Crack the Spine
Issue 157 July 21 2015 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine
Cover Art: “God Has Left Detroit” by David J. Thompson David J. Thompson is a former prep school teacher and coach who lived in the Detroit area from 1998 – 2013. His interests include jazz and minor league baseball. Please visit his photo website at ninemilephoto.com.
CONTENTS John Carroll Plot 24
Bob Cymber Penitence
Salt in My Lungs, Hate in My Hair
Driving Across the Valley
Weâ€™ve Got B.C., Why Not B.I.
Ann van Buren
Message From a Faraway Friend
Silverfish Are Not Known to Bite Humans
John Carroll Plot 24
Plot 24 was the only space at Benjamin Rush Gardens specializing in only one thing: an herb. The Bale family grew cilantro on Plot 24. They grew it over their entire 900 square foot plot. It wasn’t always this way, though. Frank and Tracy only began growing cilantro because their son, Dylan, loved it. He put it in his mashed potatoes, his apple sauce, his ketchup, his mustard, his corn, his peas, his broccoli, his Doritos, his ice cream, his pudding, sometimes even his cereal. When Tracy began relenting to his cravings by sensibly working cilantro into family dinners, Dylan would demand more. As he got older, and his parents siphoned off a corner of the plot for him, Dylan stopped demanding so much cilantro. Frank was never sure why he backed off – it could have been maturation, or he simply could have noticed how hard it was to grow and care for cilantro. Despite this, the herb slowly began taking over the plot when Dylan became sick. It was all Frank and Tracy could think to bring him at the hospital. Twelve-year-olds don’t want flowers to dress the room, so they brought his favorite treat. Dylan would sometimes use some of it on his dry, flavorless meals, but often he would just clutch a handful and bring it to his nose. He said he could smell the park and his parents and their neighbors in the leaves of the plant. He reached for it in moments of boredom and weakness and pain, and maybe even loneliness, those few moments when Frank or Tracy would have to step away for a phone call or a cup of coffee or just a moment to worry out of their son’s eyesight. By the time Dylan passed away, cilantro blanketed the plot, an aromatic 30 by 30 chunk of herb. Patty Sileo, the head of Benjamin Rush Gardens, assumed
they wanted to keep that plot as a memorial to their son, and offered the grieving couple Plot 17, upon which they could grow their popular tomatoes. Frank turned her down. He told her: “My only goal now is to maintain this.” Maintaining cilantro, though, was tedious. Before Dylan fell ill, in the days when they didn’t fret over depriving him of one or two things, they longed for the day that his obsession would pass and they could ditch the cilantro. The herb needed grooming every week, as well as shade from taller crops that would have to be strategically placed around it to provide cover, lest the cilantro wilt in the summer heat. In the early days, when they were just learning how to keep cilantro alive for more than a week at a time, Frank would drive an umbrella into the ground to provide relief for the easily felled plant. Frank eventually had cilantro down to a science. When he and Tracy had first returned to the plot after Dylan’s funeral, about six weeks later, they spent their time cleaning up the dead plants that occupied Plot 24. Frank left the taller dead stalks standing on the perimeter, realizing that these seemingly useless herbs could now provide shade for the rest of his garden. He regarded it as Plot 24’s thick skin, a poor sight but a necessary one. If his neighbors didn’t appreciate these ragged edges, they didn’t say anything. The Bales were treated gently after Dylan’s death. No one came to them for dues, or to complain about their plot’s cleanliness, or to haggle over who took whose parking spot. These fellow gardeners took cilantro when it was offered, offered pleasantries about that week’s sermon at St. Katherine’s, and otherwise went on their way. Michael, Teri, Giada, Nicholas, Beemer, Schmitty, Harper: they were once friends, but now felt only distant to Frank and Tracy. The couple couldn’t figure out how to shape their lives around something other than their son’s death. They felt guilty for even wondering if it was a possibility.
Tracy eventually responded by removing herself from her former life, and she did so slowly and responsibly. She took pottery classes, for instance, making casual friendships where she was not a grieving mother, not a tragic mourner, but just Tracy who specialized in vases. Frank, though, couldn’t disconnect like his wife. As Tracy sought out new avenues of engagements, Frank locked into old habits, eventually spending most of his time at the garden. He gave out nearly all of the cilantro that survived, and became a sort of sage figure, settling disputes in the community that the kind-hearted Patty wasn’t ruthless enough to solve. Naturally, Frank was consulted often the summer that The Dirt Kids settled into the woods beyond Benjamin Rush Gardens. The amateur gardeners who occupied the forty plots could not see their intruders, but they could be heard. They played music, mostly electronic and industrial, and shouted at each other, cracking glass bottles against trees for sport before hauling in the heavier artillery. First it started with minor fireworks, then larger pieces of showmanship, and finally gunfire. At least that’s what it sounded like to Frank. Like most of his fellow gardeners, he came to loathe The Dirt Kids. He wanted them gone. Frank wasn’t sure who coined the name Dirt Kids, but it stuck, mostly because those fools would occasionally stumble out of the woods to fetch a ball, take a piss, or just observe the gardeners who came out in great numbers each weekend to tend to their plots. The Dirt Kids looked like teenagers and young adults of privilege – they wore hemp jewelry, thrift clothing and distressed boots — presumably not by circumstance but by choice. The gardening community at Benjamin Rush wanted them out, but the first few weeks of the Dirt Kid occupation were peaceful enough, mostly thanks to
the open field that separated the garden plots from the wooded area. This field was supposed to be divvied up into many more plots for the Gardens, but the Philadelphia Parks Department had forgotten all about the secluded space tucked off the very busy, retail-driven Roosevelt Boulevard. The gardeners liked their private space, and so Frank suggested that, no, we shouldn’t call the cops about The Dirt Kids, as much as we might dislike them. And boy did Frank dislike them. We should ignore them, Frank said, and they will ignore us. The other gardeners soon agreed that this was a good plan. They repeated Frank’s line amongst themselves: we can police ourselves. But when The Dirt Kids remained, all anyone could talk about was the nuisance living out in the woods. They didn’t live there, though – Frank himself had gone out to look for them one weeknight when he had stopped to check in on the plot on his way home from work, and all he saw were the remnants of their latest meeting – empty beer cans, stubbed out cigarettes, crumbled Wawa bags, and dirty, discarded Polaroids. The photos were all duds — the result of a bad flash or misplaced thumb — but Frank could make out stray eyeballs and smiles and hands. They looked like teenagers, and prompted Frank to wonder if they were Dylan’s age, or close to it. Would Dylan be a Dirt Kid if he were still alive? Frank didn’t think so, didn’t think it was close to a possibility, but it was a choice he would have accepted, if only because it would have meant that Dylan still had choices to make. Frank turned his attention back to the mess on the ground. He didn’t like that the Dirt Kids were near his private, memorialized space. More than anything, though, he hated the angry music they played, the kind of junk that drowned out whatever tunes that Gordon Hopkins would play from his truck on a Saturday afternoon, classic and timeless stuff like the Beatles and the
Beach Boys. The Dirt Kid music was unfamiliar and distant: often lyric-less, Frank could only remember a particular line that played frequently, and that the Dirt Kids would sing along with: the enemy is everywhere, the enemy is everywhere, the enemy is everywhere. Over and over again. Just thinking of the line set fire to Frank’s cheeks. The line struck him as a declaration of war — the Dirt Kids vs. The Gardeners — and so when he found their boom box, Frank picked it up and threw it at the nearest tree, but it merely bounced off and fell to the ground. The disc had popped out on the rebound, but it was otherwise intact, laying among The Dirt Kid trash and mocking him. Frank gathered it one more time, taking a few more paces away from the tree and then putting all of his might behind a throw. The boom box exploded into plastic shards and cheap, foreign electronic parts. Frank broke into a small sweat from the brief but intense activity, slowly pumping his fist as he walked back to his car. He was proud of what he had done, proud enough that he did not confess when he returned to Benjamin Rush that weekend and heard from one of his plot neighbors that Plot 11 had been vandalized mid-week. They all blamed The Dirt Kids, and Frank couldn’t fault them for it. The parsley had been torn up and the tomatoes squashed, usually a sure enough sign of humans and not animals. The cherry on top, though, was that one of The Dirt Kids had shit in the middle of the plot, then stuck a little flag in it. It was handmade, a torn and worn napkin wrapped around a stick, and upon it one of them had drawn a musical note. Patty Sileo was holding conversations across the gardens that day, fielding requests that she finally involve the police about this outward act of hostility. Frank cornered her when she was heading home that evening, having a brief conversation through her car window where he didn’t confess, but merely
insisted that they couldn’t respond in kind, or else there would be far too much attention on their private space. Patty cautiously agreed, but warned Frank that the calls would become deafening if The Dirt Kids vandalized another plot. The next few weeks were peaceful that summer, as July rolled into August. Tracy left home to live with her sister in Scranton for a while — “for a while” were the exact words she left on her note — and while Frank sometimes worried that he had let their relationship suffer through sheer ignorance, he mostly busied himself with the increasingly delicate stalks of cilanrtro at Plot 24. A heat wave struck the area, killing off the layer of cilantro just beyond the deathly wall of shade that Frank had left behind; he chalked it up to more shade for the lush, trim core of his inner cilantro cube. The dead herbs maintained their height, at least, and made the good stuff look even greener than before. The Dirt Kids mostly stuck to their old routines, only they played their music louder. Frank figured he had inadvertently given them an incentive to buy a better stereo, and they took advantage of it. The enemy remained everywhere. The stalemate ended on a Saturday afternoon, when the Northeast Philadelphia Recreational RC Fliers took their usual spot on the field between the gardens and the woods, where they put on aerial shows for the gardeners and themselves with their model planes. There were about six planes in the air that afternoon, sometimes pulling off intricate stunts but often colliding with one another and crashing into the ground. The audience, particularly the bored children dragged in for an afternoon of gardening, ooh’ed and aah’ed everything, particularly the crashes, which were often more impressive than the stunts where the RC planes would narrowly miss each other. The planes glided against the angry songs emanating from the woods, and as Frank watched, he realized that Dylan would have never been a Dirt Kid. He would
have been a RC Flier. He was a clean boy: of course he would have lived in the sky. Frank took solace in this, even though it nagged him that he would never truly know. The rest of his son’s life was written only in his head. These were the few moments where Frank would think of his absent wife, and wonder what story she had written for Dylan, or even for himself. A better man would have called her and asked her, would have done so right there in the garden. Frank merely theorized that such a call would drive them further apart. They were separated by a Dylan-sized gap that couldn’t be closed. Frank theorized that this was just a part of the grieving process — that the distance was necessary, that it was therapeutic, that it was not a comment on the future of their marriage. He told himself these things because they allowed him to stay. Trouble began that day when the black snow arrived. The children were the first to notice, and they ran out into the field to dance in it. The flakes were big and black, falling suddenly and at a rapid rate. While the kids thought something truly spectacular was happening in the sky, Frank and his peers looked immediately to the woods, and saw the black smoke rising from amongst the trees. Panic set in, as everyone assumed that the woods were on fire, but Plot 32’s John Kolesnik tried calming everyone down by panicking about what really was happening. “The fuckers are burning tires!” he shouted. He continued this way for minutes, showing off the burnt rubber in his hand to anyone who would look: “The fuckers are burning tires!” Frank later found out that at least a dozen people there that day had called the police, and the area soon swarmed with representatives from the police department, fire department and parks department. They put out the fire, reported that they could not find any perpetrators in the woods, and
interviewed some gardeners about the fire, The Dirt Kids, and how long it had all been going on. Frank told both officers who approached him that he had nothing to add, instead choosing to pick off the hot pieces of rubber that were burning the precious center of Plot 24. The children soon gathered in the field again. They excitedly talked over each other, recounting the thrill of the black snow and the planes that darted among it for a few moments, moments that became hours in their retelling of it. One of them kept gathering up chunks of rubber, tossing them into the air, and shrieking as he tried to relive it all. The sight of this infuriated Frank, and he looked around impatiently for their parents, waiting for them to grab their kids by their arms and tell them that a bad thing had just happened. A very bad thing. Most of the cilantro couldn’t be salvaged. It was a fickle plant, sometimes wilting under what would seem the most perfect of days. It stood no chance in the hot, terrible snow that fell over Benjamin Rush Gardens that day. Frank began to resent everyone and everything. He resented the weak-willed gardeners who called the police. He resented the Dirt Kids. He resented the wife who had left him. He resented his plot. He resented the community. He resented his dead son, and his dead son’s love of cilantro, a fickle bitch of a plant, just another love of his life that left him, in an instant, a deparature that he didn’t see coming. Frank tried to start from scratch, hoping to squeeze out one last batch before the stiff winds of October arrived, but a cold front rolled through Philadelphia that September, killing off any chance that he’d be able to nurse a new batch of cilantro to life that Fall.
Tracy didn’t return for the rest of that year. Their only contact came by email, about once every two weeks. He told her about the burning tires and the dead cilantro. She advised Frank to stay away from Plot 24, telling him that he should just let the earth eat the dead cilantro, and then he could start over in the Spring or walk away for good. Frank wrote back to tell her that it was sound advice, but he didn’t follow it. Instead, he planned on returning to Plot 24 one more time before winter. He wanted to clean up his space, to clean up that which had been taken from him. He found pleasure in maintenance and the comfort of keeping up appearances. He wanted to put his dead cilantro in the ground, to leave it with Dylan one more time. Frank arrived close to sunset on a Thursday evening. He found reliable Patty Sileo there, which he should have expected. She was prepping her winter storage, an admittedly neat process that allowed her to store her excess beets, potatoes and carrots in a handmade pit in the ground. Patty was in her plot, but remained still. She shushed Frank as he walked closer. “Look at them, at the woods,” she quietly instructed. The Dirt Kids were out there. They were usually positioned strategically in the woods, deep enough that they could only be heard, not seen. Tonight, though, they occupied the edges. They had already started a fire, but not with tires. It was there for light and warmth. They were drinking, and occasionally chucked beers into the fire for thrills. Frank was thrilled to have such a long glimpse at them, even if they weren’t doing anything of particular interest. When he finally tired of watching their antics, he asked Patty, “Have they seen you?” “I don’t know,” she answered. “I am so oblivious, I didn’t even notice them out there until I got out to this spot.” Frank’s eyes had adjusted to the growing
darkness, and he could now see that Patty’s hands were shaking. It was chilly, but she was dressed warmly in a pea coat and an infinity scarf. “You should go,” Frank told her. “Are you leaving?” Patty asked. Frank stood watching them, ignoring her question. He then broke toward Patty’s car in a running crouch. He opened the back hood of her truck and sorted through her materials. Patty wasn’t a good leader, but she was equipped like one, which is why the gardeners had voted her in charge. She had everything, and Frank pulled out the largest shovel he saw there. He didn’t look back toward Patty, and instead walked determinedly toward the fire out in the woods. The Dirt Kids were oblivious until Patty blew his cover. “Frank,” she yelled once, gaining their attention. “Frank,” she called again, keeping their heads fixed on the man walking toward them. A ping rang out suddenly, without warning. Frank felt a pop in his shin, and he dropped to the ground, the shovel not so much breaking his fall as amplifying his pain. He groped at his calf, trying to find the pain and apply pressure to it. What he found, though, was not a wound or a fracture, but a pellet. He had been shot by a BB gun. He could see chaos around the fire as The Dirt Kids seemed to dart off in different directions. Frank could hear Patty’s voice gaining on him, and when she arrived, he passed her the BB that had forcefully placed itself below his knee.. Blood trickled out from the tiny cavern in his skin. There was no pain, only anger, and when Frank stood up to offer chase, Patty desperately pulled at his shoulders and tried to bring him back to the ground. One of the kids was sitting by the fire, his Dirt Kid head tucked into his Dirt Kid knees, rocking back and forth. He was shouting “FUCK” over and over
again, and Frank was certain enough that this was his shooter – brazen enough to pull the trigger, but too weak to fathom hitting anyone. Frank ran toward him with the shovel, but the short and squat Patty pulled ahead of him and lunged at the teen, the both of them coming dangerously close to the fire as they tumbled past it. She sat atop him and smacked his face, over and over again until Frank had to become the responsible one and pull her off. The Dirt Kid’s face, already glowing from the light of the fire, was shiny and wet and layered with tears and handprints. Frank doubled back to where the boy had been rocking himself and found the BB gun there. He considered firing a pellet into the boy’s shin. But instead Frank began firing off rounds above all of their heads, in the direction of the woods where The Dirt Kids had departed. He figured that the odds were low that he’d hit anyone, and if he did, then so be it. He would consider it God’s doing. Frank tossed the empty gun into the fire and looked at the weeping child on the ground. He couldn’t have been much older than 15 or 16, around the same age Dylan would’ve been if he’d lasted. He had a ratty, teenage mustache above his lip, the kind that kids that age would grow because they were simply too nervous to bring a razor to their face. His clothes were caked in even more dirt than usual, a result of Patty’s beatdown on the rough, cold ground. Would Dylan have run with kids like these? Could Frank see himself in this boy’s father? He knew The Dirt Kids were young and immature, but he had hoped that they were at least of legal age to vote, if not drink. His youth didn’t make him innocent, though. It made the kid an even bigger shithead, an ingrate. “Did you defecate in our gardens?” Patty asked, now standing at Frank’s side and apparently itching for another reason to go after the boy.
“Patty, go get the kit from your car,” Frank ordered. “I need to wrap my shin in something.” Patty let out a few sharp breaths, spittle flying far enough from her lips that it almost hit the boy. But she turned, and started to walk away. The boy was muttering now: “Don’t tell my parents,” he begged. “Just please don’t tell my parents.” He looked pathetic, and while he was young, he didn’t seem young enough for this. He was a coward, and he lay there exposed and weak in front of a man he had just shot. Frank turned to see Patty digging through her car, and when he turned back to the cowardly Dirt Kid, he was struck by how alone they were there. His leg didn’t hurt — the bleeding, in fact, had stopped, so minor was the BB’s damage — and yet Frank felt nothing but anger. It was the same anger he felt when his cilantro burned; the same anger he felt when he heard about the shit on Plot 11; the same anger he felt whenever he heard the damn song about the damn enemies being everywhere; the same anger he felt when he read Tracy’s note on the kitchen table; the same anger he felt when Dylan’s room was filled with nothing but a piercing, empty beep from the monitors. He could not control any of it — the situations or the resulting pain. Frank twirled the shovel in his right hand, and began to think about what the handle would feel like if he smashed the boy’s head with it. It would likely knock him out, and the breaking of the boy’s nose would reverberate through the entire shovel. Frank had the urge to visualize this attack even further, but caught himself dwelling in that instinct, and pulled away from it. He suddenly felt like a newcomer to the scene, and his wrinkled face reflected his newfound horror.
Patty had returned with the kit, and Frank stood impatiently as she cleaned his wound with peroxide. It stung, but Frank bit his lip, not wanting to show the Dirt Kid an inch of weakness. When he was finally bandaged, he lifted the shovel to his shoulder and turned away from his frightened shooter. “I’m going to dig a hole in the ground,” Frank said. “If you don’t want to be in it, I suggest running off and not coming back.” Frank didn’t bother waiting to see the Dirt Kid’s reaction. He didn’t need to — as he walked back to his plot, he could hear the teenager’s feet rustle the dirt and branches that marked his departure. Frank bowed his head as he proceeded to his plot. He again toyed with the weight of the shovel in his hands. He imagined what it would feel like to christen its backside with blood, and then to plant that bloodied shovel in the ground. Would the handle rattle with the reverberations of the boy’s skull? What would it sound like when the blood and metal met the earth? Frank was not bothered by the nature of such thoughts. In dwelling on them further, he was only bothered by his inability to act on them. His losses hadn’t freed him, but trapped him — not with his wife or even the memory of his dead son, but with his desire for a mindless revenge. He wanted someone to blame, but was increasingly left with only himself. Darkness had settled in, but Frank could see clearly as he kicked some dead remnants of cilantro out of the ground. The words of his pastor rang around his head, a pastor who had told him that he could begin moving on once he had put his boy in the ground. That wasn’t true then, and wouldn’t be true if he buried his cilantro either. Unlike Dylan, it would rise in the Spring, whether Frank returned to it or not. And so Frank held the shovel above his head, and brought its backside down onto the plot with as much force as he could muster. And he did it again, and
again, and on and on until he had lost count. He didnâ€™t receive as much pleasure as he thought he might from the outburst. Even the noise it made was soft: a muted agony that cried out from the now-impacted soil.
Bob Cymber Penitence
The man stood at the food court looking toward the fountain Jim Beam breath and greasy hair and unsteady legs brought him closer People looked up from their plastic trays and paper cups His boots weighed a ton and each step took seconds The wretch stooped down and placed his hands on the marble lip and felt the spray of water Copper pennies and nickels shone like light through stained-glass slurred body dizzy speech head thoughts
He fumbled in his pocket, took out a coin and hurled his wish to god and felt better
Salt in My Lungs, Hate in My Hair
I handed the man the meagre cash change from his diesel, chocolate bar and Sun newspaper, with its bare breasts inside, and watched him walk out across the spotlight-lit forecourt back to his van. The tattoo on his forearm meant nothing to anybody, and his jeans were stiff with paint splodges and unique with rips and tears. Once inside the cabin - the door slam momentarily the epicentre of all sound - he passed the folded paper and the chocolate to the man in the passenger seat. Their faces were matte with tiredness and grime. Comrades, compadres. Hands on the wheel, an elbow on the window ledge. I waited as they pulled away, their headlights coursing across the shop like a Mexican wave. One, two, threeâ€Śthere it was.
The last look from them both as the van pulled away. There was little to do in this job, in this petrol station, so I made a game of watching for the flick of eyeballs. The momentary eye fuck. It was unavoidable. Inevitable. Utterly depressing. A daily, casually disseminated threat. Demonising in its arrogant ubiquity. And then, when almost past my eye line, they smiled. They smiled at all the men doing the same thing across the world to a world full of women, in a world-scope of different ways. And, once again, it was spittingly clear: they knew - they knew - they knew that it was aggression, that it was subjugation, though they would defend it as banter, as a compliment, with a hard humour that bullishly
asserted the desire of pretty girls to be seen, and to be acknowledged. As if I couldn't be fully sure that I existed until they stared at me, and had assessed me on their arbitrary scale. Attuned to vulnerability and the likelihood of frozen compliance, they skewed younger and towards those who had to smile. Though they had words for any woman who wanted them. To empower myself beyond these sad facts — the knowledge that they saw me as a stack of pleasing body parts rather than a human — have a nice day! – I turned it into a competitive sport, of which I was lone judge, spectator and commentator. And look now, here they come — swing and leer, boys, swing and leer — my money was on the younger — but now the more experienced player takes the lead — can they equal their previous — their triumphant entitlement, their winning misogyny — yes! Goal!
All losers though, no winners. For forever, I'd felt like prey. The formula for success on my part was simple. A façade of complicity, a curtain of indifference. Though you see it — this, this right here — this is not my true face. No-one likes to see a miserable woman, do they? How confusing it must be to find that we're not grateful, not aware of how lucky we are to be seen and winked at and allowed to keep on existing, whilst hungry eyes appraise us like a meal deal on a shelf. All these poisonous drips make an ocean, eventually. Even if you know it; even if you can see what nurtures men into these land grabs, these pathetic drips of dominance. After some shifts — walking, talking, smiling, laughing – I felt like I'd drowned. Salt in my lungs, hate in my hair. The breath I released was black-
stained and heavy. My own physical being on this earth a natural blight to myself. Take us all back to equal atoms, oh please, I thought, and think, each night, avoiding my own reflection in the mirror, shower water running over my mouth and my eyes. Oh, to be a formless presence on this earth. Even a girl like me. All of us, in fact.
Driving Across the Valley Freeways curve and lift like air currents, move through the inland valley without doubt or dilemma. To the north is the great mountain resolute in dimension. Beyond concrete assurances, the ocean extends out in blue sufficiency. Nevertheless, traffic jams intentions and changing lights confuse philosophies. Beginnings are endings; extremes are in the middle. The whole valley is dying and living in the view from the hills where the stones are spread out by the water. Crows call out from that place of resignation and brightness. We gasp for air in the wide open sky. We follow the maps but canâ€™t find our way.
Yet in the pauses, something quiet and invisible waiting for its moment.
Weâ€™ve Got B.C., Why Not B.I. I was joking to some people younger than myself about a friend who had the most interesting mishearings of popular but barely audible song lyrics. Michael Stipe from early R.E.M. was basically a voice made of fog. Words. I think he was singing words. To him, the microphone was a poetification machine. Once anyone said they liked that one song, you know the one [insert that signature way of reporting melody and music to others we all have--I'm a room-clearer]... You know the tune. It came on college radio last night. Only you had to turn the rabbit ears jimmied to the radio antenna with extra coat hanger wire. Here, let me sing it for you... Now just imagine that the song is early Stipe. Asked to recite it, the only thing that could follow is a mouthful of angsty marbles and a seemingly tireless will to say something through them. Try it, and here I begin a (now shameful upon retrospect) rendition of "Perfect Circle" in which I vacillate
from Earnest Angely levels of speaking in tongues to Jim-Morrison-on-manyredbulls (et. al.) droning on about all things hip or 'lizard' with spin-wheel eyes and 'hey man' predictability. Was that funny? If you had been there, you'd wonder about humor maybe. Or you'd laugh on the inside. Because on the outside, the listeners of my Michael Stipe joke are beginning to look like Friday market if you catch my drift. Get it? Friday? Fish? Remember when so many meat-buying Christian Americans helped to make eating fish on Fridays a shopping reality for everyone? Plus, there's that old visual joke about astonished or astonishingly insipid people looking like fish for sale with mouths agape, right? Still don't get it?
I knew humor is all about TIMING! I've recently learned the hard way how much of it also has to do with TIME.
Indeed, my joke bombed because I expect to be surrounded by people who might know just who in the hell I am talking about half the time. The resulting awkwardness has less to do with the quality of my no-chair turning vocal performance than the age-difference between myself and the audience. I'm convinced of it! When I mention it to people my own age, I feel an instant recognition. There's a shared urgency around the issue of the generation gap and its likely role in making our humor the stinky garbage of a younger crowd's corner. We're usually so winningly funny. Really. Proof, you say? Proof Shpoof. I told a joke back in 1993 that some dude is still laughing at-albeit through a lip ring scar now tucked under a ZZ Top blanket of facial hair, but still--And shut up, anyways wise guy, I'm talking here. Like I was saying... If it's true that a word is not just a sound or a symbol or even the combination of the two, but conceptual potentiality, then the best equivalent I can see for it comes to us from a long time ago (relatively speaking) from an old American family of letters--Harriet and Catherine Beecher's brother, who said a word is a peg to hang an idea on. Just imagine the conceptual possibilities if we were to add to our lexicon the term B.I. and its analog (A.I.) or Before Internet and After Internet respectively. Just imagine the new coats we might hang on them? There are whole chasms of generational miscommunication we might all stop routinely falling into if we were to adopt these terms and the potential for conceptualizing difference that they engender. So in that song by Rage Against the Machine, when he sings
I'm a soloist on a solo list All live, never on a floppy disk That's B.I. Or when Beyonce --I mean-- Destiny's Child sings You make me wanna throw my pager out the window. Tell MCI to cut the phone poles MCI? Nope. Just B.I. No need for confusion. At the same time, we should always consider what might be lost as a consequence of our linguistic ambitions. What do we lose if we all start using these terms of discrimination? An assumption--even in the face of its absence-of a shared origin. Still, most of our dearest held thoughts--the ones we call beliefs--tend to be enormous incongruities, improbable to their precious black holed-up hearts, where all laddery myths start--in miscommunication, of course, the dragon bone shop of my art.
Ann van Buren
Message From a Faraway Friend Cold is here in my clogs pointing to Detroit where you have no heat Voices not present are in my head This acrid smell, though more than rumor is kindling Sending grapefruit to help you pucker for a kiss I am with you soon
Silverfish Are Not Known to Bite Humans
The plastic human-size leg leaned into a crooked nook on the landing at the top of the stairs. Jane saw it while rounding around the staircase to the unfurnished one-bedroom apartment located two blocks from the train. The leg appeared to be carved from a single piece of solid vinyl, unnaturally shiny and stiff. Jane thought it belonged in a window display from a Cold War-era surgical supply store. "Sorry about that, didn't realize it was there," said the real estate broker. Jane walked through the front door into the living room. She breathed in the fresh paint smell, thinking this room was just the right size. She mentally placed their couch under the large picture window. Or maybe facing the wall where she could put a TV. The hardwood boards in the floor were uneven, some pieces splintering
and shifting from wear. She would have to put down rugs; Boomer needed extra cushioning under the worn pads of his 12-year-old paws. James had insisted on wall-to-wall carpeting in their old house for the dog. Jane agreed something needed to be done, but never felt comfortable with the off-white plush dominating every room. After a few soggy winters, black mold grew in the wool strands and made them both sick. There was no overhead lighting in this apartment. Jane checked the electric outlets in the living room and found two holes in the plugs instead of three. Ungrounded. No place for her laptop, much less floor lamps. "The leg is the landlord's. He's an amputee," explained the broker. She searched Jane's face for signs of hesitation about the apartment. Jane felt the broker examining her
expensive but practical shoes, professionally highlighted hair. The broker paused, reached around and grabbed the leg from behind the front door. She wagged it at Jane like an angry school teacher. "Diabetes," she whispered. Jane measured the cabinets under the kitchen sink. She needed enough room for the complete set of anodized pans that an uncle had gifted Jane and James off their registry. She thought of all their stuff; the giant stacks of his books, and the smaller pile of hers. She had stopped buying books four years ago. Having duplicates seemed redundant at the time. Jane walked down the hall leading to the bedroom. She noticed tiny pinholes in the walls and doorjambs, leftover from the last tenant's decorations. Baby shower banners. Streamers. Mistletoe. "For the price, you're really not going to get anything better in this neighborhood," said the broker.
Jane went into the bathroom to test the water pressure. She thought about baths she gave her sisters' babies, sculpting their soapy hair into perfect mohawks in exchange for tiny giggles. James used to join them for bath time, bringing soap crayons to draw dancing figures on the tub walls. He stopped coming after Jane had the abortion last summer. The babies always asked Where's James, but Jane never could find an answer that satisfied them. Just as she was turning on the chrome tap, she spotted a four-inchlong insect shimmying up the white tiled wall. Silverfish, she thought. It was long and shiny, its million feet swishing along like a tapestry tassel chasing dust bunnies. Two nearly identical, smaller bugs trailed close behind, the three of them puttering along in unison. Unholy, but Jane thought they looked like family. She quickly turned and stepped out of the bathroom, closing the door behind
her. "It's too big for one person," Jane told the broker. She made her exit fast, stepping out the door onto the safety of the landing. She inhaled deeply, trying to hold onto the rhythms of her breath. The plastic leg glowed softly in the sunshine streaming in from the skylight above. Jane stooped down to take a closer look, her knees cracking under the pressure. She was surprised to find the leg now looked matte, soft and pliant, almost like real skin. She stroked the foot slowly, finding a fake toenail complete with cuticle bed. She moved up to the calf, feeling for curves in the muscles. She massaged them, the plastic giving way to the weight of her thumbs. The Achilles tendon was taut, the ankle strong. She rubbed the skin everywhere with care, lingering over each divot and wrinkle in the knee. After a moment of contemplation, she picked it up and cradled it like a baby in her arms. She
softly kissed the thigh, her fingertips touching the leg all over.
John Carroll John Carroll is a writer from Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared in Per Contra, The Citron Review, Big Lucks, Cleaver, Stymie, Versal and Philly Fiction 2 (Don Ron Books). He is one-half of the comedy writing duo John & Nick, as well as an improviser in the Washington, DC area. John received his MFA from American University. Michael Chaney Michael Chaney has been a guest editor for Drunken Boat and his writing may be foundâ€”late and soonâ€”in Wigleaf, Michigan Quarterly Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Callaloo, Harpur Palate and elsewhere. He lives in Vermont. Bob Cymber Bob Cymber, writing under the name R.M. Cymber, is a 24-year-old graduate student at Fontbonne University in St Louis, Missouri. Most of his writing is philosophical in nature. His published works are featured in Scrutiny Journal, Emanations, CandleLit Journal, Brine Books, Oddville Press, VIMFIRE Magazine, Estuary Magazine, and The Provo Canyon Review. Currently, he is writing poetry and finishing a short story. Carla McGill
Carla McGill earned her B.A. in English from California State University, San Bernardino, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside. Her writing has been published in A Clean Well-Lighted Place, Westerners Journal, and Inland Empire Magazine. As a member of the Live Poets’ Society from 1991–2012 at The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, her poems have appeared in three of the group’s chapbooks: Garden Lyrics, Huntington Lyrics, and California Lyrics. Though she has occasionally done freelance work for a local magazine, she mainly writes poetry and short stories and is working on her first novel. Emily Shetler Emily Shetler recently relocated to Seattle, WA from Brooklyn, NY. Her fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Time Out New York and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. In addition to work as a freelance writer and editor, she is employed as a hair stylist. David J. Thompson David J. Thompson is a former prep school teacher and coach who lived in the Detroit area from 1998 – 2013. His interests include jazz and minor league baseball. Please visit his photo website at ninemilephoto.com. Ann van Buren Ann van Buren lives in the Hudson River Valley, New York, where she works as a poet, educator, and activist. She is a graduate of Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in writing from New York University. She teaches poetry workshops in the U.S. and Europe. Ann’s work has been published
by The Blue Door Gallery, THE, Santa Feâ€™s monthly magazine, and other journals. Her poetry book reviews can be found in The Rumpus. Lyndsay Wheble Lyndsay Whebleâ€™s work has appeared in Sein und Werden, Danse Macabre, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Inkapture, The Bicycle Review, Side B Magazine and Who We Are Now, amongst others, and on the long-list for the Granta-sponsored Festival of Garden Literature in 2013. By day, she works as Development and Research Officer at an arts commissioning agency, and is editing her first novel; please see lyndsaywheble.com for links and further details.
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