glasses with my pinkie out. None of this was on a conscious level, but I think he wanted me to help him overcome his shame of the region out of which we came. And there’s no small amount of fuckery there--when my father went to college at Virginia Commonwealth University in the 1950’s, his painting professor called him “a mountain man,” and this horrified him all his life. Sometimes I think he married my mother (an English major and a very articulate person and writer in her own right) to be sure any kids he had would not make grammatical mistakes when they spoke (a thing that fills many a mountaineer with shame). Anyway, that’s what we call the erasure of culture, and I didn’t realize until I was 50 that it had happened to me. My cultural background had been erased from me out of shame. See here again, in writing Appalachians, I just wanted to set the record straight. Plus there’s nothing wrong with ungrammaticality. In fact, it’s quite charming! I’m in love with it. And with spoken tones generally. What question(s) have you never been asked, but wish to answer? “Where do you call home, do you feel it split between two or more places”; and “Why are you so outrageous?” I like it up here in Maine. I call it Appalachia North. I do not love the long winters, but otherwise I feel pretty settled in up here. It helps to live in a forest. I mean, I like it that I’m in a forest. Also I think being out of the south helps me see it somehow better—I’ve got now what one might call a bird’s eye view of what I call in one poem “the motherland.” I’m not really all that outrageous. It’s the world that’s outrageous. All the platitudes and other inanities—the vapidities and banalities of American culture such as the stretch Hummers and the nose jobs and the gunning of kids down in the streets. I am especially not fond of the lies. I never quote literary theorists except when I do, but here Helene Cixious comes to mind both when she says that “the writer is a secret criminal” and that the truth is “what writing wants.” I guess it is outrageous for me to admit to wanting the truth in our age of irony. I do say it knowing that there are many truths. But art swings on an order / disorder pendulum, people’s tastes moving from one to the other and back again in response to whatever cultural vapidities and banalities, you know, and so maybe we are moving into what some have called “the new sincerity.” I don’t know, but I hope so, and I hope this new not-fake-news thing or whatever we’re going to call it won’t be too sentimental or cliché, as otherwise it will fail. To me poetry is a language of recognition and surprise, and you can’t have one without the other. That’s what’s outrageous. I mean, that it ever works at all is such a wonder to me. I can’t get over it. I don’t want to. How does it feel to win such an honor from Two Sylvias Press? What are some details about the press folks should know? I’m thrilled with the prize and with the press itself—Seattle area poets Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spandling-Convy have done a wonderful job with the collection from the cover to every last comma and line break. The prize itself is for women over 50 and (I’m quoting from the press here) “draws its inspiration from American author Laura ingalls Wilder, who published her first Little House book at the age of 65 and completed the last manuscript in the series at age 76. Wilder’s autobiography, which she wrote in here late 60s, was published only recently (2014), after having been rejected in the late 1930s by editors due to its “inappropriate” and “mature” material. I love being associated with the project of getting women’s voices out—in the history of
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Adrian Blevins the literary world (as everyone must know by now), we’re still outnumbered. Not to get too political here, but that glass ceiling still does remain intact. The ERA has not been passed. Salvador Dali is famous for saying, “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.” I feel that way about feminism. I don’t need to read about it because I am a walking manifestation of it. Come to think of it, maybe my woundedness comes from being a shy mountain girl who had her first child at twenty-two and had to claw her way out of those beautifully meaningful but difficult constraints in order to be heard in an earsplitting world. This is as good a theory as in. Truly I have had teachers who told me that by being a mom I’d never be a writer. Maybe I had to set the record straight there too? Do you have a special place, and/or rituals when it comes to writing? If so, what are they? No rituals. I had to learn to write with three children under foot, so I didn’t have time to develop rituals, unless caffeine is a ritual. I used to smoke like crazy and remember thinking I would never write another poem if I didn’t smoke, but then I quit (because cigarettes up here are so expensive), and I did keep writing. That was a miracle. When it comes to nouns and verbs and sentences and fragments and images and lines and the rhythms of actual everyday human speech, every day is a miracle to me. Don’t you think so too? I’m glad for every day I have. Every day is another day that I might get right. I’ll take it. Finally, speaking of cigarettes, my ex-husband the photographer Martin Church took that photograph on the cover of Appalachians Run Amok more than 25 years ago. I’m thankful to him for letting me use it. A huge storm had just come through, and we lost a part of the tin roof of the farmhouse where we were living, and Marty got this notion that I should put on my bathing suit and tennis shoes and lie down like a Cosmo girl in the blown-in insulation that looked like ash. I was saving my Virginia Slims cigarette packs for something I wanted to buy with them—back then you could “buy” things with the tops of cigarette packs. My ex-husband and I didn’t know then that we’d divorce and get married and have other kids with other people and that I would move to Maine and him to Hawaii for a little while and blah blah blah—look at how time cuts its little slashes and keeps on moving and passes. But we did know that we were dedicating our lives to art, and we are both still at it. I’m proud of us for that. One thing you ought to know about hillbillies: they do not let up until you put them in the grave. They just do not.
The funniest, most woebegotten Appalachian blues ever written up North: http://twosylviaspress.com/ appalachians-run-amok.html
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Nope As for yes I’ve been against it since ballet & I refused to leap like a little white flag in the gym & I refused to skate on blades if there was ice which there was not & I refused to ride in the backs of trucks & did not kill my mother & father & did not not want to either & did not wear red bandannas or gyrate with tassel & baton in the Jesus parade or go door to door with The Old Farmer’s Almanac or curl my hair except for that one lewd summer after the 7th grade or talk with other girls about how to fix my face or go with them to the mall to steal bikinis there or just lean hot against a swanky pillar until a cowboy came by if “cowboy” is the right word for southwest Virginia since there were no priests back then in the motherland. There’s just lichen now in the motherland. Just lichen & other forms of algae in the motherland & vines & moss in the graveyards of the motherland whereas before at least in Bristol there was Valleydale Foods & hence wild gangs of handsome butchers who’d knock on your door on Sundays to see if you wanted any hog meat for the freezer you didn’t have in your basement like the God you didn’t have down there either but just crickets & webs & things gone flat like the tires on the bikes you didn’t ride & the tubes you didn’t float slow saying yes O yes down that olden river on.
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Them high on the Dallas Cowboys & me on Faulkner but them saying Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their letter jackets & bygone fields of wheat & rye. Their love for Jesus & their doilies on tables & their starburst quilts & the bourbon in the cabs of their trucks. The parkway they liked to speed on & me high some days on Emerson. Me high on Woolf. Their Mamas & Daddies & sisters & brothers. Their cousins, their cousins. Their downy rabbits wheezing out back. Their frothing dogs on chains. Their vinyl recliners & Velveeta & Farrah Fawcett posters & pink bathrooms & venison casseroles & fruit cakes. Me not-quite-but-almost real high on Baudelaire. Me high on de Sade even almost. Me high on Rimbaud with them spitting Skoal juice on the soggy ground & them driving over dogs & not even stopping to kick the corpses off the road. Christ, it was dark. Christ, the dogs & their pups. Christ, the foxes maybe even & the does & fawns & possums & cats & coons. Christ, the little lambs.
- from Appalachians Run Amok
Dr. JOHN SHEFFIELD interview by Clifford Brooks
Dr. John Sheffield is a true rarity in the literary world, bringing not only his weighty career credentials to the table, but the seamless melding of an engaging wit, a scholar’s intellect, and a story worth telling. What is it about your past that’s sculpted you into the author you are today? What bits of your youth makes it into your art? Does your writing keep you young at heart? English was my worst subject in High School, until near the end when lessons on English literature got me interested in writing. I even tried to write a story, but only managed a few pages. I didn’t do any other writing until I had to for my Masters (1962) and PhD (1966) dissertations (Incidentally, these were done mainly in my spare time, because I had a full-time job). Subsequently, I wrote scientific papers. My first book came as a result of my wife and I’s decision to leave Texas, where I was an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department, and return to England in 1971. I had a graduate student, and was the only person on the faculty with knowledge about the area of his PhD. Therefore, I wrote for him a copious set of notes going over the theory and relevant experiments. In 1970, I was sitting in my office, when a man knocked on the door and said, “I am a literary agent looking for people interested in writing a text book. I replied, “I have these notes that could be turned into a text book.” He said, “Give me a one-page summary of content and, possible chapters, and length.” I did, and after some back and forth, he got me a contract with Academic Press. We returned to England and I told the lab, I have expertise in scattering of radiation from plasmas, is that what you want me to work on? They said, no, we have plenty of experts. You will be working on the development of energetic neutral particle beams to heat plasmas. I finished the book, again, primarily in my spare time. Fortunately, the lab indeed had experts I could get advice from, and a wonderful library. The book was published in 1975. Subsequently, a Russian translated the book into Russian and it was published in the Soviet Union, 1978. Their publisher paid enough for me to take the family for
two weeks skiing in the Alps, before we returned to the US and my new job at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. While still in Europe, I wrote two short stories for a competition. Neither went anywhere. I then realized that one of them was really a chapter in a novel and started on what became Marienna’s Fantasy. After an abortive time with an agent in Texas, I finished it some 25 years later. However, while I had lots of experience
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John Sheffield writing scientific papers and reports, they had not prepared me for novel writing and I self-published it in 2002 with numerous errors. Nevertheless, from a plot point of view, it is the cleverest novel I’ve written. Sometime, I will rewrite it. Three things changed my ability to write: Serving on committees, where I had to write or contribute to preparing summaries on short notice; joining the Atlanta Writers Club, attending courses on writing (Bryan Corrigan at Dahlonega was particularly helpful), and going to numerous critique groups, learning technique from better writers; getting critiques of my novels—In this regard, Ann Kempner Fisher was most helpful. She worked for Jack Nicholson reading scripts, edited movies for Mel Brooks and scripts for the Bob Newhart Show. She edited Roseland’s Secret and my memoir, Fun in Fusion Research. I also coordinated a compilation of short stories by local authors, North Point of View: Tales of Alpharetta and Beyond, 2006. Other publications are: the chapter on “Future World Energy Needs and Resources,” in Energy, the Environment, and the Pursuit of Sustainability, Island Press, 2002; Plasma Scattering of Electromagnetic Radiation, Elsevier 2011, and a humorous memoir, Fun in Fusion Research, Elsevier 2013— the subject of talks at DragonCon in 2013 and 2014. The mysteries, Roseland’s Secret 2015, and Return to Roseland, 2016 were published by Deeds Publishing. I coordinated and contributed to the anthology, The Treasure Trove: A collection of Prose and Poetry, 2016. I won the Southeastern Writers Association’s Edna Sampson Award for the novel, My Friend Albert published in 2017. I don’t know about young at heart, but writing and keeping up with science keep me mentally active. Tell us a bit about your life outside of writing that the public would find fascinating? (Of course I’m wanting more details on your work with nuclear power.)
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I have worked in Fusion Energy Research (the peaceful application of fusion energy as opposed to hydrogen bombs) since 1958. My most recent papers on fusion energy were published in 2015. I have attached a somewhat technical description of what fusion is taken from my memoir. I started in fusion research at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Harwell laboratory in 1958. There, I worked on high voltage (100kV) switching systems and shock wave in plasmas. A plasma is the fourth state of matter—solid, liquid, gas, plasma—attained as temperature is increased. Most of the visible universe is plasma—sun, stars, nebulae…. In parallel I did a Masters on molecular spectroscopy and then a PhD on the helical instability in the magnetized positive column of a glow discharge (think huge neon light). After receiving the PhD, I went to the University of Texas in Austin and did research on oblique shock waves in plasmas (similar to bow shock wave on earth). I also got into scattering of laser light as a way of measuring the temperature of the plasma—that led to the text book. On returning to the UKAEA’s Culham lab in England, I worked on development of high energy neutral particle beams for fusion devices known as tokamaks and stellarators. I was then assigned in 1973 to the European JET project to build a huge tokamak to actually fuse deuterium and Tririum, and work on heating and measurement systems. In 1977, I moved to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Fusion Division, where I worked in the takamak section soon becoming the section head, then responsible for all experiments and finally the Division Director in 1988. In 1994, I was appointed Program Director for Energy Technologies, a gadfly role that got me involved on fission, fossil, renewable energies and energy efficiency—leading to papers and reports on all these areas, and also on the role of energy (or the lack of it) in world population growth In the same time (1996-2003), I served on numerous committees—notably the International Thermonuclear Reactor (ITER) Technical Advisory Committee (4
John Sheffield Europeans, 4 Japanese, 4 Russians, and 4 Americans, including me). Check out the ITER Web site, being built in the South of France and now also including, China, India and Korea. I also served on the DOE’s Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee, acting as chair from 96-2000. Also on the Heavy Ion Fusion Committee, serving ultimately as chair, for the Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratories. In parallel, I was Executive Director of the Joint Institute for Energy and Environment at the University of Tennessee— Knoxville, for ORNL, TVA, and UT. After retirement, I continued to receive funding from DOE, and consulted for the Naval Research laboratory, and others. What are you reading right now? The most recent novel was Wonder by R. J. Palacio, and regularly, Science Magazine, Physics Today, and Nuclear News. What is a question that you’d love to be asked, but never have been? Please provide us with the answer.
What are a few publishing tips you can give our readers? Write the way that you find easiest, don’t listen to people who tell you there is a formula that fits everyone, e.g., plotting everything out in advance, or just winging it. Joins a critique group and contribute to it—don’t let everybody else do the work. Expect to have to learn how to both critique and take advantage of critiques. Give us an insight into your writing style, habits or rituals you have when preparing to write. For most of my novels I had a general idea of a plot and an ending scene. I believe it’s like a joke—a set-up, continuation to a punch line. I pen some words on most days. Generally, I write when I feel like it and have composed a scene in my head. I use the Web for information I need. Google Earth to get an idea of what places, I haven’t been to, look like. I often include parts of the world I’ve been to (57 countries to date), and have even traveled to places for background, e.g., Sicily, Crete, Honduras.
What is the main advice you’d give young people? My answer is, don’t be overwhelmed by how clever some people are. You don’t have to be Beethoven or Paul Simon to be appreciated for your music, or Einstein, or Martin Luther King. You can surely find a niche where you are an expert appreciated by others. One of the joys of scientific research is the breadth of opportunity. You can always find something in which you can make a valuable contribution. Where did you grow up, and what are a few funny quirks of folks you grew up with? In England, where my father was born in 1878, my mother in 1901. For most of my childhood, we lived with my mother’s parents. I always felt I was growing up in the Victorian era, and much of my reading was from that time. For anything else, read my novel, My Friend Albert. Who are your Top 5 Favorite Writers? John Fowles, Alexander Dumas, Janet Evanovich, John Steinbeck, Pat Conroy…Agatha Christie for plots….
What follows is something we’ve never seen in any literary journal... a concise Reveiw of Fusion Energy Research provided by Dr. Sheffield for the benefit of our readers. May we all leave this issue a little smarter for having read it! - The Blue Mountain Review
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Review of Fusion Energy Research 1. Big Bang As I understand it, in the beginning was the Big Bang—the ultimate cosmic sexual experience. Subsequent to the Bang, various forces came into play in our evolving universe; respectively, gravity, and the electro-weak and strong nuclear forces. Most importantly, these forces led to fusion, which produced and is still producing the elements today. This fact was first understood in 1920 when Arthur Eddington proposed that fusion of hydrogen was the source of the energy in the sun. In the fusion process, fundamental particles combine to produce a larger particle. For example, and of interest on earth, at high temperatures (think 100 million degrees) the nuclei of heavy hydrogen—deuterium and tritium—combine to make helium and a neutron. The combined mass of the helium and neutron is less than that of the deuteron and triton. The mass difference leads to a kinetic energy of 17.6 MeV: Einstein’s E = mc2.
Fusion and the Universe So, what role has fusion played in the universe? After the Big Bang, gravity dominated the behavior of the universe during the first 10-32 seconds, when the temperature was a huge 1023 electron volts. Subsequently, the electro-weak and strong nuclear forces became important. The weak interaction split into two parts— the weak interaction and the electromagnetic force—around 10-11 seconds when the temperature had dropped to 1012 eV. After less than a second, when the temperature had reached 109 eV, the strong force produced protons from the fusion of quarks. At about one second after the Big Bang and a temperature of 107 (ten million) eV, the forces operating in the sun and other stars fused protons to produce the light elements deuterium, tritium and helium. Fusion also produced and still produces the heavier elements—up to iron—in the dense material of stars, where the temperature is typically less than 106 (1 million) eV. The even heavier elements—including uranium are produced during super nova explosions. At less than about 1 eV, atomic forces take over during the interactions of electrons and charged ions (the building blocks of atoms and molecules). They are involved in ordinary chemical reactions.
_________________________________________________________________________ Footnote: 10-32 = 1/a hundred million million million million million millionth. 1023 = a hundred thousand million million million. 1 electron volt (eV) = 11,600 degrees Kelvin. 10-11 = 1/a hundred thousand millionth. 1012 = a million million.
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The point of this discussion is to show that the origin of all the energy resources available to us on earth comes from nuclear fusion in the core of our sun and other stars: • Sunlight, which supports plant growth and renewable biomass energy resources, provides heat and can provide electricity, generates the wind and waves, and raises water against the force of gravity, which then can be used to produce electricity. These are renewable resources—at least until the sun expands to engulf our planetary system a few billion years from now. • The fission of heavy elements, such as uranium-235, which is an exothermic (net energy gain) process. In addition, the more abundant uranium-238 and thorium may be converted into the exothermically fissionable elements plutonium-239 and uranium-233, respectively. While there are large amounts of uranium and thorium on earth, it is a non-renewable resource. • Nuclear radioactive decay in the center of the earth provides geothermal energy, which in some areas is sufficiently concentrated to be useable for heat and electricity. • Lighter elements, whose chemical rearrangement can release chemical energy—for example, carbon + oxygen → carbon dioxide—in an exothermic process. Chemical energy from the existing fossil fuels—oil, gas, hydrates, shale oil, tar, coal—is non-renewable. • Finally, the kinetic energy of the moon, as it orbits the earth, provides tidal energy through the gravitational force. The bottom line is that the only energy resource available to us that we have not yet exploited is fusion energy. While there may be other sources of energy that are realizable, such exothermic sources have not been identified. If they exist, they would be related to those forces that were important closer to the Big Bang and at higher temperatures than 107 eV (100 billion degrees). It seems improbable that they could be of practical use, since even investigating such a region cannot be done efficiently today. Therefore, it seems sensible to consider only those sources of energy that have been identified as economic or potentially economic. The light elements deuterium and lithium are the closest to being exploited to produce fusion energy for peaceful purposes. The evidence for the formidable amounts of energy in such fuels was made clear in hydrogen bomb tests. The heaviest isotope of hydrogen (tritium) is radioactive and decays, but it may be produced by bombarding lithium with neutrons. Deuterium-tritium fusion occurs at about 100 million degrees (104 eV). Deuterium, the second isotope of hydrogen, which exists at a fractional abundance of 1/6500 in all hydrogen, is in effect limitless in the oceans, but reasonably priced lithium is not a limitless resource. Deuterium-deuterium fusion is possible, but requires a temperature around 400 million degrees. The fusion of deuterium produces helium-3 and tritium, which may be recycled to make the deuterium fusion more effective. A more speculative option is to mine helium-3 on the moon and use it in the deuteriumhelium-3 cycle. Some consideration has been given to more exotic fusion fuels, such as protons and boron, but such fuels require even higher temperatures. Thus, in the very long term, energy for the earth will be provided one way or another by fusion—the sun and deuterium. Unfortunately, owing to rash statements over the years about how close we are to harnessing fusion energy, often from people who were not the best informed, it has been described as a dream that will always be twenty-five years away. In reality, progress has been steady over the last few decades, and given the actual budget expenditure, the program has met many of the goals laid down earlier; including reaching temperatures of 600 million degrees in laboratory experiments.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ I will use an example given to me by Richard Post of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to illustrate the sheer magnitude of the energy contained in the deuterium, which is 1 part in 6500 of all the hydrogen on earth: If we were to extract the deuterium from the water that typically flows through an 18 inch water main, and burn it and its reaction products in a fusion reactor, it could supply continually about 2000 GWe—the world’s total electricity consumption, today. I ssue
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John Sheffield Fusion Power Plants
The schematic diagram below shows the principal features of a deuterium-tritium (D-T) power plant, for the case of a magnetically contained plasma. A similar picture could be drawn for an inertially confined plasma.
The fuel is heated and confined in a vacuum chamber. The heating power and fusion power are incident on the first wall. The neutrons pass through the wall and are collected in a blanket that contains lithium. Tritium, which does not occur naturally, is produced by n-Li reactions, and continues the fueling along with additional deuterium. The captured heat is converted to electricity (PE), and a fraction ηR is recirculated to produce, heat, and confine the fuel and to operate the conventional balance of plant—cooling, instrumentation etc. An important issue is the radioactivity induced in the walls and blankets by the neutrons. Nevertheless, unlike a fission plant, a fusion plant does not have extremely long-lived isotopes. By careful choice of materials the induced activity would decay on a timescale of a 100 years to a level hundreds of thousands of times less rather than for fission, with no need for storage of waste over the geological time periods contemplated for repositories such as Yucca Mountain. What is the reality of fusion energy? In 1998, I organized a workshop for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (DOE-OFES), in which eleven fusion experts met with six non-fusion representatives, knowledgeable about environmental and general energy issues: from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen, Natural Resources Defense Council, the University of Tennessee’s Joint Institute for Energy and the JFK School of Government at Harvard University. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss their views of fusion as an energy source. At the beginning of the meeting, each attendee was handed a list of questions to answer anonymously, except there was a color code to distinguish between fusion and non-fusion representatives. Interestingly, while some of the environmentalists were totally opposed to anything nuclear, there was a little difference in the two group’s understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of fusion energy. Other than the smart remarks—“great dinner table discussion (topic)” and “like a religion,” the positives included: abundant and clean energy source—no CO2 and could be better than fission; and interesting science and spin-offs. The negatives included: cost and time-scale, complexity; and generates radioactivity. There was one unresolved disagreement about the value of inertial fusion energy research for peaceful purposes being of value to people who wanted to build a hydrogen bomb. I agree with the list of positives and negatives, for here we are in 2009 and fusion energy is still not ready to make economical electricity, despite substantial progress. The timescale for development, approaching one hundred years, is similar to that required to complete the great cathedrals of the medieval period. A steady stream of successes, and the dream that they can harness this energy source for peaceful purposes, continues to drive fusion researchers in the second half of their hundred-year effort.
Plasma At temperatures above 10,000 degrees, all materials are in a state known as a PLASMA—a state in which electrons are stripped from atoms and the resulting material has equal numbers of free electrons and positive ions—the sun and
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John Sheffield most of the visible universe, flames, arcs, fluorescent lights, and the glow discharge used in etching semiconductor chips. Plasma is sometimes called the fourth state of matter— solid→liquid→gas→plasma; the changes occurring as the temperature is raised, for example:
Three main approaches have been tested for containing this high temperature state of matter:
Magnetic Fusion Energy—MFE—uses magnetic fields, which have the property that the electrons and ions spiral around the field lines and, in principle, may be isolated from material walls. Electrostatic Confinement: Uses electric fields to trap the charged particles. A common approach uses concentric wire spheres at different electric potentials.
Inertial Fusion Energy—IFE—as used in the case of the hydrogen bomb, in which a sphere of fuel is compressed and heated and has time, owing to inertia, to fuse before it expands.
Schematic of the stages of inertial confinement fusion using lasers. The blue arrows represent radiation; orange is blowoff; purple is inwardly transported thermal energy. 1. Laser beams or laser-produced X-rays rapidly heat the surface of the fusion target, forming a surrounding plasma envelope. 2. Fuel is compressed by the rocket-like blowoff of the hot surface material. 3. During the final part of the capsule implosion, the fuel core reaches 20 times the density of lead and ignites at 100,000,000 ˚C. 4. Thermonuclear burn spreads rapidly through the compressed fuel, yielding many times the input energy. The two main approaches to IFE involve direct and indirect drive of the target. Today, the bulk of the fusion energy research is focused on MFE and IFE, with a very small effort on electrostatic confinement and alternatives that combine elements of the former approaches e.g., rapid compression of a magnetized plasma. I ssue
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Robin M Adams
ROBIN M ADAMS Inklings Writers Club interview by Clifford Brooks
Give us some background on you and your passion for words… I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. When I went to live with my grandparents at the age of six, they were already retired, and money was scarce. They were not able to buy me expensive toys or video games. So, to pass my afternoons I crafted and wrote stories. I wrote and illustrated my first picture book in first grade. At the age of twelve, I started writing a middle grade novel, and finished by the age of 18. Now as an adult I am rewriting that novel…which has now turned into a three-book series. I am hoping to have it published before my middle grade teacher passes away as she was the one who helped and encouraged me, and the books are dedicated to her. What are you reading right now? I am forever reading and re-reading the Harry Potter series. To a writer, the story is phenomenal, and the writing is amazing. Who are your top 3 authors and poets? I would have to say that J.K. Rowling (I consider her a mentor of sorts), Dean Koontz, and Stephen King are my favorite authors. As far as poetry goes, I love spooky, so Edgar Allan Poe is my favorite poet…and one of my friends from a past writer’s critique group, Emery Campbell. Emery sure can spin a tale with rhyme and meter! With Inklings I have been exposed to more poetry and poets, and I am enjoying the differences in style, tone, and the use of metaphors…so Clifford’s poetry is right up there on the list as well! Tell the public all about your Inklings event. I wanted to create an event where writers of all levels could mix and mingle in a relaxed and friendly setting. Writers have a tendency to isolate themselves, to be reclusive. The Meet and Eats allow them to connect with other writers and be inspired by each other. I also bring in a guest speaker for an educational angle as well. What is your writing groups designed like that sets them apart from others? What advice do you have for others trying to start their own groups? My writer’s critique groups are designed so that we all learn from each other. My motto is to ‘educate and motivate’ writers of all ages and stages. I am a firm believer that when you read your manuscript aloud, you catch a lot of your own mistakes, plus it helps the writer to gain more confidence in their abilities. It took me three months before I was comfortable reading my own stories to a group! The groups offer positive, constructive critique and as each one in the group gives you their feedback, we all learn. I have seen such improvement in the writing skills as time progressed. My children’s writer’s group is unique in that we bring
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Robin M Adams children (they are our target audience) to participate in the critique group, read their own stories, and are encouraged to offer their opinions and feedback. What an amazing, educational tool for them as well as the adults in the group! It also toughens them up to receiving critique on their work. So many adult writers tend to bristle when you suggest they reword or change something. What other events do you support? I try to attend readings and book signings for the writers in my groups when I have the chance, but my time is rather limited at the moment. What kicked off your passion to help so many? Life (or lack of ) after divorce finally forced me to seek out writer’s critique groups. I pulled myself out of a spiraling depression and found a listing for a group in Cumming. I attended and was horrified at how that group was run. I did connect with two of the ladies there and they invited me to a different group that they attended. At that point I realized that it was time to start my own. I had some experience with an incredible group in Norcross in the past and I modeled mine after that one…with a little bit of a twist. I offer special events and guest speakers. In the future we will also be doing readings and more books sales. I also want to have an event where publishers can come and mingle with the authors in hopes they will connect and have success at getting their manuscripts looked at. I guess I hope this for myself as well, as the business part of writing is tedious and time consuming. I work a full-time job as well as juggle all the Inklings events. There’s no time for the business part of it right now. What personal projects are you working on, creatively? Besides planning more events for my groups, I am still trying to finish that first novel that I started when I was twelve. I am in the process of doing the research for the next two books as well. I also have MANY children’s picture book manuscripts waiting to be snatched up by a publisher, and Highlights for Children sends me regular requests for new craft ideas, which I dive into enthusiastically. Starting these groups has changed my life in ways I could never dream of. I have some HUGE plans for Inklings, CE in the future and I look forward to the journey and all the wonderful people I will meet along the way(as well as the ones I have already met) and to feel the fulfillment of seeing them rise to success! The path of Inklings, CE will eventually lead to a bed and breakfast in the north GA mountains that will cater mostly to writers, artists, crafters, muscians, and dancers…anything to do with the arts. Inklings B&B will reach out to the community and offer Boy/Girl Scouts a place to earn their badges and learn from the artisans. We will do much more community outreach, but I don’t know exactly what just yet. My brain is always churning, lol. Find out more at: https://www.facebook.com/robin.adams.35380399 Twitter @Inklingsce
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CLIFFORD GARSTANG interview by Clifford Brooks
What are the highlights of your past, present, and future we need to be aware of to catch a glimpse of the man behind your words? I was born and raised in the Midwest, went to college at Northwestern University. Then Peace Corps service in South Korea (I taught English): life-changing. Followed by: an MA in English (foreshadowing my future fictionwriting life); a law degree; and 20 years doing international law with an East Asian focus (first for a big law firm, then for the World Bank), including stretches living abroad, with lots of travel. Then the big switch at the New Millennium: MFA in fiction, move to the Virginia countryside, diving into the literary world. Who are some of your favorite musicians? Does music factor into your work or writing process? My musical tastes are stunted and basically stopped evolving about 50 years ago, so I know next to nothing about contemporary music in any genre. I’m not proud of this. And when I work at home, I usually don’t listen to music, unless I’m being very intentional. For example, I think musical ability is a distinctive character trait, so I have listened to music that a character I’m writing about might listen to or perform, if I’ve given her that interest or talent. And sometimes I’ll use music references in the writing to signal time periods. When I work in coffee shops, I end up listening to something loud and instrumental on earphones to block out the chatter or whatever distracting music is playing in the shop. In that case, my listening ranges from classical to orchestral pop. In the latter category I listen to groups like 2 Cellos, Dallas String Quartet, Brooklyn Duo, Piano Guys, and the like. Having said that, I do admire the great folk singer-songwriters and some of my favorites there range from James Taylor, John Gorka, Ellis Paul, and Aimee Mann, but I can’t listen to them when I’m working.
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Clifford Garstang You’re the man behind the Literary Magazine Rankings, right? What’s that all about? When I began submitting short stories to magazines after I got my MFA I had no idea what I was doing or where to send them. Eventually, I adopted a tiered submission strategy, but I still needed guidance about what the best magazines were. I started looking at the annual Pushcart Prize anthology and realized that the prizes and special mentions were a good indicator of magazine reputation and quality. I compiled data on which magazines had won the most prizes and special mentions in fiction over a ten-year period, and my ranking was born. I shared that on my website and eventually added rankings for both nonfiction and poetry. People seem to find it useful, so I update the lists every year and have been doing that now for more than ten years. The current rankings are here: http://cliffordgarstang.com/2018-literary-magazine-rankings/. What are 3 tips you offer prose writers today on how to hone their craft? First, be patient. This is important for so many aspects of the work. Don’t rush the writing, don’t rush the editing, don’t rush to submit the work to magazines or agents or publishers. And if acceptance and publication doesn’t happen instantly, don’t rush to self-publish. It’s a process that benefits from careful attention at every stage. Second, one of the greatest tips I’ve ever been given is to read the work aloud. This follows from the first tip—to be patient. Take the time to read every sentence aloud. You’ll find dropped words, typos, unintentional repetitions, and clumsy wording that you’ll want to fix before sending the work out. Related to this tip is the suggestion to completely retype a draft at some point in the editing process. This requires you to completely re-think every sentence, every word. If you’re simply editing an existing draft, inertia will cause you to tweak without really rewriting, which is lazy editing. Third. Be aware of your own writing tics and search for them during the editing process. Do you use “that” often? It may be grammatically correct, but it often isn’t necessary and can be deleted. Do you fall back on what one teacher of mine called “weasel words”—just, some, sort of, somehow, etc.—that don’t contribute meaning to the work? Do you tend to use present participles or other constructions that create a passive feeling to the work? Although there may be reasons to use these words and constructions in certain situations, do it intentionally with awareness of the reason for your choice.
What are 3 myths concerning writing you’d like to see debunked? Write what you know. I think the act of writing involves learning new things. In a workshop I took with Grace Paley, she said the rule should be “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” That makes way more sense to me. On the other hand, you better be willing to learn enough to write credibly on the subject. Show, don’t tell. That rule also needs revision to “Show and tell,” like the time-honored kindergarten activity. We can’t possibly show everything in writing, even in a novel. There has got to be some telling. The art is in creating the balance. It’s easy. But no, it’s NOT easy. Even for self-publishers, the act of sitting down and writing a book is hard work. Okay, it’s not exactly mining coal or digging ditches, but it takes enormous discipline. And then there’s traditional publishing, which is a whole other obstacle course that most people can’t fathom. Who are your Top 5 Favorite Authors? I ssue
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Clifford Garstang I’m going to stick with living writers—fiction writers—for this one: Elizabeth Strout. Colum McCann. Tim O’Brien. Ann Patchett. Kate Atkinson (a recent discovery for me). But there are so many others whose work I greatly admire: Russell Banks, Colson Whitehead, Louise Erdrich, Jennifer Egan, Lauren Groff, Barbara Kingsolver, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Don DeLillo, Michael Chabon. What is the greatest influence on your career? This is a tough one. I want to say it’s travel, because I sometimes justify my late start at writing by my twentyyear career in international law along with its extensive travel, and so much of what I write is multicultural or involves travel. But it might be that the foundation for everything I write is my early interest in philosophy, in which I majored in college. One of my completed—but as yet unpublished—novels is about a young philosopher to asks a lot of the questions that I struggle with all the time, both in my writing and my real life. What projects are you tooling on presently we should keep an eye out for? I’m expecting edits momentarily from my publisher on a novel (set in Korea and Virginia) that’s coming out in early 2019, but I’m also working with an editor on another finished novel that’s not yet under contract (this is the one about the philosopher I mentioned earlier). I’m pretty deeply into yet another novel (set in Singapore) that’s a departure for me—a blend of historical and contemporary narratives—and I hope to finish a solid draft of that by the end of the year. I’ve also recently finished another short story collection that’s looking for a publisher. And Volume III of my anthology series—Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet— will be published by Press 53 in October of this year. Tell us about writing awards you’ve won that you’re particularly proud of. There are two I’ll mention. I was thrilled to win the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction for my novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know. The other finalists were best-sellers from big publishers, so when my name was called at the awards gala I was as thrilled as I’ve ever been in my life. That was definitely a high point. Then a couple of years later I had a similar experience when I won the Emerging Writer award from the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation because of my Indiana roots. Are you active in your community? I moved to a small city in Virginia from Washington, DC, about 17 years ago, and gradually I’ve become involved in various organizations. I’m currently on the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Frontier Culture Museum, which is hidden gem, a large outdoor living history museum. I’ve also recently joined the Board of Trustees of the American Shakespeare Center, which operates a year-round Shakespeare repertory company in a replica of Shakespeare’s indoor theater, the Blackfriars Playhouse. And for three years I’ve been a member of my county’s Electoral Board, responsible for running the elections in our county. Plus, more than ten years ago, I started a writers’ organization for our area that sponsors readings, a monthly open mic, and other literary events, and that’s still going strong. Find more at: http://cliffordgarstang.com
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MARIA KLOUDA interview by Clifford Brooks
How do you feel you fit into the literary landscape in the present, 10 years from now, and then 20? What experiences from your life or memories do you draw from that serve as driving forces in your creative life? Why? Klouda: I’m not sure I fit into the literary landscape at present as anything but a student. I’m taking in as much as possible and finding my voice. Ten years from now I hope I’m still learning and pushing myself and maybe even have an essay or two published by then. In twenty years, I will be in my seventies! I still hope to be learning new things—and maybe relaxing a bit on the beach. I think any of life’s experiences can be driving forces in our creative lives. Oftentimes it might not be something you think about at the time, but later it will come to you and find its way into a piece that is being developed. I’m an only child, my parents divorced, I’ve been to a lot of National Parks, went to college, married a Marine, have two boys, traveled to Ireland and Germany, lost love ones to cancer, worked in a lot of different jobs and so much more. There’s a lot of stories in all of that to be told. I look forward to creating more to draw from and living life to the fullest. What question do you never want to answer again? What question do you want to take off the table to all those to come after this interview - right up front? “What genre do you write?” And, I’m guilty of asking it too. As a writer, I’ve written across a variety of genres; poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. To limit myself to the answer of creative nonfiction limits the scope of creativity. The answer should be “whatever pops in my head.” Who are you reading (for fun) right now? I just started reading Anne Corbitt’s Rules for Lying. I want to read Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle again soon. And I’m chasing down the lyrics for band, The Dear Hunter’s albums Act I – V. They are all part of a common storyline that weaves through each album and is set in the early 20th century. The story is about a boy named Hunter. The pacing and voice of the narrative throughout the albums is fascinating.
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What writers have you discovered in your graduate program that knock your socks off? How does that program play into your professional life and your personal mind? Early in the program I found the Georgia environmental writer, Janisse Ray. I was assigned her essay from The Bitter Southerner, “From Ashes Such as These, what can rise?” and I loved it. It read like a novel. I had an aha moment and hope that one day I can tell a story with the same amount of passion and grace. Since then I’ve been read more of her work, attended a reading and have continued to study her work as a part of my critical thesis. I’m a fan girl, I guess. Another I keep going back to is Ilyse Kusnetz’s poem, “Harbinger.” I’ve sent that to so many people to read. (If you haven’t read it, check it out!) Earl Bragg’s reading of Ugly Love (Notes from the Negro Side of the Moon) had a lasting impact on me. There have been so many new authors I’ve been introduced to as part of the curriculum and the residency and other activities. Each of them has left an impression on my growth as a writer and as an individual. I’m thrilled to have met and worked with Anjali Enjeti as my mentor. She’s a fantastic writer. And she is a complete bad ass – which I love! The first time I heard her read was at the first-year residency at Reinhardt and she read “Drinking Chai to Savannah: Reflections on Identity, Inclusion and Power in the South.” Another must read. There are just so many that come to mind. All of the students in the MFA program are incredibly talented. It blows me away to be in their company. What are a few facts about you that, no matter how random, come together to create a person like you that has so much to do and does it like an elegant machine? I am typically an effective multi-tasker. I’m fairly intuitive. I get bored easily and need to stay challenged. I am able to analyze situations and act accordingly. I have a background in Marketing, Advertising and Fundraising which oddly, comes into play a lot as a writer. Windows down, radio up and pay attention to the world around you. Recently a Dove candy fortune read “wing it” and another “don’t apologize”. It seemed fitting.
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I Y New York
I Y NEW YORK PIZZA & BAR Jasper, Georgia
interview by Clifford Brooks Not a witty play on “I Heart Huckabees” or IHeartMedia, I LOVE New York Pizza and Bar is an instant classic, just like the famed state song and the city’s marketing slogan known around the world that share its name. Bringing a bit of that cosmopolitan flare to the idyllic mountain setting of Jasper, Georgia, I Love New York is an urban culinary delight masquerading as a hidden jewel. When the Design Director for The Blue Mountain Review discovered this little “slice” of Italian Heaven, we knew bringing a piece home for our readers was a must-have. What is the history of I Love New York? Who’s behind this venture here in Jasper? What factors made you choose your location in town? Two friends had a restaurant in Long Island, NY for years and recently brought that New York taste to the North GA Mountains. They chose the Jasper location after starting with a couple locations in the Canton and Milton areas, but then selling them. Customers were frequently making suggestions that they move their restaurant further north. Regulars were driving all the way from the Bent Tree and Big Canoe areas to enjoy the “I Love NY Pizza” menu and experience. What is the true passion behind your establishment? What’s the work ethic that keeps you thriving? We are a family business. Our exclusive recipes are a mixture of the modern New York flare and classic European family traditions I ssue
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I Y New York What are your goals in 2018? To enjoy the new area, and to share the authentic New York tastes with more and more customers! Are you going to have any special events like visiting musicians? Yes, entertainment will definitely be in the future. Follow our Facebook page for updates at www.facebook.com/NYPizzaJasper/ What is it like to be a server with I Love New York? Fun, a little chaotic at times but I am very proud of the food I am serving.
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I Y New York What foods are the owner, Ozzy’s, personal favorites? You can’t beat our Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. What are some books the staff is currently reading, when they aren’t busy serving up world-class cuisine? James Patterson and Charlaine Harris. What sets your bar area apart from others in town? The ambiance and music (Frank Sinatra era). When you walk in our door, and sit down at our bar you become family. Actually, we really feel that all our customers are family!
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Southern Collective Experience is an organization of the arts founded in 2010. A need was seen in the Arts community for increased professionalism and the tight-knit feel of a family within, and around, those who shared a similar vision. This is a group of men and women who not only dream of being an artist, but have gained success in that endeavor. They promote and provide personal support within their ranks to show through doing that not all of the Creative Ilk are incapable of sharing a stage. The cardinal virtue of the Collective is to promote the arts, in all its forms, proving that integrity, high standards, and classical understanding of the past, present, and future of expression do exist. Not only that, but they are thriving. Every member holds their own responsibilities within the organization, while gaining promotion for their own work through social media, SCE Events, this magazine, and an NPR radio show called Danteâ€™s Old South. With each issue of The Blue Mountain Review, we set aside a section to introduce you to some of our members, to highlight their endeavors, and to honor their creative contributions to the SCE. You can find out about our other members, and much more, by visiting our website, www.southerncollectiveexperience.com.
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CELESTE DUCKWORTH interview by Clifford Brooks
What are the jewels in the crown of your life that make you, brilliantly you? My authenticity is one of those jewels that came early in my life. Being a single mom at 16 years-old and homeless forced me to make some hard on the spot decisions that included trusting people I didn’t know. I left home because it was n’t a safe place for my daughter or me in the long term but no place to really go, so I lived on the street I lived in probably one of the worst hotels, with a lot of street people who became part of an ever-evolving family that kept pushing me to be better. Hustlers, ladies of the night, pushers, and pimps. They kept us fed, sometimes cared for my daughter while I looked for work or if I had a class and made sure we were safe at night. Imagine that! It also taught me to not judge people solely on their looks or their circumstances. Other jewels that developed in me was a fierce need to protect and be loyal to those who I cared about, but sometimes being real would frighten people away. My integrity, I am brutally honest, with a dark sense of humor, but I don’t candy coat things for anyone. If you say you need me to be there while you make those hard decisions I am there for you. People who know me will say, “don’t’ ask Celeste unless you are ready to hear the truth. Living in truth is the only way to live life to the fullest. What moves you most in life? Who moves you most in life? What are these forces and folks in your life inspiring you to do? Truly all the beauty contained in a day that most people take for granted. When I take my walks in the morning usually around 4 AM or 5 AM. I am in awe of something as simple as the stillness of the air early in the morning. There is a hush before the world wakes up and it’s my favorite part of the day. It’s when I cry, laugh, and sing praises to God. Emptying myself from anything that was yesterday. Who moves me is God, not to sound churchy but he has truly been my father, mother, confidant, and protector. He has brought out of places and situations where I might not be alive today. My children move me, and despite our beginnings, they are really cool individuals and I want to see them so much more than I did but I recognize it’s their choice and life. I am grateful that they get me maybe 70% of the time and accept me for who I am. I didn’t believe in I ssue
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Celeste Duckworth being their friend but being their parent. But they knew I loved them, and although roles change when children grow up and start making their own lives. So I am honored when they ask me for advice and I create opportunities to give them my knowledge and every few days I take the time to send them short blogs on different subjects like being intentional in all they do or tell each child why I am proud of them or something hilariously funny that gets me put in time out. This year they are learning who I am as the president of the Vertikal Alliance, which is pretty cool. Both daughters want to learn my skills and about Vertikal so it was awesome sending them applications and Vertikal paperwork. Yes we are a real company and we laugh a lot but the rules are you don’t call me mom when we are conducting business. A huge force in my life was my Aunt Joan my mother’s sisters she listened to me when I talked about working in corporate America and one day she called said if I wanted to start over that I could come live with her and my Uncle. I quit the next day and sold all my things to move to Arizona. I saw what real love was between a couple, how to love my children and family in good times and bad. She would say when you don’t know what to do just love. I learned a few years ago what she meant. A lot of people make decisions that adversely affect their lives and when you are at your absolute lowest love shines the brightest in your heart and you know there is somewhere to go. I believe some people stay in situations because they feel there is nowhere else to go. Then there is my best friend Laura, we once met at an event and really hit it off but did not really talk until maybe a year later we met up at a couples outing and I met her and her husband and I was with my fiance. Little did we know that the death of her husband followed by the death of my fiancé by just two months pushed us into a real friendship. I didn’t know if I could pull off running Vertikal and she was operating a Non Profit, so I asked her to help me come from behind the organization, and I became her Media Partner while she mentored me in the skills of planning and creating a strategy for my business. What is really cool is that we do not filter things with each other and she doesn’t judge me, but she has a cool way of making me face myself instead of running. We are really into pushing each other to the place we belong in pursuing our purpose. Most of all I know what I have gone through in my life and what it took to overcome it on my own and so a lot of what I do is to encourage people.
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What are the Top 3 Most Honorable Memories you have thus far in life? When I was 10 I came home and found that my mom had brought me two sets of books. Literary Classics like Jules Verne, Hemingway, Brothers Grim, Hans Christen Anderson, and more and she also brought me World Encyclopedias. I still have four of them. Where I learned about the great art pieces of the world, Science, Astrology and it also featured great writers. I read those books over and over but they also gave me as a reference point to explore and discover more things to read like Mythology. You can imagine how my mind expanded with more stories to create. When I started writing poetry a friend challenged me to write a poem for a City of Phoenix Arts Council Project. Of course, I procrastinated and at the last minute wrote the poem and submitted it and a few weeks later I found out that I won and my poem would be mounted and hung on the building wall. When I received the contract it said that I was being paid $1200.00 I gave it to my mom and asked her to read it again. I still marvel when I pass the building and realize my poem is on the wall of the Maryvale Community Center and it also opened the door to be invited to recite poetry for the City of Scottsdale Arts Council and the Shermer Art Museum in Phoenix. I think the third best memory is when I moved to Ireland alone and lived there for a few years. I was already spending long summers helping some friends who lived in a Castle to restore it, and it was an opportunity to study family history. It was the
Celeste Duckworth most freeing thing a woman could do but it was also the most freeing thing a Black Woman could do and it changed my perspective of the world. It’s a freeing experience to be with people who did not look at the color of your skin to see who you are and it left a deep impression on me and my identity as an American. They never referred to me as a Black American I was just an American and I don’t allow anyone to tell me or treat me differently than that. Please tell us about your company, how it was born, how it has grown, and how you’d like to see it mature. In 2010 I met Norman Anderson who was the founder and CEO of The Vertikal Alliance, which included Vertikal Magazine and Vertikal Radio. He found me through a mutual friend and wanted some advice on his web platform and on some aspects of what he wanted to do with Vertikal. So my company at the time built the second platform for Vertikal Magazine online. In 2012, Norman asked me to be Publisher at Vertikal Magazine. I was really interested because I had just finished my second book and was only thinking of writing. But a friend convinced me that it would be a great job for me so I called Norman and accepted the position. I developed a great respect for Norman’s mission and realized it lined up with things I wanted to do for people, so we co-founded Women On The Rise (a program that features the stories of women who have left corporate America or their kids were grown and they started following their passions). Then came A Taste of Ink which is about all things writing and because Norman really supported me when it came to my poetry and books, I wanted to give writers another way to get the word out about who they were and about their books. Norman passed the legacy of Vertikal to me in 2014. After two years of running Vertikal, I made the decision to take ownership of Vertikal Alliance and it begins to grow quickly in 2017. We have grown into not only an online magazine but it has a Digital Marketing Component to help small businesses create their digital footprint, then came VK Press, Teen Vertikal Media Camp (Creative Workshops for Teens in Media/Literature) and She’s More Network (Social Enterprise Radio Program for Teen Girls) and Anansi Radio where we have partnered with our Sister magazine in the United Kingdom to create a global radio platform to help create real connections with creative and innovative people worldwide
interested in changing media narrative to a more positive and empowering message.
What is the most exciting thing happening in your life right now? That I have an opportunity to create a new life for myself that is all me. After Norman passed away in 2014 and my mom in 2015. I lost almost everything I had, due to the medical bills except Vertikal. It was working on Vertikal all day and pretty much all night. Pushing myself so I didn’t have to think and I still had boxes packed in my apartment because this would have been our first home and he would not be there to unpack or see how Vertikal was growing. Literally, my neighbors were leaving food and taking out my trash I wasn’t thriving just going through the motions and I knew if I didn’t pull it together I would run away from it all. This is when the things I learned from my family and my professor started pulling myself back and of course, I started talking to God. One day I just asked God, ‘What about Love, What about Vertikal? What do I do now?’ The first answer was that I need to get up every day and just live. The second answer was, what does it look like to love Celeste? And was I ready to take ownership of Vertikal? I also learned that there would be a lot of people who were loyal to Norman but not to me that would leave and there was a bit of a power play inside Vertikal. I had to learn to be bold enough to just ask for help from new people and push myself to learn the business. I am writing again, planning a move to a new home, traveling to Europe, playing my guitar and allowing myself to accept the accolades and blessing with great gratitude. What are the areas of hope you see in American culture/ art today that serve to add sanity to a mad situation? Great question I believe Art is the heartbeat of American culture it’s the rhythm of our moral code I ssue
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that reminds us of our past, present and future dreams. It is always at the forefront of ushering in Social and Political change giving the true voice of the people. A way to verbalize through expression. When you hear a poem, read a book, hear music or even when someone is singing. You are hearing the expression of a story of someone you may not know or get along with but is telling and it touches you in a way that makes all the boundaries go away, illuminated and enriching our emotional world. What are you reading? The Power of Vision – Dr. Myles Munroe, my goal is to read all of his books especially the kingdom series he has a lot of insights into leadership responsibilities. But coming from God’s perspective so its rich content on living and understanding the relationship between God’s desire for you and how it fits in the grand scheme of relationships, business and the world. Athena Departs – Charles Clifford Brooks III. The Ultimate Marketing Guide – Dan Kennedy and Rookie Smarts – Liz Wiseman. I probably have enough books to last me three years including books that Authors send me to read for our Taste of Ink program. If you could create a concert with your Top 5 Favorite Musical Acts, living or dead, who would they be? That is a hard one because I love music but here goes. Prince, pure genius, Teena Marie she sings from a deep place in her heart, Van Morrison why I love playing my guitar, Creedence Clearwater just love that funky twang and Tina Turner a true survivor who recreated herself.
Human Genetics my professor gave me a special independent study of writing commentaries after reading various articles on Natural Selection, Genetic Mutations and the evolution of man. In between study time I was writing a Science Fiction thriller, and when I finished the short story my cousin read it and said this could be a book. It sparked something in me and when I went home that night and I finished the book, but it was a real struggle to think I could take a creative writing class. Even more daunting is that while I was good at programming and technical things I was not confident with my grammar, but I submitted ten chapters to an elite creative writing class and was accepted with the condition that I finish the book. The professor said that it was a good story, and my grammar would get an F, but he just wanted me to finish the story and we would worry about grammar later. This year I am getting the first book ready for editing. Wow, this has been an incredible interview Cliff I don’t really share myself with the world. But thank you for the opportunity to tell my story.
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H Van Smith
Faces of Faith H. VAN SMITH
interview by Clifford Brooks
Give us a rundown of your adult life starting at 21. I graduated from high school in Virginia without ever having flown on a plane, and travel was limited, the furthest north—Pennsylvania, the furthest south—South Carolina, so when I look back what strikes me is the energy of movement in those early adult years. By 23, I’d had substantive, professional experiences in Bosnia, Japan, Iraq, and with the College of William & Mary. In Bosnia, teaching English to war-traumatized youth; in Japan, participating in an AIG-sponsored diplomatic tour of the country; and in Iraq, appointed as a Policy Advisor in the Ministry of Interior, working to rebuild the fire and ambulance service of the country. I may be the only red-headed Honorary Iraqi Firefighter in the world. I worked full time as an undergraduate in the office of public affairs, and upon graduation, they promoted me to Director of Public Outreach for the College of William & Mary. I began law school at William & Mary a few weeks after returning from Baghdad. Each week, I imposed on then-law school Dean W. Taylor Reveley III, now President of The College of William & Mary, to meet with me for conversations that expanded my vision of a lawyer’s role in our society. I co-founded the George Wythe Society of Citizen Lawyers at William & Mary, in part out of lessons from these conversations. I share President Reveley’s vision for what a good lawyer should represent. In The Style of a Law Firm, he wrote, speaking of the founding attorneys at Hunton & Williams LLP, (emphasis added): “They were lawyers of sweeping scope, both because the law was sufficiently uncluttered and sufficiently stately in its evolution to permit a Renaissance approach. They were people of enormous grace and culture. Thoroughly Virginian in a courtly manner now rare, they were also citizens of the nation. Entrepreneurs splendidly rewarded for their efforts, they also understood the imperative of public service. Those who could serve were expected to and they did, even at severe cost to themselves. I ssue
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Those founding fathers were an extraordinary assembly. Their legacy is compelling.” Law school, for me, was a time of intense preparation. Surrounded by the sheer volume of what I didn’t know was humbling and kept me reading, thinking and writing in the hushed quiet of the library. It didn’t surprise many, then, when I met my future wife in the law library at William & Mary in my third, and final, year of law school. It would have been one of the only places she could have found me. Our entire courtship occurred between study sessions, with longer and longer conversations, quietly held, between assignments across old oak tables flanking stacks of books. By year’s end, most assumed, as a result, that she was a law student, but in fact she was getting her master’s degree in higher education administration (graduating with a perfect, 4.0 grade point average). My grades that last semester dipped. I began my career with the third largest law firm in Virginia at the time, Williams Mullen, in Richmond, not one block from where I first got that early notion to become a lawyer. My wife and I came back from our honeymoon to a world turned upside down. One month later, I found myself laid off in late 2008, in the midst of a recession all too familiar to many of you. In the wake of that devastating emotional blow, I took a job with one of my mentors from William & Mary, Stewart Gamage, now at the University of Virginia. Her assignment was to convert billionaire John Kluge’s 3,000-acre horse farm in Charlottesville into a thriving center for interdisciplinary studies, hosting engaging seminars, retreats, and conferences. While there for two and a half years, I met one of my wife’s colleagues, who was going through a painfully long, drawn out, expensive divorce. We walked among the gardens of John Kluge’s former estate, Morven, while she recounted the behavior of her attorney, the endless legal bills, the months of anxiety and misdirection. She showed me the detailed billing statements, 124 | the BLUE MOUNTAIN REVIEW Issue 11
without the results she had been looking for in the first place. “Can you help me?” she pleaded. To maintain my license to practice law during this time, I had to attend at least twelve hours of continuing legal education courses each year. I poured myself into family law, learning its nuances, and I outlined a plan that could not only help our friend, but that could be applied to a host of other situations. I brought two or three thick volumes on divorce with me to my in-laws for Thanksgiving that year, reading them on the couch, to their dismay. (“Katie, is everything alright with you and Van…?”) Who were these divorce lawyers? What made some great? How did they expertly negotiate through crisis? What pitfalls did they avoid that others were ensnared by? (I later found the answer—a great family lawyer is like a threelegged stool—a counselor, a trial attorney, and a financial advisor, all in one.) Family law practices are still, at root, boutique enterprises—how could you run one well? Suddenly books on negotiation, small business building, yes, and family law cases covered my nightstand. I was determined. Washingtonian magazine produces, every other year, its list of top divorce lawyers in the D.C. metro area. I recall scanning that list, wondering aloud how the divorce firms were run from the inside. What differentiated them from one another? Not long after this study, I accepted a position with one of the firms that had made that list—Sevila, Saunders, Huddleston & White—in Northern Virginia. Attending hearings, depositions, and long trials with these leading attorneys was instructive and empowering. I had a chance to hone the trial skills I’d begun to develop at Williams Mullen. My wife and I were never completely comfortable
H Van Smith
in Northern Virginia, however. There was a pace, a level of traffic, and quality of life that never quite felt right or balanced to us. What if I started my own firm?
law firm, SMITH | STRONG, PLC. I’ll never forget one of my mentors, Dennis Belcher, now deceased, but then a legendary attorney at McGuire Woods in Richmond. He reminded me, “And don’t forget why you went to law school, Van, to solve complex problems and help people…” The definition of a good lawyer, at last revealed, and understood. Smith Strong, PLC, now has 6 lawyers and 8 support staff, and Katie and I have two children, Farah and George. My life at the moment is focused squarely on both the firm and family. What role did faith/the church play in your childhood?
I began my own firm, Smith Strong, PLC, in January 2012. A team approach has led to incredible growth across central Virginia as we now serve clients in the Charlottesville, Richmond, and Williamsburg corridor, all places I have lived and continue to maintain close friendships. We focus on family law, estate planning, and estate litigation matters. William & Mary President W. Taylor Reveley III wrote as then-managing partner of Hunton & Williams LLP, in his foreword to The Style of a Law Firm, (emphasis added): “Whether universities, regiments, or law firms, some institutions move powerfully from one generation to the next. Others find themselves becalmed, or they founder. Reasons for success or failure are legion. But those that prevail usually take strength from their past. They remember their heroes, their times of peril and triumph, and their basic beliefs. The importance of the past as a source of confidence and poise grows with the turmoil of the present.” I hope the same is as true for you as it is for my
That is such a good question, because you could hear my professional story and miss how truly important faith and church were to my formation. I was born to a father who had dropped out of college and a mother who graduated high school early with a GED-styled equivalency. My father was very nostalgic for the farmlands of his ancestors just south of Goldsboro, North Carolina, and so, before I was born, he and my mother relocated from Richmond to Carolina. My father was selling used cars out of a woodframed structure on cinder blocks and my mother was working for a small insurance brokerage in Mount Olive, North Carolina. And then I was born with a rare head-water disease, hydrocephalus. As it has been described to me, hydrocephalic patients are born without the ‘tubes’ that allow fluid to properly drain from the head to the body below. So, my head appeared swollen, and I was given a diagnosis of vegetable by 17, dead by 24. I mention my parents humble background, because this could easily have overwhelmed a couple in such circumstances with no safety net, but they had faith. On the night before my surgery, with a plan to install a “shunt” to assist with drainage, which I ssue
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would likely cause some brain damage and limit play, but ease symptoms, they stopped in a small 1-room country church on Zion Road, surrounded by tobacco fields, with the scent of chicken coops wafting in the breeze. The congregation prayed and the pastor assured my parents, we pray for healing. The next morning my parents and grandparents paced the waiting room of the hospital.
in spite of trials and desperate moments to stay faithful and trust in God. Without a foundation of belief, faith, and obedience, that cracks will always form in whatever the enterprise. This does not mean I am perfect, but as I’ve gotten off course, I always come back to that centering mantra. Faith also lends a steadying hand even as I don’t fully understand “why,” or “where,” or “when.”
A Doctor came out in scrubs to deliver the news, “I don’t know how to tell you this . . . .” “Yes?,” my parents asked. “Well, as did our last scans before the surgery, the tubes have formed leading out of your son’s head, and the fluid is now draining properly. We don’t need to perform the procedure, but we’d like to leave him here overnight for tests . . . .” My parents were overjoyed, and scooped me up from the operating room, and left that day. That moment brought a powerful spiritual awakening in my family. Our family life, in hindsight, was very spiritual and faith-based. Life, community, Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights were in church. Many children have rebelled and turned into “black sheep” under the pressure of that regime, I think what kept me and my four siblings on the path was the sincerity of my parent’s faith. Further, for me personally, like Private Ryan on the bridge at the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan, I felt keenly that I needed to “earn this,” that is, the gift, the miracle of my life. As the oldest of five children, and the product of a medical miracle, I always felt older, and lived with the mantra to whom much is given, much is expected. What were your early impressions on faith, and what are they now? Faith, to me, has always been rooted in a belief of a higher purpose and calling. A belief that 126 | the BLUE MOUNTAIN REVIEW Issue 11
Who are some of your favorite theologians and why/favorite works they’ve written? Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis have always captivated me, as they were deemed excellent, intelligent, accomplished, and then, in spite of skepticism and risk of professional acceptance, publicly declared their faith in a compelling way. They were transformative thinkers, that followed their own lodestar, the clarity of their conscience. Biographical portraits of these two, along with their own words, should be held out among the great works. Tell us about your time spent in active duty overseas and how your faith helped you “keep it together”.
H Van Smith
I served as a Department of Defense civilian and Policy Advisor to the Ministry of Interior with the Coalition Provisional Authority, the occupying power of Iraq from 2003 to 2004, living and working in Baghdad, Iraq. I turned 23 while in Iraq, and that experience gave me a newfound courage and boldness when I returned. Not a brash, cocky version, however, as war also demonstrates one stray bullet, in an instant, can change it all, but a firmness of belief, of principles, of capacity in myself.
the mind and bring a sense of calm to an active or anxious mind. For me, music is a daily meditation in the morning, as I get ready, to calm me down or pump me up as the situation requires.
There was a 7-mile drive between the Green Zone and the Baghdad International Airport. Along this drive were high-rise buildings and apartments that bordered the road. This was the main artery to move people and equipment, and when people needed to go anywhere, it began with a trip down that dangerous corridor. There were stories of people being shot and missiles being fired at random on western vehicles, making us easy targets, from balconies and roof tops along the road. I always volunteered to drive that ‘run’ between the airport and the Green Zone. And I always felt extremely calm and at peace, even when danger was present. I actually felt calmer, with greater focus, the more chaotic the situation.
This morning before court I listened to “Multiplied,” by the band NeedtoBreathe, a few years back, it would have been “King of Glory,” by Third Day.
About once a week, if memory serves, rocket propelled grenades would fly into the camp, at times, knocking me out of my bed as the loud speaker yelled, “take cover!,” “take cover!.” I would always immediately flip my mattress back over peak out to make sure no one needed medical attention, put my earplugs in, and go back to sleep. I was calm, with an almost ruthless focus in war—I believe that came from faith.
You now have a burgeoning law practice in Richmond, Virginia. Now on a new battlefield, are there church groups and/or folks you meet once a week to keep your spirits up in the face of society’s poor moral habits?
In returning home, there are many studies that demonstrate service members that have an authentic grounding in faith, actually have diminished or lower residual effects from PTSD. Are there any songs of faith you cling to when your soul feels spread too thin? When I meet someone for lunch or a business meeting for the first time, they will often remark, “I can tell your mind is always turning,” or “you’re always thinking,” I think music can help soothe
I think music invigorates the mind and soul, it’s really important, more so than we realize. If you asked me this last year or ask me again next year, my musical tastes will have shifted, the songs would be different.
Of course, I also love secular music from all genres, and am known in the office to occasionally sing to the staff in my law office on Friday afternoons, and being millennials, they’ll whip out their phones and record me, there are probably videos of me singing somewhere in the far reaches of social media. Music usually prompts creative energy in me. I will usually listen to songs before writing, especially before writing poetry.
Yes. I attend Third Church, an evangelical Presbyterian denomination. I attended Falls Church Anglican and have supported the rise of the new Anglican Church in Virginia, and America at-large, as congregations broke away from the Episcopal Church. I think one of the great secrets of America, in general, is the constant renewal and rebirth of faith in our communities. We are not wedded to a spiritual orthodoxy that becomes stale and removed from the culture. It is why we have so many churches and denominations in the US—that constant little revolution of the heart against stale orthodoxy, against meaningless ritual, and to reconnect to the spiritual relationship that underpins our faith journey. Americans naturally rebel against I ssue
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monarchy, orthodoxy, and hierarchies that become exercises in self-preservation, rather than serving the populations that installed them to those positions in the first place—may it ever be so. I also attend a weekly ‘parish group’ of young families in my immediate neighborhood for a weekly bible study and potluck dinner, associated with Third Church. I also want to confess that there is a men’s bible study on Wednesday mornings at 6AM that I am invited to attend, and when I do am always glad I went, but rarely make it, because it begins at 0600. But I encourage your lone-wolf male readership out there to try it, I’ve been amazed at the impact of prayer breakfasts and men’s bible studies in my life.
rosy or perfect either. We are flawed individuals on a fallen planet, spinning in a vast universe. We do our best, and they are good people, and try to help others. In that way, I am very blessed. Children are wonderful blessings, but they also demand time, attention, and selfless devotion. That is not easy to wake up and give every day consistently, but it’s powerfully rewarding. What charities or outreach programs do you support? I support locally-based outreach ministries, in addition to local churches, including: Project Hope: A Chesterfield, VA based organization that provides free medical services to leprosy patients and the indigent in Ethiopia; The Parsons’ Cause Foundation, Inc: A Hanover, VA based organization committed to promoting the historical importance of the legacy of Patrick Henry, Virginia’s role in the founding of our nation, and introducing the next generation to our Commonwealth’s rich history. Their summer program provides free historical presentations to the public in Historic Hanover Courthouse; Crossover Healthcare Ministry: A Richmond, VA based non-profit that provides 6,500 area residents free medical services; Historic Richmond Foundation: A Richmond, VA based non-profit that supports the preservation of central Virginia’s historic architecture and history. Smith Strong, PLC was a 2017 sponsor of Historic Richmond’s Masquerade Ball.
You have an incredible family. Please tell us how they help remind you God is good even when the world does not. I have a wonderful family of my own, and I come from a wonderful family as well. Wonderful does not mean perfect, people may assume that looking at the smiling pictures online, but marriage, family, children, work are tough enterprises to get right. So, I’m thankful for what I have, but don’t want to give the impression it’s all 128 | the BLUE MOUNTAIN REVIEW Issue 11
Atop all this you are also a gifted poet. Please supply us with one or two pieces. Sure, how about “I You,” and “Samson.”
H Van Smith
The Sound of Samson
For the mistake we made, Allowing separation in between, Now, instead of saying, I love you, We gently say, I You.
Samson. Strongest man in the world, Wanted the love of just one more, Come inside, close the door.
You are my meditation, My whispered prayer exaltation, The one I’ll call as the towers fall, I You. Breathe, Exhale. I You.
Samson. Met Delilah on a summer day, And by nightfall, he’d been led astray, Wanted love, so gave it all away.
You are perfect in every way, So let nothing come between, I You. Love, eat, pray, Work, read, and laugh, sure.
Samson. Fell asleep in her arms, And she said, this is all you need, Stroked his hair, calmed his fears.
But with us, I You, Forever, I You, Not a thing more needed, I You, In the quiet, alone, I You.
Samson. No man could ever take him down, But in the night, she stole his crown, Cut his hair, left none to spare.
I’ve seen the way others say, I love you, and, well, When I see you, love is never enough, It’s everything, all at once—I You.
Samson. Awoke, and said, what have you done? I thought, Delilah, you were the one! You said you’d have my son. Samson. Blinded by love, forgot God above, Chained by enemies to his knees, Philistines did feast, laughing at their beast. Samson. Prayed to God, just one more time, Give me Your strength, my destiny, To do Your will, then I’ll be still. Samson. Rising up from the ground, With God’s strength, knocked them down. Scattered all around, not another sound. —the Sound of Samson. fin Inspired by Judges 13-16; Read to the beat of Michael Kiwanuka’s song “Love & Hate” I ssue
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http://www.southerncollectiveexperience.com/dantes-old-south-radio-show/ I ssue
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but when the sun goes down and them bright light shine, my daytime has just begun ... James Taylor
the BLUE MOUNTAIN Review
A Journal of Culture Poetry, Literature, and the Arts from The Southern Collective Experience