In this volume:
Denise Duhamel Angie Estes Kathy Fagan Richard Garcia Naama Goldstein Paul Guest David Hernandez James Himelsbach Laura Johnson A. Van Jordan Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis Sarah Kennedy Jesse Lee Kercheval Vandana Khanna Leonard Kress
Timothy Liu David Lloyd Sonya Chung Miyamura Matthew Pitt Jack Ridl Geoff Schmidt Floyd Skloot Virgil SuĂĄrez Daniel Tobin Brian Turner Alison Umminger Charles Harper Webb Kelly Whiddon S.L. Wisenberg Geoffrey D. Witham
Volume 7, Number 2 Spring/Summer 2002
Melissa Baird Ned Balbo Jackie Bartley Eleanor Berry Andrew Bomback Ben Brooks Anthony Butts Lanette Cadle Joseph Campana Jennifer Chang Victoria Chang Chauna Craig Chad Davidson Christine Delea Kevin Ducey
Crab Orchard Review
Cover: Four photographs by Jason Holland ÂŠ 2002 Jason Holland is a student in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
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Stage & Screen Writers on Entertainment
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Spring/Summer 2002 ISSN 1083-5571
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Address all correspondence to: Crab Orchard Review Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503 Crab Orchard Review (ISSN 1083-5571) is published twice a year by the Department of English, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Subscription rates in the United States for individuals are $10 for one year, $20 for two years, $30 for three years; foreign rates for individuals are, respectively, $14, $28, and $42. Subscription rates for institutions are $12 for one year, $24 for two years, and $36 for three years; foreign rates for institutions are, respectively, $16, $32, and $48. Single issues are $6 (please include $3 for international orders). Copies not received will be replaced without charge if notice of nonreceipt is given within four months of publication. Six weeks notice required for change of address. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Crab Orchard Review, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503. Crab Orchard Review considers submissions from January through April, and September through November of each year. All editorial submissions and queries must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Please notify the editors of simultaneous submission. Crab Orchard Review accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions and will not enter into correspondence about their loss or delay. Copyright © 2002 Crab Orchard Review Permission to reprint materials from this journal remains the decision of the authors. We request Crab Orchard Review be credited with publication. The publication of Crab Orchard Review is made possible with support from the Chancellor, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of English of Southern Illinois University Carbondale; and through generous private and corporate donations. Lines from Thomas Kinsella’s poem “Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” are reprinted from Thomas Kinsella: Poems 1956-1973 (North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1979) and appear by permission of the author. Crab Orchard Review is indexed in Index of American Periodical Verse. Visit Crab Orchard Review’s website:
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VOLUME 7, NUMBER 2
PROSE AND FICTION S.L. Wisenberg
Irving Berlin, the Margin and the Mainstream
Deeper into Movies
All the Mourners of Zion
Sonya Chung Miyamura
Lovely Leo (circa 1999)
After the Snowman
Let Us Rejoice!
Confessions of a Femme Fatale
Geoffrey D. Witham
Everyone Gets a Happy Ending
Recent Titles by Bonnie J. Morris, 245 Richard Terrill, Elizabeth Searle, and Anthologies of Work on Humor, Poems about Elvis Presley, and Stand Up Poetry
POETRY Melissa Baird
Hands of the Stars
Vertigo Ophelia: A Wreath
Jean Harlowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Lips
Drawing Della Street Doris Dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Calamity Jane
Roman Holiday The Deer Hunter
An Evening at the Chinese Opera Lisa Fremont
Because Star Trek is Love in Another Language
The Poseidon Adventure Comes to North Babylon, New York: We Recognized Evil Before It Knew Us
Wim Wenders vs. the Wolfman
Late Night Ghazal
Pinocchio The Last Words of Alice the Goon
Wile E. Coyote Attains Nirvana Laurel and Hardy Backwards
The Comedian Heads for the Desert Night Train from Moscow Late Show at The Elysian
118 120 122
No Horses Visiting Hour
A. Van Jordan
Macnoliaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Dream of Shirley Temple
Jesse Lee Kercheval
The Adventures of Billy Voyage Autour Dâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Une Etoile Imagine God As a Camera
135 137 139
Blue Romance in Many Movements
Student Carmen Backstage Nutcracker
Ode to Joe Orton Ode to Maria Callas
Eschatology: Frank and Elvis The Garden According to Frank
The Lure of the Mexican Vampire Movies, or How Skin Flickers Past You Never Know How Things Will Turn Out in the Movies
The Rainbow Café
Houdini in a Barrel Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1926–7
Charles Harper Webb
The House Began to Pitch
INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2002
A Note on Our Cover The four photographs on the cover of this issue are the work of Jason Holland, a freelance photographer and a student in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The two photographs on the right side of the front cover were taken during an April 2002 production of George Farquharâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s The Beaux Stratagem, directed by Rebecca Fishel Bright. The photograph on the left side of the front cover and the photograph on the back cover were both taken in Southern Illinois Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Shryock Auditorium. Shryock Auditorium was constructed on the Old Campus of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1917. Designed by Chicago architect J.B. Dibelka, the auditorium seats over 1200 and is one of the finest performing arts centers in the region. The Reuter pipe organ in the north balcony of the auditorium (pictured on the back cover) was commissioned in 1970. For more information on Shryock Auditorium and events scheduled there, visit the Shryock Auditorium website at http://www.siu.edu/~shryock/index.html.
Announcements We would like to congratulate past contributors Deborah Cummins and Duriel E. Harris, past and present contributor S.L. Wisenberg, and Board of Advisors member Richard Russo. Deborah Cummins and Duriel E. Harris are recipients of 2002 Artist Fellowship Awards in Poetry from the Illinois Arts Council, and S.L. Wisenberg is the recipient of a 2002 Finalist Award in Prose from the Illinois Arts Council. Richard Russoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s novel Empire Falls was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
Irving Berlin, the Margin and the Mainstream
He was always part of a group, came here as a small boy in the middle of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. He believed in the wisdom of “the mob,” said affectionately, though you’d think he’d be skeptical of mob action because of his first memory: at night, in the spring, probably Eastertime, watching the family’s wooden house and other shtetl buildings burn down, in or near Mohilev in Russia, about 125 miles east of Minsk. He remembered lying on a blanket outside with his family, watching the village burn, the result of group violence. His first published song, “Marie of Sunny Italy,” was part of a wave of “ethnic” songs. He was always in the middle of a mob, liked crowds, New York City. A paradox: How can you be of the crowd, within the crowd, in tune with it, and still distinguish yourself ? By giving ’em what they want. By reflecting their sentiments back to them. Quickly, cleverly, prolifically. When they wanted “coon” songs, with stereotypical blacks as the ostensibly comic protagonist, that’s what he provided. Same with holiday songs, love ballads, novelties, waltzes, jazz, citif ied lyrics and down-home tunes. Embraced the public taste, because it was his own. Not for him the torment of the artiste: the choice between channeling public sensibilities and the private muse. The majority was his muse. Even his racism was mainstream—no worse, no less than his peers’. A critic of the exploitation of blacks by early century songsters admits that Berlin was just doing what came naturally— what everyone else was doing. The critic, Jeffrey Melnick, admits that Berlin managed to “defuse [minstrel’s] most offensive elements.” Melnick saves his ire for the “arrogance” of George Gershwin. Berlin embraced the people. And then, as he grew older and older and older, he hid himself, became a recluse, in the midst of Manhattan. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 1
Easter in America For Jewish émigrés like Irving Berlin, Easter ceased to be the time when you had to run scared from the drunken crazed masses on horseback, bent on destroying the people who had killed their Christ, incited to attack by the priests. Easter was an American holiday. A character in Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock praises Irving Berlin as “‘the greatest Diasporist of all.’” He continues: “‘God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then He gave to Irving Berlin “Easter Parade” and “White Christmas.” The two holidays that celebrate the divinity of Christ—the divinity that’s the very heart of the Jewish rejection of Christianity—and what does Irving Berlin brilliantly do? He de-Christs them both! Easter he turns into a fashion show and Christmas into a holiday about snow. Gone is the gore and the murder of Christ—down with the crucifix and up with the bonnet! He turns their religion into schlock. But nicely! Nicely! So nicely the goyim don’t even know what hit ’em.’” A few of Berlin’s less-known holiday songs: “Let’s Say It with Firecrackers,” “Plenty to Be Thankful For,” and “Let’s Start the New Year Right.” He also wrote “Let’s All Be Americans Now” and “For Your Country and My Country.” Patriotism, says biographer Laurence Bergreen, was his “true religion.” In graduate school I had a friend, also Jewish, whose grandmother had survived an Easter attack in her Old Country. My friend used to sing: “In your Easter bonnet / with all the frills upon it / you’ll be the cutest baby / in the Easter pogrom.” My friend had been an anti-war activist during the Vietnam era, had gotten married in a Quaker ceremony, the cake decorated with a big omega-sign of resistance. Irving Berlin’s friend Alexander Woollcott, who was also his first biographer, wrote of attending “a strange christening” for the Berlins’ third child—the daughter of a Jew and a Catholic, who would be raised Protestant. The term “melting pot” came from a play by that name, written by the Jewish Englishman Israel Zangwill, born of Russian immigrants. The 1909 play had a long run on Broadway, and includes the line: “America is God’s crucible, the great melting-pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming.” The playwright, Encyclopedia Judaica informs us, “abandoned the idea within a few years.”
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Fall 2001 My Yiddish class is translating “God Bless America.” It is one of the impromptu assignments our teacher gives. It varies our Monday afternoons. Our progress proceeds at such glacial pace that a member will be absent a month (on a rayze in Erets Yisroel, or af a crayz—a cruise) and return to find us on the same page as when she left. (This is much slower than the reverse process our forebears went through, during eager Americanization.) Why are we so slow? We get sidetracked, for one, asking for an explanation for a form of grammar we allegedly learned or terms that come up in our weekly reports at the beginning of each class, like ur-consciousness-raising groups, like coffee klatches sans coffee (except an occasional to-go cup of cappuccino brought in). We check in. Talk about bar mitzvahs attended, often one of the eyniklekh’s (grandchildren’s); weddings danced at (men and women separately, for the teacher and half the class, the observant half); give informal retsenzyes (reviews) of movies and plays just seen; reports of health (of a husband’s prostate cancer, a class member’s reflux disease, my lover’s father’s recovery from small strokes). Besides, we don’t use our Yiddish much. So in the fall of 2001, after Sept. 11 (must I even say that—for how long will “the fall of 2001” be enough to conjure up such heaviness: the unbelievable blasts and devastation, our country’s alleged loss of innocence, leading to the easy little war in Afghanistan, where we may indeed follow in the clumsy footsteps of the former Soviet Union, so that their Vietnam becomes our Vietnam redux), we are sitting at a table in the chapel of an Orthodox synagogue in Rogers Park in Chicago, relying on our memories for the words of Irving Berlin’s now ubiquitous song. Some class members have heard a recording of it af Yiddish, but the teacher wants us to recall the English words and translate them. First we must discuss the meaning. Does the title express hope or is it an imperative? Do we address God with the verb that goes with the informal du? We finish the first verse and sing it. I’m embarrassed. Do I love the land, the mountains, the prairies, the oceans? They’re fine. I am sure that if I visited it, I would find the Grand Canyon, grand. I love my adopted city of Chicago, its great old buildings, its lake. I love the freedoms, the First Amendment, innocent before proven guilty. It occurs to me that we are taking a song written in the composer’s second language and translating it into his first. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 3
Patrimony Israel Beilin was born in Russia in April or May 1888, perhaps in Tyumen, or Temum, in western Siberia. Perhaps the house he remembered watching burn was not in Mohilev but in Tumum or maybe Tolochin, 300 miles south of Moscow. The family name became Baline in America. (Or else it was Baline in Russia and changed to Beilin in America. Accounts vary.) Israel’s father, Moses, son and grandson of cantors, was an itinerant cantor in Russia, and a lost soul when he came to America in 1893 with his six children and wife Lena or Leah. Two other children decided not to emigrate with them. Moses worked odd jobs—as a shomer, or religious watcher, guaranteeing that chickens were killed in the kosher method. He was a Hebrew tutor and led a synagogue choir, which son Israel—or Izzy— enjoyed, and later painted houses, a trade he was not suited to. There is no mention of Israel becoming a bar mitzvah. His coming of age took place all too soon, when he was 13, when Moses died. Izzy’s five siblings, all older, were hard working—in cigar factories and sweatshops. As a child he sold newspapers and soon graduated to singing outside saloons, then at 16 became a singing waiter at the Pelham Cafe, also called “Nigger Mike’s” after the swarthy Jewish owner, Mike Salter. There he began to write lyrics, and to pick out tunes on the black keys of the establishment’s piano. By 19 he was the published lyricist of sheet music (more commonly bought by people than records). The publishers of “Marie” listed the lyricist as I. Berlin, and the last name stuck. According to a biographer, he chose the name Irving because it sounded “less Biblical.” Soon he was inducted into the Friars’ Club for show business folks. His hero George M. Cohan introduced him in a roast, calling him a “Jew boy that had named himself after an English actor [Cohan was thinking of Henry Irving] and a German city.” “Nigger Mike” Salter died in 1922, and his obituary noted that he “was a white man.” Jews, Melnick writes, did call one another “nigger,” citing nicknames in novels and real-life streets: “Yoshke Nigger,” “Nig” Rosen, “Niggy” Rutman. The use of the term was their way of showing their anxiety about their closeness to African-Americans. According to Melnick, it was not until the 1940s that it became generally apparent that blacks were the expert interpreters of “black” music.
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The Oeuvre In his 101 years (1888–1989), Berlin copyrighted 899 songs, including 282 that reached the Top Ten, and 35 Number Ones. Among the ones that have lasted—have legs, as they say: “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and from Annie Get Your Gun, “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do.” What they said about Irving Berlin: “the greatest American song composer” —George Gershwin “the greatest songwriter of all time” —Cole Porter “Irving Berlin is American music” —Jerome Kern “the best all-around, over-all songwriter America has ever had” —Alec Wilder
The All-American Game I live near Wrigley Field. By “near,” I mean a block north of the eastern border of the stadium. “Near,” meaning my neighbors and I make pin money (or rather, cappuccino and tapas money) selling our alley parking spaces to fans foolish enough to drive in rather than take public transport. From inside I can often hear the roar of the crowd and the communal singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the seventh-inning stretch. In fall 2001, it was replaced by the over-pious “God Bless America.” There was precedent—on Memorial Day 1939, the song was played at Ebbets Field, while “the crowd rose and uncovered [their heads], as if for the national anthem,” according to the New York Times. It was sung at both Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1940, and even translated into German for the benefit of patriotic German-Americans. After Sept. 11, in Chicago as well as the rest of the country, I assume, the marquees of places from Walgreens to White Castle proclaimed “God Bless America,” and typically, also the news of the latest sale products. “What’s wrong with that?” asked M., my most non-ideological friend. “Why not wish for God to bless America?” I Crab Orchard Review ◆ 5
don’t think God belongs at Wrigley or Soldier or any other field (“Take him out of the ball game, / don’t sing his name out loud, / eat your peanuts and Cracker Jack, / keep the church out of the secular crowd”). “God bless the world” would be less offensive. Push that a little and you get “Peace on earth.” I would like to see that on a marquee. Clearly a wish, a dream, not an exclusionary imperative. In September, little flags started popping up on car antennas, flags printed in the newspaper appeared on the windows of houses and businesses and apartments, big cloth flags on poles. There were slogans: “These colors don’t run.” “A house divided cannot stand. Support President Bush in his war against terrorism.” Both my partner and I felt alienated and afraid. Why do I lump them all together—the flag, “God Bless America,” knee-jerk patriotism? Because they have been lumped together in the past. Because the flag-waving I’ve been alive to see was performed by my-country-right-or-wrongsters, by people who supported the war in Vietnam, who were against hippie protesters, peacemongers, pacifists and the counterculture. For me the flag is imperialist, it represents Manifest Destiny, has been flown too often over Third World countries; it is the flag of self-styled patriots who don’t believe in the First Amendment. I object to all coercion. I think of Eastern Europe before the Fall and consider all the pressure people had to not only join the party but display its symbols. Who assigns meaning to the flag? Am I such an individualist (individualism an American trait, after all), an egoist, that I can’t subject myself to a symbol? I wouldn’t mind flying a New York City flag (whatever that is) or a Chicago or Illinois flag. I made a poster for my window: “No to Arab bashing.” Then I brought it to a solidarity vigil in front of a mosque and left it there with someone who needed a sign to display. I bought a bumper sticker: “Peace begins when the hungry are fed.” My left-leaning friend K. hatched a plan to recapture the flag. She had 1,000 buttons made that showed the flag and “We Shall Overcome,” and dropped them off at local businesses, telling the proprietors to give them away, and to forward any donations to the Red Cross. Could her message be misread—as “Overcome those evil people who hate America,” rather than “Overcome hatred and racism”?
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The Birthday Party My friend G. almost canceled her 50th birthday party the weekend after the Trade Center attacks, but decided to go ahead with it. (Thankfully, she didn’t say: “If I cancel it, the terrorists will have won.”) The event was held in a restaurant decorated in Baby Boomer nostalgia. There my partner and I talked to our friend D., who told us he’d had trouble finding a flag for sale. “You have to get over that Vietnam mentality,” he told us. “The flag doesn’t stand for the same thing it did in the 1960s,” he said. A woman at the party, who’s Jewish, said that if she were in Europe during the war, she would have worn the yellow star. She was making an analogy with flying the flag, but I didn’t get it. She said she flew the flag for herself, not in order for others to see it—because it gave her comfort to see it there in her yard. I live in a six-unit brownstone. A few days after the party my neighbor across the hall asked if I had any objection to flying a flag in front. I said yes. I was outvoted, which was fine. One night after a game, some drunken Cubs fans tore down all the flags up and down our street. I deplore the destruction of property, by drunken Cubs fans or others. But I admit that unlike Francis Scott Key, I was relieved that our flag was not still there. Later I come across a statement by another Russian Jewish immigrant, one of my heroes, radical Emma Goldman. In 1917, she said: “I for one cannot believe that love of one’s country must needs consist in blindness to its social faults, to deafness to its social discords.” In the same speech, she extolls her love for America: “[W]e love her mountains, her canyons, her forests . . . and her deserts—above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty.”
A Song Is Born: Yip! Yip! Yaphank In February 1918, Irving Berlin became a citizen of the United States. In May 1918, he turned 30. By June, the successful and celebrated songwriter was drafted for the war that was winding down, stationed at the Army’s Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York. (Headlines Crab Orchard Review ◆ 7
around the country: “U.S. Takes Berlin!”) He arrived in a limo and later got his tailor to custom-fit his uniform. There are several versions of the following story. Possibly the camp commander asked Berlin to produce a show to raise $35,000 to build a service center for visitors. Or Berlin wanted to challenge a revue the Navy had produced with an even better one sponsored by his branch of the military. Or he was trying desperately to find a way to get out of the barracks and avoid reveille (as described in his song of the time: “Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning, / Oh how I’d rather stay in bed, / But the hardest blow of all / Is to hear the bugle call.”) He got the assignment to put on a show, and, along with it, his own private room and the rank of sergeant. The show was called Yip! Yip! Yaphank, and included 300 actors and crew (all male, except one), and was insouciant: “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” “Kitchen Police,” “You Can’t Stay Up All Night on Bevo”—a nonalcoholic beer substitute. For that song, Anheuser-Busch paid Berlin $10,000, which he donated to the Army. Berlin began writing a song for the show called “God Bless America,” based on a frequent impassioned sentence of his mother’s—presumably in Yiddish, since she did not speak English. But he soon assessed the new song as “too sticky,” “a little bit too patriotic,” and had his secretary put it in his trunk—i.e., on file. He replaced it with the finale, “We’re on the Way to France.” Yip! Yip! Yaphank premiered in August 1918 at the Century Theatre on Broadway. Berlin sang the KP song solo (“I wash the dishes / To make / this / wide / world / Safe for democracy”). The revue was a critical and popular success. The New York Times headline: “‘Yip! Yip! Yaphank!’ Makes Rousing Hit.” The October 1918 issue of Theatre Magazine said the first-night crowd resembled “the last inning of a world-series ball game.” The show was extended from eight to 32 shows and brought in $83,000. The war ended before the social center could be built. I looked through several biographies but found no mention of what was done with the money.
Blackface I Theatre includes a page of photos from the show. The ensemble photo shows the elaborate costuming: tall striped hats, wigs and flouncy skirts printed with musical notes on them, and . . . seven men (four dressed as women) in blackface, with the caption, “Some 8 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
of the Yaphankers bringing the old-fashioned minstrel show up to date.” The revue opened with a chorus that became a minstrel show, with men on either end of the chorus line in blackface. The finale of the minstrel portion was “a Darktown wedding,” Theatre reported. From what I can tell, the wedding scene included the song that became known as “Mandy” (as in, “There’s a minister handy”), but was originally called “Sterling Silver Moon.” It featured a chorus line of white men in blackface and drag with white ribbons in their hair. Mandy herself was Army private Dan Healy, veteran of vaudeville, also in drag and blackface. There’s a photo of the “Darktown wedding”—the bride attended upon by four small “girls,” who are black. Only one is female—the only one in the entire show. This young girl, whom Theatre called “a colored baby-vampire” (I’m assuming a positive connotation, as in “vamp”) “fairly stopped the proceedings with a pair of eyes that would be worth a million dollars in the movies if they were topped with Pickford curls instead of Topsy pigtails.” No amount of Oscars could make up for that.
Blackface II “The Irish dominated the minstrel show in the 19th century, as Jews did vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley,” Charles Hamm writes in Irving Berlin: Songs from the Melting Pot: The Formative Years, 1907–1914. In the book, Hamm counts 30 of Berlin’s songs through 1914 as having black protagonists, sometimes sung in blackface. Unlike contemporaries Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, Berlin was rarely a performer, and blackface was not part of his continuing shtick. However, he was the “Jewish musical figure most responsible for the translation of blackface from stage performance into song,” Melnick writes in A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song. Jews were close to blacks in their darkness and foreignness, but were mostly accepted as white. The songs of the South were about nostalgia for a country no longer in existence, a country akin to the Jews’ Old Country, some critics say. Irving Howe writes that “Black became a mask for Jewish expressiveness, with one woe speaking through the voice of another.” Melnick is more severe. “Berlin and Gershwin (and Jolson and so on) needed African Americans as both source of musical inspiration Crab Orchard Review ◆ 9
and object of representation,” he writes. “They summoned the memory of Stephen Foster—whether with veneration or irony—in order to claim their place in the minstrel tradition. . . . Jews in the music business participated fully in the American project of making money out of making fun of African Americans.” In 1910, Berlin wrote “Yiddle on Your Fiddle Play Some Ragtime,” about Sadie who calls Yiddle “mine choc’late baby” and loves when he plays ragtime. Berlin’s big early hit was the 1911 “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” The title character’s name was supposed to be comically pretentious for a black man, Melnick and Bergreen write. Even though not truly ragtime (as Berlin and others said), “Alexander” came to represent it and in 1913 Berlin was called in England the “King of Ragtime.” “Berlin had unprecedented success in marketing his version of ‘Black’ music as ‘American’ music,” notes Melnick. Others are not so critical. “Alexander” was “good enough for Bessie Smith,” comments Michael Feingold in a recent Village Voice review of the 530-page The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin. Berlin was often put on the spot about his relationship to black music. It didn’t help that he had a limited ability to play the piano, and relied on transcribers. There was a rumor he kept a “little colored boy” or “pickaninny” in the basement or closet who penned his works. He responded to the rumors in 1916: “. . . If they could produce the negro and he had another hit like ‘Alexander’ in his system, I would choke it out of him and give him twenty thousand dollars in the bargain.” The accusation must have dogged him, though it was no longer heard in later decades. Still in 1954, Berlin wrote a self-deprecating parody about the mythical “colored boy” as sort of a muse figure, saying when the boy did not show up, he, Berlin, couldn’t write.
The Return of the Song In 1938, after the Munich crisis, Berlin figured that he would soon be writing war songs. But the country didn’t want to go to war, was isolationist, and he began thinking he would compose a “peace song” instead. He told an interviewer: “I’d like to write a great peace song, but it’s hard to do because you have trouble dramatizing peace. Easy to dramatize war. . . . Yet music is so important. It changes thinking, it influences everybody, whether they know it or not.” He tried, with “Thanks, America” and “Let’s Talk About Liberty.” No dice. He 10 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
remembered the old 1918 song he’d stowed away. His secretary found it. He made a few changes. An original line was “Stand beside her and guide her to the right with a light from above.” “Right” was a political leaning now, so that line became “Through the night with a light from above.” “Make her victorious on land and foam” became “From the mountains / to the prairies / To the oceans / white with foam.” Kate Smith was looking for a song for Armistice Day. Radio was a powerful medium, Bergreen writes, reminding us that less than two weeks before, the country had panicked with Orson Welles’ narration of H. G. Wells’s “The War of the Worlds.” “Without quite meaning to,” Bergreen writes in As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin, “Welles had exploited the public unease; without quite meaning to, Berlin had calmed it.” “God Bless America” was a hit, though attacked by the KKK because it was written by a Jewish man, and by a Manhattan minister for being “mawkish.” Artists as diverse as Carl Sandburg and Leopold Stokowski praised it. Berlin himself called it “the most important song I’ve ever written,” according to his daughter. Realizing he had a hit on his hands, and not wanting to benefit from a song that he felt belonged to the people, he created a God Bless America Fund, with proceeds to go to the Boy and Girl Scouts. By 1940 it had raised $40,000. Some called for to be the new national anthem; “The Star-Spangled Banner” had had that designation only since 1931, and people complained it was too hard to sing or too militaristic. Recordings of the Berlin’s song have been made by Pat Boone, the Boston Pops, Bing Crosby, Charlie Daniels, Deanna Durbin, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Patti Lupone, Jim Nabors, Leontyne Price, Molly Ringwald & Children’s Chorus, Bobby Vinton and Neil Young.
Can You Live Too Long? Irving Berlin’s biggest Broadway hit was the 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun. In the 1950s, he suffered depression, a nervous breakdown, hospitalization, retirement. He had started painting at 60, for therapy, at the suggestion of friend Irving Hoffman. He wrote Hoffman that he realized he was painting the same painting, “But as I look back on my early songs, I realize I kept writing the same tune.” His last musical, Mr. President, was produced in 1962, and his Crab Orchard Review ◆ 11
own daughter admits it was a “dud.” For Berlin’s 80th birthday in 1968, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. “Patriotism is not dead,” he told the audience. He was nervous and frail as he sang “God Bless America” with the Boy and Girl Scouts. His daughter Mary Ellin Barrett writes in her memoir that he “sang it beautifully, a whole lifetime going into that frail but still true delivery. . . . He, the immigrant who had made good, was saying thank you.” Alas, with the war in Vietnam, the song had become, says Bergreen, “the anthem of imperialism.” Berlin had written only one anti-war song, an isolationist piece in 1914, “Stay Down Here Where You Belong.” The only singer to revive it was Tiny Tim. The songwriter’s last public appearance was at the embattled Nixon White House in the spring of 1973 at a dinner for POWs and their families. There’s a picture from that event in Edward Jablonski’s book: Nixon and Berlin in tuxes, Joey Heatherton in a lowcut evening gown, all three singing “God Bless America.” He continued to write songs, dictating them until he was 99. When he was nearly 100, he was, understandably, the subject of a number of articles. The New York Times found that young people thought the author of “God Bless America” was anonymous, according to Bergreen. The New York Daily News asked readers to name their five favorites out of 100 Berlin songs. “God Bless America” and “White Christmas” tied for first place. For his 100th birthday, he and his wife, Ellin, had dinner at home at 17 Beekman Place, on trays. They didn’t attend the 100th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, which featured such diverse performers as Rosemary Clooney, Leonard Bernstein, Garrison Keillor, and Frank Sinatra, with Marilyn Horne leading Boy and Girl Scouts in the inevitable “God Bless America.” And they declined to have the show transmitted to their home via close-circuit TV. A few months before that birthday, Ellin had suffered a stroke. She died later that year. Then the century-old widower had a stroke and fell into a coma. He snapped out of it, lived nine more months, and died at 101 on September 22, 1989.
The Limelight Berlin told an interviewer in the late 1970s: “It was as if I owned a store and people no longer wanted to buy what I had to sell.” 12 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
If he could only have held out until age 113. He would have been gratified by the revival of “God Bless America” (though of course horrified by the reason for its resurgence) and of Annie Get Your Gun, which received a Tony Award in 1999. The title role was played by Bernadette Peters, who also won a Tony. Annie was nipped and tucked for fin-de-siécle audiences, with potentially offensive songs and story lines removed. The movie version with Betty Hutton and Howard Keel was recently released on DVD (which includes clips of Judy Garland, who was originally cast as Annie). I can’t imagine what Berlin would have made of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, in which blackface becomes an all-American craze. He probably would have said, “Oh, nobody’s done blackface for years and years. And years.” After I told my neighbor I wasn’t interested in flying the flag, her husband gave me a piece from the Chicago Sun-Times, written by columnist Mary Mitchell, who is black. She talked about her own “epiphany”: “I am flying the flag because the blood of the thousands who perished last week has joined the blood of countless Americans who have died in the past to protect my right to fight against injustice.” Well said. I write this on Easter Sunday, more than six months after the attacks. I should make another poster to put in my window. I should contact my Congresspeople—about the war, about the Middle East. But I’m not sure what I want to propose. I still don’t feel like singing “God Bless America.”
Sources: –Barrett, Mary Ellin. Irving Berlin: A Daughter’s Memoir. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994. –Bergreen, Laurence. As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin. New York, NY: Da Capo, 1996. –Freedland, Michael. Irving Berlin. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein & Day, 1974. –Furia, Philip. Irving Berlin: A Life in Song. New York, NY: Shirmer Books, 1998. –Hamm, Charles. Irving Berlin: Songs from the Melting Pot: The Formative Years, 1907-1914. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997. –Jablonski, Edward. Irving Berlin: American Troubadour. New York, NY: Henry Holt, 1999. –Melnick, Jeffrey. African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song. Cambridge: Harvard, 1999. –Theatre Magazine, October 1918, New York, NY.
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Hands of the Stars
A theater in London casts celebrities’ hands in unusual places. Tom Cruise’s hand, part of a bathroom door handle, Kate Winslet’s hand pokes from the wall to form a soap dish. Clint Eastwood’s hand cradles a bottle of ketchup at the hot dog stand. A Scottish actor’s hand is a coat peg in the bar. Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver’s hands hold movie guides in the foyer. Patrons will grip Charlton Heston’s palms entering Screen One. I don’t think I could do this in my own home, the hands of my family would not be as shiny and smooth, from carrying too much history. I’d avoid the front door, shaking my grandfather’s gnarled hand, thick at the knuckles, tender only to gardens of the wealthy he cultivated. I’d feel guilty taking rose-colored soap from my Irish grandmother’s tired palms, that shoveled coal in the basement while her husband and sons sipped tea. I loved holding my father’s strong hands, but a replica would only make me yearn. My mother told me not to waste my beautiful hands, sent me to a piano teacher on fall afternoons after school. She slipped a glass ball under my palms to raise my hands up. In church the priest would say to offer each other the sign of peace, shaking the hands of the old lady in the pew in front of me, who smelled of lavender, whose stiff husband in the pinstriped suit gripped the brass handle of his cane. On the way out the door we dipped our fingers in the holy water, 14 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
bringing it to our forehead and our hearts. I learned early on, the way to determine if I was committing a sin was to look down at my hands.
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Vertigo for Elaine In Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), at the request of her husband, investigates Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak)’s trances and unexplained wanderings. Madeleine’s fascination with an ancestor, Carlotta Valdes, underlies her obsession with the past. Madeleine dies before Ferguson’s eyes, but he later meets Judy Barton, who uncannily resembles the dead Madeleine—and for good reason.
Do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead, can enter & take possession of a living being? But if I could touch the face of any living being I chose, it would be you, Kim Novak, arched eyebrows pencilled in, bright lips, hair seared so blond it’s white, the coil of hair behind your head unloosed, the necklace I’d unfasten. . . . Or is it Madeleine I love, the role you played with such panache, who wandered alleys & long hills, past trolleys, clocks, & traffic lights, before she wound up at the mansion (now a not-so-swank hotel) only to rent the same room, sit alone, & stare into past lives. . . . No matter. Madeleine’s but a role, one ghost haunted by another, so raise the shade, Carlotta Valdes— are you who Madeleine really is, the portrait’s ancestress, kept mistress of “a powerful man,” who bore his child when this house was hers alone, 16 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
built for their private trysts, whose lover, sated at last, brought home the girl to his respected household, & threw Carlotta away, “Pop” Levy tells us wistfully. “Men could do that in those days. They had the power, & the freedom . . .” (Shelves of books surrounding them, Scottie & Midge bend close to listen, the mystery of Madeleine’s trances soon to hold them in its sway.) No wonder, a daughter stolen, her emissaries turned away, Carlotta soon went mad (Levy says through wisps of smoke) a nineteenth-century tragic figure wandering ragged in the streets, stopping passers-by to ask, Where’s my child? Have you seen my child? (I doubt if anyone said yes.) &, likewise, have you wandered, Mother, bright hair gleaming under light, past storefronts, glint of trinkets, in a trance like Madeleine’s? But whose face breaks through the crowd, already passing into shadow? Yes, I’m the son your sister raised, vanished for over twenty years, & it’s my turn to give direction: Where’s that right note of regret? Keep that expression duly haunted, turn, rush right back to the window, search in vain through backward script, drop hand, & cut— Yes, that’s a take. . . . Or have you, too, “moved on,” as you claimed curtly in your letter, your own script neat, controlled, too graceful to recall the past? How could you know, Elaine, when your sister Betty died, the only mother I’d ever known, whose good work you repaid in scorn, that, summoned home from college, first year scarcely under way, I’d find myself shopping for clothes, somehow, black suitable for mourning, while Carmine, newly widowed, blinked up at the dead-eyed dummies, the light’s glint painted in their eyes, our tragic errand Crab Orchard Review ◆ 17
nearly done. I spent that year mostly alone, set apart by grief & class, the secrets I’d been taught to keep, while Betty, in pale green, lay in her husband’s future grave, same green as the Hotel Empire sign set flashing all night, every night, painting the room where Judy Barton (lesser light of Kim’s dual role) sought, in vain, to escape the past, her masquerade as Madeleine. Yes, pointing to it in the closet, your sister chose the dress herself; I nodded, promising—whatever. & now I think of the actress, wincing, locked in Hitchcock’s gaze as he instructs her how to stand, designer holding out a dress. He turns & snaps, “No, not that one!” (He’s yet to find the ash-gray suit.) No, poor Ferguson wasn’t the first man who lost his love to death —& he surely won’t be last— wracked by guilt, failed detective trapped in psychedelic dreams, a bouquet that breaks apart to petals that dance before his eyes, who takes one look into the grave, falls in, & finds himself devoured—Good luck, Jimmy. Good luck, Scottie. From now on, there’s no turning back— & when you wake up from the dark to Mozart’s soothing violins, having swatted Midge away along with all those mental cobwebs, let me give you some advice: there’s no reward in peering at restaurant crowds or women arranging flowers. Don’t search for the face you know because, most likely, it isn’t there, & if it is, there’s nothing worse than finding it. . . . Of course, anyone could become obsessed with the past with a background like that. . . . —Thank you, Scottie, for understanding. 18 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
The years go by: all silence. Carmine, ailing, joins his wife, while the Great Man, with his Power & Freedom, holds on to you, Mother— & in the sequoia swirls, the cut trunk mounted on its side, generations of rings, all labeled—Magna Carta, Battle of Hastings— & the moment she lifts her hand, floating unseen at Madeleine’s side, I’ll mouth the same words while she points: Here I was born, & there I died. It was only a moment for you. You took no notice. . . . Where are you now, Madeleine, you and your alter egos, Carlotta, Judy, the false & true? Where have you gone, Kim Novak? I remember The Mirror Crack’d, & that imposter, face pinned back, who claims, in interviews, she’s you— Otherwise, I draw a blank but for one image that persists: It’s 1958, & a young wife doesn’t know she’s pregnant, safe in her mother’s house, estranged husband not the father, father cut off for the moment, she flips through movie magazines & sees Kim Novak’s perfect eyes, a look to lock men in her gaze, the Look that could, & will, be hers. Her sister’s calling her to dinner, so she bounces off the bed but knows now what she’ll name her daughter, if she ever has a daughter— As for what she’ll name her son, I only feel the camera pull back & start whirling round and round, drowning the one voice that I hear: I’ve dragged her out of the Bay before, I’ve seen crushed petals floating on waves, but now I’m shaking her by the shoulders, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 19
& she’s crying, “I’m not mad,” not Mad-eleine, -eleine, -eleine & the dizziness stops only when he seals his mouth on hers.
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Ophelia: A Wreath
Water like glass unbroken, silent stream, Or almost so; broad willow-branch in shadow, Crowflowers, nettles, columbines, a dream Of freedom: fish that vanish in mid-gleam Close to the surface. Grief above, below Water like glass unbroken, silent stream Of glitterings, sky-fallings. Whispered name, Words sung, snatches of nonsense. Listen now: Crowflowers, nettles, columbines, a dream Where every garland flares up into flame— Blood-red, black-purple. Where should this one go? Water like glass unbroken, silent stream Into—what next? Stained palms, cathedral-dome Of sun blinding beyond high branches. Show Us crowflowers, nettles, columbines, a dream— Glass shattering, wreath-drenched. Silence the same As singing? Hair unravelling, undertow . . . Water like glass. Unbroken, silent stream Of crowflowers, nettles, columbines. A dream.
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Jean Harlow’s Lips
Even in black and white they repel and attract like magnets in a current. Heart-shaped like a China doll’s. One kiss and the heart tears in half. Scarlet as the fever that settled in her heart, planted the seed of her death at age 26. She’d pass the title Bombshell on, along with its sad curse of brevity. But those lips, the flexing of female sexual muscle suggested recovery: a woman could make her way in the world, could make up her life as she went. Girls caught in the wake of the Depression imitated her—some bleached their hair, a few even shunned underwear, but all had at least one tube of lipstick. I remember standing by my mother’s side at her vanity mirror, watching her uncover and twist the tube, apply Opium Night, Flaming Heart, Rose of Desire, 22 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
to both lips, embellishing, sculpting her mouth into a shape she deemed appealing. She rubbed them together then kissed a Kleenex (in an emergency, she said, the back of her hand) making sure I saw how it was done.
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In this production of Twelfth Night, the young woman who plays Viola makes a conspicuous display of discomfort as she binds her woman’s breasts to impersonate a man, sharing with the audience the joke that she’s irrepressibly woman. Not something you could have done in that role, Mother, when you, with the flat chest I’ve inherited from you, played Viola in your twenties. You must have used your hair instead—your long auburn hair— binding it with exaggerated effort beneath a man’s hat or wig, ostentatiously shaking it free when the time came for Viola to reveal herself as Sebastian’s sister. Playing the sister of a brother imagined lost at sea must have come naturally to you, who idolized your oldest brother, lost, later, to multiple sclerosis or alcohol or both, doted on your youngest, whom you boasted you’d brought up yourself while your mother was ill, who, grown man but still your baby brother, would be nearly killed in a car wreck. Both those brothers you must have lost many times, as Viola lost her one brother—in foreknowledge or fear. And that question Viola asks, early in the play, when she awakens on a strange shore after a violent storm at sea—that, too, must have come naturally to you with your constant wonder at commonplace sights— that question your husband, my father, would commission to be carved on your gravestone: “What country, sir, is this?”
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His god lived in movies run backwards, The reel stilled before his warm hand Reached the co-star’s cheek as if she Were going to receive a caress instead Of a smack. His palm retreated slowly, at first, Speeding up as the film unfurled smoothly In reverse, the near-impact of a gesture Pulled back suddenly as if he Were confident but shy, his hand looping In mid-air and coming to a halt Intriguingly behind his thigh. The anger Disappeared. The camera that followed Them around had been mistaken. And the actress, His lone audience among the bruised Seats of the theater, believed what the new world Revealed, knowing that her rouged cheek Couldn’t really be hurting now. He smiled As the wheels spun like communion wafers, knowing That if God exists He exhales in these moments, his chuckle Bristling the plush darkness. She was enraged About something, but very glad to have his comfort. She must have spent the money, missing from her Purse. And he never slept with another woman He didn’t love. (He was faithful to neither.) That reel,
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Played backwards, bore his awkward, naked Backside jerked high and pushed Low by his invisible god revealed. He never would promise to enjoy himself. Every movie was the same, the denuded Trees anxiously retrieving their leaves: Clothed in the garments of the living dead. Dead bodies were resurrected and walked The earth as if the neutron bomb hadn’t Left their simmered flesh intact. The actress Was nearly horrified at the sight of the saved World; he loved warfare. But any Young man who’d gone to war must Come home stronger, must be Reborn knowing that words are greater Arms: the lengthy spokes of Ferris Wheels rushing in their double-negative circuits Forward (but those two remained with his god Illuminated in the dark: the actorTurned-director splicing the celluloid As if that were the only filming of The Death of God). In an act of faith, larger Reels spin forward with vocal children And adults whirling. Rides are scary, But manageable, as they dent the air With the concussions of their bursting voices. The wheel awaits each neophyte Like the ocular body of Christ held high.
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Drawing Della Street
Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll only need charcoal, since she dresses in business gray this and every other day of her life, with the hemline dropped down to Dior and straight seams on her stockings. Short gloves, single-button, mark her intent as she strides across the lobby past the cigar counter to the elevator that only goes up. Her alligator purse shines black in the counterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s chrome trim and her nails are buffed clean under the gloves. She wears a black straw hat that fits in a drawer at her desk. Off the page, we see the hat has red cherries that bounce with each step across the lobby and match her lips, painted jungle red. After hours, she slides on pink-feathered mules and wiggles red toenails to her own tempo stretched out on the flowered couch. The cars outside sound like conga drums. The clock ticks under a pillow. A single nail traces the edge of a hibiscus and she thinks of Hawaii, and how on the boat going over she danced in strapless white satin while Perry called the office on ship-to-shore, saving another plotted life. The ballroom smelled like plumeria and the moon dipped into the sea like it really mattered, like it could scoop up stars in its empty rind. Crab Orchard Review â&#x2014;&#x2020; 27
Doris Day’s Calamity Jane
Tarnation, she howls, and straddles the bar in skin-tight buckskin, fringe twitching, What’s wrong with you fellas? She leaves the stink and whiskey and saves that handsome lieutenant single-handed from the Technicolor Sioux. All agree she’s quite a gal—quick with a Colt, famous for bear-wrestling and smart as a whip. Just the one a man wants by his side in a good fight. Somehow, the lieutenant could never forgive her. A fella doesn’t cotton to a gal if he’s the one trussed up with rope and she’s the one handling a knife. On the other side of the screen, we— the ones in skirts—know this, and foresee the indignities ahead— the scrubdown, the sidesaddle, the sprigged calico with bustle. It takes a lot of soap to redeem a woman who’s that good a shot. It’s all for nothing. The lieutenant falls for her best friend, but Calam makes it up by singing the Oscar-winning song Secret Love.
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She even obeys the plot and swaps to Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok so they can sing duets. The double wedding thrills in lace with a tight-cinched waist, nowhere to pack a gun or stick a chaw, proof positive of the power of soap.
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Audrey Hepburn made omelets in Paris because when it came to soufflés she couldn’t remember to turn the oven on. Her own pilot light had burnt for years drawn to the son of a rich man her father drove: the younger of two, the screw up. And maybe we’re all drawn to dissolution, disaster waiting to pop out like a party, cork from bottle. Because from a terribly young age, we’ve all hungered for the one dancing with a cheap date on the tennis court, the one wanting a girl who giggles and kisses but doesn’t speak. We’ve all hid in the bushes to see the whole commerce enacted under a sulking moon. It’s no wonder it took Humphrey Bogart and a lot of nonsense about the miracle of plastic (which melts before it burns) to take your mind from the profligate, the prodigal by whom you’d want to be undone in the servants’ quarters, in a dark garage with the doors sealed and the engines blasting out their fragrant air and you sealed in. That the upstanding man will find and love you, will shuttle you out to sea, guitar in hand, make you forget that taste, that sickness— that’s how you know it’s Hollywood.
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We all love the same things—George Peppard in his room, clanking away without a ribbon, which is the sound paper makes when it’s lonely and sits in a room watching a beautiful girl, watching something never to be had. Because the love you have for something sparkles, something that lights up a whole street of the useless city you live in, that’s the something you can’t ever love the right way, nor it you. And what you have, besides a handful of shaky letters, is something useless just when and where it is—lump of gold in the desert, a diamond in snow. It’s like the moon burning down because someone drank all the rivers, took the trees and left a city, bare semblance of a life that’s only happy when the ending is changed at the last minute. Isn’t it love, isn’t it Hollywood, that makes a man love what he wants to be, love it so much that he reaches for everything and nothing—the brass ring, the golden charm in a box of candy. And we all know it’s not what he really wants but it sparkles and we want a better ending. We want the story where they almost don’t match, almost end up never wanting the same thing (which is each other) but are saved in the end. This is the story where we don’t want a man alone, who clicks and hums in a solitary room, always imagining the pleasures of the woman downstairs at whose feet stoop men of unimaginable proportions—devious and devoted, gorgeous, flush. We want to be saved by a great hand in the sky that gives us a different page, a final scene not included in the book. The man still waits. It could be night, it could be morning. The typewriter is cold. A woman rises up—pale moon, lucid diamond. No one touches, no one kisses, no one cries. The man waves good-bye: to her, to himself. The ending we love leaves us hungry. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 31
You forget that men used to be like Gregory Peck and you wash Dad’s laundry every Friday night. You forget that a nightfall dance on a barge—lights strung overhead like diamond nets—happens somewhere without you. That somewhere a Vespa scooter collects dust waiting for you and Gregory Peck. Find it on a map: Piazza Venezia, the River Tiber, Sant’Eustachio, a hundred basilicas on a path to the Vatican. Tall Gregory Peck, who you forget in black and white, finds you asleep on a fountain ledge in wrist-length ivory gloves, a twice-pressed dress shirt and poplin skirt (Costume Design by Edith Head). Gregory Peck who loses at five-card stud only to pocket a misplaced princess. It is 1953—William Wyler introduces the world to a twig thin ingénue and you are a twig thin tomboy traveling trees limb by limb, ten years shy of the Taipei premiere of Roman Holiday. Ten years shy of Gregory Peck and your first date with Dad. Before you saw with saucer-wide, hungry eyes, Gregory Peck as Joe Bradley, surprised by love, cross the empty
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embassy promenade, then stop at the threshold to look for her, you, a sign of possibility and find nothingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;as you find beside you an arm to grab in the dark, a matineeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s consolation prize.
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The Deer Hunter
1. The winter woods laid out one white field again and again, one world repeating another, as if on a movie screen or in the sky, the same lean trees for miles playing dead. What is colder than this? I walked hours until my feet stopped their numb, wet steps—a quivering among the branches, a hollow song that sings itself from the woodpecker’s percussive duty. I was looking for the makeshift underbrush structures my uncle called “deer stalks,” that were one-season strong, where men hid as if returned to a childhood treehouse: I am king of this bluff, this wide-rimmed maple. And the deer incidental, an excuse for the chase.
2. I don’t remember their names. I remember they worked in a steel mill, 34 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
that the factory was the town’s one adornment. Smoke stacks fumed noiselessly outside a window as they drank too much vodka and lusted after Meryl Streep and I could not take my eyes off De Niro, beautiful in his beard, or what he saw: one live thing in the snow-patched wild. He fixated and the deer, blind to him, climbing its own arbitrary path. How many times did he follow to know each deer as the same? One shot aimed in a perfect freeze— only to stumble, to wake his presence to this one he could not have, that would not stay close enough. I grew up in a different small town but I believed it all, this movie, believed the silence of living nowhere, how you learn to cultivate silence so that the noise you deliver is relief. The blank shot: Come home.
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Deeper into Movies 1.
At first I’m excited because I’ve just finished the hematology unit and know all about sickle cell anemia. I’m talking to a seventeen-year-old black kid, Monty Leonard, who is homozygous for the sickle cell gene and complaining of excruciating pain in his lower back and knees, and I’m saying the words over and over to myself, like a perverse chant: sickle cell crisis, sickle cell crisis, sickle cell crisis. 2. I’ve been picturing my life as a movie for as long as I can remember. This is not a joke, not some lighthearted comment. I constantly think about how my life will play out on a movie screen. I think of the different camera angles, the close-ups, the changes in perspective. I think about the soundtrack. What can I say? How can I better explain this? Life should have a soundtrack. I shouldn’t even have to explain my pathology. I should just have Yo La Tengo’s song, “Deeper into Movies,” playing right now. 3. The interview is part of the psychiatric medicine class; my goal is to assess how a chronic illness has affected Monty Leonard’s mood. I screen for depression: Monty, how are you sleeping? How are you eating? How are you performing in school? Are you still interested in your normal hobbies? He seems fine. He is not depressed. My work is done here. 4. I present Monty’s case to my preceptor, a psychiatrist who happens to be black. He doesn’t like what I’m saying. He thinks I know 36 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
nothing about this kid. He feels that it is his duty to tell me what it’s like to be a black teenager with a fatal illness. I’m no longer excited. “What’s his hematocrit?” he asks me. I look at the chart. “Twenty-seven.” “And what’s normal for a kid his age?” “About forty, forty-five.” “And his hemoglobin?” I look at the chart again. “Eight.” “And what would be normal for that?” “Fourteen. Fifteen.” “So he’s weak. He’s anemic. You don’t need to ask him if he’s still interested in his hobbies. He can’t do his hobbies anymore.” 5. There was a time in high school when I thought that my life would best be represented as a “hood” movie. I devoured those movies, I studied them like a textbook. I wasn’t alone. My friends (all white, middle class, Jewish) and I wore their costumes, spoke their dialogue, drove around our peaceful neighborhoods blasting their soundtracks from our cars. We called each other nigger. We smoked marijuana out of Phillies Blunts and drank forty-ounce bottles of Olde English malt liquor. I can’t really explain why we did this, other than a general feeling that our regular lives had become extremely boring. So, in response to the psychiatrist preceptor, I want to say that I feel like I know something about Monty’s life. I could see it as a movie, at least. 6.
“Now the other thing,” the psychiatrist continues, “that you should address with him is typical teenager issues. He’s seventeen, so he’s probably thinking about girls. Did you ask him about that?” “No.” “And he’s a bit overweight—that’s mostly due to the disease. He can’t exercise. Some of his organs are enlarged. And he doesn’t get out much, always tired, right? So how’s he going to meet girls?” “I don’t know.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 37
7. I can picture her. Real tall and thin. She runs track. She’s a long jumper. Let’s call her Nicole, Nicole Pierce. No, this is better—her name is Nicole Pierce, but let’s call her Coco. Yeah, that’s what everyone calls her: Coco. She’s this tall, thin black girl, her skin dark and creamy. She’s Monty’s classmate, one of the few kids in his class who knows him at all. He misses so much school because of his illness, but he sees Coco at church every Sunday. They talk sometimes. She’s always asking him how he feels. She sometimes touches his arm when they speak. At night, when his mother is asleep and there’s nothing good on television and he doesn’t have the energy to masturbate, Monty goes to bed early, falls asleep with Coco in his head, dreams about her, and when he wakes up, he is still thinking of her, her legs especially. 8. Monty’s having a good period; it’s been three weeks since the last crisis, and more importantly, he doesn’t feel another one coming on. He is catching up in his school work, he is having fun with his few friends during lunchtime, he even talks to Coco before and after the science class they both take during second period. She listens to him with her eyes. Yes, she has big eyes that jump right at Monty, right at the camera, and she is into everything he says. We feel as if something is going to happen between them, something good, something meaningful for Monty. Then Greg Foster walks down the hall and all he does is glare at the two of them. Greg isn’t a student, but he somehow always roams the halls of the school. He is menacing, a bully. The sight of Greg makes us all scared. Monty is no exception. Oh, he’s a brave kid—he’s facing a fatal illness, he knows he is going to die soon— but he’s not immune to Greg Foster’s stare. And he knows all about Greg and Coco, how they used to date, how Greg is possessive of things, girls. No one has dated Coco since Greg. 9. The psychiatrist looks at me, thinks a few seconds about what he is going to say, and then says, “What do you know about this kid’s 38 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
neighborhood? Did you ask him about it?” “No,” I say. “Not really.” “Okay,” the psychiatrist says, sighing, wondering if he wants to get into this with me. “It’s a tough neighborhood. He sees a lot of fights, a lot of guns. Do you see where I’m going with this?” “He’s scared?” I say. “Sure he’s scared, but he’s got to be more scared than anyone else, because of his blood. If he gets cut, that could be it for him.” 10. I’ve been thinking about Monty’s name. His chart just says Monty, but maybe it’s short for Montgomery. I want Monty to be short for Montgomery, and then Monty could be named after Wes Montgomery and he could have a father who’s a jazz musician. The truth, or at least Monty’s version of the truth, is that his father died in a car accident when Monty was seven. The father is a sore subject during the interview, because he was never a part of Monty’s life. He moved away while Monty’s mother was pregnant. After Monty’s father died, Monty’s mother did a bit of investigating. She found out that Monty’s father’s father had died of sickle cell complications; so too did Monty’s father’s sister. But Monty’s father didn’t tell Monty’s mother any of this. It’s all sad and complicated, Monty’s version of Monty’s father. I’d rather have it my way—Monty short for Montgomery, and Monty’s father is this struggling jazz pianist who’s still alive. Every time he appears, you hear these plaintive saxophone lines in the background. And he does appear in Monty’s life, sporadically, but he does have a role. For one, he’s a carrier of the sickle cell trait, so he experiences (albeit mildly) what Monty does in terms of pain and weakness. He’s a partner for Monty in that respect. He’s also traveling with a quartet around the country; four or five times a year they come to New York. He comes to the East Harlem neighborhood where Monty lives to have a meal with his son. They have a bad relationship, and if it were up to Monty’s mother, they’d have no relationship at all, but Monty always accepts his father’s invitation to eat, and they sit in silence, mumbling just a few niceties.
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11. Take a disease state like hypertension. More than thirty million Americans suffer from high blood pressure. It’s ubiquitous. Now, with such a widespread disease, for what percentage of these patients do you think doctors could identify the cause of their hypertension? Less than five percent. Over ninety-five percent of hypertension is diagnosed as idiopathic. So should I even try to explain my need to go deeper into movies? I assume that there are others like me, who cannot live a moment without thinking how best to express it cinematically, but I do not think thirty million people suffer from this phenomenon. What hope do I have trying to figure out and possibly cure this problem of mine? I should just call it idiopathic. But there might be a genetic component. My older brother, a writer, died four years ago from a heroin overdose. Although no one has mentioned this, I believe he suffered from a similar affliction to mine. He didn’t want to go deeper into movies, but he did want to go deeper into books. He struggled with alcohol for a while, during his John O’Hara phase. Then he sobered up and we were all relieved. He seemed happy. He got engaged. His stories were no longer like John O’Hara’s; they had that Raymond Carver nostalgia, that I’ve-licked-this-thingand-I’m-stronger-for-it vigor. Then he started working on a novel and broke off his engagement. He sent me the first draft, all these long, rambling passages about sixteenth-century Moldova. He kept on recommending William T. Vollman books. The night he died, it was a prostitute who brought him to the hospital. 12. The jazz musician father is in town for a few days and is eating dinner with Monty. “How are you feeling?” the father asks. “Okay.” “You still getting that back pain?” “Yeah.” The father reaches across the table to touch Monty’s face. Monty, out of instinct, jumps back. He realizes what he’s done, and, embarrassed, he leans forward, allows himself to be touched by his father. It’s a moving scene, I think. “I’m so sorry I gave this to you,” the father says. 40 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
13. Just when things are going well, Monty can’t get out of bed on Sunday morning. He knows what’s happening, he knows that in a few hours he will have to go to the emergency room, be admitted, spend another week in the hospital. But why on Sunday? Sunday is church day. Sunday is Coco day. Fuck it, he tells himself, I’ll fight this off for a few hours and after church I’ll tell Mom and then—. Fuck it, I’ll lie down on the couch for just a few minutes and then I’ll feel better, or at least well enough to—. Fuck it, I just need to see Coco. Yeah, that’s what I need. I’ll lie down on the couch and Coco will make me feel better. But once he’s on the couch, he knows he won’t be getting up until the ambulance comes. So he closes his eyes and thinks of Coco: her long legs gliding down a thin stretch of track, then the planting and the pushing off, and she is now in the air, floating through time and space. Monty freezes her like that, suspended in air, and he moves his eyes slowly up her body, starting at the feet and up her slender stalks, past the enchanted region up to her stomach and then to her chest, accentuated by her stocking-like uniform, and then through her graceful neck, past the gleaming whiteness in her mouth, up to those eyes, those piercing orbs that jump right out of their sockets. He is thinking of her eyes when he finally yells, “Mom, you better call an ambulance!” And then, to himself, he says, “Fuck.” 14. Of course Coco visits Monty in the hospital. She’s a great girl. She cares about him. When she doesn’t see him and his mother in church, she knows something is wrong. She comes to the hospital right after church, in her Sunday dress clothes. When she enters Monty’s room, Monty’s mother is there, but she leaves so that the two kids can be alone. Coco sits beside the bed, takes Monty’s hand in hers. Monty senses an erection coming on. His back and legs suddenly feel better. Coco doesn’t say a word; she just holds Monty’s hand with her right hand, and now she uses her left hand to stroke the back of his hand. I can’t decide whether or not there should be music playing. I hear this song by Smog, “Teenage Spaceship,” but I’m not sure how well that plays out for a love scene in a Harlem hospital between two black kids (Am I too Crab Orchard Review ◆ 41
white to watch Monty’s story? Is there some R. Kelly or Jodeci song that is just screaming to be played right now?). When it’s time to leave, Coco leans over and kisses Monty on the mouth. She tells him to get well soon. She tells him she missed him at church today. She says she always looks forward to seeing him at church. She kisses him again, slower this time. 15. With any disease, especially those which are idiopathic, a doctor must be tuned in to what aggravates the condition. My tendency to go deeper into movies has bad periods—crises—just like Monty’s sickle cell anemia, maybe like your blood pressure. My brother’s funeral, for example: I told myself that I would be good that day, but I couldn’t help myself. I saw my brother in his casket and I was in a “drug” movie. I was the younger brother, the one who everyone was worried about now. I stared at my brother’s ex-fiancée, fighting off the instinct to talk to her and suggest that we have sex in the funeral parlor’s bathroom after doing a few lines of cocaine off the sinks, or maybe off the compact mirror in her patent leather purse. Medical school has been bad for me too. There’s a numbing that all doctors-in-training acquire. It’s inevitable. It’s necessary. The further you get in medicine, the number you must become, the bigger the block you must create so that you don’t kill yourself over each patient you see. For most, the numbing is the tendency to stop looking at patients as people and to start viewing them as pathologies. This old woman is no longer a grandmother who enjoys playing bridge, gardening in her backyard, and experimenting with French cuisine whenever she wants to surprise her husband of forty-eight years. She is now a diabetic, moderately compliant with her medications, whose blood levels suggest that she has a diabetic ketoacidosis and who should be further evaluated for a possible diabetic nephropathy. I still can see the bridge, the gardening, the cooking, but I view them through a lens, on a screen, just for me. That’s my version of medical numbing. I have started taking my patients into the movies along with me. They are the supporting characters in my film, as I am a supporting character in theirs.
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16. Monty is back home, after a six-day stay in the hospital. He is feeling better, sitting on the couch watching music videos. His mother is in the kitchen, making dinner. The apartment smells great. Monty’s mother stirs whatever’s in her pot, and then she stands in the doorway of the kitchen. She watches her son. She’s spying on him. For a few seconds, he seems so normal, so healthy. Then he starts coughing, and she darts back into the kitchen. Tears begin to slip from beneath her eyelids. 17. “Yo,” Monty’s friend, Kevin, says on his end of the phone line. “Yo, I heard you’re home.” “Yeah,” Monty says. He is in his room, lying on his bed, flipping through The Source magazine. “Yeah, I got discharged this morning.” “Cool,” Kevin says. “Did Coco visit you in the hospital?” “Uh huh,” Monty says. He can’t help but smile. He feels cool. “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Kevin says. “Yo, Greg Foster is pissed. He said he’s looking for you.” “What? Why’s he looking for me?” “Because Coco’s his girl. You know that.” “Fuck. All she did was visit me. Is he really pissed?” Monty is scared. We see it in the sweat beads forming on his temples. “That’s what I heard.” 18. “So what do you do when you’re not in school?” I ask Monty. “What kind of things are you interested in?” “Lots of things, I guess,” Monty says. “Like what?” “Lots of things.” “Like music?” “Sure.” “What kind of music? Rap music?” “Yeah, I like rap music.” “What else—do you ever play sports?” “Too tired.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 43
“Did you ever play sports?” “I used to play basketball a lot.” “But not anymore. You’re too tired, huh?” I am trying to sound as empathic as possible. From the look on Monty’s face, I can tell he despises me. “Yeah. My mom is always trying to get me to play again. She says I should try to still have fun and forget all this shit.” It’s the longest sentence he’s given me. Maybe he’s opening up. Maybe my empathy is working. This is a breakthrough moment. “So what do you say to your mom? Do you tell her you’re too tired?” “Usually I ignore her. Sometimes I’ll just leave the apartment and go down to the courts and watch a little.” 19. “Okay,” the psychiatrist says. “Anything else that came up in your interview?” “Umm,” I say, thinking, “not really. He did mention one thing that was interesting. He said he sometimes pictures himself in a movie.” “Explain that to me,” the psychiatrist says. “Well, he said sometimes he’ll kind of fall out of himself, like watch himself as if he’s part of a movie.” “Okay, I think I get it. That’s a distancing mechanism. It’s a form of denial. He’s not the one who’s suffering from this disease, he’s not the one who’s going to die. It’s someone else, some movie character. That’s a good point to put in your write-up of him. He’s pretty advanced in terms of defense. He’s protecting himself.” “Okay,” I say, writing the psychiatrist’s words down on a pad of paper. “Did he really say that?” the psychiatrist says. “Sure. Why?” “Maybe you said that.” “No, Monty said that.” “I was just making sure.” 20. I once thought I’d make films for a living. It seemed natural; I was 44 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
viewing everything as a movie anyway, I might as well try to build a career out of my tendencies. I dropped the idea of being a filmmaker after my brother’s death. A creative life would have been too dangerous for me, as it was for my brother. His death taught me that going deeper into movies (or, in his case, deeper into books) is like a pre-malignancy, and you must control rather than feed the sickness. So I chose medicine. It seemed the next obvious choice. I’d be surrounded by sick people, by potential characters. I’d be able to deflect some of my movies onto them. I’d be gaining some self-control by watching them instead of me. 21. Monty’s mother is on his case again. She tells him that he should take advantage of this most recent healthy period, go outside and get some fresh air, go down to the park and play some basketball, do something instead of just sitting around the apartment all day. Monty’s a good kid. He sees that she needs him to go out, she needs to feel good about him today. This has to be a healthy period for both Monty and his mother. He’ll go out, walk down to the park, watch a game or two, and then come home, tell her some lies about hitting a big shot or grabbing a key rebound. They’ll have a happy dinner. Everything will be healthy and normal for one day at least. Monty leaves the apartment, and when he emerges on the street, he starts hoping that Greg Foster won’t be at the park. He doesn’t want to deal with that kind of shit today, his healthy and normal day. 22. Monty goes to the park, says hello to some of his friends, does a survey for Greg Foster, and breathes easier once he’s certain that the scene is clear. He watches a few games; the basketball is beautiful, so fluid and fast and angry. Monty wishes he could still play, still run up and down the court without bending over and spitting up phlegm or maybe even blood. He’s too weak and too fat. He walks home, breathing in the cold air of early December. Soon the first snow will come, he tells himself, and the park will be covered, and then his friends won’t be able to play basketball either. No, they’ll just go indoors, to the Y. And where will I be then, he says to himself. It isn’t really a question. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 45
Monty is caught up in a rare episode of self-pity (he’s a strong kid, he doesn’t usually get down from his illness, he is not depressed, he is not letting a chronic illness affect his mood—I’ve established all this with my interview, I am certain that he is handling himself as best he can) when Greg Foster’s fist hits the back of his head. Monty’s fall to the pavement is slow—not slow motion, real-time but slow; because he is so weak and so large, even his fall takes longer than normal. 23. This is serious. Monty sees it in his mother’s face. This might be the last hospitalization. His body might not be able to bounce back from this. He wishes his mother would stop crying and just step aside, because he sees Coco standing behind her and he’d like to have an unobstructed view. Coco is crying too, but those are good tears, Monty tells himself. Monty smiles at the two women and there is pain all over his face. Everything must be broken. When he tries to say hello to his visitors, he tastes the dried-up blood in his mouth. 24. Things are getting worse for me too. I am lost in Monty’s movie. And what’s worse is that I can’t think of him beyond scenes now. Just small glimpses. How am I supposed to understand him when all I get are two- or three-minute scenes? Monty asks his mother for a mirror. She reluctantly hands one over, and he sees his bruised face for the first time since being in the hospital. He says, “Damn I look bad.” He tries to laugh, so does his mother, not knowing why. When Monty talks, it’s all slurs now. Greg Foster knocked out some teeth. 25. I asked Monty if he was scared of dying. He said no. I asked him if he ever thought about dying. Here’s his big monologue: Of course I think about dying. It scares the shit out of me. Wouldn’t you think about it? What the fuck do you think I am? Made of stone or some shit like that? I 46 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
know I’m going to die, die young, die probably in a year or two. Fuck, man, don’t ask me stupid shit like that. There are better questions, like, since you’re going to die real soon, are there any regrets? Sure, doc, I got lots of regrets, and I bet you want to hear them. Well, what the fuck can you do for me doc? Can you get me laid? Can you make it so that the Knicks win a championship while I’m still alive? Can you get my mom a new apartment? Get my friends to stop smoking? Get me a trip to the Bahamas? So don’t ask me shit you can’t do. Just leave me the fuck alone and let me die, okay. I think about it. Are you happy now? I picture him saying that, but he didn’t. He just said no to my second question too. 26. The final scene has to have “Tom Traubert’s Blues” by Tom Waits playing in the background. Yes, I know it’s not what Monty would have chosen, but it’s perfect, because the final scene is mine and I love the sadness of that song. The first snow is falling. We see a small white build-up on the park where Monty used to watch the basketball games, and then in the distance appears a small figure, making his way through the snow in a dark overcoat. I methodically walk towards the camera, hunched over to protect myself from the cold. I am tragic. The camera stays with me as I walk through the park and then take the few blocks to the hospital. I shake off the snow, walk to the elevators, go to my unit, check in at the nursing station, take off my dark overcoat. I am putting my stethoscope around my neck when the psychiatrist taps me on the shoulder. He shouldn’t be here. The psychiatric medicine class is over. I know what he’s going to tell me. I’m neither surprised nor upset. I’ve been expecting this ending. 27. I lied. There’s one last scene. Monty’s father, the jazz musician, is sitting by a piano in a dark, empty bar. He looks up towards the ceiling, hoping that his gaze can pass through the cement, that he somehow might be able to look directly at his son, who is now in heaven where all his red blood cells are perfect in size, shape, and number. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 47
He says, “This is for you, Montgomery. I love you, son.” And then he starts playing.
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It was panic. He had had it before, though not quite this way, and he knew what it was. It was panic as sure as the train itself created the wind, and the moan slipped back through the windows when the cars tore past. It started in Ezra’s lungs, just like that. The air swept in—a great gulp he was not even aware that he made—and swept back out just as fast, and his lungs went from full to flat, and back to full, and then flat again, before the oxygen of the first breath could even locate cells of blood to stick to. Then the second breath was there, and then the third, one upon the other. They came so fast they overwhelmed him, suffocating. The color of the panic was red, red on black: a silent beeping light that blinked on and off inside him as his head got dizzy, dizzy. He was already sitting down but he tipped himself further back. He held both hands over his chest, his heart, as if to protect it, to hold it inside, to keep it from bursting—all at the same time. He did not want to die, but even more, Ezra did not want to die alone. He did not want to be alone. He had lived with Gail for seventeen years, and now all of a sudden he did not know her. That was what it was. He looked at her but she was familiar only in the most superficial ways, as if she was up on a stage performing, or a screen. He didn’t know her, he was alone. He could not remember why he had loved her, or even what characteristics she had that had ever charmed him. Gail pursed her mouth and touched the tip of the lipstick to the center of her upper lip, and slowly she drew the color to one side, watching herself in the tiny mirror she always packed in her purse. She did not realize that Ezra, beside her, was in a terror. She did not know that he was so alone. She did not know, either, what was happening inside his lungs or his heart. They were coming to their stop soon—it was time for her to get ready. Gail was the great actress, and Ezra was her manager. People took photographs of her while he stood out of the way, and the photographs ended up in newspapers and magazines, and on posters. Once in a while Ezra could pick out part of his shadow in one of the photos. He’d be up Crab Orchard Review ◆ 49
there on a poster right with her, that little bit of him—or that little bit of blur that he made by the light he blocked off. Gail Maynard was no longer quite the beauty she had once been, they all said it, though she was a far better actress now than before. The lines on her face helped, in that regard. There weren’t so many of them, and they were still fine and shallow, and they enabled her to project character with more distinction. There were fewer photos now, but still every place they came to, there were some. For the live performances there were usually smaller crowds, too. Gail always said that it was Ezra who was the true thespian, he was the one who was so bloody dramatic. She played roles, but he emoted. He exuded. She had learned to tune him out, or appear as if she was tuning him out, when he emoted too much. But then he just went on and emoted more, she said. She said that in all her years in the business—a business legendary for its vanity and egotism—she had never met anyone who craved attention as much as her husband did. Ezra, who lived behind the scenes. She said he should have been on the stage, or up on the screen, and she could have managed him. Then how would he have liked it all? But no, Ezra objected, I don’t act, I just don’t want to disappear. That’s all. Next to your bright light, I could turn to nothing so easily, so I react. You are more than light, Gail, you are heat. I could be incinerated if I’m not careful, turn to literally nothing, less even than ash. His heart slowed back down, his lungs calmed—the red light inside stopped blinking—and the train pulled in. Ezra took a very deep breath, stood up from the seat, and reached overhead for their bags, one apiece. The rest had been shipped ahead. Gail walked to the end of the car. She stepped outside first. On the platform, halfway along to the terminal entrance, there was a woman holding a sign above her head. THEATER IN THE ROUND, it said, in large green print. Gail walked surely. The world could wait for her—her shoes clicked out every step. The woman was there to greet them and take them to their hotel. Beside her was a young man with a camera. He was from the publicity department, really just a boy. Gail looked straight at the lens and smiled, as Ezra, still holding the bags, still breathing hard, stepped away. The woman that I love is the woman that I love is the woman that I love, he sang. They were getting themselves set for dinner. And the man that she loves, she answered, in full voice. The man 50 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
that this woman you love, this woman you love, this woman you love, loves back. They smiled at each other—it was one of their moments. But Ezra felt uneasy again. He did not want to admit it to himself, lest the panic return full force, but he still could not pinpoint just who this woman was, his wife. Gail had a bottle of antiseptic spray in her hand. She was dressed only in underwear, a towel wrapped around her hair. Steam crept out from the bathroom and rose to the ceiling. She used the antiseptic every day of her life, before every meal she ate, whether there was a performance afterwards, a rehearsal, or nothing. She said it kept her voice clean and fresh, preserved it. Ezra thought it was only a superstition, but a superstition was something that every performer had. At least one. To apply the spray she stretched her jaws open wide, held the bottle to within an inch of her teeth, aimed the nozzle straight to the back of her throat, and held down on the button. Ezra stepped behind Gail and touched his hands to her hips. She leaned back into him. There was no more flesh there than there had ever been. In contrast, his own waist had thickened considerably. He could feel the warmth of her. The towel on her head was damp against his cheek. He moved his hand around to her belly. The woman that I love, he croaked again, his voice catching. Now she was utterly familiar—her skin, her tilt back, her damp smell, her balance—but he just didn’t know her. They ate in the hotel restaurant, as they always did their first night in a new place. They liked to orient themselves slowly. Other nights they would venture forth, try different spots. Ezra ordered a bottle of Chardonnay, which came to the table too chilled. There was a candle between them, the wick deep inside a blue glass. They traded tastes of their appetizers. They took the meal leisurely. They had stopped by the theater earlier, on the way from the station, and Gail had walked from one side of the stage to the other, back and forth, testing the spring in the boards, peering out at the angles, experimenting a bit with the acoustics. It was an ordinary theater, not in the round as the name suggested, though it had been that way before it was refurbished. They would be doing Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, and she was Blanche again. It was a part for which Gail did not meet the expected physical type, as established in the movie, but she was a name and she would draw a crowd—and for her the advantage was that she already knew every Crab Orchard Review ◆ 51
line of the play, she had the accent down. Despite the discrepancy of her refined appearance, she had done Blanche many times. It’s funny, she said to Ezra, the way these theaters in these towns always do the same plays over and over, don’t you think? Williams, O’Neill, Wilder, and Miller. And only the most popular plays by them. Death of a Salesman, for godsake. Do you know how many places, on any given night, that play must be performed? You’d think everybody would have seen it ten times by now. They have, he answered. But that’s what makes it so reassuring. We strive for the familiar, it’s the kind of beasts we are. We all want to be reassured. But the plays are not reassuring, Ezra. Look at what goes on in them. It’s chaos of the worst sort. Betrayal, smashed hopes, angst, mayhem. A rape, and maybe a murder or two. Who could that possibly comfort? I know, he said, of course, but it’s the sheer familiarity that’s the pull. Plus, you don’t want to miss it if this time it might stand out from the others. You never know when one actor’s Stanley Kowalski might turn the theatrical world upside down. Yes, she said, you’re right, like Brando did. She had always wondered what would have happened differently with her career if it had been she who had screamed at Brando in the film. It would have been easy—he could provoke such wildness. But of course, she had been too young then, she was still a child when that version was made. While Gail rehearsed, Ezra took long walks. He turned off the main streets and went up and down the neighborhoods. People looked out at him from behind their curtains, a strange man, and none too young, either. He didn’t care. He wore his old gray hat and swung his arms. He had vowed to himself that he would exercise, get back into shape. The rest of the cast was local, even Stanley—they could only afford to bring in a Blanche. He’s not bad at all, Gail told Ezra one evening. They were lying in bed reading, books propped on their bellies. He’s young, too, he could probably still make a career. Of course, he’d have to go to New York to do it. He’ll never get anywhere around here. You’re certainly correct about that, dear. Ezra had been all through the town, and there wasn’t much to it except for a few grand houses in one section. Not a single other theater, for one thing. Of course, it was the kind of place that writers wrote their best plays 52 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
about—where there was nothing but calm on the surface, and things seethed out of control underneath. What one could imagine going on behind some of those curtains, or even, from outside the hotel window, in their own room. Still, whatever the real dramas, it was no place for an actor to get noticed. Gail edged over in the bed and laid her head on Ezra’s arm. She curled close. Tell me what I might do next, she said. When this gig is over. Tell me every one of our choices, and the one you think will work best. She skimmed her finger down Ezra’s thigh. I want to know what we’ll be doing next winter. Ezra chuckled. You’re here for a two-month engagement, Gail, and the play hasn’t even opened yet. This is a pretty long run, guaranteed. We can’t back out of it, either. I hope you’re not restless already. You’re the one who wanted to do this number. I know. And I’m not restless. I just want to know what my choices are. I’m working on that every day we’re here, toots. He turned toward his wife and rolled his leg between hers. He kissed her on the forehead, planting his lips, holding the back side of her head in his palm. You know there’s a couple of movie possibilities. Those good kind of solid roles. I’ve just got to make the calls. Make them tomorrow, will you, dear? Gail said. I need to know what’s out there. It might have been because she was an actress by profession— and a damn good one too, he thought. She could be such a chameleon. But if that was it, why hadn’t he noticed until seventeen years had gone past? That was a long time—so long that he could hardly remember himself before her. She was an actress already when he first met her. It was more likely something that he had gotten inside himself. Still, if Gail could change herself around so easily, at will, how was he supposed to know who she was? But if it was something inside himself, and not in her, where could he possibly have picked it up? He wanted to be able to pin her down again. Take away the characters, the voices and the veneers, the Blanches and the Lady Macbeths, and reduce her to what was essential. But once he’d done all that stripping back, would there be anything essential? Or was it all just at the moment, what she laid over the top? Crab Orchard Review ◆ 53
He had never had this before. She stood in one place and at the same time she slipped all around Ezra like she was lathered up in grease. When he lost his breath, and then it rushed back inside, his heart thumped like a drum and a streak of fire climbed up his throat. He lowered himself quickly to a chair, or the floor or the curb if he had to, and held onto whatever was at hand until the breath flowed back out. He would go to a doctor but he didn’t know any doctors here— Dr. Shelton was in New York. Nor did he know what he’d say to a doctor: I don’t know who she is? I don’t know my wife? Nothing had happened, she was apparently just the same. I feel like I’m alone? If the doctor was honest, he would tell Ezra that everybody is alone— go ahead and get used to it. If he was not honest, he would prescribe pills for the nights to dull Ezra and get him to sleep. Gail began to bond with the cast, and spend time with them between rehearsals and after performances. They had a favorite café, and they would go late at night to unwind, for coffee or drinks—not just the actors, but the director and the stage crew as well. They all knew each other anyway, Gail was the exciting and glamorous one, she became the center of their attention. She always invited Ezra to join them, but he knew he was extraneous—even to her. They discussed technical elements of the play and of acting, rhythms in Tennessee Williams’ dialogue, and talked about the future of live drama versus the continued burgeoning of film and video. Ezra sat beside his wife at the table, but he felt left out in the cold. He had things to say too, but it seemed when he spoke, nobody listened. He was unable to laugh at the jokes the way the rest of them did, and he couldn’t share anecdotes about forgetting lines, or about lights that burned out or curtains that wouldn’t close. Most of the troupe were single, unattached, carefree. Not a one besides Gail even had a manager. It had happened before, and not infrequently, but before Ezra had always managed to blend in. Now he felt that he was disappearing instead. Or being slowly rubbed away, like an objectionable but stubborn stain, made to disappear. Tapes of indolent jazz played in the background of the café, lugubrious saxophones and heavy, wailing clarinets. Ezra fidgeted with the stem of his glass, tilting it toward the light, watching the wine slosh about in the bowl. He felt restless sitting night after night among strangers. Beside him his wife was animated, flushed, telling stories about the excesses of big-time productions in New York. 54 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Broadway—just the name made them attentive, alert. Grand theaters with their private dressing rooms for stars that were as big as whole apartments in the Village, and limousines to whisk the leads away after opening nights. He watched Gail as if she were someone he had never seen before, and the things she told were as exotic to him as they were to the rest of them all. The man who played Stanley Kowalski was named Jack, and he was the most intent on the stories Gail had to tell, her every word. He leaned across the table toward her, keeping his eyes locked on hers and her glass filled with wine. He was shorter than Gail, and more than ten years younger, a compact, athletic actor whose movements on stage were both forceful and graceful. Ezra observed them as if they were creatures at a distance carrying out a ritual. Gail did not seem aware of the exuberant glow of Jack’s skin. Jack never interrupted and hardly spoke a word back to her, but he drew Gail out of herself as surely as if his fingers kneaded constricting knots from her spine. Ezra excused himself, pushed off from the table, and he went outside. Though it was not actually raining, the night air was saturated—in the shine of the streetlights the mist hung thicker than a downpour. He had his hat with him, and he yanked the brim lower. He shoved his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the rawness. He started to walk. He went briskly, turning corners at whim, and it was not long before Ezra realized he could not retrace his steps, he was lost. His orientation was as confused as if he had been spinning in a centrifuge. But he did not panic because it did not really matter where he went. He was in a section with modest private homes, away from the storefronts and area of commerce. An occasional car swished by, lighting Ezra’s shadow ahead of him, spraying water at his shoes from puddles in the road. Ezra kept on turning corners. The sidewalks had splits and cracks in them as if tremors had shaken the earth there. Condensation from the mist dripped down from his hat and grew a dark splotch on the front of his shirt. He could not get the scene in the café out of his head. The hubbub at the table was set off by itself in a pool of thick orange light. In the center of that pool sat Gail. Her features and mannerisms were suddenly so thoroughly unfamiliar that Ezra actually shuddered. The voices blared through the background jazz, discordant riffs that started and then broke off on their own. Young Jack fixed on his wife the way Stanley Kowalski did on Blanche in the play. He was Crab Orchard Review ◆ 55
jerking her away from Ezra. And Ezra could not keep hold, his hands slipped off her skin. The soaked air was heavy and he began to rasp— weights sank to the bottoms of his lungs. The glow dimmed but the heat rose straight up in his throat, and suddenly Ezra sat himself down, right on the sidewalk. His breath moved out with a whoosh as if expelled by powerful bellows. He touched his forehead to the damp walk, his cheek, then rolled over to his back. It was late and the night was foul and there were few people about, none besides himself on foot. He looked up but there were no stars at all behind the wet mask of the night. The night closed around his eyes like a blanket, something cold and soaked. He struggled to see through it, but it was opaque. By the time a car stopped and two men stepped out, Ezra was hardly conscious. A red light blinked on and off against the blackness that covered him. He could not make out their faces, and their voices were as distant as the saddest of clarinets. They poked at him and dipped their fingers inside the pockets of his clothes. The air would not stop rushing in and out. It was in so much of a hurry that it did not rest in his lungs even for a moment before turning back around. It whirled like a cyclone. Its sucking motion created a vacuum inside that drew down from Ezra’s head and up from his feet and pulled everything to the same place. The men got back into their car and he heard the doors slam shut like thumps in his temples. Whether he opened his eyes or shut them, he saw only the same red light and blackness. Gail had to forego performances to tend to her husband. There was a stand-in for Blanche, a regular member of the troupe named Paula, who came to the hotel room in the mornings now to work with Gail. The two of them repeated line after line and gesture after gesture, striding about the carpet as if it were a stage, while Ezra lay in the bed, neither watching nor listening. Once in a while they would take a break and Gail would sit down beside him and rest her hand on his chest. On the outside, his breath seemed to come quite normally—it was just inside that it tore in and out in such a way that he had lost his balance. Jack came by the hotel room too, to bounce his lines off Gail and try to keep them fresh. He told her the play was not the same without her. He tried to maintain the intensity of his part, but he was feeling deflated. One does not perform in a vacuum, he said. He wanted Gail to come back, for the sake of the play. Surely the 56 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
hotel had somebody who could sit with Ezra for a few hours in the evening, he suggested. Probably, if he was so worn out, he’d just sleep then anyway. Or maybe the theater could spare a stagehand to do it. Or Ezra could go and stay somewhere else for a time, a hospital or a rest home, where he could be monitored by professionals until he was better. Gail smiled and nodded. It was reassuring to be missed. Paula executed Blanche’s lines competently, but a little too perfunctorily. She kept an open space between herself and Blanche, whereas Gail knew that characters only work if you climb right up inside them. The trick is always to find the way in. She had told Paula what she must do, but she hadn’t shown her quite how to do it. Ezra had his moments when he was normal, his old self, but then he would get the panic again. It came and went now as simply as breath. Gail could do no more than watch his eyes roll white, as if they were flipping over inside the sockets. The policemen who had found Ezra had rushed him to the hospital, but physiologically he checked out fine— although the doctor did suggest that he try to take off a few pounds for the sake of his heart. Then when Ezra didn’t come home and Gail had called the police, frantic because he was missing, they told her where he was—and that they had found him curled around a light post and it had taken two of them to pry his fingers off from it. He did not have any identification on him, but when the siren started up in the police car he had spoken his name, then not another word. After Gail got him back to the hotel, she did not want to leave him for a minute. She did not trust that he would take the slightest care of himself. To her, this incident was absolutely sudden—it came from nowhere. She racked her brain to try to recall any sign Ezra might have given that this was going to happen. The doctor who had examined him mentioned stress, but what stress did Ezra have? She was the one who stepped out on the stage and had to remember all the lines. Familiarity was what drew him the hardest, but it was not enough now. It soothed, but then if only the slightest difference appeared, it jarred suddenly. It was one thing to recognize Gail, her every gesture, and another to actually know her. It was like getting inside a character in a play, what she always talked about, but it was trickier—another person is not a character that’s been written with set motivations and lines. Another person will never perform exactly as anticipated, down to the very last word. Ezra wanted not only to be inside Gail, but for Crab Orchard Review ◆ 57
her to be inside him at the same time. Only she wasn’t trying to do that, she was caring for him from the outside. Right now she had Blanche too, and one extra character at a time was enough for anyone. Once this play is done, he thought, we will take some time together, and then she will climb inside me. She will lodge there and regulate the breath going in and out. It was the greatest hope Ezra had, because he believed she could do that if she turned her attention to it. Ezra encouraged Gail to go back to the play. He felt her restlessness in the room, and he knew that the theater company missed her badly. Her absence had a ripple effect on the cast. He did not want to be the one accountable for the show fading out. Nor would it be helpful to Gail’s career if she got a reputation as unreliable. As her manager it was his responsibility to help bolster that career, not sink it. He told her he could take care of himself again. He had the phone number for that doctor from the emergency room if he needed it, though he was sure he wouldn’t now. He knew how to dial for an ambulance. And if it came really bad, he could always open the door and yell out into the corridor. So she went back, reluctantly at first—phoning the hotel room between acts, and rushing home to him as soon as each performance concluded. She was distracted, and her Blanche had gotten stale, lost some of its verve. But Jack was excited to have her on stage with him again, and his energy quickly stirred Gail back up. She began to hector and preen and moralize and emote as she had before Ezra’s episode. Then soon she went out with the cast again, back to the same café, where she told more stories, and they all recounted their latest performance. Ezra hummed to himself to subdue the silence when Gail left. He could not watch television or listen to the radio, because with those media he could not anticipate what would happen next, or control the flow of it. There were too many jumps. The humming sound came out of his nose, faint and high. In his head, but not out loud, he sang phrases and words to go along with it. It was late and Gail had not returned yet, or called. The café should have closed two hours ago. Every night she stayed out a little later, then in the morning she wanted to sleep. So Ezra took care of her a bit too—he let her rest and went down to the lobby. The woman that I love, he sang inside his head now. And there she was, the woman that he loved, the woman he’d married, the woman 58 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
he’d lived with for seventeen years—watching herself in the mirror, preparing for the stage, touching a pencil to her brow. How thoroughly familiar she was up there. Only the color was off slightly in his head. Gail’s hair was a bit too dark as he pictured her, and also her true skin, up close, was not quite so smooth, untextured, as he now saw it. Ezra, listen, things are changing here. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but things aren’t exactly the way they were before. He had his fingers on her belly, the very softest part of her. She was warm there in the morning, under the covers, coming out of her sleep. He lowered his hand into the curls for a moment, then back up to stroke the belly, and he gently pinched a bit of it between his fingertips. Can we just talk? Gail turned, shifted, and when his hand still did not slide off, she reached down and lifted him away. Don’t, Ezra. I want to talk to you. I know you’ve been sick, but I need to tell you something. Things are different now. I haven’t been sick, Gail. I’ve been at loose ends, is all. I got this feeling of being finite, limited—and also I’ve had a stunning recognition of being alone in the world. Ultimately alone—just as we all are, all of the time. It’s got me thinking, that’s what happened. It was big. So big it turned me around, made me spin a little. But I’m starting to accommodate to it. Well, whatever you want to call it. And I’m glad you’re accommodating, Ezra. I really am. But you’ll admit you have been off. Maybe sick’s not the right word. Thank you. It’s not. But what I’m trying to tell you, Ezra, is that whatever it is, or was, that happened to you, things are not the same now. Not with me either. One thing sets off another. It’s not a static world outside yourself any more than it is inside. You know that. She took a heavy breath. What I’m saying is that now I’ve changed too, Ezra. So. You’re not the same either. Then he sang, the woman that I love. He sang it softly, toward her ear. He laid his thumb along the high bone of Gail’s cheek and spread his hand so that it covered her face. Their heads were resting on pillows, at the same level, less than a foot apart. You are the woman that I love, he told her. Do you know that? You bring me joy. He sang it again: the woman that I love. She shut her eyes. Why, Ezra? she asked him. Why do you think you love me? Crab Orchard Review ◆ 59
He waited for her to open her eyes, but she didn’t. Because you’re you, he breathed finally. He sighed. I couldn’t possibly detail all the different reasons. I’m me. She opened her eyes then and looked at him again. Ezra, you’re making this very hard, what I’m trying to tell you. You are without question the sweetest man ever. But things have changed now. And you don’t know it, so you need to listen to what I’m saying. She put her hand on his face too, their arms crossing, making an X right where the two pillows came together. Her palm on his chin was moist, and the skin there was a little clammy, not as warm as the skin on her belly. Ezra turned his head slightly so he could kiss the inside of her hand. Okay, I’m listening, Gail. What is it now? You really are the sweetest man, Ezra. But his face was too close, his eyes so big, trying to pull her in. He did that. She shut her eyes again, and this time she really did keep them closed. Then she told him exactly how things had changed. She told him about Jack. It was an anchor that he wanted, and an anchor that he needed, but there were no such things as anchors. Not for people. Not even for boats, not true anchors, guaranteed—the ropes that attached to them were so long and ephemeral, and they were so easily cut, frayed, torn, bitten through, rotted out. The anchor might still be there, sunk down into the sandy floor of the ocean, nestled in, gripping, but if the rope was cut and the boat no longer attached, what good was it? It might not happen often, but it happened. Boats spun off, drifted away, and so did people. In hurricanes the waves swelled and yanked, the ocean rocked, and all sorts of boats were cut loose, thrown free. Now Ezra was thrown free. Gail was gone. Maybe she was still down there somewhere, nestled in, gripping, but the rope that held him to her—attached him to the last seventeen years of his life—that skinny little thread, was snipped. He folded his clothes into his suitcase. The rest of his things he had shipped on ahead. Gail had taken everything that she had of hers with her already. She would return home when A Streetcar Named Desire closed, to sort out with Ezra all the things they had ever acquired in common. One for you, one for me, one for you. She wouldn’t stay at home though. He would try to convince her to change her mind—tell her that if things had flipped once, they could flip again—but he knew she wouldn’t stay. He would no longer be her manager, either. She could still act, but he would have to find something else to do now. 60 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
He let the door lock behind him and carried his suitcase down the corridor. The suitcase was heavy, and it made him bend forward slightly as he walked. There was a mirror that ran the length of the corridor wall. Ezra stopped to rest once before he got to the elevator, but he avoided looking at himself in the mirror. He wondered if they had talked about him yet at the café after one of the performances—probably they wouldn’t, unless Gail brought it up. He turned in his key at the hotel desk. The bill was being charged directly to the theater company. Ezra signed his name at the bottom of it. Then the doorman carried his suitcase from the desk to the sidewalk. Ezra gave the man a dollar, and he hailed Ezra a cab. He watched out the train window and tried to recall whether he had seen on the way in any of what he now saw on the way out. But nothing looked familiar, and it went by so fast. He couldn’t even remember which side of the train they had sat on. He missed Gail already. If she were beside him, he would rest his hand on her leg and she would smile. He didn’t want to think. He would have to start over now. But he was nowhere, and that was the hardest place ever to start from. It was impossible to get any traction. He was just floating. The thing he had always wanted the least was to be alone. But if he had already been alone, as everybody had to be, could he really be any more alone now? He didn’t want to think, he told himself not to think. Don’t let your mind engage, Ezra, just keep still. Don’t even move. The woman that I love, he sang. His voice was soft and he saw that nobody turned, nobody heard him. Maybe he hadn’t even sung it out loud. Then, as still as he kept, the air swept suddenly into Ezra’s lungs, the fire was in his throat. He did not know where it could possibly have come from. The air blew straight up into his head, a great wind, and once inside it swirled. He was most certainly alone. He slid down out of the seat, turned on his knees on the floor, and pressed his head into the cushion. Gail, he said—but the word burned up in the heat before it could get out. A red light blinked on whether Ezra opened his eyes or shut them. The train kept on. The tracks were all laid out for it, and no matter how Ezra squirmed, it was taking him home.
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An Evening at the Chinese Opera
Chinese ladies with allen-wrench backs shoved me for better seats. I’m above all of this, I thought, better than these immigrants with cracked English, mothball perfume. An upgraded version. On stage, a man with red and white cheeks, his headpiece plumed peacock’s feathers, blue around his eyes suggested war. Cymbals connected, gongs settled into the shape of my chest. It took thousands of years to work this out? The clanging, compressed music (or noise), as though defying sparseness. The sword’s yellow tassel swayed from an audience cough, uncovered and misted. The gong halted with the shrilled stringed instrument, an echo of chickens with slit necks. My eyes played tremors behind bored doors. But then my mother stepped on stage, rolled up her wide sleeves, her headpiece moved water. I never knew her to sweat the way she did, a spill of salt. Her voice, like a bell ringing in mountains laced with fog. Her head turned to the audience,
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a noble crackâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the loss of her daughter demanded nothing less.
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Lisa Fremont from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window She would follow her boyfriend across tundras, through forests with green roofs, sweat, caked dirt. She would give up the cover of Life Magazine, lunches with women held up by thin necks. She would give up the tables of pyramidstacked finger sandwiches, layered with Gruyère cheese and salmon, the daily visits from suitors, the haute couture one-piece dress. Only her photographer at Harper’s Bazaar sees the crescent scar tucked near her left ear, the range of her facial expressions. When her boyfriend looks at her face, he only sees her eyes, two petals of Teton sky, too perfect to break, as she swings in a cage, like a small parrot, waiting for him to fill her dish with food.
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Because Star Trek is Love in Another Language
In the primetime years, my father stayed on the edge—Navajo reservation, wind-battered trailer, schooling the Indians in band-saw and lathe. The superintendent believed this would make them useful—the Indians and my father who settled weekly for this: a 12-inch black and white, Captain Kirk the hero he wanted to be. He rescued my mother, science fiction lover, from a trailer with no tv. They shared bowls of popcorn. Wedding vows. The Indian women gave them a rug, black and white zig-zags fuzzy as the television when a bad wind blew out of Gallup, New Mexico. After first run, before syndication, my father taught white boys who made weapons from scrap metal and wood. Before daily Spock, Kirk, and McCoy. Before VCRs and later voyages across entire galaxies same stretches of space, his long-won bride snoring from their bed, his children scornful of metal’s slow bend, the patient grain of worked oak, and final frontiers. He taped each show alone at night, cut Crab Orchard Review ◆ 65
the commercials. Failed more than once. Imagine our laughter when Sprite-sponsored ice cubes attacked the Starship Enterprise. Imagine other journeys cassettes boxed under the stairs, useless. The children scattered across the wide country, his wife with her ceramics, her own tv, how he sits surrounded by technology amazed how nothing takes much effort anymore. How the Navajo rug in the entrywayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s small space darkens with snow. Still bears his heavy step. Still lays down flat like that, like the end of a journey.
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Coffee-drunk at a staging of The Miser, I watch him bridge the moat between the blank stage and first row of chairs with a plank and walk it, his black robe dragging behind in tatters, an inquisitorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s memory. Suspended there he seems an inquisitor to me: a fair-skinned Californian boy. You will pay, his finger says, curved like an amputated question mark, pay a miser for the right to see a miser. And later at the party I speak with an ecologist about leeches. In Indonesia one slouched through the thin crease of suede on his toe. His shoe answered by bleeding. And this is not unnatural. The shoe bleeds because it has been harmed. The black humor of the shoe: like a leech on high perch, waiting for the mammal which millennia have taught it walks underneath. If earthbound, the leeches rise and sway like tiny theories. Centuries have passed them by, untouched, uncharmed mostly by our taste for the redundant late night ramble of the scientist in the dark
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polo shirt. Not what he says but how the words create a vellum around the air he speaks, how the party in the distance appears backlit and dizzy, spinning on the axis of a Saturday after Molière’s miser was the furthest out, had dropped his gnarled index to gaze into the invisible sea of the paid audience. The spotlight discovers his face, the coiled eyes and horribly jaundiced teeth of someone so much older than himself. To me it is a lifetime he stands there sucking air out of actual lungs. At intervals, like the imperceptible turnings of a thought inside the brain, I watch a thousand hands, white-cuffed, rise and clash for the charm, the power to quiet, to sink into the lap, to sleep.
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The Poseidon Adventure Comes to North Babylon, New York: We Recognized Evil Before It Knew Us
Crammed like steerage in the old theater, we all recognize Shelley Winters’ character— each one of us had a grandmother like that or had a friend with a grandmother like that. Growing up on the shore, we were also not surprised by that great wave of movie water— we knew what the ocean could do. Our ’70s were filled with pious reminders of Good and Evil, messages from movies told us that anyone, anything could sift through us: sharks, earthquakes, mad bombers on planes, the Devil’s son, the Mafia, fires in high rises. We knew long before the house in Amityville, just two towns away, gave way to ghosts and film rights, what might await us, and it did: Ronald De Feo, Jr. Son of Sam. Richard D’Angelo. Joel Rifkin. We had seen them before, in the dark, as we cheered and screamed and filled up on popcorn and candy. Goodness would not help. We saw good characters die and become an off-hand remark made by the heroes at the end of the film. Evil came in many forms, and when Shelley Winters gulped water for air and clutched her heart Crab Orchard Review ◆ 69
as it exploded, we learned like the good children we were that no one was safe and nothing could be trusted. It would be a handy lesson to know.
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Wim Wenders vs. the Wolfman Desire is an engine of metamorphosis The blind man sets Frankenstein’s monster down with a cup of coffee and a cigarette— though the monster is skittish and flinches at the lit match. Wenders’ Angel falls to earth, picks himself up and walks over to the kiosk. His first desire as a mortal: a cup of joe and a cigarette. All our angels are monstrous and we desire them though they bite back with desires of their own: Her eyes may be dark, the needle a sweet black nipple of sugar— how good that road of dark change. Boris Karloff, played by William Henry Pratt, inhabited the role of Frankenstein’s monster so well he could never shake it. Children, dogs, and Hollywood agents cringed away in horror at the creature and his lesson. We are only the clumsy servants of desire. Blind and Mr. Magoo-like, we have the very thing of creation seated in our kitchen while we struggle with a cheese grater. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 71
“Here you are. Let me cut you a piece of bread— Oh! I’m sorry. The knife slipped. Did it cut you, my big friend? Let’s wash your cut in that tub of bleach— No, you can’t get out that way, that’s only the door to the weapons stockpile of the local monster-hunting club—” The angels of the lord stop by. They are terrible in their changeless desire. They’re on their way to blast Sodom and want a coffee and a fag. You don’t smoke and only have decaf. Surely, the Lord will smite you down— if only you knew it. Your angels insist they don’t want any bread, but you give them oranges—feeling your eyebrows singe as they take them from your hands. In this fire, you recognize here is something outside the human: a fulcrum that would move planets.
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Marilyn Monroe had six toes that she squashed into a pointy pump, her shoe like a girdle or jock strap. When she swam, she never kicked above water, her terry cloth slippers waiting for her by the side of the pool. As a girl, blood pooled into her too-narrow loafers. Her extra toe was a curse, Cinderellaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s slipper allusive. No prince, her first boyfriend pumped Mobil gas under a red Pegasus who kicked up its heels and spread its wings. Marilyn got the strap for coming home too late, her sundress straps down around her shoulders, pools of mascara under her eyes. She kicked her bedroom door shut, her face a tomato about to burst, her blood pumping fast into the feet she was sure made her a freak. She slipped out of town as soon as she could with her slipshod suitcase with the broken strap. At the bus station, she pumped up her hair with Aquanet, and met a pool player on the lam. She was headed for Toronto, but when the man told her he got his kicks
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with freaks, she followed him to L.A. instead. She kicked off her slipper, sure her extra toe would excite him. “That’s it?” he said. She was strapped for cash and crying by now, so the pool player showed pity on her and tried to pump up her confidence. She confessed she had exercised, pumped up her sixth toe, hoping the circus would take her, a sidekick to the boy with fins. The pool player said, “Sorry, kiddo, you’re no freak,” and slipped her a twenty. “In fact, you’re beautiful.” She strapped herself into her shoes, then tiptoed into dawn. Neon signs still pumping, her slip showing, she pulled herself up by her bra straps, kicking her past. She dove into a pool of fame, her sixth toe now her sixth sense.
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Say Merveille for Josephine Baker and where lime green meets gun barrel blue c’est horizon, thunder, evening waist where bananas orbit mahogany hips—no, madrone, peeling bark like the moon in a phase or the phrase we search for to light it: je voudrais, chérie, honeysuckle cobbled with vibrating blossoms—or were they bees? Discord at the end of May, dismay sans la chaleur de nôtre amour nôtre dame, la mer, ma mère, nightmare, je voudrais a ray, disarray, display, d’accord? Dis aster, dark star, je voudrais retrouver diamond sequins on your lips: fireflies’ brief blossoms, constellation seen only at night.
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Late Night Ghazal
Life, you say, is like TV. How small we are. How shiny: somebody’s always the skipper, someone else, his little buddy. I’m thinking Ginger, Mary Ann— but you’re drifting off by now, your teeth showing like Flipper’s when he’s happy. Was Doris Day in The Glass Bottom Boat? How many times have you seen Mr. Limpet? Did you ever see Dear Brigitte, where the little boy, who’s the son of Jimmy Stewart, is writing love letters to Brigitte Bardot in France? He’s in love with her, even though he’s, like, eight. He doesn’t see the problem. He’s conjugating French verbs. He wants to fly to Paris. The family
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can’t afford that, of course (I think poor Jimmy is a college professor), and they’re having their vacation already anyhow, on a boat, which I guess is why I thought of it. You’re sound asleep. Why do they call it sound asleep? I hit the mute. It makes me lonely. It makes me feel more free to talk. Bardot is only in it for a minute. Did you ever want to sleep with her? You look so tiny in this gray light. Slick, silvery, loyal. Why that makes me lonely stumps me. I turn the sound back on. You stir a bit. Hush, I say. Hush, mon petit. Mon petit dauphin. Mon petit anchois. It’s only me. Go back to sleep.
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Your best friend’s in the movies—there he is, in Escape from Alcatraz shoveling prison slop into his face: wary, calm, yet capable of leaping up and scooping out a guard’s eyeball with his spoon. He’s good, so good they want to give him a speaking part, his name in the credits— other acting jobs to follow. But no, your best friend can’t stand being in a cell, even in a movie. Besides, he’s hungry, maybe all the fake prison chow made him salivate. He eats lunch with Clint Eastwood while some other actor gets to rattle a tin cup against the bars and scream, “I’m going crazy in here!” and get his name on the credits and become famous. “Clint is soft spoken,” your friend will say later, “he’s a vegetarian, he likes jazz.” And the temp that worked at the desk next to yours all summer, the one whose high heels were a couple of sizes too big and she clomped around and you called her Minnie Mouse, she’s in the movies too. All summer you ignored her but now on her last day the whole office, the social workers and even the priest—you’re all watching the temp in a video of her movie. It’s black and white, lots of cars in the night and stiffs rolling out of cars into alleys. Now a detective is leaning back in a chair chewing on a toothpick, he’s wearing his fedora,
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and the temp—here she is standing right next to you, and there she is in the movie. Her hair is blacker and she doesn’t have those glasses on, she’s wearing a black skirt which she has pulled up and she’s pressing it against her hips with her forearms and while the detective is leaning back in his chair eyeing her she is slowly ever so slowly slipping her black panties off with little rolling motions of her wrists in what must be the longest single-takeslipping-panties-off scene in movie history and suddenly you look at the temp and you can smell her perfume, it’s Jovan Musk, and you’re thinking maybe you could have been a little friendlier to the temp, maybe you could have impressed her with your knowledge that musk is scraped from the bloated scrotum of the rutting musk deer in Central Asia, maybe you could have helped her rehearse during lunch break, maybe you could have been the detective. But wait a minute. Now you remember as you’re writing this down, your best friend was in jail, where he fell in with some toughs and they planned an escape. It was even his idea. But when the time came, he stayed back. Maybe he was hungry, deciding to eat lunch rather than escape. And you—you were in jail too, Brooklyn Detention House, maximum security, and you did escape—your proudest moment, for once you didn’t hold back, you acted, just like a movie—shimmying up a drain pipe as you could hear the cops below cursing and kicking in the door to their bathroom. And later, after you’re recaptured, and your best friend gets his childhood buddy to ask his parents to help with your bail, we’ll have to try and get a young version
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of Robert De Niro to play him because it was Robert De Niro, “Bobby,” as he was called then. Just home from acting school, “How about it Mom?” he said, “I hear this guy’s a poet, all we need is five hundred bucks . . .” but now it’s late night TV and there is your friend hopping a freight car with Woody Guthrie in Bound for Glory, it makes you remember how you and your friend did hop a freight car after missing several chances by waiting too long, after scampering onto a flatcar that was suddenly disconnected and rolled slowly to an embarrassing stop in an empty freight yard. After letting a whole train go by in the last moment you caught the caboose and the two of you sat there on the stoop, it was cold, sparks were rising into the dark above you, and a railroad man— who can we get to play him?—stepped out, handing each of you a cup of hot, strong coffee.
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Once I was wood and my heart was a knot. From a block my brain was slowly cut— legs, arms, knees and nose, my all of me peeked out at the prompt of father’s blade. Peach-soft, I took shape like a lesson. I took paint like skin and soaked it in. I had a hat. Shoes I didn’t know were heavy. Strings at every joint to tie life to me: fifty kites I could have made and been happy. But this too was me: lacquer and dead stare, dreamless in a crude heap of false-boy. Like a narrow bed or bad wish, my father made and unmade me— weeks he didn’t sleep with me in the house. How life took me I don’t know. No star or fairy made of moon fell upon me to make me this lock-kneed shadow. No cricket sang to my pink ear in the dark. Of the dark I have so much to say: the strings burned away, hissing like wet fuses, and for those moments, newly lunged, I breathed hardly at all in the dying light there in a pile of dust on my father’s old desk. In places the paint still hung in flecks like ash: a stranger would have thought me rescued from a sudden fire. Or mourning something ancient. And then it was gone, the light, and I was alive, filled with hollows I hadn’t before. A mouth and belly. A windpipe. My spine, once balsa, now bone,
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saw to line itself with flickering pain. Into the floor I spilled myself and was ashamed. My father found me and with me wept. To my little bed he carried me and locked the door. All you have known of me is wrong— or a lie, the sin that so long kept life from me— life, which swallowed me like a whale with nothing to make light in its dark gut. Not my father’s lantern and not my body, once wood, which may make a fire but not a boy.
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The Last Words of Alice the Goon
Understand me now: the light is lace or the shell of a pearl, thinned out, and I’m no more the rag doll or arch-foe. All this life I’ve toed this precipice, the draft of the voice denied me rising up in my face like a sad dream in which my throat doesn’t squawk like a bird tearing through flesh as if it were air. As if it were air, it’s easy now to carry a tune, to hold in my heart a human song. Easy to hold my heart as though I had one. Imagine how the angels might sing for some novelty in heaven. Imagine my lungs emptied out for you. Imagine this language made null and I will be glad and full, permitted these simple words at the last. I had no interest in the sea and all its salt, all its plunging dark, yet I was made to fight and lose utterly in it, wet to my stupid skeleton— all I am, really. Once I swam deep as hurt to the sand floor of the sea and held myself like a secret breath because I was so cold. For mermaids I waited in long halls of kelp that swayed like their limpid green hair, but nothing came or sang and above me the world and its heroes sailed away. In that garden I took in my hands and barely held Crab Orchard Review ◆ 83
a shivering sea cucumber and watched without blinking as its side ruptured, spilling crude organs, a pharynx, a gut, all purple and eviscerated, streaming away. Strange flower, it survived this way: with nothing left in it, nothing was left to devour or desire. In it there was an end to hunger. And rising up from the water, this was a comfort. This was a flower and it occurred to me that I had no hair in which to keep it, except for what covered my arms in coarse blackness. I am not a woman. I am dying and all I want is for you to hear at last the pulse of wretched thunder caged in my chest. I taste like the sea and will be buried in it like plastic. Once I was happy and have told you so. I taste like the sea. Life ruptures to save itself from itself. O awkward spark set fat in the flesh, I am no woman, only a doll and dollop of tallow, bauble of bone, ingrown hair. Enough, enough. Already Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m singing.
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Wile E. Coyote Attains Nirvana It is neither by indulging in sensuous craving and pleasures, nor by subjecting oneself to painful, unholy and un-profitable self-torture, one can achieve freedom from suffering and rebirth.—from The Four Noble Truths No wonder after each plummet down the canyon, the dust cloud of smoke after each impact, he’s back again, reborn, the same desire weighing inside his brain like an anvil: catch that bird. Again with the blueprints, the calculations, a package from the Acme Co. of the latest gadgets. Shoes with springs, shoes with rockets, but nothing works. Again the Road Runner escapes, feathers smearing blue across the air. Again the hungry coyote finds himself in death’s embrace, a cannon swiveling towards his head, a boulder’s shadow dilating under his feet. Back from the afterlife, he meditates under a sandstone arch and gets it: craving equals suffering. The bulb of enlightenment blazes over his head. He hears the Road Runner across the plain: beep-beep. Nothing. No urge to grab the knife and fork and run, no saliva
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waterfalling from his mouth. Just another sound in the desert as if Pavlovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dog forgot what that bell could do to his body.
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Laurel and Hardy Backwards
There was a bedsheet thumbtacked to a wall, the rattle of the projector, its one eye glowing behind us, a train stopped inside a tunnel. In our homemade theater, Laurel and Hardy were delivering a piano, pushing it up the longest flight of stairs. They heaved. They heaved some more, faces cartooned into struggle. We’ve seen this film five, six times. It’s not funny anymore. We waited until the end, until the filmstrip slapped and slapped the projector, the bedsheet radiant with light. Our mother stood in the doorframe, three months pregnant, saying it was time for bed. None of us had seen our lives before—five, six times or just once. None of us know about the miscarriage scripted for tomorrow. My brother flipped the reel, threaded the film backwards. We watched a bowler hat leap from the ground and settle on Hardy’s head, slammed doors opening by themselves. We watched the two trace their footsteps
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and wrestle the piano back down the stairs, a thing now impossible to deliver to a house waiting for music.
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All the Mourners of Zion
The clock shaped like a headache pill with clock hands says three-ten. For this I always look into P. Eliyahu Drugs, corner of Brenner and Kibbutz Galuyot Street, halfway home. My breath grays up the window, clears. A grandma argues at the counter. Legs squeezed in brown bandages, she keeps sniffing a jar of medicine, then tries to give the pharmacist a turn. Each time he pushes it away. He shakes his head and jabs his finger at her, makes his mouth to shout. She sniffs the jar. He should, too. No, he will not. Leviticus: write and memorize each offering in chapter 9. Math: division. History of Our State: questions, section 3 (The Dreyfus Libel). Five o’clock on Lebanon TV comes on Doug Henning’s World of Magic. He only comes on once a year. It’s three-fourteen. The pharmacist slaps at the register. The grandma wipes the air like there’s a chalkboard in between them. In the corner of my eye somebody rushes from the sidewalk, pulls open P. Eliyahu’s door. The bell sings. Suddenly I can’t see anymore what’s with the argument. A face is squashed against the window from inside. Nose to my nose, eyes to my eyes: when I jump back the squashed face laughs. Around the laugh the face is flat and white, but from that yellow hair I know exactly who it is. The long hair slips and flies like ribbons, all but one bit at the top that’s like a yellow chewed-up stem. The face unglues. The shop door opens out, again the bell. And it’s the orphan, pushing into me, giving a small quick hug. “Girl,” the pharmacist shouts. “Little girl with the blond hair. You come in here to buy, or—” “Make exchanges, because Adler— ” But the door slams on the grandma’s voice, and on the bell. “You waited for me like I knew you would,” the orphan says. Someone tied sacks around the clusters in the date palms on this block. Across the way a street-cat with a belly full of kittens Crab Orchard Review ◆ 89
crawls under the porch of Or Akiva Synagogue with the white peeling walls, the door tattered with signs about who’s dead and who was born and who’s selling never-used things for not a lot. A soldier sitting on a bus-stop bench gives up on staying awake; his neck bends, his chin hits his chest. The orphan skips to him, touches his gun, runs back to me. She’s still in her school uniform. She doesn’t have her backpack on. I wasn’t waiting for her. I was looking at the clock. The teacher in Leviticus maybe forgot this was the orphan’s first day back. Because right in the middle of the verse she stopped and, without being careful who it was, yelled, “Do I take it that your gossip is so all-important that HaShem Himself,” and all the rest of what she always says. The orphan scraped her chair back. Tiles screeched. Her yellow hair flew out. She yowled, “Who can concentrate with you? We liked Mrs. Shuvali better!” That’s who taught us Exodus last year. Bang. You could hear her crying extra loud out in the hall. It didn’t sound for real; that’s what it is. That’s how she was before, and now she uses the same cry. The teacher pulled the kerchief on her head a little lower to her eyes, looked back in her book and read. She read about the fire from HaShem that came forth and consumed all of the offerings in chapter 9. And when the people saw, they shouted out and fell. The yowling in the hall outside got weak and disappeared. The whole school day the orphan didn’t come back. Where did she go after she ran out of Leviticus? What did she do up until now? She says, “I had a conversation with the Principal.” “What did she say to you?” “She said,” the orphan says, “that she would see I wasn’t treated such a treatment in her school again. She knows the Mayor and the Prime Minister.” The orphan walks with me. Under the date palms on Kibbutz Galuyot Street, right on Hannah Szenes. The Bee Gees squeal from the Gruner Corner record store. I tell her, “I know what they’re singing. I can understand the words.” She says, “Sure, Ahh, ahh, ahh, ahh. Anybody can.” 90 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
“No, all the rest of it. It’s from America. The Bee Gees are American.” She says, “Americans are fat.” I get ready to think of what to say. She says, “But you, no. You’re just full-figured. And you talk without a stupid accent, so you count like you’re from here.” I am from here. Also I’m not from here, even though that was a long time ago. When you’re from somewhere else maybe some other ones think they should laugh at you, but you know more about the world. For example is the memory I have: a giant happy yellow bird and a happy African man sit together on a stoop made of red bricks, and it’s a feeling in that neighborhood that’s only there. My mother says that they were on TV. About the bird I understood that for myself. The record seller leans out of his store. “The Brothers Gibb are not American.” We run away from him. After we’re sure he’s finished chasing us, we take a shortcut through a playground. Arab women in black dresses shake down olive trees, the olives plopping onto cloth they lay around the trunks. It’s not their playground. They just come in for the olives. The orphan whispers, “Walk. Walk. I’ll protect you.” On Trumpeldor she holds her hand up like a traffic warden while I cross. The light is red; the cars are stopped. On Aharonson she goes behind me, puts her hands under my backpack, makes it light in an uncomfortable way. She lives far in the opposite direction; I remind her. She just says, “No worries.” Then we reach my building and she might collapse and faint. She says she left her lunch behind when in Leviticus she didn’t have a choice, with such a treatment, except to get up on her feet and leave. She says there’s a condition that she has; she gets too hungry, she can die. I pull the key chain from inside my shirt. A mirror is screwed on to the elevator wall. Only the tops of our two heads show: yellow, black. She needs something with sugar, maybe bread with chocolate spread. I put a plate out on the counter, pull bread from its box. The knife sticks straight up when I push it in the jar for her to spread. She finishes, the knife is leaning; the jar is almost empty. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 91
She tears into her slice, then takes the knife, too, licks it clean. She tries to fit the blade into a crack in the gray marble. Crumbled stone like flour sticks to the wet knife. I tell her, “Stop.” I say my mother cracked the counter when a pressure cooker pot went crazy in her hands; she dropped it and jumped back. Red soup is splattered on the ceiling from that time. “For real?” The orphan wants to know where do we keep the pot. We threw it out. My father said it was archaic and a hazard. “He’s right,” the orphan says. “I could have told you also.” She stares up at the beet-red stain. Her tilted chin is dabbed with chocolate, like a little beard. I went consoling at the orphan’s place a week ago. A cat gave her mother cancer, so she died. The orphan still has a father but she is orphaned from her mother and that’s enough; she is an orphan. She was always something wrong and now there is a reason. Three girls from the third grade got picked to do the Shivah call. The homeroom teacher chose only the best students in class, with the best grades, the cleanest shirts. I get good grades in everything. My last report card in Leviticus I got an Almost Very Good, in History of Our State Almost Very Good Plus, in Math Very Good Minus. I don’t have to take English but I take it anyway, and I can come up with more rhymes than anyone for “Pin.” In Conduct every term I get Exemplary. The teacher told us not to knock when we got to the mourners’ door, not to say hello, not say goodbye. She told us not to laugh, not to be loud, and not to tug the cloth off any mirrors. She said there is a conduct for consoling and a conduct for the grief. We memorized our part. People were coming down the stairwell when we got there. A death notice was hanging on the wall. We mourn the loss of Drora Evven, cherished wife and mother. 1945-1977 May her soul be clasped within the handclasp of eternal life. Footsteps and words bounced down to us. Poor man is broken, broken. Poor. The talking stopped when they walked past. I thought it would be dark in the apartment; it was light. When we walked in I saw the cat, a red one with gold eyes. The father sat 92 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
on what would be a sofa if the cushions weren’t all pulled out, his sweater rent, just like the teacher said. His face was such a way I couldn’t look. In front of him were plates with rolls and hummus, herring, and some cakes, and in a pitcher raspberry squash, but none of it was touched. Grownups moved slow. The cat rubbed all along the papered wall. She stuck her red tail straight up in the air, looked back at us. We followed to the orphan’s room. We sat, just like the teacher said, waiting for her to talk about her loss. After a while someone came and whispered, “Quiet, girls.” But it was her, the orphan, laughing on the floor, rubbing the loose skin on the shoulders of the cat. She said, “Watch, you can tell how happy Zeessie is. Look at her eyes. Zeessie loves guests.” None of us had ever been to where she lives before that day. Some girls you don’t go to their house. She sat cross-legged on a baby-sized knit blanket checked with pastel checks, smiling up at one face, then another, flipping her slippery hair. I saw the raggy piece on top. We sat on folding chairs. She said, “I’ve been to your home, and to your home, and to your one,” and it wasn’t any lie. The orphan before she was an orphan came to birthdays uninvited and brought stupid gifts. Half a pencil or a notebook with the pages used and then erased. She’d push to be the first in every game. She’d laugh too hard and at wrong times. Whenever she would lose a contest, every single time it was no fair. She’d argue with the grownups till they’d stick a favor bag in her hand early, so she’d go. But she always left last. The cat pawed at the baby blanket, like a digging for something, but slow and loving, pawed and rumbled, nuzzling with her furry head. To me the orphan said, “I like your home the best.” She said, “Who made your birthday cake with silver sprinkles all on top making the number eight?” I said, “My mother, but I sprinkled.” She said, “So maybe you and her can help me when I have my party. I turn nine next month.” She never had a party before. I thought, her mother didn’t let. It was the cat that killed the mother. They said in school a cat can kill you with disease, and I said, Like I didn’t know. She said Americans make cake more sweeter and more mushy than the kind from here. She said that we should bring the recipe. She pulled me down to sit with her, the cat still digging slowly, and she remembered to me all about my party. How I tried to pin the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 93
donkey tail on Grandpa, may his memory be blessed, who hangs by the TV in a wood frame, how, when my mother said for me to serve the cake like a good hostess before eating, I got mad but didn’t show it. She said you really couldn’t see; good job. She told me everything we put inside the favor bags: a water whistle, toffee, three big pretzels and two sourballs, Bazooka, a nougat banana. She said, “Your mother’s beautiful. Your TV’s huge. Your father’s smart.” One of the two other consoling girls got up. We all still had our uniforms from school on, pink and gray, except the orphan. She was in a nightgown that was giant for her, pouring off her twiggy neck in giant folds. The girl stepped forward to the orphan, took a breath, opened her mouth: “May The Place comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Just like the teacher said. The Place is what sometimes you call HaShem, which even that just means The Name. The real Name nobody knows how to pronounce and nobody should try. No one reaches The Place until they’re dead. The other girl got up, stepped forward, took a breath. “May The Place comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” They walked away without goodbye, just like the teacher said. “Those ruffle socks you wore,” the orphan said, “with the roses on the ankles out of lace. I love them. And there was food enough for a whole zoo. Your parents aren’t cheap. Your towels smell good. I like your dinner plates with the blue edge.” She also liked our rocking chair. She also liked my bed. She told and told and told. It was like watching on TV a program that they made all about you. Then suddenly I felt between my fingers something wet and warm and rough, and I jumped up, because it was the cat. The orphan said, “Your sweat tastes good to her.” I said I had to get back home on time or I’d be dead. The orphan said, “Zeessie’s insulted from you jumping up. She’s sad. Scratch her.” I put my fingers to the cat. “Under her chin.” The cat stretched out her neck. She squinted her gold eyes. She smiled at me with long hard lips like pale pink pearl, her tiny sharp teeth poking out. Her breath was liver and old cheese. Red hairs stuck to my hand. I hurried through the living room, sneaking my eyes to the TV 94 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
and mirrors that were covered. Under every sheet the mother’s dead soul waited; when the sheets came off, she’d look for the red cat. A sofa cushion tripped me. I blew the red hairs off me, wiped my hand on my school skirt. I turned around. The orphan watched me from the hallway in her mother’s gown. I said, “Goodbye and thanks for everything,” like gracious houseguests should. But I forgot that what I was, was a consoler. There is a conduct for consoling and there’s one for them, but I forgot my part when I ran out, so no one said any words back. The orphan burps a chocolate-spread burp in my kitchen, sucks the brown off her long fingers. “For a whole week I didn’t dream,” she says. “Last night I did.” She slips her fingers through her hair. She says, “I dreamed I bit right through a window pane. Inside was light and outside dark. I bit a hole right through the middle of the glass, black in the middle of the shine, the shape of my mouth.” I say, “We have a big assignment in Leviticus.” “I don’t.” “The teacher gave it after you were gone.” She says, “Gave you. But I’m exempt. For all my Thirty.” She still has chocolate on her chin. It’s true that even though she got up from the Shivah, which is Seven, there’s still the Shlosheem; the Thirty have a conduct, too. She can’t wear brand-new clothes. If she was a man she couldn’t shave. That homework’s not allowed I didn’t know. After the Thirty some rules stay for all the Mourning Year. I think no dancing. We have a clock over the stove. One hour and fifteen until Doug Henning’s World of Magic. He only comes on once a year, only on Lebanon TV. The subtitles are Arabic so I’m the only one in class who understands. I can watch anything on Lebanon or Jordan that’s American and after homework time and good for kids and, out of everyone in class, only I understand. Last year Doug Henning leaped through fire. He came out on the other side, no burns, and with his bushy mustache perfect, smiling with his rabbit teeth, so happy, with his face so full of goodness and his slinky body full of springs. Without resting he did more tricks, cards and then a fishbowl and then birds. That’s how he is. He sparkles in a million different suits. Just when you think he’s happiest, he gets more full of joy. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 95
I take out the assignment and sit at the table. The orphan comes, picks up the mimeograph page. She brings the paper to her face, breathes deep. She tells me, “Smell the purple.” The teacher told us not to do that. I say, “It reaches by itself.” What’s in purple is two columns with two titles at the top. Offering. Treatment. On the bottom of the page, it says, Complete and memorize. I open up Leviticus. A bull-calf for a sin offering. I make the orphan stop smelling my paper. With a mourner you need to be careful of their feelings, but homework you have to do on time. I say, “That isn’t what it’s for.” I write the bull in the first column. I write, A ram for a burnt-offering, without blemish. The orphan won’t sit down, just stands there, moving in a slow and nonstop way right in the corner of my eye. A he-goat for a sin-offering. A calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, for a burnt-offering. She’s twirling her hair. One long piece around the pointer finger, the head tipped to the side. I try it, too. I take a strand of mine, black, twist. It feels like something could have scattered everywhere, but now you’ve caught it, cinched it good. Her eyes go huge, blue like rain puddles before some muck gets into them or those big jumping ants that always drown. She sees me copying and stops. She takes the paper, smells my columns. She says, “Let’s watch TV.” “My mother only lets one program every day that’s good for kids,” I say. “And only after homework. That’s my mother’s rules.” Gentle, the orphan finger-pats the little hunk of hair that sticks up on her head like someone chewed it almost off. I say, “What happened there?” Her eyes get small and mean. “Finish your boring work.” “It isn’t boring.” She finds a regular-sized strand and starts the twirling again. “It is,” she says. “Leviticus is boring. All it is, is sacrifices, sacrifices. Exodus, at least there was a story. I feel sorry for you that you’re not exempt.” I tell her, “Maybe if you paid attention you would see. There is a story.” “No.” “There is. The end of Exodus, they built the tabernacle. Then 96 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Aharon and his sons learn how to do their work. So chapter 9 they have a test on what in all the chapters up till now they memorized to do. HaShem gives them a test. And guess what happens. Guess what happens.” She keeps twirling. “They get it right!” I say. “They make all of the offerings exactly right. And then a fire comes forth from HaShem and eats the offerings. And all the people fall and shout, because they got it right!” The orphan lets me have my columns back. She takes a walk through the apartment. An ox and a ram for a peace-offering, which was for the people. I start filling the Treatment column. Aharon slays. Sons present blood. Aharon dips finger, bloodies corners of the altar, bloodies base. The orphan opens up a drawer and shuts it. I hear her go into the bathroom, try the faucets, pop the hamper, spin the lazy Susan with my mother’s laundry soaps. Her feet walk through the hallway, turn the corner to the bedrooms. After a while, she comes back. I hear her rocking on the rocking chair. Fat and kidneys and the lobe of the liver made smoke upon the altar. The orphan switches on TV. It’s four o’clock. I never watch TV at four o’clock. Flesh and skin burnt outside the camp. Inwards and legs washed and made smoke. The orphan yells in the next room, “It’s finished, friends!” The end of Loony Toons is on. She’s reading Porky Pig’s goodbye in Hebrew; how? On National TV it’s Educational till five. Cartoons come on only on Friday afternoon. She’s watching Jordan, maybe Lebanon. She’s shouting the translation wrong from memory. I say, “You want to know how really you should say that?” The orphan makes the television louder. Aharon waves breasts and right thigh for a wave-offering. 48, remainder 2. I zoom right through the problems. I have a talent for division. My last report card I got Almost Very Good in Math, Exemplary in conduct, which I get each term. Only top students were picked to console. By five I’ll be all done and then I’ll tell the orphan, Now it’s time to watch Doug Henning’s World of Magic. He only comes Crab Orchard Review ◆ 97
on once a year. And she’ll say, Yes. She’ll look to me for every word Doug Henning says, she’ll wait. I’ll make my eyes good and convincing just like him: All of the magic of the world is right in-side you! Then my mother will come home and see what a nice friend I am and tell the orphan, Hurry home before it’s dark. Remainder 1. The unjust punishment of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was that he was five years exiled on Devil’s Island and before that in front of everyone they tore his decorations off and broke his sword and everybody shouted how they hate the Jews. The real traitor was Esterhazy. Warbly Arab music starts in the next room, then stops. “Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon to you,” a voice says, not in Arabic, because if it is Arabic then how do I know what he just said? but Hebrew, with an accent like of Arabs, but in Hebrew. I take my pencil with me to the living room because I’ll come right back. The orphan has the rocking chair pushed from its place. She rocks in front of the TV. An Arab-looking man with a black moustache sits behind a desk. The number on the dial says it’s Jordan, but he reads the news so we can understand. “In a classified communiqué to the Israeli cabinet today, United States President Jimmy Carter vowed to withdraw all aid if no reforms are seen in Israel’s policy of violence and coercion.” The orphan’s laughing. “A lying Arab liar.” “What did he say?” “It isn’t true,” she says. “He’s a big liar for a living.” The man from Jordan talks to us some more. I never had an Arab talk to me. They come here for the olives and to do construction. They don’t know me. The orphan laughs each time he stops to breathe. She makes room on the rocking chair. We sit and rock. The newsman says, “Last week in Belgrade, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s basketball team claimed the European Championship cup.” “That’s true,” I say. I slow down on the chair. “We did win.” “Stop with bunging up the rocking,” she says. “Do like me.” “Probes into stimulant abuse by runtish point guard Motti Aroesti have been suppressed,” the newsman says, “by Jewish financiers of the competition.” “See?” she says. 98 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
“What’d he say?” “A lie.” “Not all of it.” She says, “Maybe because you’re not from here the words are hard for you.” “You understand?” “You don’t?” He shuffles up his papers. “Coming up later in a special feature, a family robbed of their centuries-old home outside Bethlehem testifies to their unend—” I slip back and forth on the seat. “It’s not a show for kids.” “Who says?” the or phan says. “Someone who doesn’t understand good doesn’t get to say.” “Now for our interview installment.” The camera moves back, shows at the man’s desk someone with him, also Arab-looking with a moustache. “Former Mossad henchman Shraga Weissberger, now living in Amman, sought asylum in 1975 when he could no—” Grandpa, may his memory be blessed, stares from the wall over the television in his Ukraine clothes. He was my mother’s father, that I never met. Once every year my Aunt Elaine from Flushing, USA, brings Grandma Gitl for two weeks. Grandma nods yes to every second of the day but can’t walk on her own. They tell me, Kiss her on the cheek. And so I have to, even though sometimes she calls me shvester, oy mein shvester, and she laughs with tears. They say I look like Great Aunt Feigeleh, HaShem avenge her blood. The chair rocks back and forth. On the next forth I let it tip me to my feet. I run. The French Army wouldn’t admit to its mistake because the French Army wasn’t supposed to make mistakes and because it hated the Jews. Esterhazy was not punished because he shaved his mustache and ran away. The especial importance of the Dreyfus Libel to the history of our State is because State Visionary Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl saw we can’t be anymore without our State. Twenty-nine minutes to Doug Henning’s World of Magic. I go back to the offerings to memorize. I read out loud. “Sin offering: a bull calf. Aharon slays. Sons present blood.” “Got Bamba Puffs?” The orphan stands inside the kitchen door. The TV in the living Crab Orchard Review ◆ 99
room is quiet. I show her where the pantry is. She finds the Bamba, eats straight from the bag. The peanut powder paints her lips and fingers orange-brown. “Dips finger, bloodies corner of the altar. Bloodies base.” She crumples up the cellophane, crumples some more, puts it away. “That was too salty,” she says. “You sit. I’m going to fix myself a drink so I don’t get a gallbladder.” She opens up the fridge, mixes some grapefruit squash, finds ice, brings the cup to the table, sits, drinks, sucks the ice. “Burnt offering: ram without blemish. Aharon slays.” She spits the ice into her cup, fishes it out. She puts it in her mouth again, grinds, grinds, grinds. I ask if maybe she can finish that. Her cheeks are sucked in bony, ice cube clacking at her teeth. She puts her hand up to her raggy tuft of hair, the puddle eyes begin to spread. I say, “Listen to this. You test me on my memory. You be the teacher.” Ice splats out into her cup. She smiles. Her cheeks are soft again. “I’m the teacher,” she says. “Okay. Pay attention, girls.” She reads the offerings, sniffs at the purple ink, reads, sniffs. I give her all the treatments; when I’m wrong she tells me, and we start again. Before we go for the third time, she says, “For that you get a Very Good Minus. I wish it could be higher, girls, but what are you all of the time forgetting the lobe of the liver?” “I know, I know.” I say it like I’m sorry. But for real that’s a better grade even from what I got last term. I look at her. She’s pretty. No. The pretty ones in class are Vered, Avital, Lee’at. Who ever says the orphan? When we get lice we say they came from her. Last year Amalya Blatt had an appointment for a cavity and saw the orphan in the middle of the day at Brothers Ivgi trying on shoes. When we went on a field trip to Etzel Street, the orphan snuck into a bakery and begged so hard she got Napoleon cake free. And summer break somebody saw her on her own in Haifa with on her shoulder a ladies’ purse. “A meal-offering mingled with oil,” she says. “Aharon fills his hand of it and makes it smoke.” “Smoke in his hand?” I tell her, “No, smoke on the altar.” 100 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
And I’m about to tell her who does make smoke from his hands, but a second time she says, “Mingled with oil.” “We did that. Now the next.” “Mingled with oil,” she says. “Mingled.” She drops her head to one side, then the other. “With oil.” Yellow hair slithers and shines. “Mingled with oil.” She likes the sound of it. “Mingled mingled mingled mingled, oil, oil.” She sniffs the ink and sings. I don’t think mourners are supposed to sing, but I don’t tell her that. I say, “That’s a good way to memorize.” She sings to me some more. In school all of us watch like any minute she might hit. When did the orphan ever hit someone? She’s not a hitter. She likes homework. I made it so the orphan likes Leviticus. She asks me, “What’s a meal-offering?” “You’re interested to know?” I can’t wait till the teacher sees. “Oil, oil.” “It’s cereal,” I say, “crushed up from wheat.” My next report card there’ll be something on me being a good influence. I got that once in second grade. I helped the Russian girl. The orphan says, “Farina.” “Yes,” I tell her. “Yes, that’s right. That’s a terrific comment that you shared.” “No,” she says. “You don’t get to say that yet. I’m still the teacher. Now we’ll do a project.” She runs and opens up the pantry, finds farina and a half-bottle of soy oil, sets them on the counter. “Girls, today in our lesson we will mingle.” I find a bowl. She pours the tiny grains. They make soft sounds. I drizzle oil. With the heel of her hand she mashes everything up to a dough. “A meal mingled with oil,” she says. “Aharon fills his hand of it,” I say. She dips her finger in, scoops up a dab and puts it in her mouth, chews, spits it out into the bowl. I try the meal, too. It’s greasy sand. “We’re not supposed to eat it, anyway,” I say. “He puts it on the altar.” The orphan pats some stuff onto the counter. “We can’t make it smoke,” I say. “My mother—” “Fshh,” she says. “Fshh, fshh.” She does her hands like Aharon, makes more sounds of smoke. “Fshh. Minglminglmingle.” We mingle it until our fingers turn it gray. We push it into Crab Orchard Review ◆ 101
different shapes: a cat head with sharp ears; more triangles and she’s a queen; the crown gone, she’s an island. When we’re tired of the project, we scoop up the mess, but some gets stuck inside the crack my mother made. The orphan says, “It matches perfect.” And she’s right. We cram the whole crack shut. I say, “You don’t even know how long my mother wished there’d come a sale on counters!” The orphan also gets excited. “She would’ve waited years. Now if we also clean that stain off of her ceiling, she’ll be in the clouds.” We laugh from happiness. She climbs up on the counter, stands with one shoe on each side of what’s not anymore a crack. She stretches her long neck, thinking on what to do, and she hops down. “Go get some bleach. You have some on the spinning shelf that’s on the dryer.” We both run off in different ways, come back, me with the bleach, her with the toilet brush. Under the kitchen sink my mother has a pair of rubber gloves. We each get one. We put the stopper in the sink and pour the bleach inside. A smell comes up. My eyes itch. Hers are fine. She says it’s a good smell of swimming pools. But anyway she says, “No worries,” rushes to my father’s study, finds his spare glasses that my mother said to give them to the junkman, so he hides them. “Goggles,” she says. I throw off my shoes, climb up, my goggles on. I see a little foggy but they make me feel serious for the job. The orphan dips the brush into the sink and hands it up. “A little more, a little more,” she says. “A little more.” She dips, I scrub, a little more, a little more, until my arm is tired, I’m hot all over. A key turns in the door. I jump down, off the counter. Where the stain was there is still a stain, except not beet-red anymore. It’s blue. The orphan says, “That looks a hundred percent better.” She dunks her gloved hand in the sink and pulls the stopper. Bleach gurgles away. I hide the brush behind my skirt. She hunkers by the fridge. My mother is surprised. She has a dreamy look. Something is different, she can tell. She can’t tell what. She says, “It’s strongest here,” then drops her purse. “Your uniform!” She slaps her forehead, yells, “Get over here!” 102 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
She yanks my father’s glasses off my nose. She doesn’t even see the orphan squatting on the floor. My mother screams loud as she really wants to and in English. “For goodness sake, for goodness sake, for—Bathroom! Run!” She chases after. Then I’m naked in the tub, cold water gushing. My mother holds a hand over my eyes, shouts at me more, I can’t hear what. A long time this goes on until it stops. The pipes squeak. We’re both coughing. “Go open every window in the house. Stop! Use your—oy a broch—your head. First put on PJ’s.” I’m in my bedroom in just panties when the orphan tiptoes up. “Why didn’t you tell her what we fixed for her? Let’s tell her. Tell her.” “What?” my mother shouts. She comes and sees the orphan. “Oh,” my mother says, then switches language. “Ah.” She gets down to her knees. “My Sweetness, back in school so soon?” “It’s my first day in school a orphan,” says the orphan. My mother pulls her lips in. Her eyes are red, and shine. She takes the orphan’s hands. “Did you offer your friend a drink?” she says to me, in Hebrew, so for a minute I don’t know that I should answer, like she’s acting in a play. The orphan shakes her head. “Well, we’ll take care of that right now,” my mother says. “You must be parched.” With my pajamas on, my hair piled in a towel, I open every window in the house, and then go find them. My mother is scraping at the counter with a knife. The orphan is at the table with a cup of grapefruit squash. Her raggy piece of hair points at my mother like a feeler. Both have their backs to me, quiet and busy in the kitchen, and from the inside of my soul comes up an awful hurt and sadness. Tears start in my eyes because I see the time. “Doug Henning’s World of Magic!” The orphan turns around. “Him with the moustache and buckteeth?” Her fingers wipe the chocolate off the blue edge of a salad plate. I run into the living room and turn on Lebanon. Something just made Doug Henning shocked like from a present. On the stage next to him is a house-size box, and in the box Crab Orchard Review ◆ 103
an elephant. A shimmer cloth floats from the sky onto the box. Doug Henning springs away. He says, “Wonder and—” Poof, a blackness. One white dot of light hangs in the middle of the screen. My mother flicked the TV off. “My program!” “I think it’s pretty obvious you’ve sacrificed the privilege.” “But I did all my homework. Check, even. I got every answer right.” “I notice your achievements in my kitchen. I notice a uniform in ruins. I notice reckless, inexcusable—” “It was the orphan.” A yellow head peeps from the kitchen. I don’t care. My voice is ugly from my tears and anyway she doesn’t understand us. “It was her. She made me do it.” “Unacceptable. You ask a friend home, you’re responsible.” “I didn’t ask her home! She came all of a sudden from the pharmacy.” “Let’s please not be absurd.” I say, “You can’t you can’t you can’t. Only one time a year Doug Henning’s World of Magic comes. He’s from America like us.” She says, “That man was a Canadian.” The television crackles off some electricity it won’t be needing now. “Sweetness,” my mother calls. The orphan comes, hopeful and chocolate-smeared. My mother takes the towel off my head and with it wipes that dirty face. The orphan stretches out her white twig neck. She squints her eyes until she’s clean. From my eyes tears drip, and my mother lets them. She says, “Sweetness, your friend would like to see you safely off. She’ll ride the elevator down with you.” She bunches up the towel in a shape to fit the hamper. “Let’s see you again soon,” my mother says. Then comes in me what dries all of my tears. A mother loves an orphan better than her daughter. I close my eyes and, like a magic trick, erase my mother’s face. The elevator with us in it sinks and sinks. I watch the metal door. I count each jolt for every floor we pass. The orphan breathes behind me. I won’t talk to her. The loss of my Doug Henning’s World of Magic hurts me in my heart. Two jolts. She says, “Your hair is gorgeous-looking.” 104 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Three. Four. “Don’t kiss up.” She says, “No. Those new highlights make you like a singer on TV.” I whirl around. I look into the mirror and what I see I can’t believe. The tops of our heads are the same. I stand on tiptoes, see my hair’s still mostly black. But yellow, golden yellow stains me like a melted crown. Again the crying starts. She comes to hug me but I push her off. I shout at her. “I only came to represent the class!” I tell her to forget about me helping with her birthday party. Anyway no one would come except her smelly cat. She says, “My Zeessie doesn’t smell.” I tell her, “Yes, she does. She smells. Her hair is falling out.” She grabs a strand of her long hair and starts the twirling. The elevator stops. I shove the door open. She stays inside. She explains, quiet, to the elevator floor, that she protected me all the way home. She was the teacher when I asked her to, she’s a good friend to me. She just made one mistake. I say, “Mistakes is all you make. Your father’s broken now.” She twists her hair some more. I say, “Your mother died from cat piss.” She twists hard. Some hairs come out. I hear them snap. “From cat piss from your cat.” She yowls, just like in Leviticus, and she runs out. I’m still sad for my program in the morning. The day is only started, it’s already full of troubles. With my school uniform I have to wear a sun hat. My mother writes a note to tell the teachers that the hat stays on, but I’m afraid of questions that will come. It’s not so sunny. She puts inside my lunch-pouch cocoa biscuits and a sandwich and a plum. I take the elevator down. The orphan is sitting on the stoop made of rough stone outside my lobby. There is no backpack on her still, but on her knees she has a plastic crate, a plywood lid tied on. She puts the crate down, pushes herself to her feet. “What kind of sandwich did your mother make today?” “Sliced cheese.” She comes behind me, slides my backpack off my back and wears it, lifts the crate. Gold eyes look out between the slats. “The hat is pretty,” she says. “Let’s think what we’ll say it’s for.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 105
She starts walking to school. A blue-green truck rolls in the same direction. In the blue-green back sit Arab women with a mountain of their sackcloth for the earth under the olives. “May The Place,” I say. I stop. The orphan doesn’t hear me and it’s too late, anyway. After the Shivah only mourners have a conduct. I should have said the words right in the house of grief. From other buildings children run out in their different uniforms. The orphan moves through, slowed down by her crate. The bluegreen truck stops at the corner, flashing Left, left. Then it turns. Hands hold on to the rim. It disappears. Halfway up the block long yellow hair slinks on my pack. The orphan looks over her shoulder, ugly girl. A neck too long and eyes too hunting. Any minute she might hit. In school now there’ll be no one else to play with. All the other girls will peek at me, careful and sorry and not wanting me to stop doing my job. I am the orphan’s friend. She shouts across the block. She says the crate is getting heavy; soon it’s my turn. Come already. Who’s insulted anymore? She swears that she forgives me. “On my life,” she says. “On God’s life.” She swears Zeessie isn’t mad.
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Sonya Chung Miyamura
Lovely Leo (circa 1999) Life is Elsewhere.—Milan Kundera
It starts out in daydreams. I’m a regular person, and he’s a regular person, except that, of course, he’s a movie star. We meet. He’s seated next to me on an airplane. We’re browsing in the same section at a bookstore. He’s sitting in the row in front of me at a Sonics game with a bunch of his buddies, all of whom are drunk and boring him to tears. I win some contest and the prize is an evening out to dinner with him. It’s always focused. For whatever reason, we’re talking to each other and there’s nothing else to do really and we’re thankful for one another’s company. I’m a little bit more beautiful than I really am, but not so much so that it’s completely unrealistic. I am still me. Like I said, a regular person. He is a little bit less beautiful than he really is. He has a friendly face, a genuine smile. He is much taller than he looks on screen. Most importantly, he is smart. He has interesting things to say. He is a searching soul, pondering what it’s all about—the fame, the fortune, the lifestyle. He cares about his acting, the roles he chooses, his co-stars. He tells me about his inspirations, about what it was like working with Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life, Meryl Streep in Marvin’s Room, the great Woody Allen. I impress him with the fact that I’ve seen all his movies, even the unsavory Total Eclipse, that I’ve been a fan since Growing Pains. I tell him that his role as Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was unforgettable, that that is the sort of accomplishment that one should never forget or diminish as time passes. He frowns, fighting his own cynicism about the whole business, not quite sure if he can believe me, what do I know anyway, I’m just a regular person. He actually asks me to tell him about myself. He actually listens. He’s not all melancholy and contemplation. Truth be told, he loves his life. He loves the fame, the money, the work. He’s not one of those stars that wishes he was a regular guy with a wife and kids and a 9 to 5 job. It would be like wishing he was born in the Middle Ages. Nor does he feel particularly obliged to be extra nice or Crab Orchard Review ◆ 107
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political or altruistic. This is the way it works, he says. You take it or leave it. It’s not like we don’t get anything out of it. You have to be careful not to be an ingrate. You can be as personable as you want to be, but you can never forget the difference between you and the person whose autograph you’re signing, and you can never resent that difference. Either you take it for what it is, or you lose it or OD or something. It’s not just an industry or a culture; it’s a fucking religion. He does not believe in God. Sometimes, he meditates. He swears in almost every sentence, but his speech does not sound adolescent. He is younger than me, but he doesn’t seem younger than me. He chews his fingernails, as do I. He doesn’t smoke as much as one would think. I tell him that I am a writer, and that one of the reasons I am a big fan of his is that he seems like someone whose artistic career will go a long way, someone with actual talent. I envision him as the next Robert Redford. He almost spits up his drink, says he has no intention of being the next anything, he doesn’t feel like he needs to be the emblem of any generation. God, you’re serious, he says. Lighten up. Enjoy the ride. He probably sees that I’m a little hurt, so he asks me what writers I like. I list off a handful, and when I get to Annie Proulx, his eyes light up, and he says that he really enjoyed the Wyoming stories . . . Here, the daydream cuts off. I somehow have a hard time imagining him as a lover of literature. Act II: the end of the evening. He offers to drive me home, but I tell him that won’t be necessary. I tell him I had a nice time and am glad to have met him in person. Like an idiot, I say I hope we can keep in touch, i.e. if a letter from me arrives, I hope that he would recognize my name and read it. He says thanks for a cool evening, for making it much better than he imagined (at this point, I’ve resigned to the contestwinning scenario), he’s glad that I turned out to be a regular person as opposed to a love-starved psycho teenager. I say thanks, and I’m glad he turned out to be a nice-enough person despite all the asshole rumors. I say I’ll tell the press he was a perfect gentleman. He says whatever, it doesn’t matter. I put out my hand, and he takes it and pulls me in, kisses me on the cheek. We part. In the sixth grade, I went steady with a boy named Ben. He had blond hair and dark skin and hazelnut eyes, and he wore tube socks 108 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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that matched his shorts. He was from Minnesota. Shortly after he confessed his affections (via his sister, who was in junior high and friends with my sister), my mother took me to her hairdresser to “do something” about my sagging, straight black hair. The hairdresser thought that some layers and a perm would do the trick. I was all trust, envisioning myself as Farrah Fawcett. I came out looking like a Korean Carol Channing. At school, the girls tried to hold back their laughter, the boys were forthright with theirs. Cracks about fingers being stuck in electrical sockets abounded. I can’t be sure, but I think I recall Ben asking me, “What happened?” I was crushed. At recess, under the jungle gym, he asked me if I wanted to go see Footloose, his mother would drive; I said yes, and together, we skinned the cat and put the skin back on about 100 times before the end of recess. After the sixth grade, we went to different junior high schools; but we were friends for a long time. Recently, I found his personal web site, which contained photos from a trip he took to Greenland. It occurred to me that he looks a little bit like Leo. Twenty years later, I am talking to Troy, the guy at Rudy’s Barber who has just given me the head massage of my life. I ask him if he does perms, I’ve been thinking about going for the Cher-in-Moonstruck look, or the Sarah Jessica Parker look, now that my hair is long. Girl, perms are way passé, he says. I don’t know anyone who’s doing them anymore. Forget it, Asian hair is hip these days, you are it. Nighttime dreams are pretty much out of my control. The occasion, or the connection, is usually vague or unexplained or irrelevant. I am experiencing the dream as me (as opposed to those dreams where you see yourself from the outside), and everything is lusciously sensory: I can feel him, the warmth of his breath, I can hear him speaking to me, he is very intimate, and forceful. He kisses me, and the dream is all about the kiss. There is no sex, but I feel him inside me, like every earthly desire exploding and spreading its heat throughout my body; and then, we are underwater, and the scene shifts, and I am on the outside now, remote, watching he and Claire Danes swim about in the pool underneath Juliet’s balcony. A friend of mine in New York writes me an email. He is a writer as well, and he updates me on the progress of his first novel. “Life is busy,” he writes, “but busy with good things.” I note this as a good way of saying that you are unhappy but you don’t know why Crab Orchard Review ◆ 109
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you’re unhappy and you know that you shouldn’t be. I resolve to use this in my emails from now on. “By the way,” he writes, “my tickets to Letterman finally came in, but I’m off to Boston for a wedding that week, so I can’t even go. I think Leoschmardo De Cap’n’gown is the special guest. Aren’t you a fan?” The tickets are for March, and I usually take my annual trip east to see my parents in April, so it’s not such a far stretch; plus it gives me an alibi. I accept the offer. Much of my free time between the news of the tickets and the trip is spent at obscure newsstands, standing with my face in a corner, paging through teen magazines. I notice that most of the coverage is generated by the mags themselves, the photos are re-used headshots and film shots; which tells me that Leo is not as hungry for the press as it is for him. This is, of course, appealing. I find the article in Time about the filming of the movie The Beach depressing, since it paints him as a Western imperialist, exploiting Asian natural resources. The photo shows him signing autographs for flocks of Thai girls. I tell my mother that I am flying into LaGuardia two days later than I really am. There is no need, it seems to me, to tell her about Letterman. There are a number of people in Manhattan that I could call who’d be happy to house me for the night, but I opt for a hotel. It seems simpler. The taping is at five, the line forms at four. After checking in to my hotel, I have three hours to kill. I am at home in Manhattan due to a six-year stint living here about ten years ago, so wandering is not a problem for me. I wander over to the MOMA and spend almost an hour in the gift shop. I wander back to Times Square and claim a window booth at Ollie’s, my favorite Chinese restaurant in the entire world, where I order A Little Bit of Everything Noodle Soup and a Dr. Pepper. Since it is two in the afternoon and not very crowded, I am banking on them letting me sit for the next two hours. While I’m waiting for my soup, I dig through my bag and pull out two things: my toothbrush and the paperback Leo biography I picked up at the airport. Clean teeth and life details somehow seem important. “You all finish heah, sah?” The waitress has barely given me a chance to get to the last noodle, and she’s already shoving me on my way. “All right if I sit for a while?” I ask, handing her my bowl. “Oh, shuh, no prah-blem. You want check, sah?” I look up at 110 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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her, and I must have a strange expression on my face, because she doesn’t wait for my response. “Oh, sahrry, Miss. I bring you check when you ready.” When I was in grade school, people frequently mistook me for a boy. At the department stores, the salesladies would point us to the wrong floor. When I asked for the restroom, I’d find myself faceto-face with urinals, too trusting of a grown-up’s confidently pointed finger. At the shopping malls, I would ask my mother for a penny, and I’d go and stand at the edge of the courtyard fountain, cursing my reflection, that boy’s bowl haircut, and I’d close my eyes and toss the penny into the fountain, wishing with all my heart for long hair. To this day, I have nightmares about my hair being chopped off. What I feel when I wake up and realize it was just a dream is always the same: Absolution. Mercy. An Irrevocable Loss recovered. In the bathroom at Ollie’s, I brush my teeth thoroughly, looking straight into the lavatory bowl. When I’m done rinsing, I check my teeth, but only my teeth, making sure not to rest my gaze on the reflection in the mirror. It’s ridiculous, but I’m afraid to look. As I swing open the door to leave, I pull out the barrette that has been holding my hair up in a tight bun in the back of my head, and I shake my hair loose. I almost knock down a little old Chinese lady who’s entering as I’m leaving. At 3:55, the line is already around the corner. Energetic Late Show employees wearing satiny blue Late Show jackets with bright yellow lettering are directing the line, making sure we’re all ticket holders. People are scalping their tickets right in front of the jacket people, right in front of all of us. I consider whether or not I’d buy a ticket if I was just walking by. “Twenty-five dollars,” a young woman says to another young woman who stops to inquire. “It’s Leo, and some animal trainer from Montana.” I size up the potential buyer: thirty-something, professional, educated, maybe in advertising or graphic design judging by her trendy outfit—too stylish for corporate, too classy for retail. Single, but in a committed relationship, one that requires significant cooperation. You can tell. She considers for a moment, then shakes her head. “No, thanks,” she says. “Gotta meet someone downtown.” Bingo. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 111
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By 4:45, there’s just one scalper left; five of them have already unloaded, one guy sold his tickets for $50 a piece to a teenage girl and her mother, most likely Long Island-ites who were in the city for a day of shopping. At five minutes to five, the last guy is yelling, “Ten bucks, tickets to Letterman, Leonardo DiCaprio is guest!” A middleaged gentleman in a suit stops and quickly hands over the money, snatching the ticket out of the scalper’s hand. The man in the suit hurries to the back of the line, anxiously looking at his watch; I imagine a wife, two kids, and a hot meal waiting for him at home. The rumors I’ve heard about the Ed Sullivan Theater are true; it must be 40 degrees, maybe 45 with the added bodies. Even with a sweater, my teeth are chattering, and I’ve got my arms wrapped around myself. Everything in the studio is black, except for the stage and the cityscape backdrop, which somehow makes it feel even colder. The studio lights are huge and intense, all directed at Letterman’s desk and the guest chair, a few towards Paul Shaffer’s domain. No wonder; it must be hot as hell up there. A young black guy in a teal-colored sportscoat and khaki pants runs out onto the stage and sweeps up our attention all at once. “All right, everyone, welcome to the Late Show With David Letterman! I’m Charles, your host, and I’m here to get you warmed up, let you know what’s going on here tonight. First off, fire exits are over this way to your left. Do we have anyone needing special assistance in the event of an emergency? Anyone? No? Okay, great, looks like we’ve got a healthy happy crowd here tonight.” Charles is all teeth and gums. The man next to me whispers to his wife, “Is that Arsenio?” and she whispers back, “Don’t be stupid! He said his name was Charles.” Charles tells us the order of the program, how long the taping will be, what to do when Letterman comes out, yadda yadda yadda. He gets us hooting and hollering according to the part of the country we’re from and throws a baked ham towards the lone voice from Alaska. When he feels our hooting has reached acceptable raucousness, he thanks us for coming out and hands us over to Paul Shaffer, who gets his guys to play for about 10 minutes. The music is loud, the lights are bright, the darkness is dark, and the cold is getting colder. I am surprised by the rite of passage involved in this, but not too bothered. At 5:29, Charles comes back to thank us once again for coming out, gets us hooting to optimal volume, then cuts us to absolute silence. The production guy comes out and counts down from five, 112 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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and then . . . it’s pandemonium. Shaffer and company are blasting away, the voice from nowhere is introducing all of today’s guests, and then finally comes Letterman. We’re cheering and clapping and hooting like crazy people. It’s so chaotic and cold and weird that I think I might be sick, but I keep clapping and hooting to save my life. Letterman looks exactly as you’d expect, almost superreal. You’d never guess that he was wearing any makeup, or that someone had spent a good deal of time on his hair or picking out his clothes. You can just see him coming straight from his Volvo and his Connecticut commute, into the studio and right up on stage. I appreciate this. And yet, it makes all of the fuss seem so incongruent, like the wrong guy is out there, like we need some kind of explanation for why we’re out here and he’s up there. The monologue is not bad. He tells a handful of presidential-campaign and Hilary jokes and gets some good laughs. Overall, though, the interaction seems flat, onedimensional, more like ping-pong than romance. The biggest let-down: after the monologue, Letterman tells us who’s up next and to stay tuned. Instead of bantering informally during the commercial break, Letterman sits down at his desk and is immediately joined by Charles. Shaffer is on, louder than before, and we are relegated to wonder what the in-between Letterman is like. All is controlled: stardom is held from us at arm’s length by the careful plans of the studio manager. It turns out that Leo is last (in the introductions, his name was mentioned first, and not until Letterman himself gives the rundown do we clue in to the fact that the guests come out in ascending order of celebrity). The animal trainer from Montana is actually quite remarkable, handles Letterman like a pro; he’s got a ferret sitting on Letterman’s head and a lioness lying down at their feet. His name is Lars. The trainer, that is. Letterman makes a joke about a ferret toupé that goes over well, even in its predictability. It was the right moment for obsequiousness. Again, during the break, the conversation between Letterman and the trainer is obscured from us by music. I observe the body language and sense that Letterman is awkward, distracted; how else could it be, why else would the interaction be shrouded? By this time, the barriers between the audience and the stage players seem so heavy-handed that they betray the sense of control; it’s a little too much. It feels like hours since we first entered the studio, but really, it’s only been forty-five minutes. We’ve just had an underwhelming Crab Orchard Review ◆ 113
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performance by the band Third Eye Blind, followed by a commercial break. Paul Shaffer is sweating up a storm, it seems to me that he and his guys are working harder than anyone to earn their keep. Letterman seems more relaxed than he did when he first came out. He’s laughing and leaning back in his chair. Finally, the intro: “Our next guest, ladies and gentleman . . . ”—there is an interruptive screech from the audience, followed by whistles and hoots. Letterman pauses, laughs. Then, practically all in one breath: “Ournext-guest-is-a-young-actor-who-by-the-age-of-20-starred-inmovies-opposite-Robert-DeNiro-and-Meryl-Streep-and-wasnominated-for-an-Oscar-for-his-supporting-role-in-the-movieWhat’s-Eating-Gilbert-Grape-starring-Johnny-Depp . . . ” He goes on, hits the Titanic credit, I’m sitting up now, straining my neck even though I can see just fine sitting back. Then: “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome LeoNARdo DiCAPrio . . . ” There is a burst of applause, screams and screeches. The enthusiasm borders on mania—clearly organic, not something conjured by Charles the host to create an ambience of worship, but rather actual worship. The entry music seems much more deferent than it has earlier in the program, more like an accompaniment, a kind of hymn. He enters at a mid-pace, confident, his stride easy with the beat of the music, the applause, the energy. He waves a hand at the audience as he enters, shakes Letterman’s hand firmly, takes his seat, crosses his leg and leans back comfortably into the chair. So far, all routine. The music stops abruptly, the applause and the screams linger a few extra moments. He is smiling, squinting slightly as he looks out towards the residual squeals. He is wearing a white T-shirt and black pants, some sort of leather necklace with a stone pendant that hugs close to his neck. His hair is short, mussed, lightly gelled. Letterman keeps up, starts in right away. “Well, hello there, welcome back.” “Thanks—thanks, Dave—it’s good to be back.” “Now, the last time you were here was what . . . three, four years ago?” “Three . . . well, let’s see, it was just before Basketball Diaries came out—I remember we talked a little bit about that—so . . . that was ’95 . . . so four years ago.” “So you’re an old man now, all grown up, legal and everything.” “Yeah, that’s right. Legal . . . ” (laughter) “ . . . Well, actually, I was legal four years ago.” 114 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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“So how old are you now?” “Twenty-five . . . twenty-five and a half.” “Twenty-five and a half, that half is key, isn’t it? It means you’re well into your late twenties, isn’t that right?” “Right, exactly.” “Why don’t we test our studio audience here for die-hard Leo fans, shall we? Who here knows Leo’s birthday, down to the minute? Anyone? Anyone know the birthdate down to the minute?” Letterman is in his element, goading the audience for his human punchlines. There is laughter, some murmuring, but no response. Then, a young woman in the third row raises her hand. One of the cameras pans towards her, and a studio hand stands by her with a microphone. “I’m not sure,” she giggles, “but I’ll guess November 21, 1974 at 3 am.” Camera pans back to Leo. “Well, Leo, how close are we? Did she guess right?” “Pret-ty close. I think it was around 4:30 in the morning,” he says. There’s applause, the camera pans back, we can see on the monitor that the girl is covering her face, laughing, flushed to an impressive deep red. There’s a drum roll and then a ham comes flying out of nowhere. “All right, folks, let’s give that girl a ham,” says Letterman. My view of Leo is remarkably good, and I seem to have forgotten the cold. He looks tanned, bulkier than I remember from pictures, older. He handles himself well on stage, interrupts as much as he’s interrupted, which seems important in the Letterman dynamic. Letterman asks the “how has your life changed since Titanic” question, and he answers, “It’s the privacy thing, mostly. It’s impossible to go anywhere or do anything without being noticed or swamped. The whole thing is pretty weird, and it can get tiring.” “What about roles? Are you getting to do more of what you want to do?” “Yes and no. I’ve always been selective about the roles I consider. Now I just have more slosh to sift through and I suppose more freedom to choose carefully.” “What’s this we’ve been hearing about you and a law suit?” Leo puts his hand up to his ear, feigning hearing loss. “What’s that? You like this suit?” Laughter. “Nah, listen, you can’t believe everything you hear or read, Dave. But let’s just say that I don’t concern myself too much with what other people think. If I did, I’d quit the whole thing.” “The whole . . . which thing?” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 115
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“You know, the whole . . . uh . . . celebrity thing, I guess. You gotta live your life, you know what I’m sayin’?” “Sure, sure.” Letterman makes a face, pleads to the audience for comprehension. Laughter. Leo laughs. “So, uh, what about love interests? Any, uh, special ladies we should know about?” “Special ladies . . . there are lots of special ladies, Dave. But, uh, no, not for me, not at the moment. Just enjoying what I’m doing, keeping up with my buddies. You know; keeping it simple.” The conversation switches to The Beach, and they show a clip. The scene is Leo and two of his co-stars swimming towards the destination island, exhausted after two miles or so of swimming; the female actress is crying, whining, threatening to give up. The other actor, her boyfriend in the movie, encourages her on. There’s a voice-over, Richard (Leo) thinking about how attracted he is to the woman, how much he longs to be the one holding her up, carrying her along. The girl is wearing a white T-shirt (of course), and as she floats on her back to rest, her breasts and nipples bared, the scene shows the boyfriend kissing her frantically on the forehead, and Leo off to the side, also floating to rest, the third wheel. Alienated. Longing. “I thought at that moment,” the voice says, “that if I died right there, in the middle of the ocean, that no one would care, no one would know, the two of them would continue and then find the Beach and live happily ever after, and it would all mean pretty much nothing.” Letterman plugs the movie, and then that’s it. The interview is over and seems ridiculously short. The rest of the audience seems weirdly satisfied, though, as if a dose of Leo is all they could really handle. “He’s a good kid, huh?” the man next to me says. I smile at him, suddenly aware that none of us in the audience has anything to do with one another, that we are each lone souls, floating in this darkness, cold and near-blinded by the studio lights that warm those on stage and remind us of our remoteness. As far as I can tell, Leo has hardly said anything, has made almost no impression. The music for the break blares. Leo and Letterman both stand, shake hands, pat each other on the arm like politicians. A gorgeous bombshell Vanna White-type woman escorts him off stage. The break ends, and when all is said and done, we are directed out of the theater, row by row. Outside, the sun is setting, or rather it is disappearing behind the congregation of buildings that is Times Square, Manhattan. As I head downtown towards my hotel, I notice a crowd forming behind 116 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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the theater in the back alley. People are lifting their cameras over their heads and snapping photos of whatever the lens catches. It is Leo, exiting the theater. I close my eyes and smile weirdly and listen to the people gasping, calling the name of their star-god, hoping for a look, a smile, a wave, anything at all. I imagine the crowd falling to their knees, beholding their man-god, their figure of beauty, weeping and turning away for the power of their love and devotion. I imagine Leo spreading out his arms, palms up towards the sky, an unearthly light emanating and all his fairness pouring out from his fingertips into his devotees, transforming them into gods of their own image, lovers of their very own flesh and souls. I breathe deeply. I open my eyes, and I see a black Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows speeding away down the alley. The crowd disperses in a deflated entropy, and we are all left there, to ourselvesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;to our aloneness, our unexquisiteness, and the ungodly agonies of desire.
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The Comedian Heads for the Desert —Sam Kinison 1953–1992 Out of the lounge into the lot. He waits under a blistered marquee, his bodyguard wearing black Armani, a 9 mm Glock tucked in his armpit. The night is an electronic eye, sweeping the exits looking for losers. He sinks into his Firebird & heads for the desert on cruise control. He wonders if they hate him because he makes them laugh, the way he spits out the punch line, lobs it into their soft laps like a live grenade, leaving him used up, warm saliva dripping off his chin. One night in Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan torched the motel where they thought he was staying. On those nights when nobody laughs, he drifts across the stage empty as the desert, the silence a weighted curtain about to descend.
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It’s the stillness —mortality’s moist handshake— that time watching his dad etch JESUS SAVES in the Texas dirt. Rage suffocates you quicker than oily rags smoldering in the back seat, he thinks. He sits in the desert drinking straight shots of Dos Reales while the moon’s flat glow ignites the cactus & the primrose. Finally a smile softens the knotted crease across the bridge of his nose as he watches two scorpions, the larger of the two embracing the smaller, stinger probing, deliberate & precise, a scalpel wielded in moonlight until it finds the soft membrane, the exact spot where the venom will do its worst.
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Night Train from Moscow That’s why I’ve kept young, because I was never dowdy, never let myself go as some women do . . . (walks up & down the lawn, arms akimbo) You see—light as a bird. I could play a girl of fifteen.—Madame Trepleva from Chekhov’s The Sea Gull Summers made of soft landings. Nobody hurt—as though she’d notice— no bones broken, just the ordinary catastrophes played out on the croquet lawn under the linden tree after the servants have cleared the tables. Breathless adoration— a scribbled note from Tolstoy, Gorky slouching by the stage door. Always at her best waving goodbye— that last pause & flutter at the train station, Trigorin beside her, stiff & uncertain, more trophy than lover, the dust of the journey swirling up around her, another curtain about to rise. The scenery set—a seaport in Cyprus. The costumes arrive by night train from Moscow. A triumphant Desdemona in Petersburg that spring. The following summer spent memorizing her reviews, her firefly’s pulse igniting the buzzing meadow.
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Some nights the lines slip from memory, & she waits for the prompter’s whisper, or Rosalind winds up twisting Ophelia’s flowers. It’s the packing & unpacking. It’s the city losing its luster. It’s the half-empty theaters for the Saturday matinees. Ever the ingénue, even at home propped up in bed, framed in dim light. The way she looks up from her tea, timing her coquettish smile to catch them all off-guard, & send them scrambling from room to room eager to grant her every wish.
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Late Show at The Elysian
The wind licks the cornices, kicks up a ruckus after midnight, rattling the padlock on the front door of The Elysian Theater, the one building left standing along Belvedere Avenue like the one loose tooth in the mouth of the old man who shows up every evening to sweep up the sidewalk before he falls asleep in the doorway. Next day, the wrecking crew knocks off early after catching a glimpse of the ghost of Bucky Valentine, the King of Burlesque, dressed in his trademark baggy trousers. Bucky ignores the walls & floats toward the proscenium, searching for his follow spot, chewing on a five-cent panatela. Ghosts donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t give a shit about brick walls, man, the foreman mumbles, surrendering his crowbar. Bucky topped the bill at the Elysian, grinding out eight shows a day. When the jokes fell flat, a woman in stiletto heels, sequins dripping off her slit skirt, strutted across the stage twirling a paper umbrella while the drummer kicked out ka-boom on the bass, & Bucky did his famous triple take before squirting seltzer down his pants. In 1946, the stage manager slapped a notice on the box office window: 122 â&#x2014;&#x2020; Crab Orchard Review
Burlesque is dead! No refunds, no exchanges! Bucky barricaded himself in the dressing room when side shows claimed the Elysian: Albert/Alberta, the symmetrical hermaphrodite took over center stage wearing a rayon kimono —a quick peek cost you a quarter—while Dr. Weinstein’s circus of trained fleas fidgeted in the lobby. Later they changed the name to The Palace of Earthly Delights —flesh & fantasy, follow the blinking arrows! Belvedere Avenue dying behind exhilarating neon’s yellow pulse. The cops closed them down a dozen times before the owner stuck up a movie screen to show martial arts double features twenty-four hours a day until the vaulted ceiling cracked open & moist plaster slapped the three men sleeping in the back row. The cantilevered balconies collapsed. The owner filed for bankruptcy, crept in one night & sawed off the newel posts along the balustrade where heads of nymphets rested nestled in a bed of art nouveau foliage. Bucky’s vocal chords are coated with plaster dust. His low moan sounds like leftover yawn stretching toward the broken-down balcony. Living in the walls wrecks your timing, he croaks aloud, adding rouge to his cheeks to offset the pallor. He tries a time step—hop, shuffle, ball-change, just to limber up. As he searches for his seltzer bottle, he remembers when the front rows were filled with leering sailors on a three-day leave. The steady percussion as dirty water drips into the orchestra pit while Bucky Crab Orchard Review ◆ 123
tugs his white gloves tight across his fingers. What if nobody laughs? Bucky takes a backstep, the slush of decades sliding down his shoulders. Outside, the marquee fizzes to life as an old man in a tuxedo, dried blood on the lapels, points to the burning red letters that read â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Last Chance to Catch the Legendary Funnyman!
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No Horses —after Ennio Morricone Corralled, the messenger throws a hoe-down shuffle, loosening ammunition in the blaze of his hips. He keeps the large harmonica hidden while they calf-rope him in the shooting gallery. From the mouth of a twisted saddlebag comes land acts, writs of conscription, charcoal posters of wanted men. Listen, he says. There is no enemy, playing a simple folk melody. The crowd empties out of a buckboard whorehouse, and the train whistles like they got his number. If this were witnessed by a crow, it would tell you how, from air, there is a reduced system of horses: blue veins craving their four-part marches. In the blindfold, it is easy to open both hands. To say, no matter how many times you’ve been there, it’s already happened exactly that way. And after the last cigarette is whip-cracked from his lips, Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, thumbs down his eyes. She knows he was a cherry-built fool for carrying on so. The believers press forward and pluck quills from his ankles, feathers that sow herds of chicken, row after row grazing on rotted lawns until the veldt goes grid steel—a slick city raised over the paths of a dead man’s cross-eyed donkey.
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Visiting Hour A machinist confesses to the ghost of Natalie Wood The hospital scrim reminds me of windows. Or maybe it’s the other way around? St. Vincent’s fluorescence steals the good light, white blinds and ether carry my eyes. Clung to the linen, a murmur takes curve, parting flowers with the floating hands. Calla lilies always draw her. She asks, What of the fingers? Left in the shearing press. Natalie, you are the face I remembered, feeding sheets of dressed metal washed in blue light, the color of car hoods vined at the drive-in Highway 9 like orange blossom, a night crop my father worked as projectionist. It was where he lived, our house’s south wall facing the big screen, that second story of glass where my parents slept. Once, I saw my mother pressing her breasts against it in summer, taking the coolness into her. Why I cried pressing my face against the body’s print, watching Splendor in the Grass— you climbing from that bath, discovering after sex your body’s absence. Your reflection
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covered me. And the couples warm in back seats kissed my long fingers with their teeth.
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A. Van Jordan
Macnolia’s Dream of Shirley Temple
INTERIOR. NIGHT. Jefferson Theater (Voice Over) Twentieth Century Fox presents Shirley Temple in Just Around the Corner, with Bill Robinson as Corporal Jones— Cut To: (Long shot of Corporal Jones, the dancing doorman.) Bill Robinson’s silver-soled feet Translate a Morse code on the floor. A fist is caught in his smile— No, it’s a smile caught in his fist, Through a mouthful Of copacetic and a-okay. (VO, continues) A movie in which Shirley is loved only By the unloved, and even they Need to be convinced— Cut To: (Close up of Shirley’s mouth) God pinches the flesh Here to cover a smile, Then rubs his fingers over her lips,
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Sticks a lollipop salve under her tongue. She gives a cherry giggle. Do we even need to note The barrettes, the curls? The hair, the eyes, the lips, the voice— All conspire against me. (VO, continues) Here is a movie in which her mama is dead, her daddy Is unemployed, she gets into a fight, wears A handkerchief on her head, sings A Happy Little Ditty, blackens A wealthy white boy’s eye, and is not Liked by his parents, who, Of course, fall in love with her By the end once they realize How smart she is, which is why I think We have something in common, Which is exactly what I’m supposed to believe— Like the wealthy would open their homes To the less-fortunate-but-cute class—as I wonder how grand it must feel To dance with Shirley and Mr. Robinson,
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A. Van Jordan
As I wonder how long he can hold His smile, as I notice none of the girls On screen look like me, but I think they should, As the thought of me with Shirley—the very picture Of me on stage—as I plant myself deeper into my seat— Keeps me half waiting—half trembling— For my name to roll in these credits. (Iris in. Iris out.) Cut To: (Close up of Shirley. Pan from face to feet): (VO) How difficult is it to pick On the white girl in gold curls, In pastel ribbons? Don’t you see The twinkle in her eye is really A grimace; the lollipop, just Some thing to bite down on; her Dance—her awkward little dance, Her shuck and jive— A marionette’s lift of the leg And a cock of the head for Her fans, her mama, the studio, And, I admit, for me? With more of her past to comb, What do you love, When what you loved, really, Had no future?
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Glint for Cameron McCloud Lights down. The old Blue Mouse Theatre shabby couches and the faded red-velvet tongue of deep carpet and kisses. The film begins with a girl too easily confused with birds: gleam and plume. In cinematic fashion she blew out the sun gold foil confetti flew. The wind chimed the hour. Her name rang and reverberated in ripples that spiraled the cloth sky. She was echo before sound. Reel to reel her in like a thrill-seeking hurricane surfing kite. When the bird-girl stands in the black yawn of theater, Ava Gardner blooms on her back the red glossy mouth—a bleeding blossom of ventriloquism running on from the girl’s spine to the screen and just then she feels the director’s faith the sincerity of props and just how much Ava wants to believe every line she delivers. Where do all the made-up girls go after the theater empties? The parking lot is a float of moviegoers Crab Orchard Review ◆ 131
and the girl is moved. A flattened green plastic bottle spells it out. It’s possible she’s there in the high blue ether, the sparkliest part of debris, the rain-bloated chalk, the body of a dazed dove glass-slapped and circling. Or that she’s broken out of a poor genie’s home the siren of an old silver screen and leaked into the belly of clouds, the altitude of heaven, pressing even now against those airless walls trying to re-enter the atmosphere.
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Elegant Dracula, wiping a smear of blood from his cheek, the Exorcist hunched under his yellow streetlamp: every afternoon through winter break—monster and a girl, man in robes and a girl—my father slapped a ten into my hand, Time to get lost now. After the movie was over, I’d swing on the grapevines behind Julie’s house, hugging my coat around me while she dropped a little acid, or I’d lounge on the steps of St. Joan’s, scribbling notes to Katie, who inked in the chain-saw killers adorning the margins to look like priests. Filled with the Holy Ghost, I wandered the malls, ready for anything, even Brent Jones, pimpled and florid friend of my brother, who stumbled into my room at night, when my parents were gone, reeking of dope, to fumble in my clothes. His red mouth above me, mumbling love, love, his hands somewhere below. He pried my lips open to push a pill down my throat, Be nice, while “. . . Goodbye Norma Jean” spun to the end. Wasn’t she gorgeous and sad? Like the maidens the giants carry away, Beauty with her Beast, the rapist who thinks you’re beautiful, the killer who really loves you? So when,
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at last, he appeared—sweet red streak of the car behind school (like that special on Charles Manson, like that drop-out I cut class with)—I let him rock me, a good girl, gentle as the Christmas cards you always get from your dad, the ones that have God on the front and money inside, the giltedged messages blessing you blessing you, insisting on endless childhood.
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Jesse Lee Kercheval
The Adventures of Billy When young Billy witnesses two tramps killing a robbery victim, they decide Billy must be killed and lock him in a shed.—The Griffith Project: Volume V. On the screen an orphan boy gestures to a dog w/ a wild flapping of his arms. Get help! his splayed fingers say. Go now, is the shape his lips make. The dog hears. We do too— though no one is talking in this silent movie. We hear the world with keen new ears as if we were rat terriers. We lean forward in our red velvet seats, ready to rescue Billy ourselves— from the fire the tramps set, from 1911, from the fate of a child star working for D. W. Griffith. We know what the audience then could not know— that two world wars are coming, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 135
Jesse Lee Kercheval
that Billy is a girl named Edna Foster, that for Griffith the world would stop in 1927 with the coming of sound. But for now, we know no more than Griffith lets us— will the dog take the message to his master? Will the racing car reach the burning shed in time? This must be how God views the living— knowing how each life ends but still caught up in the story. Tonight, he sits in the dark with the rest of us, praying Billy lives and no one, not even the most cynical, dares to look away.
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Jesse Lee Kercheval
Voyage Autour D’Une Etoile An old astronomer has long adored a star. He has only one desire—to approach it and declare his passion. But how shall he achieve this? Watching children playing with soap bubbles gives him an idea. —Le Giornate del Cinema Muto catalogue, 20th edition An old astronomer floats into the sky inside a giant bubble. Should we take this as a sign of man’s desire to draw nearer to the heavens, of his desire to come closer, God, to you? Or is this merely base desire? The stars busty, long-haired beauties in a harem; the moon the jealous sultan of the sky who tosses the old astronomer from the palace of the heavens. Pathé filmed this Voyage twice, in 1906 & again in 1907— a common practice in those days when the negative Crab Orchard Review ◆ 137
Jesse Lee Kercheval
wore out making prints. In the first, the astronomer, falling to earth, is impaled on a lightning rod. A death not unlike the sad pagan end of Icarus. In the remake, the astronomer falls with a harmless splash into his washtub of bubbles. I confess, coming clean as an end seems a better thing to hope for. I bathe every morning, Godâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; can I consider myself cleansed?
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Jesse Lee Kercheval
Imagine God As a Camera For Napoleon, Gance strapped a camera to the chest of one of his actors, lowered it in a cage into the ocean, lashed it to the back of a horse. Not until the French New Wave would the camera again come so close to both actors and action.—Fuller, Silent Film Imagine God as a camera at the rich end of the silent film era. The cumbersome machinery of sound will come later. For now, God is as light as a mouse. He runs on top of the snow in Gance’s 1927 Napoleon, rides the boy Bonaparte’s sled as it races down the frozen slope during the snowball fight that foreshadows all the future emperor’s battles. God swims in the mad sea as Napoleon flees Corsica in his inadequate boat, his sail the tricolor flag of the new French Republic.
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Jesse Lee Kercheval
Swings on a pendulum over the unclean heads of the citizens in the Convention as they in turn cheer then condemn the Girondists, Danton, Robespierre. Follows the hand of Charlotte Corday as she raises her knife above the turbaned Marat in his bath. God as camera sees clearly both the guillotine and the mad clerk who eats Josephine’s writ of execution, saving for history one more empress. If a mere camera can come this close to death, surely so can God. So though fine optics separate Him from the beings He created, He can almost taste the ice and blood in the boy Napoleon’s mouth as a snowball strikes home, smell the sweat
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Jesse Lee Kercheval
of the crowds welcoming the Terror, know the sharp cramp in the heart Marat feels as he slips to Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s side of the lens.
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In the cool darkness of the theater, anything is possible. We have come to get away from the heated noise of the day: oxen carts and salesmen with everything from vegetables to hand-woven scarves. It hurts—this much noise, this much activity in such a tight space—the city too full even to exhale, except in here—this cool cave of sanctity in a city with too many religions. Above us in the chilled shadows, the ones who couldn’t afford a full-price ticket: vendors and merchants, maids and tailors. Everyone willing to go without for a glimpse of a well-plucked brow and silken hips gyrating to tubla and harmonium. We all want to see the latest Bombay export: the songs we will hum in the coming weeks, the fight sequences our brothers and cousins will try on each other in the streets. Everything is scarlet and beautiful. Blue with possibility.
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Romance in Many Movements
It’s all about getting the jist. Saturday afternoons watching Hindi movies on the 19-inch, we wanted to know what it all meant. We were lost in the translation, catching every other word, and figured, it’s all about the moves anyway. We’d spend hours memorizing form and nuance, how an arched brow, the shrug of a shoulder could mean the difference between being too close and not close enough. Transported back to Bombay, to towns whose names we’d try to fit into our mouths, we were back at the local theater, where the Campa Cola sweated through the glass in our hands, where the air was cool and greasy with the smell of pakoras from the street vendor outside. And on the screen—a world spread out in sequence and song, a reality that we could pick and choose. There in the darkness, we could make up the endings to our own stories, chase the villains out of towns, sing in solo. We’d practice in the background, tried to imitate with our hips and voices. We were awkward in our moves, in our need to give names to things we had only heard about while our mothers matched each swivel of hip, mouthed all the words perfectly. They had the ease of years of practice, a skin they could slip in and out of with the turn of a head, the arch of a back. We were still learning the language—of how lovers that never kissed were still somehow in love, of how there is a song for every occasion. How romance can come in many movements. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 143
On the 3rd floor of the Curtis Institute, Past the Franz Hals imitation on the first Landing, past hallways clogged with harps, I tiptoe over some Mezzo’s practiced scales Without tripping—to the student opera recitals. A man whose radio voice I recognize Narrates: The bourgeois crowds at the Paris Opera Were quite offended by Bizet’s heroine. After her stabbing death they left in droves Or howled in fury when Don José withdrew his knife. Lights. And then the student Carmen slinks On stage. Her hair is permed, her danskin tight, As she paley mopes about the tavern, when Don José struts in. Student trumpeters Planted in the audience blast his platoon’s fanfare. The mini-skirted Carmen clicks her casTenets and sways, as if she’s making her solo way Between rows of clapping sweet-sixteeners. Don José removes his cloak and hat— She rubs against his back and licks him with Her own rapid fire mocking soprano Version of his army’s call to arms. Her own, that is, which she employs to keep his puffy Belly unquivering—while he turns her down. Or does he? He is already almost bald,
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A quickly aging twenty-two. And he must Be carefully appraising his impending Graduation—and the urging brash piano Accompaniment, braising, as much as the spots, The filaments of her almost wild curls. Helpless against his down gypsy—do Her fingers bury in his silk to pop The final buttons? Or is it from the strain? Disconcerted, we learn again to chafe In our seats, as she lingers on his lips too long.
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We wait, the angels and I, in dressing halls triply stacked in semi-darkness above the incandescent stage, as the curtain falls to raise the second act. We can barely move. They are so young they must be taken one by one to pee, while all the others shove to peek one level down into a shaft of sunlight, at older snowflakes, stretching to tilt their pointed tips to sills, to place them on cruddy radiator pipes. Below them wilt even older flowers achy from their waltz rehearsal yesterday, in this theater built to mesmerize, by magnifying faults, that magnified, create a beauty to entrap the crowds beneath the trompe-l’oeil vaults for several hours. The audience, tech crew, and us—we’re all the same, all denied the unreflected, undifferentiated glow of light for now. And so with yarn tied round our fingers, children and I pass this aeon exchanging configurations well-tried as cat’s cradle, and farmer’s pants, then on to Eiffel Tower. Vexed by witch’s broom, on the way to Jacob’s ladder—my fingers in a prison
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of knots, bound in pain till rendered numbâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; like Creation in the ancient Persian book, what illegitimate usurping angels lured from Eternity, refusing to give back, reveling in their tyrannical ploys, as Indian-giving as some Hebraic Elohim. One angel pales and plays at throwing up, then does, a whole plateful of snacks. Back here the scoreâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just noise, muffled upheaval, enough to make you forget music. Thrumming inside these dressing halls, upstaged and longing, the angels and I wait.
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Even before August, summer was smothering the dogs of LA. June’s heat wave shocked Orange County. The forecasters laughed it off. It’ll peter out, they predicted; but it didn’t. A tractor-trailer filled with Pacific fish jackknifed in July, leaving Hollywood and Vine smelling of mackerel and eel and smelt roe, a foggy, murderous scent the street cleaners couldn’t erase. A scent the dogs could neither locate nor escape from. They ran down Gower beside their owners, actors trying to shed water weight in the heat. They ran across bridges which rose above rivers; when the dogs saw the barren riverbeds they howled. Their tongues swelled as they begged licks of Evian from their masters’ palms. Then August 5th—the meltdown of Susie Light’s Hollywood career. The evening of the 4th, Susie shut out the lights at Peticular Bliss, her kennel for the dogs of stars. She’d just finished preparing sixty meals: fifteen low-cal, eleven no-fat, nine vegetarian, and twenty-five more assorted rations, all done up with capers, twisted with lemon or spooned into colorful Fiesta-style ceramic bowls. The next morning Susie knew something was wrong by the smell outside the bedding area. Food. Food? But the dogs always ate what was given them. She unlocked the door. A pulse of heat lurched at her. Her hair fizzed, her lungs felt thin: the air inside was grim and splintered with stillness. Susie walked the aisles, pawing fur, checking for heartbeats, holding her breath in hope of hearing theirs. A minute later, a perky female voice filled the room. It came from Ab’s suite. Ab Dobermann, a pinscher belonging to an aerobics instructor who taped two shows for ESPN2: Lose the Fat! and Living With Fat. The instructor insisted that Ab wake to her programs. Susie approached Ab: his rangy body lay stiff on the carpet and his face was a queer void, though his nose was still slightly moist, like a stick of butter left out to soften. She bent down and petted his fur. You liked Desert Palm Bottled Water mixed with a protein supplement that made it 148 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
look like split pea soup, and you liked to hear your owner feeling the burn. Could you be dead too, baby? In the following weeks, Susie received measures of exoneration. The SPCA of SoCal and the LAPD reached similar conclusions: the a/c unit had been left on when Susie locked up the kennel; it had simply conked out during the night. Susie Light wasn’t delinquent in paying her electric bill or negligent in her duties. The city removed her license from probation. The first September breezes redeemed the stale air; mercy followed. Most actors dropped their lawsuits against Susie. Others failed to show at the courthouse. Susie did show, each time wearing the same gray suit, a spindly yet animated frock, a lilac pinned to the lapel. In her mirror the gray seemed louder each morning she wore it, as though the fabric were feeding off her skin. She bought Snickers from a machine in the courthouse for comfort. Though it was the stars who sued, it was the Jamie Farrs and Conrad Bains who seemed to suffer. Those who hadn’t fared so well in the wake of fame—the actors surviving on residuals—who seemed truly disconsolate from the loss. They were the ones Susie couldn’t face. “I think I need to cut my losses,” Susie was saying over iced tea to her old friend Clara late in September. Clara was what Susie had longed to be: a television actress, only one step away from her dream of cinema. The other friends in their group from high school, all of whom had also wanted to make it big, regarded Clara with the very mix of awe and protracted envy she’d hoped they would. Only Susie had remained close to Clara: the others now felt puffy and bucolic beside her. Not that they were doing poorly. But LA is a town of earthquakes as much social as geological. Imbalances in clout are documented overnight, rifts in status between friends, institutionalized. Clara smoked cigarettes with scrabbling intensity, like a dog stripping leftover chicken bones. She’d once been the group’s prude, delusional with duty. Now she was wildest and fairest of them all. Her voice had gone gruff, and this drop in register gave her pleasure. The thinner Clara became, the more fiery she had to sound, so producers would know she wasn’t just some softhearted fuck from the sticks they could push around. “I don’t think you have losses to cut, Sooz.” “I agree,” Clara’s manager said. Clara had brought her along for advisement. “If anything, now’s the time you franchise.” The whole thing felt unreal, almost playful. Litigation in LA was like a bad Crab Orchard Review ◆ 149
review of a smash hit: not to be taken seriously. “We just gotta handle it delicately. Who was your biggest client? Your biggest name client?” “Johnny London.” Clara’s manager stroked the rim of her water glass. “London’s tough. He’s in Tunisia wrapping a picture, but he’ll be back soon. I happen to know he shares a joint checking account with his personal assistant. And she owes me huge. I’ll have her draw up a check for $10,000 to Animal Relief Shelter. I’ll tip some hack at Variety to it, they’ll write a big spread on Johnny’s humanitarianism in the face of sorrow. By the time London gets wise to his pooch dying, his ass will be so well-licked he’ll think it was his idea to kill her off.” London’s pooch had been a basenji. Johnny had visited her at the kennel only once in a year. “Might I ask how you happen to know these things?” “Susie,” said Clara’s manager. “Take my hand, squeeze it. Trust what the hand is saying. The kennel mess couldn’t have happened in a better climate. Politically, I mean.” “I don’t want good politics. I think this is a sign to go. Get out.” “And do what?” Clara demanded, to no response. She stamped her cigarette out, eyes narrowing to the width of fingernails. Life here was tough on Clara, and would be tougher without Susie. She’d once told Susie she was too busy finding work to enjoy what she’d accomplished: “I have to live vicariously through the people living vicariously through me.” She’d also been the only one in their circle of friends to believe in God. Now faith had found the others—Gina with her prayer group, Kay and Ray with their AA. Clara claimed to have given up on the church. “But I’ve been advised not to rule out Scientology,” she’d said. “It’s like a pre-approved platinum card. You don’t dismiss the offer.” Roderick Kim strolled by their table. He had blue eyes, low chin, biceps that seemed to be fighting through his lemon-green T-shirt. Susie had been to his place once, to bathe his Australian sheepdog. This was years ago, when she told clients she had to introduce herself to their dogs on the dogs’ home turf. It relaxed and empowered them. The actors lapped this up, the servile artistry of it. Susie used her house calls to reveal her acting ambition. She tried to work it in naturally, hoping the celebrity in question would ask what had brought her to LA. But that never happened—so Susie resorted to reciting famous film lines to the dogs, in earshot of their owners. Or more transparently, leaving her number on the backsides 150 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
of head shots. She often dreamt of how her discovery would unfold. With Roderick it went like this: she’d pick up the latest script he was working on, its pages tossed everywhere. He would be having ego clashes with his leading lady, and when he saw how naturally Susie read the lines, he would grab the phone, and demand that the role be recast for her. He would lean into Susie on the couch—the caucasian flickers of candles flanking her face would draw him in—and he’d kiss her. The morning after they would laugh gently, trying to recall each detail for the inevitable profile in People. In fact there was no morning after, or night before, Roderick was in-between projects, and he used track lighting. His house was Venice typical, a chimera of clashing cultural milieus, party favors from the booty of variously forgotten and ruined empires. One of his bookcase shelves was lined with the Idiot’s Guide To series; another was filled with the companion For Dummies series. Roderick recited Shakespeare at the Mark Taper Forum like a demigod; what a disappointment witnessing the dropped foliage of his original thoughts. Even his dog had seemed embarrassed. Australian sheepdogs were the most perfect specimens, Susie reflected—but bloodhounds and fat bassets, oh, they were her favorites. She’d had four bassets in her care at Peticular Bliss. None had survived; they were heavy panters, which probably contributed to their death. Clara checked her watch and nudged Susie. “It’s time for the opening. We have to hurry if we want to be late.” That August night at the kennel, it had risen to 110 degrees. Only nine of sixty dogs had survived. Fifty-one dead friends. “Okay,” Susie said, rising slowly. “How much do I owe?” They drove south. As they approached MacArthur Park, Susie tuned out the conversation; she watched joggers leave their cars at the park entrance, leash their dogs, and run toward the poplars and cedars. She tried to admire the leaves, aglow with sunshine, edges slightly polar with deposits of off-white pollen. But dogs kept catching her eye. She watched them all, some heeled, others throwing all their weight and happiness into the run. The car idled at a red light one block from the park. Susie watched a mastiff move in front of her. Its jowls jiggled as it strutted a slow line, like some prisoner at sea walking a plank with fierce, final dignity. Then it was out of sight, having suddenly dissolved behind the blind spot of the passenger-side mirror. Susie waited for Crab Orchard Review ◆ 151
the dog to reappear. It didn’t. It must have sat down in the blind spot. She thought she heard the mastiff ’s claws scrape against the concrete, saw the flesh dent its ribs when the dog drew a deep breath, but of course she did not hear or see these things. When the light turned green, Susie scoured the area. There was no sign of the mastiff, no sign it had ever been there . . . She might never forgive herself. What would that mean? Susie had failed herself before; all those mistakes eventually tunneled under the range of her consciousness. Eventually. What would it take to make this mistake seem insignificant, too? “This is so exciting,” Clara squealed. “I can’t believe I’m about to watch a first-run film beneath the earth.” Mann Underground, a subsidiary to Mann’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was opening today. It was indeed the world’s first movie theater located inside a subway station. It had THX sound to block out the rumble of subway cars, and little windows in the doors, so customers could take a break from the film to watch people getting on and off trains, or passengers getting on and off the trains could peer in and try to recognize famous people not watching movies. Clara had been invited to the premiere, a remake of a 1979 disaster film. The two descended an opalescent gray staircase past the checkpoint. Susie hung back, making sure she seemed an innocuous “plus-one,” not a lover (Clara’s career wasn’t strong enough to survive lesbian rumors). They strolled into the embassy of celebrity flesh, Susie drifting, Clara exchanging clerical kisses with her peers, throwing discretionary waves to the audience, which was held back by an embankment of bouncers. Liz Phair, Beck, and members of Pavement were strumming guitars and drinking Coronas, secluded in a corner of the subway station. Liz sang harmony in burnt orange taffeta, to Beck’s lead: “You say I’m a bore / Not your cup of tea / But you’ve been an Elysian Encounter / An Elysian Encounter to me . . .” The premiere went off without a hitch, technically speaking. The soundproofed walls worked. The projector worked. The headsets worked too, though most of the guests discarded them early to talk shop. But halfway through the film, Susie saw something possibly terrifying beyond the theater window; trick of light, maybe, though it seemed real enough to smell. A murky bauble of bronze fur. A dog. But no one else had seen what she had. Had they? No. So she let the disaster movie play on and the players speak through it and 152 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
the new LA subway roll on through all the talk and pomp and fanciful vices of the Hollywood elite. Susie found the incidental habits hardest to break. Ordering squeeze toys online. Running a lint roller over her clothes. Fridays— when she’d shop for the dogs—were worst. Her life had made the most sense then, comparing vitamin supplements at Trader Joe’s, watching baggers gather the purchases she paid for on borrowed wealth. She’d listen to the receipt churn from the register; spending so much on frivolities made her feel like an actress. “Uh, ma’am? Excuse me. Your card has been declined.” She stared dumbly at the store clerk. He must be new. Trader Joe’s knew who she was. They knew Susie took care of Oscar winners’ wiener dogs, movie execs’ Great Danes. This kid needed a lesson in respecting clout. Then it struck her. It struck her and she slid her hands into one of the bags. Her fingers traced the frozen liverwurst entrees, which prevented heartworms and contributed to coat sheen. There was no reason for this. It was September 27th; all the dogs were now ashes or buried bones, and reason for any of this had long since left. “None of this is for them,” Susie said. “None of them, really, are mine anymore.” The store clerk trained a casual smile toward her; this must be how policemen look at the women who’ve just been punched blue and deserted by their boyfriends. She felt too embarrassed to return it all. She felt pressure to return the clerk’s smile. She felt the thinness of the paper sacks, and wished she could ask for everything double-bagged. October began cool. The temperature dropped (71 at night, 74 during the day). Softness resumed. Clara called Susie each day. Encouraging her to shop. Drive. “Walk, even, if that’s what it takes.” “I’ll be fine, really. My checking account’s still pretty flush.” “This isn’t a money call. If it were, then fuck, I’d just promote you to producer.” “I don’t work on your show.” Susie readjusted her phone. “What’s this really about, Clara?” “This is a health call. You need to let go. Inner turmoil doesn’t cut it in this town. Confession and memory don’t either: you have to explode. Do something flip. Show don’t tell. Exaggerate your confidence.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 153
“Maybe I should get back into acting.” Susie was half-serious, though Clara often ran through the list of her friend’s physical features—“sharply arched brows, eyes too dark and bracing, that whole wise thing you’ve got”—working against Susie, preventing her from having The Look. Clara was worried for her friend. “I don’t want you to be like Mike,” she said. Mike? Mike? The name lingered in her mouth—oh God, Michael! Susie hadn’t thought of him in years, regarding him as some light confectioner’s treat which gave her pleasure long ago. He’d been part of their group, the oddest and softest of them. And being a boy, the most useful. He’d been the one boy allowed to commiserate with the gaggle of girls. He’d given the girls’ collective ego a knuckle; his devoted presence persuaded many a popular male senior that these were the girls to try and score with. The girls to blow part-time paychecks on. When the girls became seniors with cars, they graduated themselves to the nearby college town, pulling Michael along. A bright nervous face rushed suddenly to Susie’s mind—Michael’s, and Michael’s quick, chattering feet—such a dancer! So good he prompted competition, prompted Chet Baker to cut in on the two of them one night at a frat house. Chet was dark and powerful, and moved with a rusty swivel to his hips, his groin hemming her in. Chet kissed Susie when he wanted to, his tongue darting down her mouth like a sloppy banana squeezed from the skin. She’d look up at Chet from time to time—named after the famous trumpeter, though his lips held no fraction of the skill, the dexterity, the tenderness. Still, Susie felt flush; she was a trophy of desire. She would let this man cave her virginity in, topple the last remnant of this stupid, boxy innocence she couldn’t wait to rid herself of. “How did you hear from Michael, Clara? Did you call him?” “What are you, kidding?” “Right, okay. Well, when did he call? What is he up to?” “Stand-up. In Vegas,” Clara said, sucking in smoke. “Vegas, can you believe it?” “Do you have his number?” Clara said she’d misplaced it. Susie could tell she hadn’t—an actress is the sum of the style of her lies, and only the childhood friends of the actress were familiar enough with that style of deception to call it in the air. Finally, Clara relented. “I’ll give it to 154 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
you, but I don’t think he’s a person you should be speaking with. He’s a real idiot mess.” “What do you mean?” Clara blew a tray of smoke into the phone receiver. “I mean Michael’s like a boy with a ball. He throws it, uh, in the woods, and it’s lost. But instead of just finding a new ball, he chases it into the woods, uh, looking for it . . . ” Susie stretched her arms, the receiver still in her hand. She looked at the clock, wondering, if these were long-distance calls, how much sooner she’d cut Clara off during rants. Susie didn’t care how far Michael had fallen, or what talent he was, in Clara’s judgment, tossing away. He was just a name and a voice Susie had lost track of, and now wanted back. She sought only simple reconnection with the man, and that was all. Well. Maybe reconnection and a drink. And maybe a show. Maybe a dance; maybe. Maybe. More. After three phone talks, Michael agreed to visit. They’d meet at Union Station; he refused to take a plane in from Vegas. “Flying into Los Angeles is like staring at your own smile in the mirror. You’re seeing too much forced nicety at once.” Susie respected his request, at least associatively: to her Vegas was a wasteland on life support, intubated on electric sunlight and slot machines, arid of charisma and underscored with a population far too vulgar to see that they were lost souls. Michael stepped off the train and sniffed at the air; Susie took cover in the crowd, in case she wanted to back out. An old valise hung over his shoulder, blue, half-empty, veined with wrinkles. She took in his faded penny loafers, the long shelf of his nose. She drew close to hug him. It was a long hug, one she refused to stop. Finally he pulled back, complaining his bag was too heavy. “So where we taking me?” “Public premiere of a subway stop in East LA. The seventh mile.” “I thought LA was The Last Mile.” He was speaking with a hard tone, the clipped efficiency of a failed traveling salesman. But wasn’t he here, weren’t they together, because of how well the phone conversations had gone? She ruffled his head. “Your top is thinning.” “That’s okay,” he countered, maneuvering from her touch, “my bottom is thickening. Hey, thanks! You helped me walk right into Crab Orchard Review ◆ 155
that one. Truth is I’ve been killing myself for material all summer, and getting nada nunca.” Susie forced a smile. But she could see where he was headed: jokes. They began to compare fitness regimes, but Michael took the opportunity to toss off self-deprecating oneliners: “I’m so abusive to my body, my liver had to pick me out of a lineup. My only form of consistent exercise is passing kidney stones. When I tried to donate my semen to the sperm bank, they told me to take it to a pawn shop . . . ” She managed to stop him with a compliment. “I like that one best.” “Really,” he wondered. “Because that one I’m still playing with the wording.” They continued toward the turnstiles. A tejano band struck up a ballad in the subway well. Susie gobbled up Michael’s hand with her own; it felt more relaxed than she’d expected. “Still dance?” Michael shook his head. “Oh come on. Bullshit. A man can teach himself not to try, but he can’t teach himself to stop once he knows he’s good.” She led him down the stairs, eager to grandly descend, but he wasn’t kidding: he moved like a lumbering bear, all atoms of elegance evaded him. “Michael,” she said finally, eyeing his nose, releasing his hairy hand. “I told you. I’m no dancer. I don’t work out. I don’t do anything anymore that isn’t bad for me or good for tourism. Usually both. Susie, I’m not even Jewish anymore.” “What are you talking about?” “No fooling.” He showed Susie his Nevada driver’s license. “I’m no longer Michael Yonah Resnick; meet Mike L. Resno.” Three years ago, the manager of the Mirage had offered him a headliner position, on the condition he adopt a nom de plume. “My heritage threatened the goyem from Provo. They were all convinced that if the Son of God were to choose the Mirage as the site to stage His second coming, then the funny Jew onstage would find a way to stab Him before He could get His first parable out. So I’ve been officially gentilized by Nevada.” As he spoke, light flashed from around a bend; the subway was pulling in. When an air horn blew, Michael pretended to have been shot: “Watch out everyone! They got me! I’m coming apart, I’ve come unjewed!” Susie backed off. Her brow furrowed. She was listening to Michael, Mike L., trying to figure out whether he was going to kiss her. Through his routine, she’d made a point of touching him, or pollinating his ego with well-placed laughter. In the crawlspace of time from the moment he stepped off the Amtrak to the first mordant 156 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
rumbles of the Red Line, Susie remembered how starkly Michael had once loved her. In high school, in the mash letters he’d written then, and the increasingly desperate notes in college. And now here she was pining for his affection to no avail, waiting with empty lips for a train. As their train came to a halt, Susie nearly sliced a lip open with her front teeth. She wondered would she see a dog again? The first time in this station with Clara, she’d seen what had seemed to be a golden retriever jump into the subway well, dart in the direction of the cars, only to leap from the well and over the turnstile, before vanishing. But it was all impossible. Some leprosy of her senses had afflicted her; she’d recover. Only it happened again. This time at the North Hollywood station, on her way to have her hair done. A different dog, darker, fuller plume in the tail, but still a retriever. It had sat patiently among the waiting passengers, not seeking scraps of food, attention, anything. Finally the train had arrived—and that was when the dog bounded into the stairwell and darted down the tunnel, trying to outrun the momentum of the train. It had left a calling card of long hair and heat on the platform’s edge. Surely it hadn’t survived. But how had it gotten there? Suspicious of her mind, but always a fan of a fair trial, Susie began to weigh the evidence. To conjure checklists of rationality. Perhaps it was some other kind of animal—a rat or cat or just clothing blown by wind? Or some blasé promotion . . . light FX from the engineer’s car, visual ad copy for a new family film? But the trades would’ve hyped such a stunt to death—she wasn’t that out of the loop. Madness, above all, was the affectation of enhanced or depleted perception, corroborated by no witness other than the afflicted. Was she there? She’d lured Michael to a city he hated, to confirm or deny the emergence of patterns she feared considering herself. So surely, surely, the two of them should get a little sex out of this raw deal. Michael egged Susie onto the subway car. The Red Line shot into the tunnel like a panic, a slippery riot, bound for East LA. Michael proved a devoted companion. He spooled up her tension and doubt and threw it far away. He kept her out of her house, kept her in the moment. He forced her to make a day of it (though he could not be persuaded to make a night of it). In East LA, they sat on a new bench already pocked with graffiti and knife grooves. They sat, just so, for two hours. The jet set arrived for the ribbon cutting, surveying the station. Some were there to Crab Orchard Review ◆ 157
have their hands immortalized in wet clay beneath the turnstiles. Michael watched, giggling. “This damn town kills me. It took me all of two months interning in ‘the ‘Bu’ as Ed Frietland’s piss-ant to realize I hated this . . . Why haven’t you figured it out yet?” “Michael, I love LA!” He eyed her. “Well okay, love is strong. How about despise affectionately?” Michael sipped Sprite, waiting for her explanation. “Have you ever had to stop yourself in mid-curse? Your whole day has gone to shit. Like anarchy had a fire sale. So you drive to 7-11. Maybe buy a scratch-off. You take your coin out, shake your fist and you scream, ‘If this Lotto ticket doesn’t fucking come through!’ And it’s a twenty-dollar winner. LA fucks with my head and heart, sure, but just when I’m about to jaywalk across rush hour Sunset . . . Boom! It hands me a twenty.” She toyed with the disposable camera he’d brought. “It retrieves itself to me.” “Retrieves. How do you mean?” She laughed. “I said ‘redeems.’ LA redeems itself to me.” “No. You said ‘retrieves.’” Susie blanched. She covered her face with the camera. Michael’s face seemed small through the lens, distant and unattainable. “So what’s great about Vegas?” He turned away and chewed his straw. A street vendor selling tapas made it halfway down the subway stairs before bouncers dragged him back up, kicking and screaming. Michael turned back around. “On any given night,” he said, “someone else is a bigger loser than me.” The celebrities orated gangtags they saw on the wall with an errant flourish. “Somos locos y qué,” read a leading-man, leaning into his cocktail. “Such a beautiful language they have. So romantic, so peaceful.” “This is great; in weeks this station will be littered with undesirables, riffraff.” “I plan to give change—but only to the well-spoken ones.” “Oh, me too.” Michael smiled as he eavesdropped, a forced, squirmy smile. “With all the free pub and cameras, I’m surprised I haven’t spotted Clara. How is she anyway?” Susie had completely forgotten she and Michael had a friend in common. Where to start with Clara? The hit show? The Emmy nomination? The makeover and body sculpting? “Clara is, uh, in a word, superior.” 158 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
“Yeah.” Michael set down his Sprite. “And I bet she’s the first to tell you so.” “At least that means I’m the first to know.” Now it was Susie with the squirmy smile. “But she worries these days about selfinflation. So get this . . . to stem her ego, she traveled to a monastery the other month.” “You are joking.” “Wait, it gets better. So she arrives, right, and from the moment she walks in, she’s giving the people there all these assignments and special requests.” “Priceless. I can see her now. ‘Uh, excuse me, Brother. Do you think I could get my monasticism on the side?’” Michael shook his head. “So our girl Clara turned into one of these?” he asked, indicating the antics of the celebs. “She’s probably as close to a confidante as I’ve got, Michael. Her concern for me is deafening. She’d give me half of anything she owned.” Susie mashed her lips. “Having said that—yes. She has. Clara is absolutely a Beautiful Person.” “What does that make you?” “Lumped with the other ninety-nine percent of Los Angeles—Part of a Beautiful Person’s Entourage. A Sidekick.” “Don’t sidekicks deserve sidekicks of their own?” She looked at Michael. Was it lust she sensed—hopeful, anxious, light flask of lust—peeking through all his talk of companionship? Maybe, but she sensed something else: coarse enjoyment. Some part of him was glad to see her alone. But his coldness only made her lean closer, splash hot breath against his cheek when she spoke. All of which he was unwilling to match. Susie believed the body more courageous than the mind. She’d dated a man years ago that she’d lived in fear of sometimes—but at night she never hesitated, in sleep, to pull the covers off of him when her feet got too cold. The mind slipped into timid lapses, rote response. But the body was tropical, dense and prolific. Ready, always ready, to churn forward, even at risk of her mind’s protests. Though the mind thought all day, it took it years or a lifetime, sometimes, to recognize what the body had known all along. After Chet, Susie had lost the will, or the patience, to seek out a mate who coddled, who offered up decency beyond the bed. After Chet, Susie begged off Michael and men like him, and found herself drawn only to lovers who could circulate damage. Lovers who cornered and claimed, spoke only when speech was the final Crab Orchard Review ◆ 159
alternative to sleep. What end result had she had in mind? Where had she imagined her agenda leading her? All that gave her peace and pleasure seemed to have slipped away since she’d left home, a chained dog gone madly free from a tight backyard. They bought tickets for the three o’clock show at Mann Underground. Susie sifted through her purse in case Michael wanted to pay for both tickets, which he did not. Maybe she hadn’t sifted long enough. Seven Ugly Sundays was playing. The plot was claptrap, something about buzzards carrying hazardous waste, with a bit of revenge and a girl sewn in between bursts of AK-47s and dialogue abated of plausibility. Michael pulled off Susie’s headset. “Ever seen a grown man cry?” he whispered—though he didn’t need to, everyone else in the theater was involved in full-throated discussions, trading up, making deals, wearing the mark of the good life on their faces. “One more ‘violent male bonding’ scene should just about do it to me.” “I’ve given you more culture than you can handle, huh?” “Sweetie, Vegas is twice as medieval as this place.” She watched him shift in his seat. His belly was round and soft, like a scoop of sherbet. “We better hope they never institute a reapplication process for statehood. Our domiciles wouldn’t stand a chance.” “Hey, it’s a smile. I thought you’d lost it.” “I still have it,” Michael said. “But you’re right, I usually save it for shows. It’s a Mirage smile.” “You make a lot of money out there.” He let his hands nap on his belly. “I do alright.” She asked if they tipped well and he nodded. They must love you, you must be good. “They tip me because they would hate to be me.” The sound of villains getting iced leaked from their headphones, a guttural sweep of exit wounds, claustrophobic gunplay. “I get money for the same reason Salvation Army Santas do: people pay me to remind themselves they’re blessed. People pay for my life because they don’t have to live it. I’ve got a career because I’m one of life’s great washouts.” “I’m unemployed,” Susie said, “because I take my job everywhere and can’t put it down.” They looked around; no one was shushing them, not a body in the theater seemed to care. “So how about that job? Clara gave me her version of your story. Two versions, actually. The first just depressed me, the other made your life sound like a Kafka novel.” “Right.” Was it Clara’s way to exaggerate because she was an 160 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
actress? Or because it got results? “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” “So where’s the truth fall?” The end credits began to advance, the names evaporating from the top of the screen. Never before had Susie wished that a movie like this, a piece of escapist trash, would stretch on. “Nowhere in particular. It just falls.” “Listen to you. Timing, cadence, killer material to boot! You could do what I do in a minute! Just the right blend of stage presence and eviscerated esteem.” In time Susie grew sick of Michael’s sexless attention. She was tired of washing her sheets for his weekend visits, only to have him choose the guest couch. She was tired of him apologizing for bringing half-wilted flowers, apologizing for falling asleep in the middle of movies, apologizing for being the kindest man she’d ever known at a time when she couldn’t seem to recognize kindness; or worse, a time when she tried to stare kindness down, burn holes in it, ignite it into something else. During his last visit they made the mistake of buying wine. Michael made the mistake of holding her hand all the way through a Police LP. She set down her glass; Michael refilled her. She was going to do it, touch him, just as soon as it got to “Invisible Sun.” “I think the other bandmembers should’ve seen a messy breakup coming,” he suddenly scoffed. “Anyone that willfully calls himself Sting vants to be alone.” “And you’re the reverse,” Susie said, breaking away. “You gave up your goddamn name to get in bed with Andy Williams and Siegfried and Roy.” Michael punched the turntable’s off button. Gordon Sumner’s voice warbled to a halt. “What about you? You still call yourself Susie Light. I don’t even remember what your real last name is. I mean, if you’re really so okay with losing the kennel, and okay with your acting dreams sinking into the La Brea Tarpits while you prop her majesty Clara’s head up for public appearances, then why keep the fake name? Why not give that up?” Oh, why does anyone let dead dreams possess them? Susie stood. She emptied her ashtray, a legacy from Clara’s last visit. Clara had inspected Susie’s house with disdain, scorning her efforts to spruce it up for Michael, scorning Michael for playing games with Susie, scorning Susie for letting Michael continue them. “I don’t know—hope?” She wondered if he’d call this time when he Crab Orchard Review ◆ 161
got back to Vegas. She wondered if she wanted him to. She wondered why it was not in Michael’s power, or hers, to take themselves seriously. November fizzled on, for the most part, incidentally. The summer heat was a distant memory. A few celebrities wore white ribbons shaped like dog collars, or halos, to remember the victims of the kennel incident. But who could remember, exactly, who the victims had been? Los Angeles was perceived as a harbor for disaster; in fact it thrived on the contrary: LA gorged on recovery, it was in love with the belief that single acts of temperance could wash away all excess. Midway through the month, the final lawsuit against Susie was summarily dropped. The actor’s agent had caught wind that “granting forgiveness” was in with 18- to 25-year-olds. Johnny London sent a fruit basket thanking Susie for all the attention. Susie called Clara. “I don’t want to do it, Clara, so tell your manager thanks from me . . .” “Linda? You got it. See, what did I say? All woe works itself out here. Linda’s a real golden retriever.” Had Susie forgotten to wake up this morning? “She’s how, she’s what? I don’t understand.” “Golden retriever. One of those terms you forbid me to use. It’s LA-LA slang for execs who fetch the goods. The ones who roll their sleeves up, swim through the cesspool of a project everyone thinks is doomed, and surface with an Oscar between their teeth.” After the good news about the lawsuits, Susie found herself afraid to stand still. She feared she’d float away with the slightest wind. She feared she didn’t care. There was nothing to prove, nothing demanded of her. For the first time she had no ties to this place, and for the first time, she found herself truly terrified of it. She would have to find out if there was a sum to the parts of Los Angeles, any sum at all. Or was it just parts? Only dogs stabilized her now. Cigarettes and dogs. She’d begun hunting for their sight. Their trace. Any dog would do. She loved them all so much—plaintive beagle eyes. The pugs’ fractured mugs. The burning loyalty of setters. Scotties, those bluish blessings. How a boxer’s stomach scratches across an uncut lawn, making the grass softly hiss. When she thought of dogs she thought of Michael. How he’d come to LA without an agenda. How he’d left without a kiss. When he’d been here, much had felt right. She’d forgotten the weight that was supposed to have been pinning her. Their time together had been like some trailer to a kind of movie she thought she’d never 162 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
pay to see, but found her heart racing for all the same. She’d always presumed dogs were her key to stardom. Someday she’d groom the right terrier, nurse an ill greyhound back to health, which would lead to a producer or casting agent resculpting Susie’s life into the mold of instant fame. They would discover her. Conan O’Brien would marvel at how she got her start. The humble beginnings from which she’d phoenixed. After seeing your movie, he’d say, I find it hard to believe you were ever just a dog lady. But she was a dog lady. This was the plot twist from which she might have to recover. The dogs were the sum of her parts. The narrow bend of her dreams had shifted without telling her first. The day before Thanksgiving, Clara invited Susie to the Pacific Ocean. On the deck of a pier, another offshoot of Mann’s Chinese Theater—Mann Overboard—was having its Grand Opening. The restaurant banner struggled to keep still for the cameras as DC-10s roared above, rocking and bending it in rude salutation. The wind blew in Susie’s face. If it had been this cold in the kennel, even for an hour, they all might have lived to see morning. Roger Hewlett strolled by to say hello, refusing to go until Clara and Susie congratulated him on his People’s Choice Award. Craig Capshaw waved his fork, a triangular piece of flapjack at its point waving in syncopation, like some miniature windsock. Alsie Ajay, who later that month would insinuate Clara’s lesbianism in the Hollywood Reporter, hugged her now through her stole as though a warm embrace in the present could erase future acts of spite. Susie peered at her food. Her crêpes were gray. The hickory syrup was dimpled with bitter clots and tasted like mildewed chocolate. Clara hardly touched her soapy oatmeal and blond orange juice, transfixed as she was in the meandering sophistication of this power breakfast. Susie clasped her hand. “Tell me again—why do we eat here?” Clara thumbed through Susie’s hair and regarded her as a piece of clay. “It’s not so bad. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stylish.” That was the end of that examination. Over the years, they’d shared pointed words, moments where they seemed on the outbreak of discovering crucial flecks in the other. But it would never happen in front of cameras. Publicity’s promise was an alchemy, molding people into alloys of their purer selves. True stars knew how to walk a banana path to stay in focus for a camera. True stars followed Tinseltown’s rules to the letter. Susie was not that, no matter how much she’d dreamt of becoming it; she was no true star. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 163
A soft flash of color, a khaki gold, swam beneath the table just in front of Susie. This was unsurprising. It would be a retriever. Pacing beneath tablecloths. It would go unnoticed but for Susie; it would seem to be in search of a toy or ball, something to fetch, and would seem tired, its tongue hanging close to the ground like a flag at half-mast. Susie was used to all of this; the retrievers must belong to someone, but she’d stopped wondering whom—from fear that the answer might prove far too logical. She needed, in her life, leaps. Sighing, she gulped Volvic and watched. This dog moved with fantastic fluidity, maneuvering past celebrities in small steps like a typist tittering on a keyboard. He went unnoticed, and seemed to be everywhere in the room at once, a strange tapestry which didn’t belong at, but which couldn’t be removed from, the party. The patio at Mann Overboard was loud, but Susie’s head was louder, flush with the quizzical diction of new knowledge. Some loss allows its victims to kick it under the carpet, to, thanks to memory’s weak range, eventually lose the loss, and its nagging persistence. All other loss proves perilous when ignored; at every turn it demands resistance, stance of character, hope for better days far into the hummable beyond. . . . The retriever was at Susie’s feet, eyebrows arched like broken dashes. Ignoring her crêpes, her syrup, but not her eyes. She nuzzled his soft curly nape with her lips. “Yes boy,” she said, “oh God yes, bring him back.”
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After the Snowman
He was beautiful, the rabbit. She had forgotten that about him. Not cartoonish at all. He was a brilliant white with skin so pink it seemed to tinge his fur, so that he was everywhere the subtle whitish-pink of certain roses or carnations. His eyes pink, too, but more aggressively, as was his nose, and his tongue, like lacerations, like sexual organs engorged. When she first moved in with him, he would forget himself, and gnaw his beautiful new furniture, or electrical cords. It was awkward. She wound up scolding, mothering, and she didn’t like that. Neither did he. But the old ways gripped them. You know how it goes. He had called out of the blue. She had still been bent backwards with grief. She did not even know he had been in Florida, or how he could have known she was in Florida. But that was the kind of world they lived in. People just knew things. “Fine,” she said. “You want to be treated like a rabbit, I’ll treat you like a rabbit.” And she picked him up by the loose skin behind the neck and lifted him shocked and scrabbling and dropped him down into the cage, the one the magician had left behind. The cage was in the middle of a spacious living room, full of windows and light and blond wood and white furniture. The windows looked out on the ocean. Palm trees lashed the air. “See how you like it,” she said and left, shaking with anger. While he was in the cage, she would go to the basement door and jiggle the handle, but it was always locked. These were the rabbit’s only two rules—stay out of the basement and attic. Everything else can be ours together. Later, after, when she let him out, they held each other, and she told him how sorry she was, and he told her of his childhood, of his fear of stoats, of the magician’s indifference and cruelty and perversion. And everything was good for a while, and they grew even closer, and he stopped chewing the furniture. But it was hard being just the two of them when it used to be Crab Orchard Review ◆ 165
the three of them. Some days she felt a shock of cold breath on her shoulders, a droplet of icy water curling down her back. Then she would forget herself. She would turn, smiling—to nothing, to Florida sun on a half-gnawed tabletop. After the snowman had died the last time (“Tough break, kid,” the magician had said in the doorway of the greenhouse, and put the top hat on his head, and lit a cigarette, and stepped out only after a long last look of lingering appraisal) she fell just a tiny bit apart. He had, of course, died before; he was always dying. But he always came back—Clausian intervention. This time there was no swirl of Christmas magic, no “Happy birthday,” no swoon of joy. This time, the rabbit did not come back in the nick of time, and there was no Claus. Just her, with her bare legs curled under her, crying into the puddle that had once been her lover. It took her forever, it seemed, to rise, to smooth her red coat down, to slap her mittened hands together and adjust her too-small earmuffs, to step out of this greenhouse, last in a long line of greenhouses, and walk out into the darkness, back toward the real world of flesh and ache. You have seen this before, you know. You have watched. You have sat in the dark and watched. You maybe watched only so far and no further. Turned away, pressed stop, moved on. But you have seen this. If only so far. If only to the light on the snow before the dark, before and then what happened, and then, and then? She wound up in Florida. A train ride here, a bus there, always south, toward the sun, toward the sea. She took a job selling seashells and fake lobsters in a shack by the seashore. She lived in a sandyfloored motel nearby. At first she tried not to use the air-conditioner and tried to spend part of every day on the beach or in the water, but after the first month she spent all of her free time in the motel with the air blasting and the television on. So when the rabbit called, asked how she was, wondered if she wanted to get together for a drink, dinner, a movie, a few laughs, just for old time’s sake, she said yes. God, yes. She had not seen him since the last time, the last death. Thumping the floor with his foot, pointing at himself, then the door. Another year, another death, another resurrection. She remembered that this last time he caressed her cheek with a silky 166 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
ear before he raced out into the night and the cold. And did not return. And why did he not return? After the magician left, after the greenhouse grew cold, after her tears froze on her chin, after she struggled to rise, after she walked away to the warmth and the sun and the steam, why did he not return? The rabbit was thinner in those first Florida days. White luxurious fur came out in handfuls when she stroked him, his ears flat against his back. At night, he ate peanut butter cups by the dozen, then pushed the orange wrappers under the couch. But she came to know all his tricks. She knew where he hid his flask and his Penthouse Forums in the closet, on the top shelf behind a pile of sweaters. She knew that he still prayed, even though he didn’t go to church. She knew that he still believed in Santa Claus, even if Santa Claus didn’t come the last time, the time they needed him most. She knew that when they played cards in the kitchen and she sat with her back to the window he used the reflection to peek at her cards. This is a trick he must have learned from the magician. She never let on that she knew. She had seen the rabbit stare at a water stain on the bedroom ceiling for many hours. He did it openly when he thought she was not there, surreptitiously when they were both lying in the bed. She had stared at that water stain too, trying to see what he saw. The Virgin Mary? A continent? A moth? A cold puddle spreading slowly out over a warm floor? There were tiny white patches of frostbite on the tips of her thumbs and index and middle fingers. Dead white spots amidst the fleshy whorls of her fingerprints. Some caress or clutch that lasted far beyond linger. And even now, the no of stilled skin at the center of every touch. A thing that could even be forgotten some days. But not most. But in different cold rooms where she would lie with the snowman for a time afterwards. But not sleep. They would touch, they would hold, and he would say poetry; as if to compensate for his limited vocabulary upon first being resurrected he would recite, he would say somewhere i have never traveled gladly beyond any experience your eyes have their silence in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me or which i cannot touch because they are too near and after a long while of his voice he would stop and say why are you crying? and she would have to leave. In the warm rooms that he could not enter she would sleep on the floor and think Crab Orchard Review ◆ 167
of his first words, of the poems she was forced to memorize in school, or how much she ached to be back in the world of soggy mittens and muddy playgrounds and wooden desks. But there was no way to travel back. The trapdoor to the attic was in the middle of the third-floor hallway. It was no effort at all to push a straight-backed chair over from an abandoned bedroom. And the trapdoor opened smoothly, and she hoisted herself up, so that her weight rested on her elbows. Her lower torso dangled. And every time she hoisted herself up after, there would be that moment of dangling. The attic was unlike the rest of the house. It was close, stiflingly hot, stinking of dust and rot. Dirty light heaved through smeared panes. Cardboard mildewed in haphazard piles. Even the mice had abandoned this place. Even the squirrels would not nest here. Even the spiders weaved their ornate webs, then left. In the attic she discovered old-fashioned film strips, an oldfashioned projector, a sheet nailed to the wall. The film strips were in boxes; the boxes had labels. The handwriting was blunt, square, not the rabbit’s. Somewhere I Have Never Traveled. Earmuffs. Snowjob. The Hat. Resurrection. She threaded that one. At first she did not know what she was seeing—like the kaleidoscopes she looked into as a child, before the snowman came. Then she realized: it was water crystallizing into ice. She did not watch any more that day. You have watched this, too. You have seen the parades and the boxcars and the policeman and his whistle. You have seen the breath suspended on the air and the woodland creatures creeping close to the fire and the glow of the greenhouse light on the snow. You watched those things and you can imagine watching these, the things you did not see to see. Some nights she would wake up and he would not be next to her. She would walk through the dark vast rooms. Some nights the door to the basement would be open. She could hear him down there, talking to himself in the dark. She would not go down. In her dreams she remembered the swirl of snow through pines, the drifts in the darkness, the sudden plunge through crust to depth. She remembered the warmth and light of fire between wind-swept 168 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
pines, and his dark bulk circling the perimeter, the periphery of vision. She remembered the pipe, unlit. She remembered the smile, frozen. She remembered the eyes, dark and flat. The windows thrown open, the sound of the surf, the warm light wind off the ocean: these were the things the rabbit tried to believe in. His claws clutched reflexively on cool white cotton sheets. His ears twitched against her back in their sleep. He dreamed, he said, of the claustrophobic darkness of the hat, the rustle of silk within, around, the thin hot fingers of the magician pinching the flesh of his neck, the sudden hot explosion of light and heat and applause, the human stink of gin and laughter. In his sleep, he sometimes snarled. In his sleep he smelled the salt air and dreamed of licking human blood from his paws. Yes, but there was this, too: how soft his fur was after bathing, how fast his heart raced, how much he needed her, and how, looking at the rabbit, she would think of the snowman without actually being with the snowman (in the cold in the dark in the wind in the ice). And here were sunsets that filled her head and here were rooms with high ceilings and she could look outside and see water moving and here she would sometimes find the rabbit behind the couch, trembling and praying. For what?, she might ask. To be good, he might tell her. To be good. One morning very early, only a few hours after the rabbit had come in late, teeth clicking, she arose while he still slept and wandered through the airy house, alive with its light. She pushed a button and coffee began to brew. There were sliced oranges and mangoes on a cold white plate in the refrigerator. She ate orange slices and walked through the huge rooms, the light wood of the polished floors gleaming. At the back of the house near the sliding doors of the patio, the basement door was unlocked. And open. Her fingertips tingled on the doorknob while she hesitated. Then in her bare feet she went down. The walls gleamed with moisture. The cement floors sweated. The windows were cramped, the light feeble. There was no furniture, just oozing earthy rooms. In the furthest room was a huge furnace, and beside it a bucket full of restless liquid, and beside the bucket a single folding chair. His droppings littered the ground around the chair. She heard his claws on one of the floors above and her heart plugged her throat and she ran through Crab Orchard Review â&#x2014;&#x2020; 169
the weeping rooms and up the stairs and out onto the patio. She covered her dirty feet with a shawl and sat and looked out at the ocean until the rabbit joined her, blinking, his pink nose twitching. But they just sat and said nothing for hours and stared out at the water moving. And one night late when the rabbit still hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t come home, she threaded into the projector the strip of film in the box labeled The Hat. And flicked on the machine, which lurched on with a clatter and threw light up on the sheet, and she sat back and watched not film but animation, and lord she did not want to know what or who had animated her life, all their lives. Here, breathe deep the sawdust and mildew of the attic, the heat like claustrophobia on your skin; you sit back too and watch: out there in the drifts by the door of the greenhouse in the dark the ice thick beneath and above the dark trees swaying stiffly ice-laden and yearning and the door flung wide a square of light suddenly long out and heat and crying within (fucking bitch) and this is not the first time oh no and the rabbit in the drift the ice on his muzzle where he has been lo these hours thumping at first trying to stay warm then fuck it holding still so still just fuck it waiting for the door to open for the magician to come out which he eventually does and he laughs as the magician puts the hat on his head and pulls it down and the rabbit springs out through the darkness and his fangs they are fangs they glint he bares his mouth snapping past the magicianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s throat in the dark and the spitter of blood in the square of light and the crying within like the hiss of the sea and the great magician on his knees and the hat rolling wobbly out of the light into the dark and the rabbit then snatching it up in his teeth and maybe pausing in the light maybe looking in at her maybe before bounding away and the magician the great man kneeling there in the light his hands to his throat and she never saw or she never wanted to see (fucking bitch) she weeps into his puddle-self again and the magician crawls off into the dark and she never saw, she never saw, she knelt there crying while he knelt there bleeding: down curtain, down curtain, down, somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond . . .
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When they were at the ocean, she was ashamed that he used the beach as a litter box. He did so openly. He didn’t care who saw. She dove out into the surf where he would not follow. She rocked in the waves, let them take her off her feet. She missed the North. Everything North. He affected unconcern, sipped hot lemonade, donned dark glasses. What was she doing here, she thought, then blushed at her lack of kindness. You couldn’t ask him to not be a rabbit. She resolved to be more tender. She could not remember when she had stopped being a little girl. She remembered being a little girl. She remembered her mother holding her in her lap, reading to her, in winter, both of them covered with a single blanket. She remembered her mittens and earmuffs. She remembered riding on his tummy down hills. Then she was not a little girl and he was not anymore just a friend. But she could not remember how that had happened. She could not remember deciding not to go home again, deciding that he was her home. She could not remember when one thing had stopped and another thing had started, when the rain turned to snow, when the snow turned to puddles, when the puddles rose up again. In a crowded karaoke bar one night with the rabbit petulant and getting drunk by her side, she tried to work up the courage to get up and sing. This had been her idea. But then she knew she couldn’t do it. She thought she heard a voice in the speakers say “I want that hat,” but when she looked it was just an impossibly busty blonde starting to sing a Fleetwood Mac song. The rabbit thumped his foot in anger. And yes increasingly some nights he did not come home. Or some nights he came home late. The sound of the shower would wake her up. One time she peeked in. He was just stepping into the shower. He was filthy, blood and dirt matting his fur, one ear rash-ridden and raw from scratching, fleas and gnats swarming dark and restless in his crotch and his belly. She closed the door. Afterwards, when he was clean, he came to bed. She wanted to talk to him, to ask him what had happened, but he rolled away from her in the dark and would not listen. In his sleep, he ground his huge teeth. The next morning bright sunlight filled the rooms giddily. There was strong coffee and fresh croissants, the Sunday paper, the bird feeders Crab Orchard Review ◆ 171
full, the flower beds neat, the flowers just bursting into blossom. Their lawns were expansive and green and perfectly cut, the sidewalks edged, the bushes trimmed. But they did not speak that day, and avoided eye contact. That night he stayed up late in the living room. From bed, staring at the open door, she watched the blue glow of the television, heard the muted voices of preachers, raised in exhortation, or praise. In a Florida supermarket she pushed a cart before her. She saw a family of barefooted blondes, a mother and four children, all of them tattooed with sunbursts around their navels. A man in a blue Speedo and flip-flops paced the frozen food section, juggling cans of concentrated orange juice. In the fruit section, she saw a tall gaunt man in black pants and black tails and a waxy mustache holding two melons. Over by the lettuce stood a woman in a green bikini with a parrot on her left shoulder. She stopped and turned with a gasp to look back at the melons but there was nobody there. He had disappeared. One night the rabbit put money in her hand, pushed her out the door. Go see a movie or something. When she came back, there were cars lined up around the block. Inside the lights were bright, the music loud. She stood beside the screen door, listened. Dames, one rabbit said sotto voce, whaddayagonna do? The other rabbits laughed, pinched on their sequined asses the assistants who traveled amongst them with carrot-laden trays. Nothing up my sleeve, her rabbit mimed, and fell backward out of his chair. Here’s to magic, a third rabbit said. And all that it buys. That night she slept on the beach, and the surf and the wind were loud but not loud enough. One by one, the crosses began to disappear from the walls. She hadn’t noticed them until they began to vanish. The cage gone, too. Hours or days or weeks or months ago. Many frames ago. The walls were as white as snow. The rooms filled with light. One afternoon, she picked up the phone and heard a voice like worms on a sidewalk squirming out: “I want that hat.” And she hung up fast, shaking, her mouth working. Still later the rabbit went out, claiming he was out of cigarettes. That night she ate alone and 172 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
afterwards sanded the end table he had begun to chew. The house stank of salt and fur. You have heard that voice, too. You call it up now. A silly voice but laced in the darkness of memory with menace. But you cannot unthread the voice from its net of neurons. Or, you cannot unthread it without all the rest unraveling, too. The good things, too, lost. The happy endings unbegun. The hat was not well-hidden. She couldn’t think why she hadn’t seen it before. It was placed on the lid of a steamer trunk in the attic, as if carelessly. As if whoever placed it there could not bear to stay long enough to conceal it, or hoped for the best. She saw it from where she dangled. She had hoisted herself halfway up into the attic. Her weight rested on her arms. She took a cautious breath and prepared to lift herself up. There was a tug before there was pain, and there was a warmth before there was the sear across her bare calf. Then it was there again, an agony on her other calf. She felt something rip and she did not look down, she did not need to. She felt him still on her leg, his teeth buried in her, her blood moving freely out of her body. And there was pain, and then more. and then she kicked, and lifted. She dragged him up into the dead air of the attic with her. It must have been the claustrophobia that made him let go. Blood flecks covered his muzzle. Blood covered his paws. She stood to step toward the hat and fell, her tendons severed. She pulled herself to the steamer on her elbows. The rabbit snarled and lunged, too late. She picked up the hat. He screamed. She put on the top hat. She felt it everywhere alive in every pore. She saw how stupid molecules are, how easily they are manipulated, like children. She saw the swirl of heat and dumb motion that was the rabbit, how it turned, how it tried to find a dark corner, a stack of boxes to hide behind. The attic melted around her. She picked him up and doffed the hat and held it out at arm’s length in front of her. She dangled him above it. In her head she was seven years old and she was not getting on the train. “Abra,” she said, “cadabra.” She dropped him, and he never stopped falling. He fell for days and days and days and days and it seemed like he would never stop falling and he knew what it was when days turn to weeks, when weeks bleed to years. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 173
“Allakazam,” she said, and put on the hat, and went back out the trapdoor like a diver, swimming through air, riding the currents down to the basement, trailing blood and tendons. The door to the basement was already open. “Oh my dear,” said the magician, “it’s so good to see you again.” He sat in the metal chair by the bucket. His knees brushed his ears. His hands were busy with themselves. He pulled cards from behind his own ears and dropped them on the floor. She saw the scars on his throat. “So good to see you again,” he said. “You’re all grown up.” She stood very still, clamping the top hat down on her head with a hand on each side of it. “Get out,” she said. He unfurled his legs, leaned back in the chair. “Ah,” he said. “The rabbit told you to tell me that, did he? My old friend?” “Yes,” she said. The magician smiled. “My dear,” he said, “I can hear him screaming from here.” She held the hat tightly to her head. “Get out.” He smiled at her. “You never liked me, did you?” “Get out,” she said. “The snowman, the rabbit, them you sleep with. But the human, God forbid. You won’t even give the human his hat back.” “You threw it away.” “What’s it like, sleeping with snow? What’s it like, having that rodent pump in and out of you?” “Get the fuck out,” she said. “You’re a dirty girl, you know.” “No,” she said. “Oh, you’re a dirty slutty girl,” he said. “That’s not true.” She had never said that before. “You leave now.” “Give me my fucking hat,” he said, “and I’m gone.” He stood up. “Give me that hat,” he said. Bats stirred in the walls upstairs. Her hands cramped. But she took off the hat. And he stepped toward her. “Nothing up my sleeve,” she said, and she reached into the hat, and pulled out something so awful I will never tell you what it was. But it moved from her hand and enfolded the magician and crooned, and when she turned her eyes away, it was done with him, and returned to the hat, and was gone. 174 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
“No more trick cards,” she said. She had meant to ask him about the puddle. Who had moved it from the greenhouse. But it didn’t matter who. Then, for a while, everything was quiet. But not still. In the end she held the top hat and she stared at the bucket. The basement was dark, lit only by cobwebbed windows. It was summer, and cool, and gooseflesh rose on her arms and legs, all at once, and never really went away. She sat in the metal folding chair. She knew the rabbit had sat there many times before, contemplating the bucket. What did he think of when he sat there? What did men think of when they were alone? She twirled the top hat idly in her hands. Her fingertips ached. She felt the dirty floor beneath her bare feet. She put the hat on her head. She summoned up in memory the snowman’s sweet voice. She imagined him lying beside her in a frigid room reading poetry. She remembered what it was like to stroke his icy skin. She was in her body but she was in memory’s body too. For a long time she sat in the folding metal chair beside the bucket. The water inside was very dark, very much unmoving. What nobody ever understood is that her tears were in there. Her tears were a part of him. Every time he died she wept over him; her tears dropped into the puddle of him; her salt and wet was a part of his wet; every time Claus found them and brought him back, she was brought back. And you watched it happen. And every time you remember watching, you are brought back, too. Every time, you thread the projector, and you cannot not watch. No way to look away. Everywhere you look is somewhere you have traveled. All memory resolves itself in gaze. At last she rose. She took the hat off of her head. She put it on the metal chair, brim up. That would be enough. Then she turned and walked to the stairs, and up them, and out into the weather. She left the house. She walked down the street to the bus station. An old man swept up trash with a big push broom. An old lady sat reading a paperback on a far wooden bench. I saw you there, homeless in the corner near the restrooms. The ticket taker was a young girl with unwashed blond hair and dark circles under her eyes. Karen bought a ticket for someplace north, but not too far north. Someplace with seasons.
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Let Us Rejoice!
Norma Sherman felt reconciled to her illness. It was only the symptoms that bothered her. Tremors, for instance. Her arm waving over the Bingo board like a magic wand, forked meat flitting before her mouth like a bumblebee, head forever nodding Yes, handwriting like code. She thought it made her seem simple and stupid, though the only thing she had left was her fine mind. And now look: tea everywhere. All this, Norma could do without. Along with the half hour it took to button a blouse or the endless waiting for her legs to listen to her brain and get moving. It was terrible the way her mind would race ahead and her dwindling body dawdle behind. Time was all messed up now. She was older? She was sick? Fine! But for heaven’s sake why did she have to look like a jittering puppet? “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” her son Arnold kept telling her. “It’s barely noticeable.” Barely noticeable? Arnold’s moustache was barely noticeable; Norma’s tremors were a spectacle. They were checked skirts with striped sweaters. They were shocking pink. Or worse: riveting as a river of blood. Norma hoped her son was better and more honest with his patients than with his mother. Your tumor that fills up the entire xray is barely noticeable, Mr. Applebaum. The scar from where we removed your jawbone is barely noticeable, Mrs. Dorfman. A radiologist who barely notices his mother vibrating like an unbalanced clothes dryer does not inspire confidence. Get hold of yourself, Norma Sherman! She repeated it like a mantra. The worst thing for her was stress, was agitation, and here she was already in a frenzy over nothing. And nodding like a ninny while sloshing Lipton’s over poor Mr. Ike Rubin’s poplin Bingo-playing jacket. With all his newfound money, Ike could go buy himself another poplin jacket. As soon as Norma thought that, she felt terrible. Unkind thoughts! Another symptom, maybe. She considered reaching over with 176 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
her wad of Kleenex to dab at Ike’s stain, but was afraid of where her hand might land. He turned to her and whispered, with a sense of dark wonder in his abrasive voice. Something like “I can’t believe it.” He did not seem to be talking about the tea, though. Going on, as usual, full of complaints. He did not need a tea stain to set him off. “How could it happen so fast?” A few weeks ago, Ike had learned that he was coming into a huge sum of money. This was not the way it was supposed to work. Young people, when there was plenty of time for them to do something with it, were supposed to get the miraculous influx of funds, the big inheritance, unexpected life-changing riches. But Ike’s jackpot was from a time when the world was not working the way it was supposed to, so the whole thing made lurid sense. It was Nazi money, or more precisely, Swiss reparations being offered to Nazi victims. It was bad money, blood money, Ike would say, and he was not at all sure he wanted it. Norma could not help herself: she was sure she would have wanted it. Did want it. Money was money, and more often than not money’s sources were tainted, even evil. Where would most of us be, she thought, if we assessed the provenance of our funds before accepting them? The people oppressed or bilked, the land despoiled, the air fouled. Why, no one would . . . Where was she, Norma wondered? Yes, right, Ike, sitting there next to her and staring at his stained jacket. His riches. Norma thought about the fortune now whenever she saw Ike Rubin and this disappointed her. But there it was, obsessive and circuitous thought, like another kind of tremor, and she knew by now she could not fight these things. Behind Ike’s back, residents of The Shorefront Manor fell into discussing what he should do with the money. What they would do with the money. Travel. Move to Israel. Send the no-good son to Israel. Donate. Cancer Heart Stroke Alzheimer’s research. Build the Ike Rubin Wing on The Shorefront Manor where food would taste like real food and where the long-term residents who were there when Ike struck it rich would get to live with him. On and on. Norma kept silent but, since she nodded at every suggestion, no one pressed her to reveal her own thoughts. They assumed she agreed with theirs. But Norma knew they would go crazy if she told them what her plan really was. In fact, it was coming together as a true plan, not some fantasy like all the rest. She thought she might talk seriously, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 177
intimately, to Ike and probably sometime soon. Let him know how much it meant to her, and see what he said about it. About bringing Harry Belafonte to The Shorefront Manor for one of their Saturday night entertainment programs. The business about time being messed up was sometimes worse for Norma than all the rest of it put together. When Arnold walked into the lobby to visit her, he looked so much older than his own father that Norma got very confused. Of course, at 56 Arnold was older than his father ever was. Poor Ed, dead at 41, collapsed among the hats in his shop. What Norma remembered most about Ed Sherman now was how much he hated being a haberdasher. She could not remember how he sounded, not his squeaky bedroom whisper, not his whining, not even his lovely singing voice—a baritone that he hoped would bring him success on stage. She could not bring to mind his body, his face, his eyes. Just the top part of his head, where Ed was always directing Norma to look as he tried on and took off hats. That, and his sulking despair, and his hatred for the work he did. Hats instead of songs! The man endured it because he believed a thriving business would enable his son to be a brain surgeon. Which it might have, if the business ever thrived as heartily as Ed imagined, or if Arnold had been dedicated enough, smart enough, dextrous enough. Well, they had not done too badly, though the Shermans’ success may have been on a less lofty scale than Ed had hoped. Norma knew how grief had worked on her husband and she knew in her heart it was good that Ed had not lived to see the way things turned out. The gloom that always shadowed their home, and the lamentation that was becoming their life’s soundtrack, would have rendered him—rendered them—desolate. Well, what could be done about any of it now? Besides, the life Norma had lived these last four decades had been devoted to expiation, to acceptance. To moving ahead. Or, as she sometimes told herself, to the light. She had supported Arnold in his belated maturation and had seen him into a thriving radiology practice. She had taught fifth-grade English. She had become a serious person. 1959, that was when everything had happened. Ed dropped dead, Arnold dropped out and Norma dropped in—for a brief visit—to Paradise. Where, as she remembered almost every day since, she had made a complete fool of herself. Though she was still sitting beside Ike Rubin and still studying the 178 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
stain on his jacket, still hearing him carry on about “I was too late,” and though she was still aware of her mind working out the best way to approach Ike about inviting Harry Belafonte to The Shorefront Manor, of seducing the glum fellow into it any way she could, Norma also knew that she was about to time travel again. She thought the time travel might have something to do with those long spaces between thought and action that were an increasing part of her Parkinson’s progression. An erasure of time’s borderlines, or a gorge in the landscape of her brain into which she sometimes toppled. It was memory at its most porous. Her body here, her mind there, everything disconnected. Even Norma’s tremors stopped when she traveled like this. A wind-blown morning, late winter, 1959. Norma had been reading the Sunday Times when she noticed an ad: Harry Belafonte, Live in Concert at Carnegie Hall. Two shows, benefits, April 19 and 20. She must have uttered some sudden sound because Ed put the Sports section down and looked at her. Or rather, wrinkled his brow at her. She could remember the silence of those Baldwin Sunday mornings, the belching of bulldozers halted till Monday at 8:00, she and Ed reading in the living room, Arnold out somewhere. “What?” Ed had asked. Norma forced her eyes away from the Belafonte photo in the paper and said “More coffee?” But Ed was back to reading about spring training. Mickey Mantle and his preseason knees, Yogi Berra and his ongoing streak of errorless games, Bill Veeck buying the White Sox. Norma breathed deeply, slowing her pulse rate, letting herself look back at the paper. Of course Harry Belafonte was a beautiful man, maybe the most beautiful man Norma had ever seen. But that was not, she felt, what drew her to him. She was not and never had been one of those women who had intimate fantasies about celebrities. About anyone, really. Norma Sherman was no bobby-soxer. Sinatra? Wonderful singer, but she never imagined herself in bed with that scrawny, big-eared, womanizing bully. Perry Como, Vic Damone, Julius LaRosa? Absurd. Her own husband sang as well as Julius LaRosa. Belafonte’s passion stirred her, of course it did, and his righteousness, his dignity, his commitment to causes. These two concerts were benefits for schools! She respected him. And look how he loved his Caribbean roots, his people, how he yearned. That was part of it, the yearning. Which was in his body and his sensuous movements when he sang, in his way with a melody. He kindled joy in her. All right, all right, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 179
he was sexy, he was exotic, he was the whole package. He probably could cook, too. But the truth was, Harry Belafonte’s voice, so soft, so full of breath, a top-to-bottom kind of voice, with a moist touch, just sparked something in her. Norma could no more explain it than she could dowse the fire—there was no other word for it—that Harry Belafonte lit in her . . . she was going to say “in her soul” but it was really in her guts, her kishkes. That was not something Ed Sherman did for her, not even when he sang in the shower. So she would have to get a ticket and see Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. Not with Ed, though. When she asked him last year what he thought about Harry Belafonte, her husband had scratched his bald spot and said, “Is he still playing for the Red Sox?” Typical of the discussions they had been having for the last few years. And she could not go with Arnold, who might have gone with her to see Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis, but hardly Harry Belafonte. She bought two tickets without knowing who would use the other. Ordered them the next morning and found herself luxuriating in the power that the extra ticket seemed to give her. On whom would Norma bestow the honor of attending the concert? Then she wondered if she could go alone. Keep it all to herself. Maybe, but it would be easier to explain her actions to Ed if she were going with a friend. Only after five other friends had turned her down, all amid startled laughter, had Irene Rogovin agreed to travel into the city with Norma. Irene Rogovin. Norma, scanning the room at The Shorefront Manor without registering anything she saw, let the name tumble down the rapids of her memory. She had not thought of Irene in almost forty years. And god forgive her, Norma could remember feeling huge relief when she heard that Irene had run off to Phoenix with that man she met playing bridge. When would that have been? Winter of 1961? Right around the time of Kennedy’s inauguration because Norma remembered listening to that speech, and drifting into joyful thoughts about being freed of Irene at last. The only witness to Norma’s humiliation, vanished to the hinterlands! The evening of the Belafonte concert had started so well. Norma wore her new mauve blouse and black skirt with that new slim line. She wore the pearls. And Irene was ready on time, all in blue, yakking about the hijacked flight from Havana as she walked toward the car. Such a splendid city for a honeymoon, Irene said. Poor Batista and his men, all facing certain death; no wonder they had fled. What 180 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
would happen next? People would have to start honeymooning in St. Thomas, or something. They parked at the commuter station and the train, with almost no one aboard to crowd them, was there in an instant. A delicious dinner at Ruby Foos’ that Norma could only nibble in her excitement. At Carnegie Hall, their seats were close enough to the stage so she could see clearly and the man who sat in front of her was so short that he did not obstruct the least glimpse of Harry’s body. As the overture began, Norma could barely contain herself. She swore she could see Harry’s eye glitter through a peephole in the curtain. He was looking her way, she was sure of it. He came out singing, “Wake up, wake up, Darlin’ Cora,” and Norma rose in her seat. She did not know what had happened, or that anything unusual had taken place, till she felt Irene’s hand pressing down on her shoulder as though to keep her from sailing away like a balloon. Norma patted Irene’s hand in return, knowing that Harry’s voice made a woman want to touch and be touched. When he sang “John Henry” Norma could not help herself; it made her weep. So heroic, so compassionate! And she had not realized that she knew the lyrics to so many of his songs. Not just “Day O” and “Jamaica Farewell” and “Mama Look a Boo Boo,” which anybody might know by heart, but the old standards too, “Cotton Fields” and “The Marching Saints.” Had anyone ever sung them this well? Oh Lord, I want to be in that number. It was as though Norma and Harry had known each other forever. “Sit down,” someone hissed. Irene had her hand on Norma again. Yes, the sun shines daily on the mountain top! Norma pressed her hands together and tucked them under her chin as though in prayer. The tether snapped when Harry began to sing “Hava Nageela.” Let Us Rejoice! His voice down low, his magenta silk shirt open down low, his black slacks tight as he swayed, a flash in his smile, his eyes smiling right at Norma, it was as though he were telling her—by singing in Hebrew—that he was for her. He was one with her. She stood, shook free of Irene’s hand. He was slowly, steadily increasing the song’s tempo. She was smiling back, telling him that she understood. She was in motion then, coming to him, coming to the light, answering his call. Norma felt that it was never too late to atone. Her letters of apology had gone unanswered and by the start of the 1960s she Crab Orchard Review ◆ 181
realized that Harry must never have seen them. His staff or someone close to him had disposed of them. May not have opened any after reading the first one. Another crank. Then she remembered that he would not, of course, remember her, maybe not remember the whole episode; one among many, she supposed. But Norma never forgot. Not her shame, and not the exhiliration that preceded it. She dreamed about having made it all the way into Harry’s arms, about having rushed into the spotlight only to find herself stark naked, about running across the stage toward Harry with one of Ed’s hats extended from her hand as an offering. It was terrible and it never went away, the memory vivid as a car wreck, still there even as her brain ossified under the onslaught of Parkinson’s. Though Norma’s memory in its tyranny often played tricks on her, this one great humiliation never wavered in its thick, detailed presence. April 1959, Norma radiant with joy, her blouse unbuttoned to match Harry’s opened shirt, her arms wide, stumbling up the stage steps at Carnegie Hall screaming “Hava na ra na na!” like a possessed person, an utter imbecile. Beside her now, Ike Rubin was turning his head and bringing Norma back from 1959. A blink of the eye and forty-two years were breached. “I let him down,” Ike said. “Just like I let everyone down.” She thought about reaching out to him, offering Ike what was in her hand so that he could begin cleaning himself up, but the pull was not strong enough. She was not ready to come back to the present, to the new millennium, to Ike Rubin and his poplin jacket. Not yet. Besides, he did not seem to have registered the stain. She had noticed here that some people are just always lost in their own thoughts. What had it been, two months later? End of June, 1959, and Ed was gone. Norma remembered how upset he had been over the U. S. Senate’s refusal to approve Lewis L. Strauss as Secretary of Commerce. He was in a rage the night it happened, saying that it was a travesty, that Eisenhower was entitled to have the man he wanted to run Commerce, that business would suffer, no Cabinet appointment had been blocked since 1925, and who cares if Strauss lied a little bit about the problems of radiation fallout when he was running the Atomic Energy Commission. A little radiation, big deal! We got radiation when we went to the doctor, to the dentist; we got radiation when we had our feet x-rayed at the shoe store. So what? Ed was apoplectic, and Norma just sat there at the dining room table and watched him turn crimson, knowing his anger was not about Congress or Lewis L. Strauss but about Norma and Harry Belafonte. 182 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Stored up over the last two months, it finally erupted. She had told Ed back in April, what else could she do, and it was as though she had confessed to adultery instead of to public embarrassment. Which, she knew in her heart, was not far off. That first night, he yelled and threatened, then gave her the silent treatment; he would not touch her, would not look at her, would not even eat the beef and pork meatloaf she cooked because it was his absolute favorite. For two months, nothing else was said. Then, over the appointment of Lewis L. Strauss, over another dinner he would not eat, he blew up. The next morning at his shop, Ed died. Just like that, a massive heart attack, face down on the counter in a jumble of fedoras. Norma believed then and she never stopped believing that it had all been her fault. She had killed him with her shame and her joy and her momentary wildness, aspects of her deepest self that she had withheld from Ed but given to Harry Belafonte. Within another three months, Arnold was gone too. He had been so depressed in February, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. Then Chuck Berry got in trouble in St. Louis, bringing a young girl up from Mexico, just as Jerry Lee Lewis had gotten in trouble for marrying his young cousin. And Elvis was in the Army. Arnold saw the arrival of Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell as the death of his beloved music, and he saw “American Bandstand” as its funeral service, so he bolted. At least that was how he explained it to his mother in a disjointed letter mailed a month later from Amsterdam. Norma believed then and she never stopped believing that this, too, had been her fault. Arnold’s flight from home—from America—was not about music. It was about Ed’s death, which was Norma’s doing and was, in its way, more about music than Arnold’s disappearance was. The whole matter was too circular and too confusing for Norma, but she could not stop thinking about it. She shut her eyes. It did not sur prise Norma that the instantaneous passage of forty-two years left her dizzy, which is why she always shut her eyes. Opening them, she saw that Ike Rubin was looking at her with something like compassion in his eyes. She wondered if perhaps he did not know that his poplin jacket was now decorated with blotches of tea. “I’m sorry, Ike.” “I’m sorry too.” She nodded, looking at him. At times like this, the tremors could Crab Orchard Review ◆ 183
actually be useful, making it seem as though she sweetly accepted his apology while she tried to figure out what the hell was going on. Why was Ike apologizing to her? Norma saw that he was serious; this was not some kind of tease. “What are you sorry about?” “For dominating the conversation, of course. I’ve been babbling.” He looked down. “Again.” He looked even further down, and seemed in danger of sliding off his chair. “Ever since I got that damn letter, I can’t seem to shut up about it. So please forgive me, yes?” Norma nodded some more. The man was obviously having a spell or something. She had heard nothing from him in all this time, in all these forty-two years she had just lived through over again. There was too much of this going on at The Shorefront Manor, too many of them lapsing into senility. Poor Ike. Then it occurred to Norma that he might be telling her the truth, or rather, the truth as it pertained to what was happening here and now. Had he been talking all this time, thinking she was paying attention? Why, Norma wondered, did people have to be living so long nowadays? What was the point here? “I think,” Ike whispered, “that you and I may have reached critical mass.” He gazed at her. “You know what critical mass is?” Seeing her acknowledgment, he went on: “The suffering now, it just goes on and on. Constant. It’s like a nuclear chain reaction. I could see it in your eyes the whole time I was telling you about poor Ben Dodge. You’ve had your losses too, all you can bear, and now the sadness is without end. Am I right?” Norma all of a sudden felt her attention lock into place. This required great care. Here was Ike Rubin, the newly wealthy survivor of concentration camps, the least happy man she had ever met, implying that her losses and his losses bound them together in pain. Or was it guilt? Lord, she must have looked awful there, a few minutes ago, a few decades ago. Who was Norma Sherman to share grief with Ike Rubin? And who, for that matter, was Ben Dodge? Yes, this required care. In recent years, Norma had learned how to catch up on Shorefront Manor conversations that she had drifted away from. It did not take much. “Tell me more,” she said, and as she knew he would, Ike started all over again. The grandfather’s heart attack. The family lined up by the reservoir at the edge of their village. The camps. The friends he watched die and the displaced persons and the ships sunk off the 184 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
coast of Palestine. The suicides. Norma had heard these before, but this time she listened. Ike was tormented by having survived, that much she understood right away. And the Swiss money he was being offered—all of a sudden she could see why he might need to turn it down. Now Ike was talking about Ben Dodge, his longtime American friend, a gentile, a goy, a shaygets, but best man at Ike’s wedding. Best man, period. Dead last month, with Ike rushing to his bedside and getting there too late. “Too late,” Ike said. “Story of my life.” “But it’s not too late, Ike. It’s never too late to atone.” Where did that come from? Oh, right, she had been saying the same thing to herself for years. As she sat there nodding, Norma felt a sudden surge of happiness. Joy, almost. It was good to listen to Ike. She could ignore that sandpaper voice of his and learn to pay attention. He was, of all things, a nice man! He cared, at least about some things, about human things, if you could get past the irritation in his voice and in his repetitive labyrinthine tales. “He knew you loved him,” Norma said, not exactly sure to whom she was referring, but confident anyway that it was the right thing to say. Ike lifted his head, watery eyes finding her face. He seemed to be assessing her with new interest, as though he too had finally heard something she had said. “I suppose.” “And besides, at the end, who knows anything anyway?” Norma stopped because Ike’s face seemed to be blurring, softening in some way she did not understand. He seemed to be transforming right before her eyes. Growing younger, darkening. Oh, wonderful, Norma thought. If he turns into Harry Belafonte, then I know I am hopeless. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this late-life traveling through time gave us the chance to make things right? Because what is aging but an occasion for letting go, for shedding not just density and clarity but the whole freight of blame and grief and loss? Freight, Norma thought; what am I, a choo-choo train? If only she could forget! Lose her mind the way she was losing her body, the way so many of the people around her were losing their minds. Uncouple everything and shut down the engine as the journey ends in one slowing drift toward home. Toot toot! Well, she could not, it appeared, forget. But from here, maybe she could look back afresh. Catch a glimpse of all that freight as it rolled away behind her. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 185
Without knowing what she would say, but determined not to mention trains, Norma started talking again. “The end is just a lot of faces staring down at you while you pass away. Or they say now that you rise up, and look down at the top of their heads but you also see their faces looking down at you. Very frightening idea, I think.” There he was now, someone younger let loose from within the older Ike. Handsome, yes, but there was more to it. He was full of life again, vital. She could look at him forever, if he would only stay like this. His gaze was level, boring into her, and there seemed to be a smile in there somewhere. Norma could tell that this fine man was pleased to be sitting there with her, listening to what she was saying even if it made almost no sense. And she was pleased too. What was going on here, romance? A glimmer of something like it, anyway. Imagine. “What?” Ike whispered. “I’m sorry,” Norma said. But it was less an apology than a cry of release. She had the feeling that Ike would gladly give her anything she wanted, including Harry Belafonte. Then she realized how wrong she had been. How self-absorbed. If she and Ike were united in anything, it was in not being responsible for everything they had always held themselves responsible for. She had not killed Ed. If blame for her husband’s death was to be placed anywhere, place it on his hatred of being a haberdasher or his failed dreams or his flawed genes. Besides, he might still be alive inside her, and no longer troubled about Carnegie Hall. She had not banished Arnold to Amsterdam, either, nor had she caused him to be a radiologist instead of a brain surgeon. He went where he wanted and did what he wanted, always. That was, in fact, what was good about her son. His contrariness, his independence. In Arnold Sherman, guilt and blame were barely noticeable. “It’s all right,” Norma said. “It really is.” She reached out to Ike, the wadded Kleenex in her hand like a flower, and it looked beautiful as it fluttered toward him on an invisible wind.
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Ode to Joe Orton
To speak the unspeakable in a tavern run by fools who flaunt hard facts we contrive to forget—a fag bashing a lover’s brains with hammer blows followed by twenty-two sleeping pills— moral credos but heroic daydreams staged by affluence: O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe. A notorious flop that opened and closed like a diary from Tangiers. Struck down from afar as each of us shook with laughter— his mum’s false teeth an icon for all too violent fare inured to fleeting joy.
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Ode to Maria Callas
Astrological consultations giving birth to a boy. Never had a childhood only a mask. Even in a mirror the face could not be seen. Even the least could teach her what she could not do. “The mind must work not too much also.” Of hair-raising stature. Not just another jet-set coup de foudre. The priestess and the woman wrestling in a single mind. Behind the mask another mask. Invisible strings suspended by a floating cross. “More than my best I cannot promise.” More man than woman. More than a woman flattered by a ruffian’s utter charm. A victim of bad press. Fall-out not routine but the event itself. Left to fend for herself on such tenterhooks.
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Such hopes to sing again. A colossal voice ever in decline. Without applause without rapport simply left without.
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Eschatology: Frank and Elvis
One day each of us must turn from the microphone to greet that hillbilly striding across the stage, done up in black for the TV special. This can’t be real, we’ll say when he plants his feet so near, half shuts those infamous eyelids, grind his hips to our orchestra’s beat— the beat we thought we owned— and smirks for reasons we can’t understand, eclipsing Vegas, defunct Dino sloshing his highball, Sammy chucking an irritated elbow, all those tired hats at their rakish tilt toward the chorus girls. What can we do in that terrible moment but shift our weight, contrive a quick shuffle, extend a finger at the end of its snap, and gaze up and away toward the far off lens and cue card
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that cannot be ignored? What can we do in the face of this certain future but smile, Frank, smile that million-dollar smile?
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The Garden According to Frank
There’s no good or evil separate from what his mind imagines. The fruit of the tree, for example, bestows not knowledge but forgetfulness. The serpent whispers its secret to gossip columnists, who promise faithfully to name their source. A thousand chorus girls parade their smiles and platters of shrimp. A thousand workers maintain the continent-sized golf course, restricted to a membership of one. Adam skulks at a distance— out of sight, out of mind. Cain murders Abel each night, and each morning bloodied Abel rises to be killed again. You’re a good kid, Frank tells him, slipping a fifty into his limp hand. Their descendants will build a city with foundations in the sand, whose towers invade the heavens, whose spotlights discover planets, whose machines command fortunes, whose billboards proclaim A Place in the Sun and every product that money can buy.
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All right, Frank announces at a microphone plugged into the center of the universe. Let the games begin.
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I’m on the couch, rambling around with the remote, channels flashing in from 2–734. I can send a wrestler hurtling into a low pressure system over Tennessee. An evangelist in a French provincial bedroom can sleep with Vanna White who’s just finished cooking with Jacques Pepin who’s survived a NASCAR crash. Andy and Opie come walking through the woods without a single thought of a cell phone, DVD, or this remote. In 1949, my grandmother bought the first television in her town, a chunky DuMont. I can still see me, five years old, coming in her door on a Sunday afternoon, hearing what I thought was the radio though my grandmother never listened to the radio after my grandfather died singing along to the song they’d called their own. His voice stopped and all she heard was the radio. When I came around the corner, there was the TV, flickering in her living room. The shows were scattered through her day, and she and I sat together on the couch, playing along 194 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
to a game show, watching Kay Newman cook out of her Pittsburgh kitchen, one light hanging over her bobbed hair. Mid-afternoon, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie opened their curtains singing, “Here We Are Again, Here We Are Again,” and at dinner we set trays in front of Buzz ’n Bill singing “A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You” around their upright. Each evening Captain Video and The Video Ranger came hurtling through space, and even on the night half their cardboard ship collapsed, Captain kept his poise and let the set lean on his shoulder while he steered us out of the Martian’s deadly beam, never dreaming that in 20 years, some kid watching him would dream of hopping on the moon. My grandmother and I sat there, amazed. There were three channels. We’d watch almost anything. If a show blinked off, I’d get up, walk to the set and twist the dial. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “Skip the hearings, honey. That man bores me. Hand me my Johnny Walker Red. Let’s watch a game show.” It was something. I remember that leaving and the quiet touch of coming back, now lost with the remote, maybe in the space between the cushions.
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The Lure of the Mexican Vampire Movies, or How Skin Flickers Past
those Sunday matinees I stood in line with my friends to buy the tickets, hoping that this new film from Mexico would show more breast, more skin, and the disappointment, of course, always the teasing, the cut-to to the bat dangling from the wire or fishing line, the fakeness of the sets, the gush of ketchup or milk colored with Dye #5, the fact that I was sixteen and ready for more, and at home I stayed up until the early morning hours because once, as if in a dream, they showed a naked woman, and I called all my friends, woke their parents, hung up, I wanted to tell them (as I did later during lunch on the school grounds) that I had in fact been rewarded with a few seconds of nudity, a woman calling my name, as none had started to do, those young women I knew and thought I loved, the way a bat about to turn vampire flies through the window, puff of smoke later, Zap! He’s turned into a Mexican Dandy turned blood-thirsty sucker, and I think this could be me, this could be my own hunger, thirst for belonging.
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You Never Know How Things Will Turn Out in the Movies
The hero always wins, or gets the girl, of course, or the girl falls for the bad guy but then has a change of heart, or is rescued from the tracks at the last minute, or the monster who wants to destroy everything only finds love in music, or a little boy with a balloon walking through a field of wheat, or the cliff-hanger, espionage, western where mountains are involved, or an eye-watering precipice that beckons like a pair of arms ready for the embrace, or the creature from the black lagoon and its swift-kicks under water, the way the Gillman always readied for a close-up of its gills, its full, bright red lips, all these stories that require the suspension of disbelief, as if in this life there isn’t enough truth to keep us riveted to the edge of our seats, then the ending, the turning on of lights, we walk out into the world thumbing those images out of the corners of our eyes, somewhere ahead of us is the surprise, over us the clamor of church bells, a siren, though we don’t know how things will end, we are happy to take the first step into light, into our continuing lives.
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The Rainbow Café
I. This August’s moon’s a ballroom globe stilled above flustered banners of clouds whose outlines shift with each soft gust outside my childhood window. Below, the scraggled rowhouse yards appear content to breathe what’s left of the long day’s humidity and exhaust while sirens bend away for blocks and someone revs his engine down the street, and the air’s electric with borrowed light. It’s nights like these, my parents asleep, I’d forage through the hope chest, albums nested deep in cedar, pictures of their life before I was born, like movie stills: my mother flowing in her satin gown down the aisle where my father waits, “Highpockets Tobin” lost in his tux, but not nervous, his face aglow, the priest blessing them with lifted arms, them kissing like I never saw them since. Then both families off to The Rainbow Café, the band playing Dorsey as my father whirls my mother under the spinning globe, splinters of light glinting off their faces, everyone applauding then joining in with my parents who are dancing and refuse to stop, their young bodies moving each with a life of its own closer to the other, each shining 198 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
like the globe itself, shining together in their first night’s pleasure.
II. I remember mawkish Forties flicks where lovers embrace in shades of black and white. They gaze passionately across the gulf of their separateness, the audience knowing their solitudes will be bridged (How they want them to be bridged), though the words can’t be believed, eyes moving mouth to eyes, eyes to mouth I love you, I’ve always loved you, each actor’s lips pressed unopened to the other’s— and picture how my parents met at Fort Hamilton’s USO, my father in crew cut and uniform, survivor of Africa, Leyte Gulf; my mother made up like a flapper, so far from the nun she thought she’d be. He moves through the music hall, soldiers, sailors, would-be brides, she sees him and she knows— James Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life. Though they’re more like Fred and Ginger when they dance, the way they do at The Rainbow Café three years later—Foxtrot, Two-Step, Jitterbug, Lindy. . . . And what of that other dance I remember: the three of us in their shattered bed, me in the middle hoping to quiet killing words fired across the gulf that had grown between them, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 199
stunned hush when they fell asleep, the streetlight’s globe buzzing through the window, pouring over us its brute and barren glow?
III. Memory, too, is a ballroom, the dancers returning as I do these summers I come home. When I leaf through albums, their life assembles, captive fragments, poses struck for the camera, each one vivid as a rainbow, its colors shading into the next, as though the globe could spin back in perfect nostalgia— the way my parents danced together at family weddings, movements silken, even the bride and groom receding to marvel at them, perfect energy wedded to perfect grace, my father in his sixties twirling my mother as though she were a girl, her free hand thrown back, O pure art that says here is the actual, their eyes holding each other as though no one else was there.
IV. So this is paradise: slidestep, dip and turn, your partner a motion that follows your lead until you are the one motion, no one to lead or follow, having become the music to which your bodies give visible form, the floor forgotten like the earth. . . . In The Rainbow Café 200 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
it’s October 2nd , 1948, and my parents dance away the middle of the century, time a globe they sway inside, dance that marries them to all the other dancers. My mother’s parents shuffle along the floor, exiles from an older world, while my father’s spin with the other dead among the slow waltz of stars. And louder now, at the edge of the hall: a percussion of guns, the blood-drunk dance of armies, men my father joined at war; and now the dance of flesh sizzling, of ashes whirled from the horrible barracks, so high even God stops dead in his heaven as my parents dance on and on.
V. The moon’s not a globe to mirror innocence, symbol of the mind’s untrammeled sight. It is the flashlight of a camp guard aimed at the cowering. Or it is what it is—radiant ball of dust we calculate and shuttle to, imaginable as my own belated bus-ride to The Rainbow Café, its boarded windows desolate as pictures the dead keep to remind themselves of the living. For nearly fifty years my parents danced their solitudes, dance of fist on table, crippled dance of silence Crab Orchard Review ◆ 201
as they sat in their matching chairs. And for nearly forty I’ve wondered how they managed to keep going, my mother barely able to climb upstairs, my father taking my arm as we walk to his favorite bar. In a museum, once, I saw figures on a door— Adam and Eve’s gawky dance as they staggered through Eden, children taking first steps; and God, the good Parent encouraging them, the Dance-Master who sets the world in motion, Director who pens his own script until it comes alive in a flicker of light. Asleep now, it could be them, lying in bed like old friends hobbling toward each other, lovers, apart for years, marred by war. And still here they are, palms held out to make sure the other is real, almost touching.
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Houdini in a Barrel
Death cannot chain him with its roots of earth, with mortal padlocks of steel crafted deft and sure, because this is Houdini, capable of becoming as new as a changed name, slipping cuffs cinched at the wrist, divining the gears that would lower til they raise him up, breaking the bounds of belief and reason, without a sweat, without any evidence given of his gnawing from a trap, sawtoothed blades in the oxygenless dark, cutting, clawing, scraping, prying his way out of any box that would pound the ear by a clockarm’s striking of time, to laugh at the dumbfounded when he escapes from each river’s current pulling inexorably down, because this is Houdini, the one who would look hard in Death’s face.
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Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1926–7
All it is missing is a soul, Rotwang says, though it is beautiful, sculpted, human in form. Outside Berlin, in an editing room at 3 A.M., Fritz Lang has ratcheted the film down frame by frame, stilling its motion, filling its transparencies with light, to study linear distortions, expressions of form in relation to space and meaning, listening to the underwritten words his characters speak, the spaces between frames that he must negotiate, this place of failure, within this emptiness where life is lost, irretrievably, to the migraine this brings on, the camera’s blink of eye an erasure of history, the imperfections of machine and man unavoidable, though even this he has recorded, with the memory of film, clear as his vision of Brigitte Helm transformed into the Salomesque dancer with her one eye knowing it is the people’s hands that have built Metropolis, from the zig-zagged building’s reach for a smoghazed sun to the depths of the earth, the tunnels, the Underground City where the actor Gustav Froelich searches desperate for Maria,
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for she who would bridge the spaces between worlds, between the Gardens of Pleasure and the workers in sweat, Fritz Langâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s truest lover, she who would cross the synapse from circuitry to soul, steam to breath, heat to kiss, she who would meld the frames together by pure will of thought, laughing, serious now, saying how could it be missing its soul?
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Charles Harper Webb
Cerebro-Corticular Thingamajig —after Strange Days Pop in a “clip,” and anyone can feel some new Beethoven’s impression of rain, some new Dostoyevsky’s epileptic slide toward satori. Anyone can enter the brain of a hawk, lion, or bee. The blind can see, the impotent can go all night. A modern Michelangelo, wearing the CCT, need only ogle the blond boy he saw in Rome to save the vision for posterity. The greatest artist is the one who lives the most artistically. Of course the CCT’s illegal. A killer might link his with one clamped to a victim, then feel her fear as she feels his excitement, heightening her fear, heightening his excitement, ad infinitum. But what if every mind on earth were linked? Even the most insensitive would feel the surge. The sensitive would know how it is to be insensitive. The dull would know what the brightest see. All people would finally feel themselves as one in that instant before feedback built to the explosion that must happen every eon or so, when human life has time to coalesce out of the newborn sky.
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The House Began to Pitch
In Oz, the little people huddle. There is no moon. Dorothy—gone. Glinda— floated away inside the roll of sun. A house is left, broken and flaky in the middle of red pansies. Purple gladiolus as large as trumpets sing as the Lollipop Guild raids the kitchen, gathers milk and cookies for Sleepyheads; the carpenters lift the foundation, coroner pulls out the shriveled corpse of a wicked witch. They are free. The Lullaby League grabs linens from beds to sepulchre the remains, and the council meets inside city hall to choose a proper resting place. Sepiacloaked Kansas is mentioned and quickly discarded. No one knows the way. Perhaps the mayor of Emerald City should officiate, call Dorothy, the national heroine, back to eulogize, but a heroine should not be bothered Crab Orchard Review ◆ 207
with trivialities. Munchkins stroke their chins, the body emits a fetid odor, green, bright and heavy in the sky. Families shutter the cottage windows, yellow brick turns sickly lime; the brook is contaminated. So the little men dig, sink the body into a plot on the outskirts of town, build a yellow brick monument and as time passes, wait for another day so vivid a gray clapboard house can twist into a rainbow, a prison prism, release a tiny peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;oppressed as night in technicolor.
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Confessions of a Femme Fatale
Act I, Scene I Interior: A darkened house. Rain falls softly but ominously on the windows. A car drives by, occasionally slowing at the front of the building, a darkened figure peering into the window and disappearing into the night when noticed. Inside, a woman sits, alone, her face illuminated solely by the television screen, which pulses light in a kaleidoscope of colors onto her mysterious figure. The cars outside continue to pass. She waits. Just because you aren’t glamorous doesn’t mean that you don’t know what glamour is. All the italics are true, but to see me sitting alone, eating popcorn in my parents’ living room, while my sister’s soon-to-be ex-husband drives by our house, well, it just doesn’t sound good when you say it like that. And when you describe yourself as a “darkened woman” in a “darkened room” you automatically sound full-out, much, much better than the real you, who is sitting in the dark in yellow sweatpants with popcorn shrapnel on your face. I like the old-movie view of the world. Tonight I’m watching The Big Heat. Film Noir by Fritz Lang. I am taking notes for a paper that may or may not get me into graduate school, possibly (or possibly not) taking me away from my parents’ house, which has become entirely too crowded since my sister, Anika, moved out on her husband, Dwayne. I think that it’s much more excusable for me to be living here—I am, after all, only a half-year out of college, and a slight regression seems excusable. Anika is thirty. She works as a reporter for a local news program. Technically, Anika doesn’t live here. Technically, she’s moved in with her friend Suzanne, who anchors the news and lives with two cats and an iguana. But Anika finds the iguana repulsive, is allergic to cat hair, and consequently spends a good amount of her time in our childhood home. It’s not that I don’t love Anika. I do. It’s just that we have very little to say to each other that doesn’t Crab Orchard Review ◆ 209
immediately descend into mild hostility. Example: ME: “I saw Dwayne in the Book Barn yesterday.” ANIKA: “And what did he have to say for himself.” ME: “Nothing, he bought two books and left.” ANIKA: “So the point of your anecdote is? . . .” ME: “Just that I saw him.” ANIKA: “Well you should find something better to do with your time. You and him both.” It’s entirely possible that she’s gone half-crazy. But most of the time she sticks to fighting with my mother, and I just stay out of it. Or, like tonight, I try to keep myself otherwise occupied. The Big Heat is a great movie, but I can’t stop listening for Dwayne’s car, idling noisily in front of the house, disappearing when I go to the window. It makes me nervous, and even though the movie is hardly scary, I turn it off and put in a yoga video instead. My parents’ living room is clean and tasteful, and watching movies on a white, overstuffed couch with velvety pillows beats sitting in bed and watching them in a dorm room. Living at home may be one step backwards, but the furniture is definitely two steps up. I fast-forward past the health warning (do not use without consulting your doctor) and watch a pony-tailed man in ill-fitting tights “salute the sun.” Something I had forgotten about this video— it is impossible to do yoga from a man when you can see his penis through his tights. Yoga tapes are very late twentieth century—utterly devoid of mystery and bodily suspense. I prefer men in three piece suits: no telling what they might be hiding. And if there’s one thing I’ve found to be true in this world, it’s that everyone, but everyone, has something to hide. When Anika comes into the house, shaking the droplets of rain from her umbrella, she looks like a movie star from a by-gone era. Her hair is piled high on top of her head—honey-blond and curled with large hot rollers. Her eyebrows are thick and look darker than they do on TV, the same way her make-up always looks heavy and cakey in person. Like Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. Anika works for Channel 9’s six o’clock news, covering state government and, when there’s no news on that front, the local school systems. Anika’s the girl to watch if you want to know the price of milk at your local elementary school. “You’re getting water everywhere,” I say. 210 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
She stops shaking the umbrella and glares in my direction. “Is this your house?” she says to me. Must have been a not-so-hot evening, since she walks into the living room, tapping her platform heel and waiting for an answer. “Nice shoes.” “Are you trying to say something, Laurie.” “Only that those are nice shoes.” Even though she’s thirty and I’m twenty-three, we revert quickly to pre-adolescent mode at the slightest provocation. Although there’s no point in arguing with her about anything these days. My sister used to call before coming over, an arrangement that my parents had with both of us once we moved out of the house. Since I moved back after graduating from Mason, the rules for me changed. And even though Anika is thirty, she’s sensitive as a burn victim when “house rules” are mentioned. In fact, from the way things are here lately, you’d think that she was a serial killer, and that each time she came back to the house she was asking my parents to hide another body. My mother keeps asking Anika “Why?”—a question Anika ignores—and then when that doesn’t work Mom tries to scare her with horror stories about how second marriages are never any better than first. “Maybe I’d sooner drive a stake through my own heart than marry again,” is how Anika usually responds. Then my mother will say: “Like the stake you’ve driven through mine” (or some such nonsense). “Of course you want to be married. You should be married to Dwayne. You stood in Church, in front of your family, in front of God.” At which point I usually leave the room because when my mom starts knocking God around the conversation, it undermines the tenuous belief I still have in a higher being. It’s those moments when I actually feel sorry for Anika. “Where’s Mom?” Anika asks me now. She tilts her head slightly and runs her fingertips in a circle around her mouth, feigning thought. Anika has taken lots of courses on how to position her body, how to look at the camera. She never relaxes standing in place. She is always and forever the italicized version of herself. Honey blond and eyes as blue as snow reflecting sky. A looker. A dame. “She’s at the movies,” I say. “Again? Don’t she and Dad have anything else to do? When are Crab Orchard Review ◆ 211
they coming back? I can’t find that receipt from Macy’s and I want to return those shoes that she gave me for Christmas. Do you know where she keeps the receipts?” “Behind the microwave,” I say. Anika shakes her head. “I checked. I hate it when she does that. Just moves things around like everyone else in the family has some psychic gift. Like we can all just read her mind.” I go to the refrigerator and get out the milk. Pour myself a bowl of corn pops and start eating. “That’s a nice dinner,” she says. I ignore her and walk (with my corn pops) into the living room to finish my movie. “Well tell Mom that I need the receipt,” she says before leaving. “And at least change out of your pajamas. It’s six o’clock in the evening, for God’s sake.” It’s not that Anika is insensitive-proper. When she yells at me to change out of my pajamas (my sweatpants!), although it’s none of her business, I take it to mean that in her own way she’s concerned about me. I have this tendency to be lazy about things: lazy about eating, lazy about changing my clothes, lazy about washing my hair. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so lazy that I’m going to get the mange (like those hippies in the sixties who thought that hygiene was for the middle classes). I just start figuring that if I don’t care, why should anyone else. In college, people act like the movies are a bad thing. Unless they’re really French and ambiguous, or Swedish, or something. But I am a true lover of the bad, American movie—if for nothing more than its unabashed sense of possibility. The idea that simply by overdressing one day, wearing too much make-up and a really tight skirt, your whole life can change. Which may or may not be true, but your life most certainly doesn’t change on the days when you’re wearing long underwear, a mini-skirt, and no make-up. And really, when you think about it, the false-movie hope is so simple—and so easily accessible. It’s why America works. I’m not sure that I’m totally against the idea that a new skirt can change your life. That given, it’s probably true that wearing nothing but sweats and long underwear is a poor sign about one’s hope for one’s own life. For a particularly bad month and a half, I walked around George 212 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mason University in navy long underwear, top and bottom, with a jeans mini-skirt and sneakers. I guess that I thought it looked fine— I don’t remember thinking anything other than that I was comfortable. But then one afternoon I went to the movies, without the mini-skirt, and when I went to the bathroom I realized that I was walking around campus in a set of skin-tight, slightly frayed long underwear with the tags hanging out the back. It was only slightly more horrifying than full-body spandex. This, plus some prompting from my father, who claimed that I had become impossibly sensitive, got me a six month stint in health services with a poorly trained counselor who sincerely thought that I needed to “soften my face” and “smile more.” The worst part of it was that same counselor sent me to group therapy to keep me from “feeling so alone.” Which meant that I had to sit around a dimly lit room in the basement of the health services building and listen to a bunch of born-again depressives talk about how they were feeling (i.e. alone—alone “together” presumably being better than alone “alone”). There is nothing more boring than listening to people talk about the holes inside of them, walking through fogs, crying all the time, feeling empty, etc. etc. I used to stare at the ceiling and count cracks in the paneling. It was worse than Sunday school for testimonials. I went through ten weeks of that without saying much of anything. If pressed, I would either say “I sometimes feel that way, too” or “I can see that,” but mostly I said, “I’m just not comfortable talking about this now.” Which meant having to suffer the inevitable follow-up question: “Well, Laurie, why do you think you’re so uncomfortable?” A question to which there was no good answer. I then tried to wait out the silence, which was rarely a problem since the rest of them were talkers in the talkiest sense of the word. I knew what was wrong with me, and I knew that I didn’t want to talk about it. If you start talking about the things you care about, in a setting like that, you just talk them away. By the time my parents get home, I’ve finished watching The Big Heat. My father comes in first, wearing the Christmas sweater that he wore at least every other day in December, and which he is apparently going to keep on wearing right into spring. It’s bright red cotton with green and white stripes around the cuffs and collar, and it swells tightly around his belly. My mother follows close Crab Orchard Review ◆ 213
behind, also in red, also with a slight swelling around the middle— though not as pronounced as my father’s. My mother is about an inch taller than my dad, and she looks like a softer version of Anika. My dad and I look alike: shorter, darker, and less grandiose all around. “Anika came by,” I tell them. “She’s looking for some receipt.” “They’re behind the refrigerator,” my mother says. “Was it for those shoes?” “Yeah, she said it wasn’t there.” My mother beelines for the microwave and starts rifling through a stack of expired coupons and folded receipts. This is exactly the response I expected. The world will stop until Anika’s shoes are safely returned. “I’m going upstairs to work on my applications,” I say. My mother nods and my dad says something about how he thought that I was finished with those. I try to talk myself out of the mini-pity party beginning in my head. Out of thinking that Anika’s receipt is more important than my applications, which I know in my heart is not true, but my brain is giving the idea a run for its money. Just like Spence wasn’t important to them, I say to myself. Just like there was never any talk of Spence. Just Dwayne, Dwayne, Dwayne, and my sister’s lousy marriage. I take the steps to my room two at a time, reminding myself with each clomp of my feet that being bitter at twenty-three is categorically unbecoming. Even though I never talked about Spence directly, group always made me think about him. I would have pretend conversations telling him how crazy everyone else was. Not that he was all the more sane. When he broke up with me, he started the discussion with “Do you know what Kierkegaard says about the self?” If I ever wrote a book, it would be called “You know you’re in College when. . . .” And Spence would head up my chapter on breaking up. The upshot was that he thought we would both be “our more authentic selves” without each other. And that even in taking that action, according to Kierkegaard at any rate, he was taking a step forward—actively constituting who he was. I almost answered, the first day of group, the question “Why are you here?” with “I’m actively constituting who I am.” People in that group liked to talk about love. “In spite of everything, I love my mother,” or “I thought he really loved me,” or my least favorite, “I am learning to love myself.” There was a blond, 214 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
bulimic girl who used to nod aggressively, like one of those dolls on a car dashboard, whenever the latter was thrown around. Sometimes I would let those phrases bounce around my head until they became their own tinny echoes. What a funny word and thing love is. Like a stale piece of candy at the bottom of the bowl. I’m sure that by the time you’re my parents’ age, it means giving someone an enema and not caring, or something equally bodily. But at my age, I think love has more to do with not calling someone on their bullshit. Letting Spence babble on about Kierkegaard without pointing out that he was being derivative and pretentious. Without even really caring that he was being derivative and pretentious. That, plus the hole inside, the walking through fogs, the emptiness. My whole Sunday school testimony that let my counselor, at the very least, know that I really cared. Now, sitting in my bedroom, it’s hard even to convince myself that I felt that deeply about anything. There’s something artificial about returning home—even if it’s just from college and not from a war or anything. The little souvenirs of who you used to be, tacked up on the walls. Posters of my “future husbands” and science fair ribbons. A picture of the Washington Redskins football team from the last time they won the Super Bowl. A laminated snapshot of Anika from when she was featured in the local newspaper. I remember the way Spence laughed the first time he saw this room, a laugh I thought was reserved solely for my mispronunciation of the names of German philosophers. “Look at what a little girl you were,” he said, flipping around one of my “First Place” ribbons. He looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland—a six-footfour Mad Hatter with shoulder-length hair and a long, wiry earring of his own creation. That was the only time that Spence came to my house. We had dinner with my parents, and as my mother was clearing the plates she asked Spence: “So, do you go to church?” “No,” he said. “Not since I was a kid.” “But you are a Christian, aren’t you?” I could see the conversation moving like an accident in slow motion. “Christian?” he said. “Depends on what you mean. Do you know what Kierkegaard says about all these so-called Christians?” I, for one, knew exactly what Kierkegaard said about them. And within five minutes, so did my mother, although she stopped Crab Orchard Review ◆ 215
answering Spence back after two minutes. When he left, my mother told me not to see him anymore. “He’s not a Christian,” she said. “We don’t date pagans in our family.” “He’s agnostic, Mom,” I said. “That’s hardly pagan.” Not that any of this stopped me from seeing him, just from bringing him around or talking about him. Yet another non-event in my non-life, a life that would gain familial validity only if I were to bring home a Presbyterian math genius like Dwayne, or one of those Baptist date-rapists who seem to fool no one but my mother. Act I, Scene II Exterior: An evening like any other, in a run-down strip mall on the wrong side of town. People file in and out of buildings, looking down, careful not to make eye contact. Many have large bags clutched animal-like against their bodies. The sky is gray. Gray as a snowless Christmas morning. One structure stands out in particular: three stories with an octagonal top, an architectural anomaly. Inside: our heroine waits. Patiently. Not very exciting, but that’s about the best I can do with the Book Barn. It’s mid-January and business has been slack since Christmas. I’m working extra shifts to pay off my debts from the holidays. Mostly, I work behind the counter, but the manager just put me in charge of the “Entertainment” display. I have chosen to spotlight Bette Davis—books about her directors, her life. Even some old screenplays. Marcus, the manager, is actually my age, but he’s been working here since high school. He also went to Mason with me, but we never knew each other. He’s big into theatre and tends to think that working at the Book Barn is more exciting than it actually is. It makes working here more fun, though—his delusion that this sort of work is a real special treat. Marcus is short and blond with rat-like eyes. He’s pale to an almost albino state, and yet he brags constantly about his skin. Evidently he’s been wearing sunscreen every day, without fail, since he was fourteen. Marcus claims to have known Spence from his freshman dormitory. “One fine man,” Marcus said, winking at me. “I guess,” I had said. “I can never get a mental picture of his face. You know how that is. How some people, no matter how hard 216 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
you try, you never see their features clearly?” “No,” Marcus had said, flatly. “I think you’re a fake, Laurie. I think you’ve forgotten his face because you spend so much time thinking about his ass.” Since then, Marcus and I have worked out a mid-level friendship. He was impressed that Anika is my sister, since anything approximating a television personality impresses him, no matter how obscure. Sadly, I would have to classify my sister as obscure. Today, Marcus looks tired and hung-over. His hair, which is normally spiked with gel in the front, hangs limp halfway down his forehead. He has on a purple sweater and torn jeans, his “fat and feeling frumpy” outfit. I don’t look much better. “God,” he says. “Freakshow in here today. And none of the freaks are spending money. This little wench, the one in the corner reading coffee, asked me if I could, please, bring her a Newsweek.” “And in the name of customer service, you obliged.” “Too twittery,” Marcus says. “Twitty little hands and a twit brain. I walked away.” When he leaves, I sit down behind the counter. I have taken one of the books from my Bette Davis display, a glossy, forty-dollar coffee table book with VAMPS written in blood-red block print across the front. Useless for academic research, but fun, fun, fun. When I look up, I see Dwayne, alone, meandering towards the checkout line with a stack of books. I stare at him until he stares back, but the look he gives me is without recognition—like an apparition has materialized from some past life. Dwayne always looks exactly the same: messy brown hair, glasses with dirty lenses, neo-Quasimodo hunch to the shoulders. My sister’s one innovation—that he wears expensive loafers and khakis rather than jeans and sneakers—has been maintained in her absence. I wonder whether she’d care. I wave at him to see if it will break the trance, and he smiles back, walking rapidly towards the counter. “Laurie,” he says. “How are you doing, Laurie? I forgot that you worked here.” Sure you did, I think, but let it slide. “Fine,” I say. Then, without any apparent warning, he reaches across the counter to hug me. I return the embrace, awkwardly, my pelvis pressing against the cash register. When he pulls away, I can see that his eyes are tired and red. I try to think of something funny to say, but can’t. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 217
“You look well,” I say, cringing inwardly at how stupid that sounds. “Really?” he says. He sounds hopeful that my saying so might make it so. “I feel well, today at least. How are you doing? Are you applying to graduate programs?” “Two down, two to go,” I say. “And what did you decide to apply in?” “Comparative Literature,” I say. “And one for film school, just for the hell of it. I’m trying to revise an old paper right now for my last two applications. About women in some old movies.” “Old movies,” he says. “Like what?” “Anything dark and kind of trashy for the time,” I say. “Postman Always Rings Twice type stuff.” I gesture at the book behind the counter. “So is it any good?” he asks. “I’m only on page ten.” “No, the movie. The Postman?” “Only if you want to see chicken-legged, no-talent Lana Turner in a turban,” I say. “It’s a pretty crappy movie. Rent The Third Man or something if you want to see one that’s good.” “The Third Man,” he repeats. He hasn’t stopped nodding our entire conversation, and he’s starting to make me nervous. I look at the clock, and then in Marcus’s direction, and wonder if my shift is ever going to end. All this conversation about me, this socalled interest, is just foreplay for the conversation Dwayne really wants to have. And I don’t want to have it. It’s selfish, but I don’t. I make a quick deal with God that if Marcus comes over in the next twenty seconds, I’ll go to church with my parents on Sunday. Marcus actually looks in my direction, and I send telepathic pleas for help from across the room. I start to wax poetic about Orson Welles, all the while counting Mississippi-one, Mississippi-two, in my head as Marcus slowly closes his book, slowly puts it back on the shelf, slowly scratches under his left armpit, yawns and then slowly, slowly, slowly begins walking in my direction. “Do you two need help?” Marcus asks.“Do you need any of those re-shelved?” “No, no,” Dwayne says. He hugs the books closer to him, books with titles like How to Fix a Broken Marriage, and Being a Better Man: Ten Easy Steps. Loving the Child Within. Dwayne makes no 218 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
attempt to hide them, seems utterly unembarrassed. After I ring him up and send him on his merry way, Marcus begins the cross-examination. “Is he gay?” “No,” I say.“He’s Anika’s ex-husband.” “Really?” Marcus says, genuinely interested. “His posture is very odd.” “He’s a broken man. Cut him some slack.” “You’re sure he’s not gay?” “You’re basing this whole theory on his posture, right?” Marcus shrugs his shoulders. “He drives by my house at night, to see if Anika’s there.” “Creepy,” Marcus says. “Stalk-o-rama. I had a guy who used to call my house ten times a night, just to see when I was home. I had to have the phone lines tapped, even changed my number.” This is what I love about Marcus, he says that like he’s proud. Like he’s the member of some fancy club. After we close up, Marcus pulls out of the Book Barn parking lot ahead of me. He has a purple Saturn with bumper stickers across the back saying “Kill your TV” and “Keep Your Laws Off My Body.” I told him once that he’s a total hypocrite, since he watches even more television than I do, and were there a way to get “laws,” literally, on someone’s body, then Marcus would be the first person to see how they felt. In a strange way, I’m a little jealous of Marcus. Obviously not for his job, or his winning way with the public, but because even in his fat and frumpy-wear, he is sincerely at ease with his body. He told me once that he starts his day naked with a cigarette. Not an intriguing visual, but impressive nonetheless. It’s ten o’clock at night, and the sun went down hours ago. I drive home in the dark thinking about Dwayne, and the awkward hug he gave me, and what a strange thing it is to be a soul in a body. In group therapy there were a few people to whom really, truly awful things had happened. They would rattle them off like shopping lists: I was raped, my father molested me, my mother was murdered by my step-father when I was ten, etc. etc. And as they rattled, some of them would cry to themselves and others would smile inexplicable and nervous smiles. But it was impossible to feel sorry for any of them. Then one of the men in the group, he must have been in Crab Orchard Review ◆ 219
his late thirties, said that he went to Mass every week just so someone would shake his hand. It was one of the few times I stopped counting cracks in the ceiling. I keep one hand on the steering wheel and cross my right hand over to rub my left shoulder. The teacher on my yoga video says that “sometimes you’re the only one who’s going to give yourself a pat on the back.” As I near my house, I miss Spence as much as I have in a year. I miss the way his clothes always smelled like fabric softener, and the way his hair smelled like baby shampoo. I miss that he always looked dirty, despite a near-obsessive interest in his own hygiene. I miss his bullshit and his sad-sack view of the world. But mostly I miss having a body next to mine, the slow, warm rhythm of another human body. Trading that for this: going home to my high school room, my single bed, and some half-finished applications for programs I only half-believe in. Constituting my solitary self. Because of my little deal with God in the bookstore, I end up with my parents at church on Sunday morning. They go to an Episcopal church—one of three that George Washington attended way back when. The sermon is harmless enough, no hell-fire and damnation, but my mother starts twitching nervously near the end. I squeeze her hand, and she smiles at me: reminiscent of Dwayne but without the utter, creeping despair. “It’s okay,” she says to me. By the time we get to the car, she’s back to her old self. “She should have taken his name,” my mom says. I pretend not to hear her. My dad doesn’t say anything. “I told her that she should have taken his name. Men need that kind of thing. They need to know that you want to be a part of their lives that way. I remember Anika telling me that wasn’t important, and look where she is now. Just look.” If Shakespeare had really wanted to know what was in a name, he should have asked my mother. She’s not trying to bait me, not deliberately, but she’s too much to resist. This conversation is reminiscent of the conversations that she and Anika had before the wedding. “Right,” Anika would say, “Like anyone wants to hear the news from Anika Harnishfeger. It makes me sound like some kind of sausage-pushing Amish person. And I’ve seen the demographics. 220 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
No one wants their news from someone like that. They want it from PB&J Anika Foster. You need to sound like someone they think could be their girlfriend, or sister, or whatever. I love Dwayne, but I’m not going to take some god-awful name just because I love someone. And frankly, Mom, you’re the only one who cares.” “You think you know so much,” my mom would say. “You think you know everything. That you see everything in that newsroom. That I’m just your mother. But I know. Look at that Arnold what’s his name. The action film guy. Everyone learned his name.” My sister just rolled her eyes. Irony is lost on my mother. “And you know what his wife’s name is, Mom? Maria SHRIVER. Because no one wants to hear the news from Maria Schwarzenegger.” “And how would you know?” my mom asked, smug as she could be. “She never tried.” “So maybe I should just take his whole name,” Anika said. “Maybe I’ll just rename myself after him. I could be a Dwayne, don’t you think? If I love him enough to take half his name, why not the whole thing?” “You think you’re funny,” my mother said, eyes thin and needlesharp. “But you’re not.” Now, in the car my mother continues her monologue, undeterred by the lack of response from either my father or myself. I feel like telling my mom that maybe Anika’s divorcing him because she feels like Anika Harnishfeger anyhow. That maybe she needed to feel like she could marry Dwayne and still be Anika Foster, but now she just feels like some math teacher’s wife who reports on how much money the superintendent is spending on school lunches. That maybe her not taking his stupid name is the only reason their marriage has made it this far. “At least they’re young enough to start over,” I finally say. “I mean, can you really imagine Anika staying in the area, doing local news and telling her grandchildren that at least she stayed with that math guy. For God’s sake, she introduces me like I have some kind of script in development, and I’m just her sister.” “Listen to you,” my mother says. “You say all of that like it’s a bad thing. Like you think there’s something wrong with being Dwayne’s wife. I hope that you don’t talk that way to her.” “Anika doesn’t listen to a word I say, Mom. You don’t have to worry.” “I just hope that you learn from your sister’s mistakes. Not that Crab Orchard Review ◆ 221
it’s a mistake yet. I pray every day that they’ll work things out.” “Maybe her mistake was getting married.” Neither of them responds to the one unhumored member of our family. Act I, Scene III Interior: Book Barn. A sad, slow afternoon where the sun is only half-shining, and people look hard and polished in the light. Our heroine sits alone, enigmatic, shuffling idly through a book. The air crackles with lively conversation, but she is removed, distant. One wonders what could weigh so heavily on her mind, how someone so seemingly innocent could be so obviously weighed with care. She is wearing a straight skirt cinched tight at the waist, and a lone man reading contemporary nonfiction nods in her direction. She acknowledges him, coolly, but returns quickly to her book. Eventually, he gives up. This, my friends, is what’s known in the business as a very bad day. The sort where sitting in the Book Barn, pretending that my life has movement, direction, meaning, etc., is a complete exercise in futility, and even lying to myself doesn’t help. I’ve re-read the paper in front of me three times for errors. It’s appropriately titled: “Half-Truths and Lies of Omission: Plot Turns in Classic Noir.” My thesis seems more like common sense than anything groundbreakingly academic, and it pains me to see the words as I’ve arranged them on the page. I’ve always been an enormous fan of the half-truth, the fact held back to keep the story interesting, the viewer guessing. That’s probably what I hated most about group, and when I’m completely honest (and really, when is anyone ever fully honest?) what I hate most about life. Full Disclosure. That’s the sort of trick that should be saved for those last hundred yards of film, not trotted out to a room full of total strangers, and voluntarily at that! That’s the one way in which my sister and I are the same. I don’t technically know exactly why Anika left Dwayne, she’s always vague and grouchy when pushed to the wall about the topic, but I imagine that it has something to do with knowing too much of what lies ahead. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Spence and I had stayed together. Would he have made the obligatory concession to my parents and let me trot him out to church at Christmas and Easter? Would he have settled comfortably into white collar 222 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
monotony after the sweet and easy rebellion of his early twenties? And how would I have liked it? Maybe I would have wound up just like Anika, sneaking around with cryptic plans and no answer that wasn’t double-talk. At least her life has a certain kind of style now—a sleazy, hole-in-the-wall-bar vibe. Backlighting. There’s something so easy about drama in the abstract: the fights, the confessions, the ashtray hurled across the room. Our heroine packs her bags and moves to a new town. The lights dim. The curtain draws. Our heroine is never seen wandering the streets in frayed pajamas, sleeping alone at night. The consequences. That’s what my sister wants to avoid. But what my mother doesn’t understand is that in the face of utter boredom, consequences are the last thing a girl wants to spend her time thinking about. That is, until they’re all she has left. Act I, Final Scene Return to the interior of the parental homestead. Daylight. Our heroine is clad in head-to-toe yellow fleece, relaxed and (relatively) happy in front of the television. I am a third of the way through Now, Voyager! when the phone rings. Bette Davis has just undergone her major-movie-makeover and she’s showing her new love interest, Paul Henreid, a picture of the girl she used to be. I’ve seen the movie twice before; this time I’m just checking for any little gems of dialogue that I might have missed. It’s not even a great movie, yet somehow mesmerizing in its sheer absurdity. My dad wanders into the room, takes one look at the television and says: “God that Bette Davis is ugly. Doesn’t she get fixed up?” “She’s already fixed up,” I say. “Remember, at the beginning she has those caterpillar eyebrows and all her dresses are padded. Faux-fat? She has the granny glasses and hair in a bun?” The first time I brought the movie home, my father watched it with me. He knows good and well that Bette Davis has already been transformed, he just gets a perverse kick out of calling her ugly. “You think everyone’s ugly,” I say. “I think your mom is pretty.” I ignore him and listen to Bette Davis give her speech about being a spinster. She’s pointing at herself in the picture and working herself into mild hysteria about “that aunt”—claiming that “every family has one.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 223
“That’s going to be me, Dad,” I say. “Only I’m going to be wearing sweatpants and I’m going to be happy about it.” I love the thought of Bette Davis staying fat and wearing sweatpants. “You’ll be fine,” my Dad says. “It’s not like you’re that ugly.” Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes in his mouth and hands one to Bette Davis. There are only two really good things about Now, Voyager! One is that Bette Davis is such an unapologetic slut. The other is all the cigarette sharing. I don’t let my father know that he’s bothered me. “Sexy,” I say. “Paul is so sexy.” My father gives me his most repulsed look. I feel better knowing that Paul and I are in the same boat. When I turn back to the television the screen has gone blank. I look back at my dad and see my mom behind him, telephone receiver in hand with her palm over the mouthpiece. “It’s Dwayne,” she whispers at me. “He said that he wants to talk to you. That you were very nice to him at the bookstore. Make sure that you’re nice to him now. His pride is very hurt.” I should really time how quickly my mother can make me nuts— Laurie goes from good mood to bad in one point two seconds. A new record. Why would I be mean to Dwayne? And it’s my mother’s misplaced pride that’s hurting, not his. He probably just wants to let me know he’s found his inner child. I take the phone from her and walk into the bathroom, closing the door behind me. “Hello, Laurie?” he says. “Hi, Dwayne,” I say. “How are you?” “Oh, fine,” he says. “I took a long walk today and did some grading. I had a nice talk with your mom about Anika. It’s good for me to talk about her.” “Probably,” I say. I stare at myself in the mirror. A small colony of pimples has materialized beneath my left temple. “I was wondering if you might want to get together some time this week. To talk. Maybe I can meet you at the bookstore. Just because Anika and I aren’t together doesn’t mean that you and I can’t be friends. Or we could rent that movie with Orson Welles.” I dab mint-green toothpaste on the pimples, hoping they’ll dry up by morning. “The Third Man.” “Right,” he says. “I could make spaghetti.” I don’t have the heart to point out that Dwayne and I were never 224 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
really “friends” to begin with. I’m not sure that he even has any friends. I am struck by a vivid image of Dwayne sitting around his apartment, reading those books from Book Barn that are no doubt telling him to “get out there and do things,” when the sad fact is that there’s no one for him to do them with except his only-slightly-less-pathetic sister-in-law. “I don’t know my work schedule for sure, yet,” I lie. “Check with me later in the week. After Tuesday.” “Great,” he says. “This is going to be fun.” Fun, I think, and realize with no small displeasure that this is the closest I’ve come to dating in the past eight months. Act II, Scene I Exterior: Our heroine’s home, daytime. Our heroine is clad in black cigarette pants with blood-red lips and thickly-rimmed eyelids. She seems out of breath, out of sorts with a blustery, before-the-storm kind of calm. The last of the stack of letters she was carrying has been mailed, and she looks relieved. Glamorous, she is not, but almost a wholesome kind of pretty. She’s the girl the hero almost falls for, the one left behind in the second-to-last scene. Robert Mitchum’s“recovery” girl in Out of the Past. The one he almost stays with; the one he trades for glamour and death in the final scene. Our heroine is feeling well, when, as so often happens, true glamour in all its selfish radiance arrives. Honestly, I should be nicer about Anika, but sometimes she makes it nigh on impossible. It’s Saturday afternoon, her day off, and even casual she looks ten times more put-together than I do. She has on tight jeans cuffed once at the ankle, and white, white tennis shoes with white, white socks. A yellow wool sweater with a white turtleneck underneath. No jacket. It’s one of those January days where the thermometer hits sixty for no good reason at all. My parents have gone for a walk on the trail. “How do I look?” she asks. She’s in a good mood and I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a trick question. “Fine,” I say. “Are you supposed to look different.” “I don’t know. I feel different. Like I’m lucky to be alive.” It’s not like my sister to talk like one of Dwayne’s books. She has the look on her face that I used to see in group when someone had the “good day” before the “bad day.” “That’s good, then,” I say. Watching her closely. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 225
“Laurie,” she says. “You’re never going to believe what I did last night.” “You won’t believe what I did last night,” I reply. She gives me a peculiar look—I have Anika totally convinced that I never do anything. “What did you do?” “Went to the video store, but on the way out I bought a gumball from the big machine and I got a pink gumball. Free rental.” Anika laughs and grabs my arm. “Laurie, you’re so hard on yourself. We should go out sometime, together, maybe next weekend.” She is in a scary good mood. “So you know what I did?” I shake my head. “I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I really can’t tell anyone else. Yesterday, after work, there’s this intern, see. Dave. He’s just out of college, for God’s sake. Laurie, you have no idea what men get like in those years after college. If they don’t lose their hair it’s the belly or the legs. They go to mush. Like women in the middle. But this Dave, he’s beautiful.” In acting like an idiot teenager, my sister has taken on all the characteristics of one. Her hands are flopping off her lap onto mine, and she even blushes. “I can’t believe I’m telling you this. Last night, I was there late, looking at some videos. I might apply for a new job, and I wanted to edit some stuff. Look it over. Well, he was there late as well, and we ended up making out in a closet. Can you imagine? Making out.” “Making out?” “Well, I did a little more than that.” She makes a lewd gesture. My sister. She’s looking at me expectantly, and I actually feel sad for her. Not sorry, but the same kind of sad I felt when I saw Dwayne and his stack of books. “So have you spoken to him?” “No,” she says. “I mean, this was just last night. He was just so grateful, Laurie. Like I was doing him the hugest favor. Like it was the hugest deal in the world for him to be with someone like me. It just felt so, good.” I cross and uncross my legs at the ankles. I don’t know quite what to say to her, and I can see from her body language that her enthusiasm is rapidly deflating. Her hands are still. 226 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
“I probably shouldn’t have told you that,” she says. “Don’t tell Mom or anything.” “Why would I tell Mom? Are you out of your mind. She probably doesn’t even know what a blow job is.” “You can think that, Laurie,” Anika says. “If it gets you through the night.” I remember, as she smiles, what it’s like to love my sister. “I saw Dwayne at the Book Barn.” “No,” she says, covering her ears with her hands. “Don’t say that name. I can’t hear that name. Not now.” “You realize that he drives by the house some nights, when he thinks you’re home.” “Well, if you see him again, tell him to stop. That I’ll call the police and have him hauled off to jail. Tell him to stay out of my life.” I hate it when my sister gets like this. I can’t see that Dwayne has done much of anything except cease to backflip when he gets a blow job. I hate it when my sister is mean about Dwayne, because I suddenly feel ugly and stupid for putting on tight pants and trying to look nice. “I feel sorry for him,” I say. “He seems lost.” “His problem,” she says. “Not mine. Dwayne Harnishfeger is not my problem.” Act II, Scene II Interior: Book Barn. Our heroine, to the untrained eye, looks the same as always. She fidgets idly with the hem of her skirt, cherrystained lips pursing and un-pursing nervously. Across from her, dapper even in a sweatshirt, sits a man tearing through stacks of paper with furrowed brow and eraser in hand. Our heroine smiles back, half-heartedly, and goes to find her supervisor before she finds herself in more trouble than she can handle. “Stalker in Aisle Six,” I tell Marcus. “If you see him approach, I expect to be saved immediately.” Marcus looks in need of a good save himself. He’s so hungover that he can barely stand behind the register, and his eyes all but disappear in the puffy mass of skin surrounding them. “Uh-huh,” he says. “Right. Sure. Fine. Whatever.” “Late night?” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 227
“You’ve no idea.” Marcus breaks into a cold sweat. “I have to sit down.” I make sure Marcus is seated comfortably and bring him a big glass of Coke and some aspirin. The Man in Aisle Six gives up quickly, turning his stalkerly attention instead to a twenty-something blonde in a tight camouflage mini-skirt. “Ewww,” Marcus says, gesturing weakly in the blonde’s direction. “Can’t she see that I’m ill. Tell her to get that monstrous piece of fabric out of my store. If she makes me vomit, I’m going to sue.” “Relax,” I say. “Quit being such a snob.” I leave Marcus briefly to make sure that the registers are properly manned, then return with a book on movie stars of the forties for us to flip through. The first picture is a still from The Maltese Falcon, where Mary Astor, Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre are all looking at the bird, getting ready to scratch off its surface and see “the stuff that dreams are made of.” Marcus pinches his nose. “Humphrey Bogart,” he says. “Hetero-nightmare.” “No way,” I say. “Bogart was the best.” “He’s lispy,” Marcus replies. “And old. You do the math. Lispy plus old equals not hot. Basic arithmetic.” “That’s not the point,” I say. “There’s more to Bogart than the way he looks.” Last night I rented In a Lonely Place, a great old film starring Humphrey Bogart as the mildly psychotic love interest. Bogart falls madly in love with this woman who loves him back, but she’s worried that he may or may not be a murderer. As an audience member, it’s hard to tell. By the end of the movie, though, it doesn’t matter. It’s the suspicion that ruins the relationship. Guilty or innocent—it’s all in the timing. There’s no point in fighting with Marcus, especially when aesthetics are involved, but after watching all these movies, I know the secret of Bogart as an actor—something that sets him far and above all the Robert Mitchums and Fred MacMurrays of the Old Movie world. Bogart makes you believe—in every film—that he’s only ever loved one woman, and that that one woman is the one woman he will only and ever love. Think Casablanca. Think: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. People love Bogart for his loneliness. 228 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
I used to wonder, in group, what all my fellow group-ees would say to someone like Bogart. “Yes, Humphrey,” they would say. “Yes she walked back into your gin joint. But that’s her problem. You have to love yourself enough not to make it your problem.” And that is what makes Bogart unique. Because you never really believe that he could love himself that much. And it makes love, whatever that may be, something better than the last piece of candy in an empty dish. The idea that the person is specific, that the person matters. Marcus shrugs, turning the page. “There,” he says, pointing to a young Kirk Douglas. “Spartacus. You and these old movies. They need more men in loincloth. Less false teeth.” I mock disdain and take my book away from Marcus, who is getting sicker and sicker by the minute. “You should go home,” I say. That night, I close up the Book Barn myself, thinking about Bogart, and Spence, and suddenly overwhelmed by a sadness that’s half infinite possibility and half no possibility whatsoever. My applications are in the mail. Spence is somewhere long gone, sleeping on his stomach, breathing unevenly and waking himself up at least twice a night, alone or in some unnamed woman’s bed. He feels so gone that I can barely hold onto the memory, and as I walk outside I try to release him. Send him off into the night. I’m no better that Bogart, looking for a concrete action: good or bad, it doesn’t matter, to mix up the present—to shake up the here and now, and send the past into the past forever. Act II, Final Scene Twilight. Our heroine leaves home in a hurry. She floods the engine trying to start her car. Waits. Starts the car again. Her hands tremble on the steering wheel. She wears casual but flattering clothing, black slacks and a red shirt. Lips shiny and pale. Her face has the tight, closed expression of a woman questioning her own motives. She has told no one of her plans: where she intends to go or what she plans to do. Night closes on her like a mystery. It’s more unsettling than I’d bargained for, driving to Anika and Dwayne’s house, knowing full well that Anika isn’t going to be there. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 229
More unsettling, even, that I’m driving over in full make-up, with a bottle of wine, to spend an evening watching movies. What are you up to, Laurie? I ask myself. I don’t think I want to know the answer. I have to remind myself that I like Dwayne as a person. That if I don’t act date-like, it isn’t a date. That Dwayne is a good person and a family member to boot, at least for the time being. Consequences, I tell myself. Remember that there are consequences. When Dwayne meets me at the door, I present him with an industrial-size bottle of cabernet sauvignon. He smiles and gives me a kiss on the cheek. Like we’re in Europe, or something. “I was going to make brownies,” I say. “But I got lazy.” Inside the place is cleaner than I’d expected. If Anika has moved out any of her things, they must have been from the bedroom. It doesn’t look any different from any other time I’ve been there. Dwayne has the classical station on low in the background, and the house smells strongly of garlic. “I cooked spaghetti,” he says. “With garlic bread. I tasted the sauce a minute ago, and I think it’s pretty good.” I make small talk about what’s going on in the high school math program, while I wander around the living room, looking at the bookshelves, at Dwayne and Anika’s diplomas framed side-by-side in the hallway. I wonder what’s really going through my sister’s head, whether or not she’s actually going to stay gone. Wondering if she’ll tell Dwayne about the intern, just for spite. I go into the kitchen and pour two glasses of wine, looking at the vat of spaghetti sauce, canned mushrooms, and garlic that Dwayne has left simmering on the stovetop. Not exciting, but honestly, no worse than anything I cook for myself. “Cheers,” I say, handing him a glass. Dwayne takes a sip and then tells me about the medication he’s been taking. “It makes me sleepy all the time,” he says. “This probably won’t help.” I think about telling him that he probably shouldn’t drink, but figure that he already knows. “It smells so good in here,” I say. “I’m famished.” We eat a meal which is surprisingly good, right down to the processed snack cakes that Dwayne unwraps for dessert. Dwayne manages not to talk directly about Anika, although he’s constantly alluding to her and to his situation, checking me for information. I 230 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
wouldn’t dream of giving him the info I have. Instead I regale him with tales of psychotic Book Barn regulars and Marcus’s late nights. I’m a regular one-woman show. “Ready for the movie?” I ask once we’ve cleared the table. “Ready,” Dwayne says. He’s had three glasses of wine and I wonder if he’s slurring his words, or if I’m just hearing things. We go into the living room where I sit on one end of the sofa and Dwayne sits on the other. The opening credits roll. We make it two-thirds of the way through the film. Dwayne appears to be nodding off, although his eyes are open whenever I look at him, and he smiles like he’s being as interested as he can be. Harry Lyme has just been found out by his ex-girlfriend’s cat—one of cinema’s classic moments—when Dwayne announces that he has to go to the bathroom. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Can you pause it for a minute?” When he returns, it’s as though the movie doesn’t exist. “I can’t sleep,” he says, without prompting. “I’m sleepy all the time, but I can never sleep for more than an hour or two.” “You look tense,” I say. “Maybe you should get a massage. You know there’s a place on your foot that’s supposed to relax you completely if you rub it. I tried to find it once on myself, but no luck.” “Really?” he says. “I think it’s my back. Anika used to rub it at night.” “Here,” I say. “Sit in front of me, and I’ll see if I can get some of the tension out. But only if you promise to watch the rest of the movie. I think you’ll really like it. Don’t fall asleep on me yet.” I re-start the film with Dwayne propped up against the couch. I rub my hands together to build friction, and then work on the space between his shoulders. He’s tighter than I could have ever imagined. I think of Spence’s shoulders, the wide span of his back and the way his muscles had a liquid firmness, the way they seemed to float beneath his skin. After a few minutes, Dwayne starts to relax. “This beats the film,” he says. “Shhhh,” I whisper. This is the best part. Harry Lyme is on the Ferris wheel with his old schoolfriend, looking down at the people below them, and explaining why he diluted penicillin and sold it on the black market, causing hundreds of deaths. From the top of the Ferris wheel the people below look like dots. Dots stopped moving, Harry says. Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 231
I look above the television, at the place where Dwayne has folded down the eight-by-ten picture from his and Anika’s wedding. I bend forward, adjusting my weight, and my breasts grace the top of Dwayne’s head. He doesn’t notice, but it feels strange. Not horrible. Nothing but cotton has touched my breasts in months, and they tingle slightly— like something risen from the dead. Dots stop moving. Dwayne looks up at me and smiles. I try to keep my eyes focused on the television, but fail. Our eyes meet. Linger. The scene in Dwayne’s living room becomes the one where the camera cuts away. A door shuts. A curtain is drawn. Bodies are left to do what they do alone in the dark. Long after the movie ends comes the scene when the door opens and the heroine (dare we call her that) slinks home. She checks herself in the front seat, making sure that all her buttons are properly aligned, that her lipstick isn’t smeared half-across her face. She drives home in silence. She imagines Anika’s car waiting outside the house. She can, in fact, picture perfectly Anika sitting on their parent’s sofa, crying and watching a late-show monologue, wondering what that woman was doing at her house. Our heroine imagines Anika eyeing the crumpled blouse suspiciously. They both light cigarettes and fight wickedly into the morning. When I arrive home, the house is dark and the only cars in the driveway are my parents’ and my own. I let myself in, quiet, moving slowly through the dark. Instead of going upstairs, I sit down in the hallway and hug my knees to my chest. My eyes close, and I’m still enough to feel my heart beating. I think about Dwayne where I left him on his couch, and Harry Lyme watching the world from the top of a Ferris wheel. In my mind, I’m Bette Davis, looking back on all of this like an unflattering photograph, wondering how it is that I was ever the girl in the picture. Wondering how anyone could ever look at me now and think that was my life.
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Everyone Gets a Happy Ending
Julia languished as a peripheral character in a chick flick, the assigned guardian of coats and purses at the club every Friday after work. Following an overpriced dinner at which The Girls all played “let’s-see-who-can-eat-the-least-and-still-claim-to-be-full,” they always wandered to the same table at House O’ Fire, Grand Rapids’ only live music nightclub. One by one her fellow workers would shimmy up to the bar toward a lone man on a stool or twitter as they rose to join some hairy creep on the dance floor. “Oh, Julia,” the last one would invariably turn and breathe through the smoky air, “could you watch our stuff?” or presumptuously, “You’ll stay and keep an eye on our things, won’t you?” Sadly, the presumptions were always true. “You’re too shy with the guys,” one would occasionally venture at a midweek lunch, to which all the others would agree, offering handy tidbits of man-luring advice such as “Laugh more,” “Brush the hair out of your eyes,” and “You might try using foundation.” On Wednesdays, they strained as a team to construct a sexier Julia, but on Fridays, they were always thankful that she was there, in the booth sipping her $6 frozen margarita and keeping their valuables safe. So one day, she stole them all herself. Three Heinekens in, Marianne, a giggly sprite no wider than a carrot, stumbled up to the last remaining non-obese man at the bar. With just a glance and a tug, she pulled him to the floor where they began a sloppy hop and grind to Lovin’ Eyes, the area’s best all-white blues-funk quintet. Julia stared in wonder through the screech of what seemed like the eightieth guitar solo of the set. What is it, she gaped, what am I missing? No words had passed between Marianne and the mystery beerchugger, and yet there they were, apparently enjoying themselves. Is that possible? she wondered. Are people so nonverbal? The evidence was overwhelming. Everyone bobbed up and down with various strangers. Vanessa dribbled her fifth Corona and lime down her neck because she couldn’t be bothered with stopping to swallow; her partner, a man she met in the previous hour, licked it Crab Orchard Review ◆ 233
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from her clavicle while she whinnied from the tickle. Sara, her eyes clamped in some form of meditation or orgasm, drove her ample ass into the crotch of the construction supervisor from the site across the street. And Didi, the designated driver, used the added focus of sobriety to manipulate the attention of not one but three men, who made lewd hand and mouth gestures to each other when she wasn’t looking. There with the crushed ice and tequila in her throat, the mucky film on the table, and $1159.94 worth of jackets, $364.38 in cash, and a combined $37,592 in available credit lines before her, Julia descended into the type of existential crisis that visited her frequently when she was alone in the presence of jovial others. Dear God, I hate my life. It’s a troubled teenage first love film with twelve extra years and no love. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Today in the payroll office, I made out a check for 60 hours of work that barely cleared $300 after taxes. I handed it to the man with a smile. I went to college for this? I have nothing. An empty apartment. A distant family. A bastard boss and no one to dance with. But then, do I really want to dance with these Neanderthals? Maybe I need another drink. Maybe not. Oh God, what the hell do I want? And then, with the clarity of angelic intercession, her eyes refocused from the inward gaze of self-examination to see the Lord’s gracious bounty displayed before her. Or, she mused even as she poised to escape the pit of her existence, perhaps that’s the tequila talking. Well, Lord or not, I’m taking their shit. And so she did. It was absurdly simple: she just grabbed everything and left. The girls were hormonally occupied. Only a couple of bar guys turned from the silent TVs to check what the movement was, and not seeing blond hair or exposed flesh, turned back again. Outside in the clean October air, Julia rushed over to Didi’s car, where she ducked behind it away from the bar entrance and pawed through purses to find the keys. She couldn’t remember which was Didi’s, so she tried three sets until one finally opened the door. Let the getaway scene begin, she thought. Julia pulled the 1998 Cavalier out onto the four lane commercial highway before she found the light switch. She swerved a bit while fumbling with the dash’s cheap bits of gray plastic. When the lights popped on and she looked out the windshield, she gasped to see a police cruiser in front of her. She decelerated though she was far under the limit, out of fear that the officer might have seen her swerving lightlessly. Scenes floated to her mind: “That’s quite an 234 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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assortment of bags you have there, ma’am, mind if I take a look?” and “Have you been drinking?” and “You just stay put, little lady, while I radio for some backup.” As the cruiser turned right ahead of her, she relaxed and castigated herself: why in my fantasies of doom do I refer to myself as “little lady”? Luckily, the mall was still open for another hour when she arrived. She dug out all of the credit cards and skipped inside. Giddy bliss overcame her as she raced through the stores; the poorly lit angsty art film of her life had just turned into a loony on-the-road pirating adventure. Calm at all times so as not to appear suspicious, she grabbed as much as she could, but never off the clearance racks: Four silk blouses, eight T-shirts, three pairs of jeans, four dresses, two skirts, five sweaters, eight panties with matching embroidered demi bras, three pairs of shoes, two teddies, four nightgowns, a huge suitcase, a bagful of cleansing products in assorted fruit flavors, an emerald necklace, and a Godawful shawl she hated the next day. Later, she left. She motored down to the electronics superstore open late on Friday and purchased only portable items: a stereo, a laptop, a walkman, a digital camera, and a handheld neck massager. “Do you work on commission?” she asked the salesman as he rang up her final order. “Uh,” he shifted with a smile, “we receive bonuses for high sales.” “Well, then tonight’s your lucky night.” With a swift prayer and a toss of her dark hair, Julia handed him Sara’s MasterCard. She held her breath when he swiped the card and relaxed, imperceptibly she hoped, when the register ticket clacked away a few seconds later. Apparently, Sara had very good credit, adding merriment to this smalltown girl becomes a pretty, pretty woman tale. The car full, Julia realized that her time must be running out, especially in the Grand Rapids area, so she drove to the nearest bank machine. In the parking lot, she pulled her hair back, put on a hat and Marianne’s glasses, and lathered herself with Didi’s makeup, in fear of the video camera on the machine. Damn, she thought as she examined her new garish face in the mirror, how do I know so much about swindling an ATM? I watch too many movies. Then she smiled at herself, flush with the joy of courage, the joy of discovery, the joy of this lionhearted leap from viewership into action. She removed Vanessa and Didi’s cards from the pile, because she didn’t know Sara or Marianne’s birthdays—and after all, who doesn’t use their birthday as their PIN code? Didi, for one, did not, and while Julia cursed when she first Crab Orchard Review ◆ 235
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figured it out, she consoled herself: at least I’ve got her car. Oh, and whatever I bought with her cards. So she depleted Vanessa of her available checking balance (a mere $280) and drove to three more machines to remove $1000 each from her credit cards. $3300 from three ATMs, she thought. Not bad. And with two large sweet iced coffees from the donut shop, one for each cupholder, one for each time she stopped to piss by the side of Didi’s car, she drove all night. Only once did she hesitate. As she passed a sign that read “You are now leaving Michigan / Please Come Again!” she thought suddenly of her goldfish, Tom Cruise. But he’s the fourth Tom Cruise I’ve had, she reasoned, so why stick around waiting for him to leave? As Julia approached Columbus, the clouds were graying with the dawn and she grew bitterly tired. Helpful blue interstate signs led her past gas and food straight to lodging. At the office of the third neon-adorned strip motel, she found a wormy-skinned man in thick bifocals napping in front of a pink countertop TV. Julia cleared her throat but nothing happened. She reached toward the bell, which was unfortunately placed only an inch from his slumped head, and tried to ring it politely. His head snapped up instantly and he began fiddling with his glasses. “Oh my. Oh my. Whew you scared me.” He was smiling now, and he wiped the spit from his chin. “Yes indeed you scared me. Hoowee.” He shook his head. “Damn.” He smiled and blinked and blinked and never quite made eye contact. Julia waited for several silent seconds before venturing, “I’d like a room?” The words seemed to enliven him. “Oh sure, yes, of course you would.” He moved some papers about on the counter, cleared his throat, and checked his watch. “Oh, well, just so you know, miss, check-in time isn’t until 3 PM, so if you take the room now, you’ll have to pay for last night even though it’s today already.” Julia smiled at her own exhaustion and the sheer absurdity of waiting another nine hours to sleep, especially when she was spending other people’s money. “That’s OK, I need the room now.” “You gonna be staying long?” Her smile faded only slightly. “Don’t know. Maybe.” The man opened a ledger book. “Then we require payment at the beginning of each day. You wanna pay for yesterday and today right now, or you wanna just pay for yesterday and come back later for today?” Julia pinched her arm to keep from falling alseep. Jeez, I just want a bed. “I’ll pay for both.” 236 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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“Cash or credit card?” She reached into her front coat pocket, but when her hand grasped a card, she thought better of it. “Cash.” They might be tracing the number already. “And can I have a room away from the road?” The man, now fully awake, took her money, wrote a few fragments on several papers, and at last produced an actual metal key, which struck Julia as almost impossibly anachronistic in this 21st century action-adventure. After driving Didi’s car around back, she inspected the room, a generic ensemble of earth tones, graylit in the morning, smelling faintly of mildew and chemical pine. Bureau, TV, table, bathroom, and most importantly, a bed, the sight of which made her grin pornographically. She went back to the car twice, only to bring in the electronic gear from the back seat, and then stripped and dove into the pillows. Her new nightgowns secure in Didi’s trunk, Julia slept naked on the cool sheets. When she awoke the room was still gray. She rubbed her eyes and dragged her tongue around her pasty mouth. She checked her watch: six o’clock. My God, she sat up quickly, is it morning or night? Did I sleep through a whole day or half? Did I sleep at all? She stumbled over to the window and pulled aside the curtain, but the cattails and sedge of swamp before her gave no indication of time. She pressed her ear against the window and listened, but heard nothing but her own breath. She stopped breathing: still nothing. With a sigh, she stepped back from the glass and turned toward the bed again. To sleep more, or not? I’ll think about it while I pee. In the bathroom, the framing of the white tiles and the jolt of fluorescent light caused her to jump at her own naked reflection. Seized by a belated modesty, she bolted back to the window and closed the curtains she had so brazenly opened mere moments before. What was I thinking, she berated herself, showing my body like that to everyone. Then she smiled and opened the curtains again. Everyone who? Besides, she patted her only slightly round belly, what’s so wrong with my body anyway? She poked at those loose outer reaches of her buttocks as she walked to the bathroom. I’m no silver-screen siren, but I’m not so bad. She looked in the mirror again. Nice breasts anyway. Her business concluded on the toilet, she slipped on the khakis and blouse that she had worn the night before and lugged her mall packages up from the car. When she emerged from the shower, she noticed that it was darker and decided firmly and with relief that it Crab Orchard Review ◆ 237
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must be evening, not morning. She still needed some breakfast. She slipped on new silk underwear which she covered with a new Tshirt, new pre-faded jeans, and Marianne’s black leather jacket before packing the rest into the suitcase. She knew she shouldn’t stay long. Outside, the night air was heavy and cool, and hovering above this overdriven factory strip, threaded with the scents of bacon and diesel. The last pinches of daylight dwindled in the corners of the sky and the stars were struggling through the smoky purple stretch in the center. A romantic night, Julia hoped, perfect for an againstall-odds whirlwind. In the motel office, the same man was napping in the same position. Julia cleared her throat twice politely and then once loudly. The third one woke him to more strained blinking. “Ho, woo, sorry, sorry there, just uh. . . .” He looked up and grinned in embarrassment. “Oh boy, twice in one day, now that’s shameful.” Julia smiled warmly, momentarily the princess to the frog. “No need to be ashamed. It’s what I did all day.” “I suppose we can’t help these things,” he moaned into his hands as he massaged his face. After a few shakes of his head, he faced Julia again. “Now miss, somethin’ I can help you with?” “Just wonder where a girl can get some dinner around here.” “How far you lookin’ to go?” Julia thought for a second. The cops might be looking for the car. “I’d prefer something I could walk to.” The man repeated the phrase under his breath as he thought about it. “Well, to be honest, there’s not much close by except the truck stop just across the road. You don’t often see nice ladies like yourself there, but it is good food, and cheap too. All you can eat buffet is nine bucks.” Nice ladies like myself? Julia grinned. “What sort of ladies do you usually see there?” “Oh, uh, not many. Just the ones there are usually. . . uh, professional ladies.” Julia huffed to herself: does he assume I’m some sort of factory laborer? “Well,” she returned pleasantly, “I think I’ll take my chances.” She pushed through the heavy glass door and ambled down the road toward the bright orb that shrieked “America One Truck Stop and Family Restaurant.” She waited for a break in traffic to cross to the other side but none ever came. After several minutes, she crossed one lane and paused on the dotted white line until three cars passed, leaving a tiny opening before the fourth. She dodged to 238 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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the concrete meridian, sat on it, and swung her feet to the other side. Headlights whirred by as drivers came into view for only a second at a time, no one taking notice, it seemed, of her. When the right turn signal of a truck came on in the far lane, Julia used the opportunity to sprint across both lanes and then slowed to a trot that she maintained to the restaurant door. Inside, she peeked into the convenience store to the right. Do I need anything? Deodorant would be nice, and some toothpaste. But the small hygiene section provided few options, dwarfed as it was by the neighboring stacks of porn magazines and the jungle of dried meats closer to the register. For a moment, she tried to focus only on the products she needed, but the astounding variety on either side beckoned her to look around. She pressed her lips together to keep from smiling. Is this place for real? Do people really sit back and gnaw on some “Ass On Fire Beef Chips” while flipping through the latest copy of Sweet Cheeks? I think I have wandered off the set of my little feel-good misfit comedy. She paid for her can of Arid and tube of Crest before proceeding past the entrance again into the restaurant. A yellow clad waitress with unfortunate makeup greeted her. “Hi. Just one?” Julia felt suddenly odd and far less hungry, a pathetic foil for the happily engaged protagonists. Just one, she repeated to herself twice before nodding. “Will you be having the buffet or ordering from the menu?” “The buffet is fine.” Julia followed the waitress to one of the dozens of mini-booths scattered near the long window. She looked around as she sat down and noticed there were only about ten full sized booths and two tables in the entire restaurant, all empty. Not so much of a family place after all. And no women either. She sank down further into the green vinyl padding. Julia, what have you done? I can’t go home. Tom Cruise is probably dead already. I can’t drive the car anymore. They probably canceled the credit cards. I’m stuck here. I’m stuck here until the money runs out, and then what? “Do you want something to drink?” To Julia’s surprise, the waitress was still there. She had never moved. She looked bored. Julia stared up at the tiny lawn of little hairs that emerged from the salmon-colored foundation on the waitress’s chin. “Just a Diet Coke is fine.” At the buffet tables, fish-out-of-water Julia found the culinary equivalent of the convenience store: hot fried meat, saucy tomatoes, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 239
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breadsticks, and lots of pork. Nine dollars for this? But before she knew it, a ladle here and a spoonful there, her plate was full, with not a fresh vegetable on it. She made her way back to the booth where her drink sweated. To her surprise, she enjoyed the food greatly, and even went for a second round of sausage and peppers. Mom would be proud. Upon completing her second cup of decaf, Julia spotted a pair of well-fit jeans at the dessert table. When he turned around, she saw that the man inhabiting them was worthy of his butt, with a strong resemblance to the brown-haired brother on The Dukes of Hazzard whose name she couldn’t remember though she tried to think of it all night. Whoever that actor was, this guy looked like him, except he had stubble and a beer gut. But hey, close enough, and no missing front teeth or visible tattoos. And such kind eyes . . . maybe he can help me. I’ll be a damsel-in-distress. He can kiss me and then have sex with me and then marry me. Julia asked for the check and toyed with her empty coffee cup while she snuck glances to her left. He’s alone, the silent rugged type. I’m alone, a zany got-rich-quick leading lady with a quirky charm, right? I’m in a new place, just ate new food, got new clothes. The check came and she grabbed it. What the hell? Try something else new. She slipped into his mini-booth across from him. He looked up. Dark blue eyes. She smiled. “Come here often?” Oh my God, tell me I didn’t just say that! A slight smile came to the trucker’s lips and he nodded slowly. “When I’m in town. And what’re you doing here?” Julia cocked her head. “Why do you ask it like that?” “Uh, well. . . .” He wiped his mouth several times with a napkin. “You don’t look like the type of woman who usually comes to this place.” “So I’ve heard. And what type is that?” “Well, the women here are usually lot lizards looking for business. You know, skin.” After a two-second pause, Julia’s eyes popped wide. “You mean they’re hookers?” The man shushed her mildly and looked about before returning his smile to her. “I guess you’re not?” “Certainly not.” She blushed in embarrassment. This is a disaster: a can-do triumph turned blistering satire. I don’t know what 240 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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the hell I’m doing or where the hell I am. I never should have come over. Oh God, I’m an idiot. The trucker’s face softened. “Don’t worry, I didn’t think you were.” He extended a hand. “My name is Pete.” Julia gave him her hand. “Oh, uh, my name is, uh . . . Chastity.” Idiot: now it’s a documentary on the retarded. Pete’s smile stretched to a grin. “You know, if I were a girl trying to pick up a guy in a truck stop, I would invent a better name than Chastity.” He shrugged. “It’s not exactly an inviting name.” Julia felt herself blushing for several uncomfortable seconds, until she thought of temporary services, $6 margaritas, a lonely apartment, a dead goldfish, and the overworked haggard alcoholic cop who must be at this very moment rolling his eyes as her file is dropped onto his desk. She took a deep breath and threw back her shoulders. She had seen hundreds of them; now it was time for her own dangerous seduction. She smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Pete, how easy would it be for a woman to just disappear so that nobody could find her?” Pete glanced out the window and shrugged. “Well, it’s a big country. I’d say it’d be pretty easy.” Julia reached across the crumby tabletop and nudged at the nicked gold band on Pete’s left hand. “You’ll want to take that off.” Instantly, Julia was the seasoned temptress and Pete became the directionless, bumbling young virgin, complete with bulging eyes, jerky movements, and half-blurted excuses: “Oh, uh, sure . . . I’m not really . . . we’ve been, uh . . . I’ve been meaning to . . . lawyers are expensive, and. . . .” With the ring finally off, leaving a shiny pink ridge in his finger, he concluded with the reassurance: “It’s a bad marriage.” Julia refreshed her smile. This was easier than she had thought it would be. “I don’t care,” she purred. “Where should we go?” Pete led her outside, through a tandem-tangled maze of idling diesel. She walked a half step behind him, and he looked back every few feet to ensure her continued presence. Pete’s rig was a metallic green Mack hitched to a long trailer proclaiming the joys of Christian living. Seeing the beaming faces and Biblical snippets, Julia scowled, “Are you a very religious man?” “No.” In a low voice, Pete stretched the vowel for several syllables. “That’s just the owner’s message. You know, save some souls while I crisscross the land. But it’s not my thing.” He climbed into the cab and hoisted her from above. It was a challenge for Julia Crab Orchard Review ◆ 241
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to pull herself up gracefully, but she managed to make an alluring entrance anyway. As she slipped behind the seats, she was surprised by the luxury of the cabin, with its heavy maroon curtains, pull-out velour couch, small fridge, TV/VCR, and ribbons of tiny embedded strip lamps like flat Christmas lights woven into the walls. A dark room; very manly, but warm too. Stooped over, with his hands in his pockets, Pete said, “You can sit down if you like.” “You don’t do this often, do you, Pete?” A pent-up sigh escaped through Pete’s teeth and a submissive smile pricked at the corners of his mouth. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t.” Julia licked her lips. “Offer me a drink.” “Right.” Pete crouched down to the refrigerator but glanced back up with an apologetic groan. “Oh, all I’ve got left is Mello Yello.” Julia laughed and then bit her lip, the coy Bond-girl. “You’re going to have to try harder than that.” Pete’s surprise was quickly replaced by resolve. He swung down the truck’s mirrors to the ground with what Julia was almost certain was a click of his heels—he’d be right back. While he was gone, Julia stretched out on the bed and closed her eyes. It was quiet and she liked the smell of his blankets balled up near her head. Body without being odor. The velour was soft against the skin on her back where her shirt had come up. Her breathing slowed and so did her thoughts. Mostly she envisioned Pete’s lips, the top one angular and slim, the bottom one fuller and dark. She was so close: time for a sexual awakening scandal. Pete returned with disposable cups, lemonade, and a cranberryflavored beverage. Magically, from a slot near the TV, he produced a large flask of vodka. “Closest I could get to a Cosmopolitan on such short notice,” he said with distinct pride. He joined her on the bed and mixed their drinks. Julia didn’t even like Cosmopolitans, but she adored Pete’s efforts. After downing his sugary concoction, she tossed her cup into the front seat and said, “This is the part where you kiss me.” And so it was, repeatedly. Julia was astonished by the joys of anonymous copulation: the tickle and rasp of his day-old beard, the warmth of his chest and song of his breath, the shivery charge of a new touch with each shed piece of clothing, and most of all, the arresting slide of his first entry. In one of those random coital thoughts, she recalled her previous condemnation of Vanessa and 242 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
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gushed to herself: for this, I too would dribble beer down my neck. Yet, beyond these first few thrusts, Julia’s pleasure began to recede. Pete’s clenched eyes, glottal grunts, and grabbed handfuls of her fleshier assets all seemed so skanky, so out of place, a perception that was only heightened as he bent her into a sixth position in as many minutes. There, with her eyes settled upon the wooly upholstery’s accumulated grit, she stumbled upon this table-turning cultural exposé: he’s not in my incognito one-night-stand tryst at all, but his own brightly-lit hardcore porno. That’s the behind-the-scenes industry secret that’s been hidden from me all this time, she thought: we are all in our own movies. How ludicrous that a film buff like me could have missed it all along! She had been so focused on her own Cinderella story that she had failed to see that she was both projector and screen. Here, Pete had assumed artistic control, remaking her racy but tasteful tale of rapturous young love into an adulterous triple-X taboofest. It’s up to me, she thought, to bend it back to my own favor. So she moaned appreciatively, pinched judiciously and called out vulgar imperative commands whose clichéd staleness failed to diminish the urgency of Pete’s climax. “Oh my God.” Pete collapsed next to her, his entire body shriveling with each exhalation. “Oh my God . . . oh my God . . .” Julia rolled, draped a leg over him, and brushed her fingertips from his navel to his lips, sliding them back down again to rest on his chest. “Where are you headed?” she whispered. Breath. Breath. “Pittsburgh tonight. Charlottesville tomorrow afternoon.” Julia lifted her head from his shoulder and turned his chin so that they were looking at each other up close. Deep eye contact, a new vulnerability, another whisper: “Take me with you.” Come on, Pete, she thought, shift genres: us-against-world illicit passion, last-chance desperate love. Pete fell into character immediately. He fetched her a towel, located her clothes, helped her down off the rig, held her hand across the highway, carried her suitcase, and lifted her back into the truck. He even kissed her cheek before they set off. He knows, she thought, he just knows. Has everyone except me already figured out this movie thing? Of course, she knew she could sustain her current role, with its current cast, for only so long; Pete wasn’t exactly leading man material. But for tonight, yes, and then I’ll leave him and take his wallet, trade in this edgy erotica for the madcap caper once again. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 243
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Or maybe a riotous romp with a frustrated grad student who turns darkly obsessive when I acknowledge that yes, I have known other men. Or an amnesiac double-cross with an aging hermetic art professor, who drugs me into posing naked for his last great work before I leave him in the morning, the canvas under my arm. Really, the options are endless, all these compelling scenes in my outlaw underdog-done-good epic. And there’s no reason to feel bad for Pete: his porn queen will turn out to be a femme fatale, but within days, he will delight in telling all his buddies about it. Finally, she thought, I’ve figured it out: everyone gets a happy ending.
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Morris, Bonnie J. Girl Reel. Minneapolis, MN: The Coffeehouse Press, 2000. 192 pages. $14.95. Bonnie J. Morris’s Girl Reel is a love story between a girl trying to find a comfortable niche for her independence, intellect, and sexuality vis-à-vis her favorite entertainment media, the movies. The book is, as she describes it “a collection of movie stories.” Morris crochets an elaborate afghan of movie firsts with her own firsts—political, personal, and intellectual. In a culture so bent on success and inclusion, we are, as Morris describes it, “desperate for emotional outlets, we go to the movies as an excuse to hold hands, to weep copiously, to feel a vicarious and ‘safe’ ethnic experience, to be sexually aroused, to grieve.” Anyone who has experienced the girl-culture phenomenon of a chick-flick night, when girls can project their own experiences onto Meryl Streep or Meg Ryan, knows this to be true. Or, perhaps you’ve sat next to someone in a theatre and watched a love scene while passionately wanting to hold the person next to you and can’t for whatever reason. At the movies, we can experience the emotions we are supposed to be too strong to have in the light of day and transfer that catharsis upon a fictitious character, who, thankfully, is not us. While this experience is not unique to women perhaps, the parallels Morris draws between movie culture and girl culture are important. She discusses the bonding that occurs between women over the same favorite movie, the same favorite scene. Even if her choices of movies are not your choices, you identify. Her anecdotes about The Rocky Horror Picture Show will have you laughing and crying as they demonstrate both heartache and farce admirably. Morris discusses the controversies of Yentl and The Rose, not simply in their cultural context, but the context for her as she and others responded personally to these controversies as lesbians, Jews, women, and friends. And, if you are looking for small-town quality gossip highlights on a few of the characters you’ve come to know through the movies, she has juicy tidbits along the way to satisfy. I admit when I first began reading Girl Reel I was turned off by her overt politicizing on the issues of patriarchal dominations in Crab Orchard Review ◆ 245
Hollywood culture. While I was entranced and even heartbroken by her anecdotes of girl-angst, -glory, -confidence, -lust, -love, -loss, and –isolation, I rejected what I wanted to perceive as the powerful feminist exclusion I have fought so hard to overcome in myself. My own feminism depends so much on the belief that anger must be renounced and that men and women can and do share the same close, selfless, love-filled friendships that women share with women. I felt defensive to the implication that women have almost always been sexual objects in the movies, that they maintain the same role outside of the movies, and in fact, that we base our behaviors upon those roles in a patriarchal society when we can only give to one another. The intelligent, homely girl gets the bit role, or gets murdered, or solves the murder and returns to her job as a librarian. The point is, I grew up watching these roles change and not knowing the history I watched. I saw Barbra Streisand as sexy, masculine dress as acceptable. I never remember there being a time without gay-fantasia movies, if one looked hard enough. And yet, Morris does. Morris grew up without these reinforcements for independence, lesbianism, intelligence, and she made the same small sacrifices to inclusion that most girls make. However, it was her generation of women—lesbian and straight—with their influence in Hollywood and in the independent film circuit who made these movie experiences accessible for today’s young girls struggling not to give in with a flip of their hair, but to find a role model who says exactly what’s on her mind when she thinks it. The unique experiences Morris describes are not about the exclusion of men, but rather inclusion and acceptance of women and their movie rituals and in the movies themselves. As roles continue to change, and women like Morris continue to remind us of what we want to forget or take for granted, that young girl will find her role model, and she’ll find her at the movies. —Reviewed by Brett M. Griffiths-Holloway
Terrill, Richard. Fakebook: Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz. New York: Limelight Editions, 2000. 176 pages. $15.00. Richard Terrill begins his second book, Fakebook, with an explanation of the title: “a fakebook derives from recognition that a jazz musician who is improvising over a set of chord changes is ‘faking,’ making up his or her own melody. The fakebook then is a place to start, 246 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
the structure upon which music is completed.” For Terrill, his own experiences as an amateur saxophone player gigging anywhere he could play—from Wisconsin to Korea—are the “chord changes.” “The structure upon which the music is completed” is his exploration of jazz music, both technically and historically. Terrill’s musical influences are diverse, ranging from Dexter Gordon to Tony Bennett, John Coltrane to Bill Evans. But they all share the necessity for clarity and dexterity in sound. By his own admission, Terrill finds more clarity in writing than playing, and by interspersing autobiographical anecdotes with jazz biography, he allows the reader to understand jazz music and the inspiration behind it. Part of what makes Fakebook successful nonfiction is that reading the book requires no prior knowledge of jazz. The book works almost as a primer, giving the novice jazz listener a framework to begin with, as well as information about some of the influential players. This combination of personal and public gives Terrill license to discuss jazz in a way not seen since Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful. Fakebook’s first section shows Terrill playing saxophone at a Korean wedding where musical aptitude isn’t necessarily a requirement; being an American and playing an instrument is: “You want me to stand up and play by myself? No accompaniment?” [Terrill said.] “Sure, why not?” she said. “I think it doesn’t matter. People won’t know the difference anyway.” For Terrill, his friend’s response is indicative of public reaction to jazz music itself, if the audience is paying attention at all. But for Terrill, playing jazz is an act of exploring the self; he discovers just as much about himself through his failure to achieve musical distinction. It is through his own sagacity that Terrill understands the skill necessary to play jazz music: But I knew it never could have been what I wanted it to be [as a musician], and I think Lyle knew it too, that I would settle for nothing less than the living chance, the possibility however remote, to be an artist. . . . Many people are never lucky enough to find out what skills they lack. It’s a step toward recognizing the ones they have. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 247
In the first section, Terrill sets up a comparison: his own spirited but technically challenged playing versus the playing of the musicians he admires. It is this juxtaposition that allows the reader greater understanding of jazz’s underpinnings. He attempts to right some of the misperceptions of improvisation through details of his personal struggles to achieve Terrill eloquently juxtaposes his own jazz mediocrity with admiration for and explanation of those able to play the way he wishes he could, beginning with the “1st chorus,” focusing on Bill Evans, and ending with the “out chorus,” centering on Tony Bennett. In between, Terrill spins the B-side of jazz: smoky clubs where no one is listening, birthday parties, being the asked to play Neil Young at “Jazz Night” in a local club—all part of becoming a jazz musician. Through these divergent experiences, Terrill shows that before an album like John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme can be created, there must be the learning to persevere, to play when it seems like no one is listening. The “5th chorus,” which revolves around the saxophone player Wayne Shorter, deftly expresses Terrill’s admiration through metaphor to convey the experience of listening. Terrill says Shorter’s playing is “Impossible to imitate, the solos are spare as Chinese aphorisms. . . .” But as in the other choruses, he transcribes the sounds of a solo from Shorter’s Speak No Evil into English: Perhaps one should write about Wayne Shorter’s playing the way it sounds, so form follows function. This would mean. Writing in short. PUNCTUATED. !. in strange ways, broken in str ange places, so that the reader reader reader is can’t f o l l o w what re- rethinking his shape or shaping. The difference is that no one want to read this kind of stuff. The listening gives more pleasure. It’s no mere gimmick, or metaphor. Not surprisingly, Terrill’s typographical interpretation of Shorter’s solo is right on, as are the majority of his observations about jazz music. These observations make Fakebook more than just a Journey Back to Jazz. The book serves to move the reader’s comprehension of the music forward, making jazz just a little easier to access. Through it all, Terrill has no illusions about the public perception of jazz, but he is not sycophantic, either. He simply describes the essence of jazz— 248 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
improvisation, perseverance, sometimes destruction—through his own experiences playing, listening and interpreting. In the end, jazz is jazz, and Terrill has found a point of access for anyone who is willing to come along. —Reviewed by Adrian Matejka
Searle, Elizabeth. Celebrities in Disgrace: A Novella and Stories. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2001. 183 pages. $14.00. The narrator of Celebrities in Disgrace’s first story, “Memoir of a Soon-to-Be Star,” is a movie actress who as a girl used to reenact, while her siblings directed and filmed, the prom scene from Carrie, complete with a bucketful of ersatz pig blood (you and I call it ketchup). The disclosure of such details, and ones concerning the girl’s relationship with her older, handicapped brother, is justified formally by the story’s premise: the piece is structured as a (recurring) interview of the actress, given by the reader: I first began acting, I’ll tell you when you ask, in dress-up games I played with my sister Mol till I was—body-wise—a woman. Till Easter Break, 1977; the week Mol and I broke up. Something I never thought could happen between sisters. The story carries a sadness that bleeds through the page in spite of the narrator’s savvy and sexy tone. If in “Memoir” we are the interviewer, for the short-story collection as a whole we are perhaps positioned as a voyeur. We look in on relationships of all sorts; at times we are thrilled— vicariously, with a voyeur’s distance—by the forbidden elements in them, and at other times we are viscerally moved by the strange, sad tenderness we find there. In “Memoir,” the young girl feels she is the only person in the world who recognizes her brother as a man. In the second story, “What It’s Worth,” we see what a maidenly aunt, in preparation for death, has hidden in her house for her niece to find: the aunt’s burial dress, a diamond ring in the icebox, and rare leather-bound books in a secret walled-in shelf. From reading the e-mail messages the young woman sends (and some she doesn’t), we find out she is having some problems: she slept with her best friend’s man and now wants to patch things up Crab Orchard Review ◆ 249
with her—perhaps even redefine the nature of their relationship. As the first two stories suggest, the reader is not alone in the activity of observation. Discovering a truer picture is often at the core of the characters’ dilemmas in these stories. In the title novella, we follow a twenty-nine-year-old woman who aspires to be a movie star and a seventeen-year-old boy who is, all at the same time, a stalker, a convincing actor himself, her first true fan, her lover, and, perhaps, the end of her career. Amidst charges of sexual impropriety, we see how watching, being watched, and the vision the characters have of themselves become entwined: Kathryn raised her head from her TV screen, leaving behind a cloudy smudge of sweat. The Channel 7 camera shifted from long-shot to close-up of the newsman, his face ruddy in the cold. He held up, as if it were a singularly distasteful object, a black videotape box. Even in the dotted distortion of her too-close view, Kathryn Byrne could see the familiar orange label she’d chosen for her monologue video. Orange was always her favorite color, she remembered as if from long ago. Because it best set off her hair. Two of the other stories in the collection are good examples of this interesting “double vision” the author creates. In “The Young and the Rest of Us,” two sisters recreate soap opera scenes for their mother, who is broken in both body and spirit. In “101,” a young woman befriends a couple—her photography professor and the professor’s husband—who might or might not have what they describe as an “open” marriage. The main plot point of “101” is what you would expect: of course the photography professor’s husband is attracted to the female grad student, and of course the professor is going to ask her to model nude; but the man’s reaction when things go further than that is unexpected and at the same time utterly convincing. The characters in Elizabeth Searle’s collection all possess some hunger they cannot always name but which they seek to satisfy wherever they might: in the lustfulness of real life, in the rarefied world of films and television shows (and radio, photography, and books), or in a third, new thing that is a combination—or a confusion—of both. The characters in these stories are flawed and human and, for our own hunger as readers—eavesdroppers, voyeurs—deeply satisfying. —Reviewed by Tabaré Alvarez 250 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
McNally, John, editor. Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2002. 210 pages. $. Humor Me, edited by John McNally, is a medley of humorous work by ethnic writers, ranging from fiction and poetry to nonfiction, cartoons, and drama. McNally writes that “we are now being introduced to a new generation of writers of color who find it easier than previous generations to incorporate humor into their material.” As McNally states, many of the writers in the anthology are younger, but more importantly, are now in a political position to show the humorous side of their backgrounds (which can sometimes be satirical), without concern of societal perceptions. Other than Langston Hughes and his “Simple” stories, few writers of ethnic origin were afforded this luxury in the past. The diversity of the writers’ backgrounds in this anthology— which includes native-born Americans of color as well as newly immigrated Americans of non-European descent—is only matched by the variety of the works. Despite the variations of cultural upbringings, all the creations in this collection are tied together by the wit of the ideas and their executions. And even though the writers draw from a myriad of histories, the works themselves are not bogged down by insider information; any reader from any cultural framework will be able to appreciate the humor and craft involved. The first section of the section is dedicated to fiction. The writers—Peter Bacho, Daniel Chacón, Gish Jen, and Michele Serros among others—integrate humor with narrative to create insight into the human condition. Also included in the section are several shorter pieces by Ray Gonzalez, connected to each other only by the careful craft and mastery of language he displays. The pieces stand on their own as examples of the absurdity of living. “Komodo Dragon,” a story in which the narrator inexplicably finds a Komodo dragon ravening the backyard, begins: There is a Komodo dragon in my backyard. It has my cat in its mouth and chews it savagely as I appear on the porch. The Komodo is at least twelve feet long and larger than an alligator. When it swallows the cat, a cloud of hairs hangs in the air in front of its mighty face. The Komodo tramples through my mother’s flowers and stops under our small Crab Orchard Review ◆ 251
willow tree. It looks up at the birdcage my mother hung on the willow for decoration. There are no birds in it, but the Komodo raises itself on its back legs and rips the wooden cage off the tree. The sound of snapping, crunching wood punctuates the morning. As with the other works of fiction in this anthology, deft use of language is key, overruling reality and truth. After all, it is fiction, and fiction intended to bring a smile to the reader. Section two is comprised of poetry. Like the rest of the writers in this anthology, the poets are all comfortable in their craft and capable of utilizing the form for comedic effect, despite the difficulty of such an undertaking. Many of the poets included are familiar to readers, but the poems in this anthology will show them in a new light. Poems by Nick Carbó, Lucille Clifton, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Tim Seibles all take different approaches to humor. Carbó’s cerebral “Grammarotics,” juxtaposes grammar and eroticism: . . . The placement of the preterite tense at the entrance of a lubricated sentence assures the inevitable apostrophe. . . . While Seibles uses personae to capture the love-play between Boris and Natasha from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon: Boris, dahlink, look at my legs, long as a lonely evening in Leningrad, how they open the air when I walk, the way moonlight opens the dark. . . . Interestingly enough, much of the poetry in the anthology has little to do with culture or history. It has to do with humor, the thing that supersedes these other human constructs. Some of the poems, 252 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
however, do utilize the personal for comedic effect. Paisley Rekdal’s “the night my mother meets bruce lee” is an example: Now the newest busboy erupts out of the back kitchen, Vesuvian, a smatter of duck fat and ash. “I come from Hong Kong from real Chinese,” he told my mother. Posed with martial vigilance, scared the cook, cut his thumb on a knife blade. Kung Fooey everyone at the restaurant calls him. . . . Work like Rekdal’s is able to bring the exclusive cultural idea and present it in a manner that exceeds the occasion. It doesn’t hurt the reader’s understanding that the occasion involves someone as familiar and cool as Bruce Lee, either. A collection of cartoons by fiction writer Charles Johnson and a graphic art story by Erika Lopez comprise the third section. Familiarity with Johnson’s fiction is not required to understand his cartoons collected in this anthology. All that is necessary is the ability to laugh, and Johnson's illustrated wit will be a pleasant surprise for readers. Lopez’s graphic work, however, may be some readers’ first exposure to her work. She alternates between text and illustration to make her points, and the experience for most readers will be one not soon forgotten. While many of the works in this anthology are autobiographical in some manner, the fourth section is strictly nonfiction. Sherman Alexie, Sandra Tsing Loh, and Paisley Rekdal offer humorous insight into their respective upbringings, and their anecdotes often spill over to involve the larger culture. Sandra Tsing Loh gives tells the story of her father who immigrated to California from China, now living in Malibu. He has a car, but refuses to drive it because it is excessive, so he hitchhikes everywhere. In his hitchhiking adventures, he meets among others, Anjelica Huston who is “A very nice lady . . . very knowledgeable about Chinese film and Opera,” much to the surprise of his daughter. Sherman Alexie’s “White Men Can’t Drum” plays on the idea that some ethnic groups are predisposed to proficiency—whether it be basketball, dancing, or mathematics—while others aren’t. He says: Crab Orchard Review ◆ 253
. . . I watched a short feature on a meeting of the Confused White Men chapter in Spokane, Washington. They were all wearing war bonnets and beating drums, more or less. A few of the drums looked as if they might have come from Kmart, and one or two men just beat their chests. “It’s not the drum,” said the leader of the group. “It’s the idea of a drum.” I was amazed at the lack of rhythm and laughed, even though I knew I supported a stereotype. But it’s true: White men can’t drum. “Shinnob Jep,” a play by Jim Northrup, is a humorous look at culture thorough a game show that is, as the announcer and host of the says, “We didn’t make our casino connection yet so we’re still a lowbudget show,” featuring all Native American contestants. Each contestant represents a facet of Native American life, complete with divergent ideas and knowledge. The announcer, Al, explains the game: . . . Unlike TV’s JEOPARDY!, which does it backwards, here we ask the questions, you give the answers. There is one Daily Double in this round. Here are the categories in the first round of Shinnob Jep (Al points to each category on the chalkboard): Ricing, Powwows, Tribal Councils, Higher Education, Casinos and Gambling, and Race Relations. John, you lost the toss, you have to go first. Pick a category. JOHN :
I’d like Higher Education for one dollar, Al. AL : Here’s the question—What is the first fiction writing course taken by students? JOHN : The financial aid form. AL : That’s right for a dollar. . . . Humor Me brings a diverse group of writers together under the banner of humor and shows that writing can be well-crafted and funny, sincere but not self-righteous. The writers collected here are supremely aware of their cultures and histories, but aren’t afraid to laugh at them. These writers are, in a sense, laughing at themselves. And if you can’t laugh at yourself, you shouldn’t laugh at all. This anthology shows us that despite the subject matter, laughter is still the final answer. —Reviewed by Adrian Matejka 254 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Clemens, Will, editor (with photographs by Jon Hughes). All Shook Up: Collected Poems about Elvis. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 2001. 131 pages. $18.95. It’s easy to sit down with All Shook Up: Collected Poems about Elvis and find yourself thinking, “Who needs an anthology all about Elvis?” Editor Will Clemens writes, “An anthology of poems about Elvis invites readers to experience the connection between the historical and mythical status of Elvis on the one hand and the poetic imagery on the other.” But if that is all there was to this anthology, anyone who’s not an academic studying popular culture would put it down pretty fast. Fortunately, the poems in the anthology make a much better case for themselves. These are fun, thoughtful, and thought-provoking works that aren’t afraid to swivel their hips to turn a head or two. The anthology is organized by the original publication dates of the poems included and the effect of this is one of the real marks of the editor’s accomplishment here. The first poem in the anthology, “Elvis Presley” by Thom Gunn, dates back to 1957, the year Elvis Presley purchased Graceland. This is Elvis before the Army, before his mother’s death—long before the white jumpsuit. Elvis had only begun his film career a year earlier and was public enemy number one to the guardians of public decency. As Thom Gunn’s poem shows, this Elvis Presley is still very much a figure of rebellion, even if the poet isn’t sure how real this figure is: He turns revolt into a style, prolongs The impulse to a habit of the time. Whether he poses or is real, no cat Bothers to say: the prose held is a stance, Which, generation of the very chance It wars on, may be posture for combat. When Thom Gunn returns to the subject of Elvis twenty-five years later in his poem “Painkillers,” the image of Elvis has become tragic and comically disappointing: . . . the puffy King lived on, his painkillers neutralizing, neutralizing, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 255
until he became ludicrous in performance. The enthroned cannot revolt. What was the pain he needed to kill if not the ultimate pain of feeling no pain? The anthology collects works by writers both well-known—Ai, Charles Bukowski, Lucille Clifton, Cornelius Eady, Alice Fulton, Joyce Carol Oates, and Diane Wakoski—and under-appreciated— Neal Bowers, Van K. Brock, Andrew Hudgins, Fleda Brown Jackson, Lynne McMahon, David Ray, James Seay, and David Wojahn. There are also poets here who will be discoveries for most readers. Some of their standout poems include: Richard Blessing’s “Elegy for Elvis,” a touching reminder of the human face behind the icon; Don Bogen’s “All Shook Up,” capturing that television moment when Elvis’s hidden hips changed a nation; David Rivard’s “Cures,” examining the way fame changes a man, body and soul. One of the last poems in the anthology, Maudelle Driskell’s “Talismans,” takes the reader to a flea market full of “Elvis relics in zip-lock bags.” The poem’s real magic, though, isn’t its occasion, which would present an easy target to many writers. Driskell finds in this collection of detritus the core of belief that brings so many people back to the icon of Elvis: some brief spell of ball lightning rolling through our brains— quickening an interest in the local auto mechanic, sending us on crusades, giving us the idea for Velcro, telling us to kill our wives, leading us forward in blind faith, making us hear The Word and hope that, unlike steak, we move on to Glory, seeing for the first time, the glistening strings of dew in moonlight, strung all along the spider’s tender lines, leaving us shaken in the divine smell of strawberries. Whether you are a fan of “the King,” contemporary poetry, or popular culture in general, All Shook Up has something to offer. 256 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Elvis may be a punchline for many people these days, but this anthology reminds us of the glory before the fall and the attraction this figure still has to draw us in with wonder, pity, and amazement. —Reviewed by Jon Tribble
Webb, Charles Harper, editor. Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2002. 348 pages. $24.95. In his introduction to Stand Up Poetry, editor Charles Harper Webb claims: “Entertainment isn't always art, but the best art always entertains, while the worst struggles to self-consciously edify.” This sentiment resounds in his anthology, a lively collection of literary nose-thumbing filled with often decadent, yet always thought-provoking poems. The “Stand Up Poem,” as Webb has identified it, is multifaceted, genre-busting, and nearly demands to be read aloud. It can be showoffy or coy, invite a smirk or a guffaw; and the “Stand Up Poem” also shoulders that knee-jerk geek burden of proving to the nonpoetry world that not all poetry is stuffy and indecipherable. In other words, leave your Derrida decoder ring at the door; this ain’t your grandma’s verse. From the sage meditation to the smart-aleck poke in the ribs, one thing this collection flaunts beautifully is the fine range of work presented. Wild, satirical and plainspoken, Russell Edson’s “Ape” finds its own oddball wisdom as it spirals gorgeously into grossness and familial dysfunction: Are you saying that I am in love with this vicious creature? That I would submit my female opening to this brute? That after we had love on the kitchen floor I would put him in the oven, after breaking his head with a frying pan; and then serve him to my husband, that my husband might eat the evidence of my infidelity . . . ? I’m just saying that I’m damn sick of ape every night, cried father. And then there is the deadpan freakiness of Jeffrey McDaniel’s poems. His Jack Handey-esque endings are tempered by a mannered line and unique sense of humor that begs for barroom recitations. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 257
Imagine the response on open-mic night if someone onstage began reciting these lines from “The Bad Pilgrim Room”: When I misbehaved as a child, my parents would make me undress. Instead of spanking me, they’d paint my rear end red, then place me in a black cloak, a tall black hat, shoes with buckles, and lead me down the basement stairs to the bad pilgrim room. Stand Up Poetry is also a showcase for much-loved favorites. How wonderful to see such titles as Denise Duhamel’s “Buddhist Barbie,” James Tate’s “How the Pope Is Chosen” and Jack Grapes’s “I Like My Own Poems” mingle at the same crazy cocktail party. The tag of “anti-literary” for this anthology is misleading. Webb himself declares: “Like the proverbial ‘stand up guy,’ Stand Up poetry is honest, unpretentious, strong.” Whether it be the subtle musings of Stephen Dunn: You can't say to your child ‘Evolution loves you.’ The story stinks of extinction and nothing exciting happens for centuries, . . . or the right-on contempt of Lynn Emanuel: “And this whole boggy waste trickles down to the reader in the form of a little burp of feeling. God, I hate prose,”—this collection is sure to raise a few eyebrows from the Ivory Tower. But really, so what? Maybe the answer to Dana Gioia’s “Can Poetry Matter?” has finally come to this: a glass of wine flung in the face of high snobbery, a pair of bunny ears over the head of theory, a cacophony of class clowns with something to say. The answers found here are loud, clear, and uncompromising, whether they come in the form of the sublime crassness of Kim Addonizio’s “For Desire”:
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. . .and then I want to get up again and put on that little black dress and wait for you, yes you, to come over here and get down on your knees and tell me just how fucking good I look. or the aw-shucks whimsy of Thomas Lux’s “I Love You Sweatheart”: She will know I love her now, the world will know my love for her! A man risked his life to write the words. Love is like this at the bone, we hope, love is like this, Sweatheart, all sore and dumb and dangerous, ignited, blessed—always, regardless, no exceptions, always in blazing matters like these: blessed. No matter what your tastes, Stand Up Poetry offers a serious variety of voices from the world of contemporary poetry. Voices that craft the colloquial for its honesty and singular beauty, mine popular culture for inspiration, and make us think as often as they make us smile. —Reviewed by Melanie Dusseau
Correction: The following review of Elizabeth Dodd’s collection of poems Archetypal Light appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 7, Number 1 (Fall/Winter 2001). The publication information included with that review was incorrect. The correct information has been included here and the review is being reprinted in its entirety. The editors of Crab Orchard Review apologize for any inconvenience or confusion created by this mistake. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 259
Dodd, Elizabeth. Archetypal Light. Reno & Las Vegas, NV: University of Nevada Press, 2001. 79 pages. $12.00. In her second collection of poems, Archetypal Light, Elizabeth Dodd engages the contemporary landscapes of the American West by looking through them to their human and non-human pasts. Her wanderings from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest and points-in-between uncover distinctly personal visions of wild places and creatures always rooted in a long view of time. The greatest reward of re-reading this book is the way it consistently reveals multiple layers of history in all the landscapes it cites, as in the long poem “The Route”: “At Big Two Medicine Lake, / almost a mile of Pleistocene ice / preceded Lewis, Clark, / these three mergansers pausing / in the turquoise cove.” The range of associations Dodd draws from her impressive powers of observation point to another consistent feature of Archetypal Light: natural history interwoven with human experience. Like her obvious predecessor Gary Snyder, Dodd not only knows her plants, animals, and geology, she knows what they’ve meant to people throughout the ages. Often speaking in the voices of historical figures, she loads what could be mere taxonomy with practical and spiritual resonance. In “Into These Places,” an explorer of the West relates how water “ . . . is found only by following / old Indian or mountain sheep trails / or by watching the flight of birds . . .” In “The Door,” a Kansas woman coming to terms with the violence surrounding John Brown and her state’s settlement remembers: sunny days I’d bring the wash and find a flock of flycatchers perched on the line. They’d lift off in a flash of sudden color, hover for a moment overhead, and I’d stand still enough I’d think God would reveal something, time or Providence resolve itself across the fields. . . . Sometimes, Dodd jumps from natural history into personal history, too, moving deftly between remembrance and present revelation. In the poem “Virginia Rail,” her description of a secretive wading bird turns on the dime of the bird’s name into a well-drawn memory of elementary school square-dancing, which ends with the 260 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
speaker stating, “. . . I’m left // beside the salt marsh squinting, trying to see.” In Archetypal Light, clear glimpses of a creature or a moment in the past are elusive and ephemeral when gained. Dodd seldom dwells on an image very long, formally reflecting her preoccupation with the flux of nature and time. In her many poems that deal with paintings, she confronts the difficulty of fixing the ever-changing lines and light of the physical world. The collection’s final poem, “The Blue of the Mussel Shell,” considers a painting by Andrew Wyeth and arrives at the questions that underlie all Dodd’s investigations of landscape: “What anchors / our attention, what / endures?” Elizabeth Dodd leaves no doubt that the focal point of her attention is the interface between people and geography. What endures, she says, is “. . . memory articulated / into headland, stone, / volcanic ash and harder caprock, life / translated slowly into layers” (“At Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska,”). With a scope expansive as the vistas of the American West she eloquently admires, Dodd shows that poetry concerned with the intricacies of the natural world can also illuminate human experience in original and compelling ways. —Reviewed by Douglas Haynes
Crab Orchard Review ◆ 261
Melissa Baird is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She currently resides in Laguna Beach, California. Ned Balbo’s first poetry collection, Galileo’s Banquet, was awarded the Towson University Prize for Literature. New poems are out or forthcoming in Italian Americana and Notre Dame Review. Jackie Bartley’s poems have appeared in a number of journals including, most recently, Iron Horse Literary Review, Phoebe, and Spoon River Poetry Review. Her first full-length collection, Bloodroot, will be published later this year by Mellen Poetry Press. Eleanor Berry currently lives and writes in rural western Oregon. Her poetry has recently appeared in Manzanita Quarterly, Spoon River Poetry Review, Writing on the Edge, and the anthologies Earth Beneath, Sky Beyond (Outrider Press), and Verseweavers (Oregon State Poetry Association). Other poems are forthcoming in 13th Moon and Whole Notes, and an essay is forthcoming in Herspace: Women, Writing, Solitude (Haworth Press). Andrew Bomback lives in New York, where he is a medical student. His stories and poems have recently appeared in Carve Magazine, Tumbleweed Review, Diagram, Wilmington Blues, and Elysian Fields Quarterly. Ben Brooks won a 2000 Nelson Algren Award from the Chicago Tribune, and he has published over 70 short stories in literary journals—most recently in Alaska Quarterly Review, Writers’ Forum, and The Best of Outerbridge. He has stories forthcoming in Virginia Quarterly Review, Sewanee Review, and Notre Dame Review. His novel, The Icebox, was published in 1987. He teaches fiction writing at Emerson College in Boston. Anthony Butts is a member of the creative writing faculty at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Ferris Wheel” is taken from Little Low Heaven, his third book of poetry, due out from New 262 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Issues Press in late 2002. He also has recent poems appearing in Meridian, Cimarron Review, and Minnesota Review. Lanette Cadle received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, where she is currently a doctoral student in Rhetoric and Composition as well as Assistant Poetry Editor for Mid-American Review. Joseph Campana is a native of upstate New York. He is currently studying and teaching Renaissance literature at Cornell University. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Poetry, Seneca Review, Third Coast, Marlboro Review, Cream City Review, River City, Gulf Coast, and Beloit Poetry Review, all of which are part of a manuscript in progress. “Breakfast” and “Sabrina” are part of a new series, “Thirteen Ways of Looking At Audrey Hepburn.” Jennifer Chang was a Henry Hoyns Fellow in poetry at the University of Virginia. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Indiana Review, and Prairie Schooner. She has received an Academy of American Poets Prize and a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony. She lives in San Francisco. Victoria Chang is a poet and writer living in California. She won a Hopwood Award in poetry and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New England Review, Cream City Review, Florida Review, and Hawai‘i Review. She is also editing an anthology, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, due out in 2003 from the University of Illinois Press. Chauna Craig has published recent work in Prairie Schooner, Green Mountains Review, and Passages North. A former Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference work-study scholar, she currently teaches at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Chad Davidson’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Pequod, Poet Lore, and others. He has recently returned from a one-year scholarship at the University of Perugia, Italy. He lives in New York. Christine Delea is originally from Long Island, New York. She is currently not working, but is spending time on her writing and on Crab Orchard Review ◆ 263
her new obsession, quilting. Her first book, a chapbook entitled Ordinary Days in Ordinary Places, was published by Pudding House Publications. Recent publications include Spoon River Poetry Review (first-place winner of their 2001 poetry contest), South Dakota Review, Rattapallax, Green Hills Literary Lantern, and Oregon Review. Kevin Ducey has published fiction and poetry in knot, Exquisite Corpse, headlight journal, and essays in the Bloomsbury Review of Books. He writes of his work: “I saw an old black and white movie still of Karloff playing Frankenstein’s Monster. He was sitting in a chair holding a cup of coffee and smoking a cigar. (I happened to be drinking coffee when I saw this.) I remembered Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire. An angel chooses mortality, falls to earth and the first thing he does is get a java and a smoke. Monsters and angels. They’re curious about us. And these two plants—coffee and tobacco—they’ve brought us along so patiently. They must be proud of us and our desires.” Denise Duhamel’s most recent titles are Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press), The Star-Spangled Banner (winner of Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry; Southern Illinois University Press), and Kinky (Orchises Press). She is an assistant professor at Florida International University in Miami. Angie Estes’s most recent collection, Voice-Over, won the 2001 FIELD Poetry Prize and was also awarded the 2001 Alice Fay di Castagnola Prize from the Poetry Society of America. Recent work appears in Paris Review, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, Pleiades, and Chelsea. Kathy Fagan’s most recent book is The Charm (Zoo Press). She teaches at Ohio State, where she also co-edits The Journal. Richard Garcia is the author of The Flying Garcias (University of Pittsburgh Press) and Rancho Notorious (BOA Editions). His poems have recently appeared in Mid-American Review, Colorado Review, and the anthology Urban Nature: Poems about Wildlife in the City (Milkweed Editions). He is poet-in-residence at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, assisted by a series of grants from the California Arts Council and the Johnny Mercer Foundation. Naama Goldstein was raised in the city of Petakh Tikva, in Israel, 264 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
and now lives in Boston. Her stories have been published in The Republic of Letters, First Harvest: Jewish Writing in St. Louis, and Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops 1998, and appear currently or are forthcoming in Arts & Letters and Pakn Treger. She recently completed her first collection of short stories, Anatevka Tender, and is at work on a novel. Paul Guest’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Iowa Review, Quarterly West, Slate, Third Coast, and Greensboro Review. He is the winner of the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize for his first book of poems, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World. He currently teaches at the University of Alabama. David Hernandez’s poems have appeared in the Southern Review, Cream City Review, Quarterly West, Prairie Schooner, and in the anthology Another City: Writing from Los Angeles (City Lights). A recent recipient of a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, his chapbook collections include Man Climbs Out of Manhole (Pearl Editions) and Donating the Heart (Pudding House Publications), which won the National Looking Glass Poetry Competition. James Himelsbach is a poet and playwright. His plays have been performed in regional theaters throughout the United States. His poems have appeared in Literal Latté, Witness, and Notre Dame Review. Laura Johnson has recently completed a collection of poems, Mural of the Vanishing People. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Interim, and Clackamas Literary Review. She lives in Tempe, Arizona. A. Van Jordan was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, and is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. He is a founding member of the Poison Clan Collective and a member of the Cave Canem Workshop. In 1995, he was awarded a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Literary Fellowship. His work has appeared in the Marlboro Review, Barrow Street, Brilliant Corners, and Ploughshares. His first book, Rise, was published by Tia Chucha Press. Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis’s work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Another Chicago Magazine, Bellevue Literary Crab Orchard Review ◆ 265
Review, Denver Quarterly, and New Orleans Review. She lives and writes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Sarah Kennedy’s second book, Flow Blue, will be published by Elixir Press in the Fall of 2002. Winner of awards from the Nebraska Review and Flyway, she holds an MFA from Vermont College and teaches at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of five books, including the poetry collection, World as Dictionary, and Space, a memoir about growing up in Florida during the moon race. Her poetry appears in recent issues of Ploughshares, Southern Review, and Kenyon Review. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin, where she directs the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Vandana Khanna’s collection Train to Agra won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize and was published by Southern Illinois University Press in the Fall of 2001. She lives in Los Angeles. Leonard Kress’s most recent book is Sappho’s Apples (Harrow Gate Press). He has been published in Massachusetts Review, Missouri Review, and North American Review, and received a grant from the Ohio Arts Council this year. He currently teaches religion and art history at Owens College in Toledo, Ohio, where he lives with his wife and three kids. Timothy Liu’s most recent book of poems is Hard Evidence (Talisman House). He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. David Lloyd directs the Creative Writing Program at Le Moyne College. His poems and stories have appeared in Del Sol Review, Denver Quarterly, and DoubleTake. He is the editor of The Urgency of Identity: Contemporary English-Language Poetry from Wales (Northwestern University Press) and the author of Writing on the Edge: Interviews with Writers and Editors of Wales (Rodopi Editions). In 2000, he received the Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Memorial Award. Sonya Chung Miyamura’s stories and essays have appeared in the Threepenny Review, Sonora Review, and Cream City Review. She is 266 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
a recipient of the Charles Johnson Award in Fiction and a Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Finalist Award. She lives in Seattle with her husband, Kevin. Matthew Pitt spent months among the ubiquitous sunshine and canned laughter of Los Angeles, working as a writers’ assistant for a TV sitcom. His career was capped by a walk-on role where he delivered helium balloons—and one glorious line—to the nation’s Nielsen families. He has since relocated East, earning an MFA at New York University, where he was a New York Times Fellow in Fiction. Stories of his recently appeared in Colorado Review, Madison Review, Confrontation, and the anthology Best New American Voices 2001, edited by Charles Baxter. Jack Ridl’s Against Elegies was selected by Sharon Dolin and Billy Collins for the 2001 Chapbook Award from the Center for Book Arts in New York City. Ridl is in his 31st year of teaching poetry at Hope College. Geoff Schmidt is finishing a collection of stories based on Christmas cartoon characters. His first novel, Write Your Heart Out: Advice from the Moon Winx Motel, was published by Smallmouth Press. Floyd Skloot is the author of three novels, three collections of poetry, a memoir about the illness experience, and a forthcoming book of essays, In the Shadow of Memory (Nebraska, 2003). He won the 2001 Oregon Book Award in Poetry for The Evening Light (Story Line) and his essays were included in The Best Spiritual Writing 2001 and The Best American Essays 2000. Recent work appears in Boulevard, Southern Review, Sewanee Review, North American Review and Hudson Review. He lives in Amity, Oregon. Virgil Suárez’s new work includes the collections Palm Crows (University of Arizona Press), Banyan (LSU Press) and Guide to the Blue Tongue (University of Illinois Press). He lives in Miami and works in Tallahassee at Florida State University. Daniel Tobin’s first book of poems, Where the World Is Made, was co-winner of Katherine Nason Bakeless Poetry Prize (University Press of New England, 1999), the same year in which the University Crab Orchard Review ◆ 267
Press of Kentucky published his critical book, Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney. His second book of poems, Double Life, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press (2003). Brian Turner is a poet living in the Pacific Northwest. His work has been published in Black Bear Review. He is currently working on a collection of poetry entitled How We The Damaged Touch. Alison Umminger is a Ph.D. student at Indiana University. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Quarterly West, and Orchid. Charles Harper Webb’s latest book of poems, Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies, was published by BOA Editions. He has received the Morse Poetry Prize, the Tufts Discovery Award, the Pollak Prize, a Whiting Writer’s Award, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He teaches at California State University, Long Beach. Kelly Whiddon’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Southeast Review, The Distillery, Ginger Hill, Rio Grande Review, and Concho River Review. She is the associate editor of Apalachee Review. S.L. Wisenberg is the author of the short story collection, The Sweetheart Is In, and of the forthcoming essay collection, Sleepless Jews. She is happy to live in Chicago after sojourns in Houston, Paris, Iowa City, Miami, and Provincetown. Geoffrey D. Witham is a Connecticut-born Jersey-boy currently living in Hyattsville, Maryland. He has just finished his MFA at American University and is now working on his first novel, All That Matters.
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INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Title Index Adventures of Billy, The (ptry). Jesse Lee Kercheval After a Trip to the Fertility Clinic (ptry). Deborah Landau After Revolution (ptry). Emmy Pérez After the Snowman (fctn). Geoff Schmidt Algebra (ptry). Ada Limón All the Mourners of Zion (fctn). Naama Goldstein Anchors (fctn). Ben Brooks Apartment 413 (ptry). Lisa Glatt Appeal of Prophecy, The (ptry). Joanna Smith Rakoff Aubade (ptry). Nola Garrett Back (ptry). Moira Linehan Backstage Nutcracker (ptry). Leonard Kress Because Star Trek is Love in Another Language (ptry). Chauna Craig Big Timeout, The. Kathryn Rhett Bloom (ptry). Nicole Johnson Blue (ptry). Vandana Khanna Bop: A Whistling Woman (ptry). Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon Breakfast (ptry). Joseph Campana Bride of Horus (fctn). Wanda Coleman By the Waters of Babylon (ptry). Elton Glaser Cerebro-Corticular Thingamajig (ptry). Charles Harper Webb Childhood Elegy (ptry). Joseph O. Legaspi Cleaning (ptry). Camille Dungy Coefficient of Drag, The (ptry). Elton Glaser Comedian Heads for the Desert, The (ptry). James Himelsbach Confessions of a Femme Fatale (fctn). Alison Umminger Day Before, The (ptry). Brendan Galvin Dear Joe (ptry). Moira Linehan Deeper into Movies (fctn). Andrew Bomback Deer Hunter, The (ptry). Jennifer Chang Doris Day’s Calamity Jane (ptry). Lanette Cadle Drawing Della Street (ptry). Lanette Cadle Dressing Gown, The (fctn). Agica Zivaljevic Driver’s Guide to Ireland, A (ptry). Brendan Galvin Dusk on Mulholland Drive (ptry). Deborah Landau Elegy for Europe (ptry). Tony Whedon Eschatology: Frank and Elvis (ptry). David Lloyd Evening at the Chinese Opera, An (ptry). Victoria Chang Everyone Gets a Happy Ending (fctn). Geoffrey D. Witham
7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2):
135 139 154 165 141 89 49 82 155 75 144 146 65
7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2):
176 95 142 206 31 18 78 206 140 46 80 118 209 51 142 36 34 28 27 130 47 136 208 190 62 233
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INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Ferris Wheel (ptry). Anthony Butts Florigraphy (ptry). Susan Aizenberg For the Love of Veronica (ptry). James Tate For the Raven’s Return (ptry). Brendan Galvin Fragrant Cloud, The (ptry). James Tate Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1926–7 (ptry). Brian Turner Garden According to Frank, The (ptry). David Lloyd Glint (ptry). Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis Golden Retrievers (fctn). Matthew Pitt Hands of the Stars (ptry). Melissa Baird Her Porch (ptry). Kathryn Stripling Byer Horror Show (ptry). Sarah Kennedy Houdini in a Barrel (ptry). Brian Turner House Began to Pitch, The (ptry). Kelly Whiddon How to Paint Water (ptry). Gray Jacobik Hum (ptry). Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon I Am Looking (ptry). Emmy Pérez Imagine God As a Camera (ptry). Jesse Lee Kercheval Interlude: Still Still (ptry). Robin Behn Internal Clock (ptry). Rebecca Seiferle Irving Berlin, the Margin and the Mainstream. S.L. Wisenberg It Falls to Me (ptry). David Bond Jean Harlow’s Lips (ptry). Jackie Bartley Junk. Steven Frattali Lands of the Nobles, The (fctn). Ellen Hunnicutt Last Days at the Miriwa Restaurant (ptry). Chi-Wai Au Last Words of Alice the Goon, The (ptry). Paul Guest Late Night Ghazal (ptry). Kathy Fagan Late Show at The Elysian (ptry). James Himelsbach Laurel and Hardy Backwards (ptry). David Hernandez Legacy (ptry). Judith Taylor Let Us Rejoice! (fctn). Floyd Skloot Lisa Fremont (ptry). Victoria Chang Living Proof (ptry). Cathy Song Lovely Leo (circa 1999) (fctn). Sonya Chung Miyamura Lure of the Mexican Vampire Movies, or How Skin Flickers Past, The (ptry). Virgil Suárez Macnolia’s Dream of Shirley Temple (ptry). A. Van Jordan Magnificat (ptry). Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon Mare Tranquilitatis (ptry). Ann Hudson Midwest Cash (ptry). Maria McLeod Mobile Maker, The (ptry). Ann Hudson Monsoon (ptry). Chi-Wai Au My Redemption and Why It Took (fctn). James Lott
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7(2): 25 7(1): 26 7(1): 200 7(1): 49 7(1): 201 7(2): 204 7(2): 192 7(2): 131 7(2): 148 7(2): 14 7(1): 42 7(2): 133 7(2): 203 7(2): 207 7(1): 93 7(1): 205 7(1): 152 7(2): 139 7(1): 37 7(1): 190 7(2): 1 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2):
39 22 169 59 33 83 76 122 87 202 176 64 194 107 196
7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1):
128 204 89 145 91 31 101
INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Narcissus at the River (ptry). Chi-Wai Au Night Train from Moscow (ptry). James Himelsbach Nimbus, The (ptry). James Tate No Horses (ptry). Laura Johnson Occupying Hotel Santa Teresa (fctn). Jennifer Davis Ode (ptry). Susan Aizenberg Ode to Billy (ptry). Danusha Laméris de Garza Ode to Joe Orton (ptry). Timothy Liu Ode to Maria Callas (ptry). Timothy Liu On Roark’s Farm (ptry). Dick Allen Ophelia: A Wreath (ptry). Ned Balbo Opportunities (ptry). Richard Garcia Passing through Bandit Territory. Faith Adiele Pinocchio (ptry). Paul Guest Rainbow Café, The (ptry). Daniel Tobin Red Level (ptry). Patty Seyburn Remote, The (ptry). Jack Ridl River, The (ptry). Maxine Scates Roman Holiday (ptry). Jennifer Chang Romance in Many Movements (ptry). Vandana Khanna Sabrina (ptry). Joseph Campana Sal (ptry). Orlando Ricardo Menes Say Merveille (ptry). Angie Estes Scar (ptry). Twyla Hansen Sheepdip River Vision (ptry). Mark Halliday Six-Toed Sestina (ptry). Denise Duhamel Slipping (fctn). Jedd Beaudoin Snowflake Obsidian (ptry). Mary Jo Firth Gillett Student Carmen (ptry). Leonard Kress Summer I Thought the World Was Going to End (1959), The (ptry). Baron Wormser Sunday (ptry). Dick Allen The Poseidon Adventure Comes to North Babylon, New York: We Recognized Evil Before It Knew Us (ptry). Christine Delea This Last Thing (fctn). Liam Callanan To Brain on Brain’s Last Day (ptry). Robin Behn Trading Love Stories in Installments, Ruined Amphitheater, Provence (ptry). Leslie Adrienne Miller Unanswerable (ptry). Kathryn Stripling Byer Upstairs Album, The (fctn). Aimee Parkison Vertigo (ptry). Ned Balbo Virtus Dormitiva (ptry). Chad Davidson Visiting Hour (ptry). Laura Johnson Voyage Autour D’Une Etoile (ptry). Jesse Lee Kercheval
7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(1):
34 120 199 125 53 24 44 187 188 28 21 78 157 81 198 192 194 188 32 143 30 147 75 85 83 73 1 76 144 210
7(1): 30 7(2): 69
7(1): 8 7(1): 35 7(1): 150 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2): 7(2):
41 116 16 67 126 137
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INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Waiting with William Stafford in an Oregon Airport (ptry). Jack Ridl What Country (ptry). Eleanor Berry What If Mary (ptry). Danusha Laméris de Garza What Max, Age Two, Remembers about Spain (ptry). Jesse Lee Kercheval When the dead come back, (ptry). Jesse Lee Kercheval White Cirrus (ptry). Tony Whedon White Lie (ptry). Twyla Hansen Wile E. Coyote Attains Nirvana (ptry). David Hernandez Wim Wenders vs. the Wolfman (ptry). Kevin Ducey Winter Light (After Chemotherapy) (ptry). Sally Read “You Have Given This Boy Life.” Bill Roorbach You Never Know How Things Will Turn Out in the Movies (ptry). Virgil Suárez
7(1): 186 7(2): 24 7(1): 43 7(1): 96 7(1): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1): 7(2):
98 207 87 85 71 184 212 197
Author Index Adiele, Faith. Passing through Bandit Territory Aizenberg, Susan. Florigraphy (ptry) Ode (ptry) Allen, Dick. On Roark’s Farm (ptry) Sunday (ptry) Au, Chi-Wai. Last Days at the Miriwa Restaurant (ptry) Monsoon (ptry) Narcissus at the River (ptry) Baird, Melissa. Hands of the Stars (ptry) Balbo, Ned. Ophelia: A Wreath (ptry) Vertigo (ptry) Bartley, Jackie. Jean Harlow’s Lips (ptry) Beaudoin, Jedd. Slipping (fctn) Behn, Robin. Interlude: Still Still (ptry) To Brain on Brain’s Last Day Berry, Eleanor. What Country (ptry)
272 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
7(1): 157 7(1): 26 7(1): 24 7(1): 28 7(1): 30 7(1): 33 7(1): 31 7(1): 34 7(2): 14 7(2): 21 7(2): 16 7(2): 22 7(1):
7(1): 37 7(1): 35 7(2): 24
INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Bomback, Andrew. Deeper into Movies (fctn) Bond, David. It Falls to Me (ptry) Brooks, Ben. Anchors (fctn) Butts, Anthony. Ferris Wheel (ptry) Byer, Kathryn Stripling. Her Porch (ptry) Unanswerable (ptry) Cadle, Lanette. Doris Day’s Calamity Jane (ptry) Drawing Della Street (ptry) Callanan, Liam. This Last Thing (fctn) Campana, Joseph. Breakfast (ptry) Sabrina (ptry) Chang, Jennifer. The Deer Hunter (ptry) Roman Holiday (ptry) Chang, Victoria. An Evening at the Chinese Opera (ptry) Lisa Fremont (ptry) Coleman, Wanda. Bride of Horus (fctn) Craig, Chauna. Because Star Trek is Love in Another Language (ptry) Davidson, Chad. Virtus Dormitiva (ptry) Davis, Jennifer. Occupying Hotel Santa Teresa (fctn) de Garza, Danusha Laméris. Ode to Billy (ptry) What If Mary (ptry) Delea, Christine. The Poseidon Adventure Comes to North Babylon, New York: We Recognized Evil Before It Knew Us (ptry) Ducey, Kevin. Wim Wenders vs. the Wolfman (ptry) Duhamel, Denise. Six-Toed Sestina (ptry) Dungy, Camille. Cleaning (ptry)
7(2): 36 7(1): 39 7(2): 49 7(2): 25 7(1): 42 7(1): 41 7(2): 28 7(2): 27 7(1):
7(2): 31 7(2): 30 7(2): 34 7(2): 32 7(2): 62 7(2): 64 7(1): 18 7(2): 65 7(2): 67 7(1): 53 7(1): 44 7(1): 43 7(2): 69
7(2): 71 7(2): 73 7(1): 46
Crab Orchard Review ◆ 273
INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Estes, Angie. Say Merveille (ptry) Fagan, Kathy. Late Night Ghazal (ptry) Frattali, Steven. Junk Galvin, Brendan. The Day Before (ptry) A Driver’s Guide to Ireland (ptry) For the Raven’s Return (ptry) Garcia, Richard. Opportunities (ptry) Garrett, Nola. Aubade (ptry) Gillett, Mary Jo Firth. Snowflake Obsidian (ptry) Glaser, Elton. By the Waters of Babylon (ptry) The Coefficient of Drag (ptry) Glatt, Lisa. Apartment 413 (ptry) Goldstein, Naama. All the Mourners of Zion (fctn) Guest, Paul. The Last Words of Alice the Goon (ptry) Pinocchio (ptry) Halliday, Mark. Sheepdip River Vision (ptry) Hansen, Twyla. Scar (ptry) White Lie (ptry) Hernandez, David. Laurel and Hardy Backwards (ptry) Wile E. Coyote Attains Nirvana (ptry) Himelsbach, James. The Comedian Heads for the Desert (ptry) Late Show at The Elysian (ptry) Night Train from Moscow (ptry) Hudson, Ann. Mare Tranquilitatis (ptry) The Mobile Maker (ptry) Hunnicutt, Ellen. The Lands of the Nobles (fctn) Jacobik, Gray. How to Paint Water (ptry)
274 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
7(2): 75 7(2): 76 7(1): 169 7(1): 51 7(1): 47 7(1): 49 7(2): 78 7(1): 75 7(1): 76 7(1): 78 7(1): 80 7(1): 82 7(2): 89 7(2): 83 7(2): 81 7(1): 83 7(1): 85 7(1): 87 7(2): 87 7(2): 85 7(2): 118 7(2): 122 7(2): 120 7(1): 89 7(1): 91 7(1): 59 7(1): 93
INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Johnson, Laura. No Horses (ptry) Visiting Hour (ptry) Johnson, Nicole. Bloom (ptry) Jordan, A. Van. Macnolia’s Dream of Shirley Temple (ptry) Kartsonis, Ariana-Sophia. Glint (ptry) Kennedy, Sarah. Horror Show (ptry) Kercheval, Jesse Lee. The Adventures of Billy (ptry) Imagine God As a Camera (ptry) Voyage Autour D’Une Etoile (ptry) What Max, Age Two, Remembers about Spain (ptry) When the dead come back, (ptry) Khanna, Vandana. Blue (ptry) Romance in Many Movements (ptry) Kress, Leonard. Backstage Nutcracker (ptry) Student Carmen (ptry) Landau, Deborah. After a Trip to the Fertility Clinic (ptry) Dusk on Mulholland Drive (ptry) Legaspi, Joseph O. Childhood Elegy (ptry) Limón, Ada. Algebra (ptry) Linehan, Moira. Back (ptry) Dear Joe (ptry) Liu, Timothy. Ode to Joe Orton (ptry) Ode to Maria Callas (ptry) Lloyd, David. Eschatology: Frank and Elvis (ptry) The Garden According to Frank (ptry) Lott, James. My Redemption and Why It Took (fctn) McLeod, Maria. Midwest Cash (ptry) Menes, Orlando Ricardo. Sal (ptry)
7(2): 125 7(2): 126 7(1): 95 7(2): 128 7(2): 131 7(2): 133 7(2): 7(2): 7(2): 7(1): 7(1):
135 139 137 96 98
7(2): 142 7(2): 143 7(2): 146 7(2): 144 7(1): 139 7(1): 136 7(1): 140 7(1): 141 7(1): 144 7(1): 142 7(2): 187 7(2): 188 7(2): 190 7(2): 192 7(1): 101 7(1): 145 7(1): 147
Crab Orchard Review ◆ 275
INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Miller, Leslie Adrienne. Trading Love Stories in Installments, Ruined Amphitheater, Provence (ptry) Miyamura, Sonya Chung. Lovely Leo (circa 1999) (fctn) Parkison, Aimee. The Upstairs Album (fctn) Pérez, Emmy. After Revolution (ptry) I Am Looking (ptry) Pitt, Matthew. Golden Retrievers (fctn) Rakoff, Joanna Smith. The Appeal of Prophecy (ptry) Read, Sally. Winter Light (After Chemotherapy) (ptry) Rhett, Kathryn. The Big Timeout Ridl, Jack. The Remote (ptry) Waiting with William Stafford in an Oregon Airport (ptry) Roorbach, Bill. “You Have Given This Boy Life” Scates, Maxine. The River (ptry) Schmidt, Geoff. After the Snowman (fctn) Seiferle, Rebecca. Internal Clock (ptry) Seyburn, Patty. Red Level (ptry) Skloot, Floyd. Let Us Rejoice! (fctn) Song, Cathy. Living Proof (ptry) Suárez, Virgil. The Lure of the Mexican Vampire Movies, or How the Skin Flickers Past (ptry) You Never Know How Things Will Turn Out in the Movies (ptry) Tate, James. For the Love of Veronica (ptry) The Fragrant Cloud (ptry) The Nimbus (ptry)
276 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
7(2): 107 7(1): 116 7(1): 154 7(1): 152 7(2): 148 7(1): 155 7(1): 184 7(1): 176 7(2): 194 7(1): 186 7(1): 212 7(1): 188 7(2): 165 7(1): 190 7(1): 192 7(2): 176 7(1): 194 7(2): 196 7(2): 197
7(1): 200 7(1): 201 7(1): 199
INDEX TO VOLUME SEVEN — 2001/2002 Taylor, Judith. Legacy (ptry) Tobin, Daniel. The Raibow Café (ptry) Turner, Brian. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1926–7 (ptry) Houdini in a Barrel (ptry) Umminger, Alison. Confessions of a Femme Fatale (fctn) Van Clief-Stefanon, Lyrae. Bop: A Whistling Woman (ptry) Hum (ptry) Magnificat (ptry) Webb, Charles Harper. Cerebro-Corticular Thingamajig (ptry) Whedon, Tony. Elegy for Europe (ptry) White Cirrus (ptry) Whiddon, Kelly. The House Began to Pitch (ptry) Wisenberg, S.L. Irving Berlin, the Margin and the Mainstream Witham, Geoffrey D. Everyone Gets a Happy Ending (fctn) Wormser, Baron. The Summer I Thought the World Was Going to End (1959) (ptry) Zivaljevic, Agica. The Dressing Gown (fctn)
7(1): 202 7(2): 198 7(2): 204 7(2): 203 7(2): 209 7(1): 206 7(1): 205 7(1): 204 7(2): 206 7(1): 208 7(1): 207 7(2): 207 7(2):
7(2): 233 7(1): 210
Crab Orchard Review ◆ 277
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2002
All Saints: New and Selected Poems by Brenda Marie Osbey. reviewed by Jon Tribble All Shook Up: Collected Poems about Elvis edited by Will Clemens (with photographs by Jon Hughes). reviewed by Jon Tribble And Her Soul Out Of Nothing by Olena Kalytiak Davis. reviewed by Maria McLeod Archetypal Light by Elizabeth Dodd. reviewed by Douglas Haynes Blues Narratives by Sterling D. Plumpp. reviewed by Jon Tribble Born Southern and Restless by Kat Meads. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan edited by Suzanne Kamata. reviewed by Betsy Taylor Cabato Sentora by Ray Gonzalez. reviewed by Jon Tribble Celebrities in Disgrace: A Novella and Stories by Elizabeth Searle. reviewed by Tabaré Alvarez Chick-Lit 2: (No Chic Vics) edited by Cris Mazza, Jeffrey DeShell, and Elizabeth Sheffield. reviewed by Beth Lordan Crossing the Snow Bridge by Fatima Lim-Wilson. reviewed by Paul Guest The Dance House by Joseph Marshall III. reviewed by James Gill Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand by Steven V. Cramer. reviewed by Josh Bell Donkey Gospel by Tony Hoagland. reviewed by Cynthia Roth Dry Rain by Pete Fromm. reviewed by Greg Schwipps Fakebook: Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz by Richard Terrill. reviewed by Adrian Matejka Fire From the Andes: Short Fiction by Women from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru edited and translated by Susan E. Benner & Kathy S. Leonard. reviewed by Jenni Williams
278 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
4(1): 240 7(2): 255
5(1): 250 7(2): 260 5(2): 232 3(1): 247 3(2): 264
4(2): 261 7(2): 249
3(2): 267 4(2): 258 3(1): 242 4(1): 239 3(1): 244 7(2): 246
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2002 Funk Lore: New Poems (1984-95) by Amiri Baraka. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Galileo’s Banquet by Ned Balbo. reviewed by Melanie Jordan Rack Girl Reel by Bonnie J. Morris. reviewed by Brett M. Griffiths-Holloway Hammerlock by Tim Seibles. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) The Hour Between Dog & Wolf by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color edited by John McNally. reviewed by Adrian Matejka It’s Only Rock and Roll: An Anthology of Rock and Roll Short Stories edited by Janice Eidus and John Kastan. reviewed by Alberta Skaggs Living On the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers edited by John Coyne. reviewed by Chris Kelsey Lost Wax by Heather Ramsdell. reviewed by Paul Guest Middle Ear by Forrest Hamer. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Misterioso by Sascha Feinstein. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Muscular Music by Terrance Hayes. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Naked by Shuntaro Tanikawa. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Near Breathing, A Memoir of a Difficult Birth by Kathryn Rhett. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Never Be the Horse by Beckian Fritz Goldberg. reviewed by Melanie Jordan Rack News from Down to the Café: New Poems by David Lee. reviewed by Brett M. Griffiths-Holloway Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam edited by Linh Dinh. reviewed by Joey Hale The NuyorAsian Anthology: Asian American Writings About New York City edited by Bino A. Realuyo. reviewed by Terri Fletcher Ocean Avenue by Malena Mörling. reviewed by Ruth Ann Daugherty Of Flesh & Spirit by Wang Ping. reviewed by Paul Guest
3(1): 239 5(1): 249 7(2): 245 5(1): 256 3(1): 241 7(2): 251
4(1): 242 6(2): 229 5(2): 227 5(2): 229 3(2): 266 3(1): 248 6(1): 266 7(1): 229 3(2): 263
5(1): 254 3(2): 270
Crab Orchard Review ◆ 279
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2002 One Above & One Below by Erin Belieu. reviewed by Douglas Haynes Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs from Michigan edited by Michael Steinberg. reviewed by Ira Sukrungruang Prospero’s Mirror: A Translator’s Portfolio of Latin American Short Fiction edited by Ilan Stavans. reviewed by Michael McGregor The Secret History of Water by Silvia Curbelo. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Selfwolf by Mark Halliday. reviewed by Cynthia Roth Sherpherdess with an Automatic by Jane Satterfield. reviewed by Fred Von Drasek Sixty-Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints by Jack Micheline. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Smoke by Dorianne Laux. reviewed by Melinda Yeomans So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks by Rigoberto González. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology edited by Charles Harper Webb. reviewed by Melanie Dusseau The Stars, The Earth, The River by Le Minh Khue (translated by Bac Hoai Tran and Dana Sachs; edited by Wayne Karlin). reviewed by Vicky Kepple Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. reviewed by Amy Kucharik The Truly Needy and Other Stories by Lucy Honig. reviewed by John Wallace Turn Thanks by Lorna Goodison. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Turtle Pictures by Ray Gonzalez. reviewed by Jen Neely 25 New Nigerian Poets edited by Toyin Adewale. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Under the Red Flag by Ha Jin. reviewed by Katherine Riegel Urban Nature: Poems about Wildlife in the City edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Vereda Tropical by Ricardo Pau-Llosa. reviewed by Terri Fletcher
280 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
6(2): 228 7(1): 239
4(2): 259 6(1): 272 7(1): 234 7(1): 231 6(2): 233 6(2): 224
6(2): 227 6(2): 224 5(1): 252 6(1): 268 7(1): 236 3(2): 260 6(2): 236
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2002 Walking Back from Woodstock by Earl S. Braggs. reviewed by Terry Olson What Happens to Me by Chuck Wachtel. reviewed by Fred Von Drasek Whitman’s Wild Children: Portraits of Twelve Poets by Neeli Cherkovski. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Winning the Dust Bowl by Carter Revard. reviewed by Linda Lizut Helstern The Women Carry River Water by Nguyen Quang Thieu (translated by Martha Collins). reviewed by Terry Olson You Come Singing by Virgil Suárez. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka)
4(1): 237 6(2): 234 7(1): 225
7(1): 227 3(2): 268
Crab Orchard Review ◆ 281
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2002
Book Review Policy Crab Orchard Review’s staff considers for review collections and anthologies of poetry, short fiction, and literary nonfiction published by small independent and university presses. Please send titles for review consideration to: Jon Tribble, Book Review Editor, Crab Orchard Review, Department of English, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901-4503. All reviews are written by Crab Orchard Review staff. In the past five years, the following presses have had titles reviewed in Crab Orchard Review’s pages: Anhinga Press, Tallahassee, FL The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, New York, NY BOA Editions, Rochester, NY Carnegie Mellon University Press, Pittsburgh, PA Cleveland State University Press, Cleveland, OH Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, MN Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA Curbstone Press, Willimantic, CT David R. Godine, Boston, MA Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, PA FC2, Normal, IL FMSBW Press, San Francisco, CA Graywolf Press, St. Paul, MN Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, Berkeley, CA Limelight Editions, New York, NY Littoral Books, Los Angeles, CA Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA Lumen Editions/Brookline Books, Cambridge, MA Lyons & Burford, New York, NY Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI New Issues Press, Kalamazoo, MI Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OH Red Crane Books, Santa Fe, NM The Roundhouse Press, Berkeley, CA Seven Stories Press, New York, NY Steerforth Press, South Royalton, VT Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA Tia Chucha Press, Chicago, IL University of Akron Press, Akron, OH University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, AR 282 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2002 University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI Washington Writers’ Publishing House, Washington, DC
Crab Orchard Review ◆ 283
Announcements Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press are pleased to announce the 2002 Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition selections. Our final judge, Tim Seibles, selected Elton Glaser’s Pelican Tracks as the first-prize winner. Mr. Seibles selected Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s Becoming Ebony as the second-prize winner. Both collections will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in April 2003. We want to thank all of the poets who entered manuscripts in our Crab Orchard Award Series Open Competition.
Crab Orchard Review’s website has updated information on subscriptions, calls for submissions, contest information and results, and past, current and future issues. Visit us at:
2002 TITLES in the Crab Orchard Award Series in POetry FABULAE
Poems by Joy Katz “In poems shot through with grace, intellect, and control, Katz considers the history and culture we all stand, finally, as heirs to: from Dachau to the deceptively still surfaces of American suburbia, from Proserpina to Plath, from the subjugation of women to the lust for empire—the result is a collection as rich as it is ambitious, announcing an already accomplished new voice in poetry.” —Carl Phillips, author of Pastoral 88 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2444-X, $12.95 pb
Poems by Susan Aizenberg “From a beautiful elegy for the poet Lynda Hull to a brilliant sequence on Vivienne Eliot, we are moved by narrative, delighted by the music of speech, and dazzled by glittering imagery. . . . A real, three-dimensional human being emerges out of the phrasing, the images, and the thoughts of these memorable poems, shaped out of words but entangled in the gritty detail of ordinary life.” —Maura Stanton, author of Glacier Wine 88 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2443-1, $12.95 pb
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review Available at bookstores, or from
For more information on the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry: www.siu.edu/~crborchd
southern illinois university press P.O. Box 3697 • Carbondale, IL 62902-3697 • 800-346-2680 • FAX 800-346-2681 www.siu.edu/~siupress
the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 2001 titles:
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
MISERY PREFIGURED Poems by J. Allyn Rosser
“Do not be misled by the darkness of this collection’s title: Misery Prefigured is in fact one of the brightest volumes of verse to appear in a good long while. . . . J. Allyn Rosser is one of the most distinctive poets of her generation.” —David Wojahn 96 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2383-4, $12.95 pb
THIS COUNTRY OF MOTHERS Poems by Julianna Baggott
“Julianna Baggott has a fierce imagination that probes the ordinary details of a woman’s life and lights up both the sacred and profane. In a poem called ‘Blurbs,’ she half facetiously hopes for the words ‘sexy,’ ‘elegance,’ and ‘bite’ to be applied to her work. Happily in this book, she earns all three.”—Linda Pastan 88 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2381-8, $12.95 pb
NAMES ABOVE HOUSES Poems by Oliver de la Paz
“Oliver de la Paz has created a unique work: a novella in the form of a sequence of prose poems; a lucidly inventive allegory of migration, exile, and belonging. . . . He is stunningly good. ”—Rodney Jones 96 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2382-6, $12.95 pb
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
southern illinois university press P.O. Box 3697 • Carbondale, IL 62902-3697 • 800-346-2680 • FAX 800-346-2681 www.siu.edu/~siupress
the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 1999 & 2000 titles:
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
The Star-Spangled Banner Poems by Denise Duhamel
“[S]o overwhelming is her relish for life that embarrassment, or titillation when the subject is sexual, just doesn’t stand a chance.”—Booklist 67 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2259-5 $12.95 paper
In Search of the Great Dead Poems by Richard Cecil
“[T]he technical skill and humor on display in this collection make it likely that Cecil’s poems will be read long after he joins that ever-longer roll call of poets who have passed on. . . . [A] remarkable book.”—Quarterly West 111 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2259-5 $12.95 paper
CROSSROADS AND UNHOLY WATER Poems by Marilene Phipps
“[T]his collection embraces awe and woe through curses and praise that unearth a meeting place for the unspeakable as well as culminant beauty— a book of acknowledgment and ritual.”—Yusef Komunyakaa 71 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2306-0 $12.95 paper
WINTER AMNESTIES Poems by Elton Glaser
“Elton Glaser’s poems are classic in the best sense of the word: he achieves stateliness without stuffiness and form without confinement. ”—Lucia Perillo 77 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2305-2 $12.95 paper
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review Available at bookstores, or from
For more information on the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry: www.siu.edu/~crborchd
southern illinois university press P.O. Box 3697 • Carbondale, IL 62902-3697 • 800-346-2680 • FAX 800-346-2681 www.siu.edu/~siupress