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Crack the Spine Literary Magazine

Issue seventy-Nine

Crack the Spine Literary magazine Issue Seventy-Nine September 4, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine


the choice, we

will always select madness over



Adam “Bucho” Rodenberger Puzzle Peace Amy Fanning Joshua Joan Colby For Benjamin Aleksander Plonski Broke Max Vande Vaarst Wanderer, Live @ the Someplace Lounge Rhea Cinna Hypothesis Brandon Getz Franky Stanky and the Monster Cock

Cover Art

by Aleksander Plonski Aleksander Plonski, Born in Gdynia, Poland in 1977. Loved jazz and poetry from infancy. Benefitted from the excellent public education provided by the communist regime. By 1992, when he emigrated to the USA, he was already in awe of many of the British and American writers such as Blake, Whitman and Kerouac among many others. Since his arrival in Brooklyn, he has dedicated himself to the mastery of the written English language, efforts which culminated when he graduated with honors in Philosophy and Literature in 2000. An author of innumerable poems and short stories he never pursued publication as much as the adventure of life. His story continues in Buenos Aires where he currently resides and works, raising his 9 year old son.

Adam Bucho Rodenberger Puzzle Peace “One Mary Eppstein, at 1530 Western Drive, was found dead today in her home. No foul play is suspected, but it took officers several hours to remove her body from the building due to what they would only call ‘complications.’ No one was allowed in to survey the scene other than police officials themselves. Chief Mallory said it was the policy of the Oakdale Police Department not to comment about ongoing investigations. She is not believed to have been a member of any antiAmerican skirmish organization.” The coastal skirmishes raged on, but Mary still looked forward to the arrival of her mail every day, as she had done for the last 25 years. As a child she remembered fondly joining her father on his daily treks down the long gravel road of their farm to the tiny silver box at the end of the drive. She would delight at the red arm sticking up, telling them that some sweet paper or packaged surprise lay within. Her father would reach in, sometimes simply pulling the mail out, but sometimes pretending that some unseen monster had grabbed his arm and was pulling him farther inside the mailbox because he knew this made her laugh. Much like the postal service motto, there was no weather that prevented her from joining her father on the walk every day after lunch. When she got older and had to go to school, he waited for her to come home, met her at the mailbox, and they walked back to the house together, his boots and her shoes crunching across the gravelly surface while he flipped through the mystery envelopes. On occasion, a box would come, but never for her. Brown parcel paper packages were always for her mother or her brother, but never for her and rarely for her father. He never seemed to mind, but Mary hated that nothing ever came for her. The joy of walking the distance to the mailbox was an elation that never wavered, even though she walked away from it disappointed every time. Her learning curve was nil. Soon, that joy was tempered; she enjoyed the walk more than the actual getting of mail. Her father passed away. Her mother moved across the country to retire. Her brother went off to school and then enlisted. She lived alone in the house she had grown up in, had emptied it of most of its memories, made it her own. She repainted the walls, changed the locks, fixed faulty shingles in the roof,

replaced aged doors that creaked with ones that swung on silent hinges. But she left the mail box the same shiny silver, a tiny glimmery beacon out on the edge of the property. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a package came, mysterious and brown-parcel normal on a sunlit afternoon. Mary had never expected a package, having never received one before, so when the fat u-shaped opening was filled with the brown parcel paper, she gasped. It was a sound she’d rarely made and instantly she believed the package to be for someone other than her, for that’s how it had always been. Perhaps the sender had not realized the other members of the family no longer lived here or no longer lived at all? Her fingers slid beneath the parcel, pulled it out easily and scanned the ship-to label: “Mary Eppstein, 1530 Western Drive, Oakdale.” No return address, no markings other than the sticker with her name and address on it. The package was, unbelievably, for her. She ran her hands across the surface, feeling the rough paper crinkle beneath her touch. Her fingers trembled and her breath caught in her throat. It was beautiful because it was for her, had her name writ across it intentionally in firm pen strokes. The black ink was fluid and purposeful and held not a whit of hesitation. Someone had sent this to her and her alone and the thought was intoxicating. She held the package against her chest, feeling its hard corners dig into the folds of her arms and shoulders. Its flat bottom pressed against her bosom and she rested her chin on it, memorizing its shape before she held it out in front of her again. The edges had been folded in and taped to the sides like triangles and a seam across the back showed the rough edges of a scissors’ cut. She lifted it to her nose, sniffed the package, drank in its scent; paper, ink, woods, light glue, promise. So mesmerized by the package’s smell, she hadn’t realized that she had walked all the way back to her porch, smelling the thing the entire way back. She couldn’t remember having even moved, couldn’t remember even willing her legs to move, and yet…here she was, some fifty yards away from her mailbox and a foot away from stumbling into the lowest step of her porch. Mary rushed inside the house, letting the storm door slam behind her, and had to stop herself from ripping the packaging to shreds so she could find out what mystery, what delightful gift, hid inside its paper folds. She sat on the couch and placed the package on her lap, ran her fingers around its circumference again, disbelieving. Finally, she allowed her slim finger to slide beneath the tape on the right side, unsticking it from the parcel and let the fold fall out. She did the same to the left side and felt her breath quicken, excited.

She flipped the package over and unfolded both flaps, letting the paper tear along the backside to reveal a shoebox the same color as the paper surrounding it, its former brand name faded into gibberish on all four sides. The lid was taped on and quickly she unstuck these, folding the tape up under the lid. Once lifted, Mary sat in silence and stared into the tissue lined package. *** The next day, another package arrived. And the day after that and the day after that. Each new day brought another package, each addressed specifically to her with no return address, wrapped in the same parcel brown paper. There was never a note included, never a hint as to who had sent them, only what was written upon the objects inside. The first box was full of pictures. Random pictures of people and places Mary had never known or visited. Each one had upon it one or two line notes attached that seemed unrelated to the images; daily devotionals from strangers with no return addresses and no explanation, but all were somewhat cryptic in their own linguistically meandering way. She remembered the first picture she pulled out. The picture itself was interesting enough: a pair of modestly skirted legs and old shoes in somewhere and during somewhen. It reminded her of childhood and Saturday sun-tastings, an innocence, a piety she could no longer run to, but it was the words splayed across the image that made her brain itch in the most pleasing of ways. The simplicity of the message complicated the meaning infinitely. Four words: “You are completely remarkable.� It could be read a thousand ways with even more inflections possible, but brought more questions than Mary could answer. Was this some strange lover’s ode to her? Did she have a secret admirer out in the shadows of the world? She flipped through the other photos in the box, hoping to find some clue as to the sender. Images and phrases she found: Footprints on a beach. (You are missed.) Sunspotted picnics with hard to see faces. (I love that you love that I love you.) A broken wall with graffiti across the bottom.

(Art will save us if we just let it touch our hurt.) Skyscrapers that seemed to be touching the kingdom of clouds. (I wonder what mistakes I made to lead me to this point?) The rosy cheek of a baby (girl? boy?) and half of their lips. (Living without you is my biggest fear.) A teenager standing happily against a first car. (Even knowing the now, I’d still make the same mistakes over again.) Soda fountain store fronts with boarded up windows. (My first job made me into the person I am today.) A girl holding a flower in a meadow full of the same. (Five years ago today, I said goodbye to you.) Several pairs of colored socks strewn across a floor. (No amount of outfits will ever change the me that I am.) A tarnished trumpet lying in a drainage ditch. (I gave up music to be with you; now I have nothing.) A woman covered head-to-toe in mud, smiling. Laughing. (One breast gone, one life left to live.) An ocean at dawn. (I miss our secret talks.) Rush-hour on a bridge. (How much of my life am I wasting every day?)

Cars picked clean and rusted over in a full junkyard. (I have been dry for 13 years, but still fight the urge to drink every day.) A woman crying into her hand while standing outside a burned down church. (I am faith. I am love. I am invincible through Him.) A sleeping infant on a sleeping man’s chest. (I love you bigger than the sky, deeper than the lowest sadness.) A woman in tawdry fishnets sitting on a dirty Santa’s lap. (Remember when you gave me what I asked for?) A boy in an astronaut’s helmet, staring up into the dusky night sky. (I wish I could remember all my dreams. They disappear by morning…) Lawn gnomes and pink flamingos, seemingly at war with each other. (At night, I pretend my lawn ornaments are the ones making all the noise so I don’t have to believe it’s my parents.) A pile of spent shell casings next to a child’s sandaled foot. (If we continue to fight around the children, the children will think it normal.) Two nuns on a park bench, laughing, their robes pulled up to their knees. (Breaking convention can sometimes be all you need to get through the day.) A broken doll, a dirty jump rope, an unmade bed wearing tattered sheets. (I don’t remember the first or second foster home, but I wish I could forget the last.) Mary recognized no one in the pictures, recognized none of the locales, and yet still she felt herself splitting inside, cracking along each fissure, trembling both in delight and sadness as if she knew each of them personally. There was a truth to the photos and the words etched or written on them. It was as if

someone had collected the hopes and dreams of a hundred people and sent them off to one (random?) person in the world to be shared. She put the pictures back in the box and got up from the couch, clutching the box tightly as if it were a thing so fragile, so close to breaking. *** Each day another package arrived, full of new photos and new phrases. Mary spent entire afternoons looking at the photos, reading the script across them, sometimes weeping long into the night. Rather than being an annoyance, these parcels had become an object of anticipation and excitement in an otherwise uneventful day, so it was hard to simply shrug them off as simply a weird occurrence. The writing on the ship-to label was always different, so Mary didn’t think it could’ve been the same person anyway, oddity that it seemed to be. It was always one package, never more, over-postaged with two stamps in the upper right corner and a sticker of some sort along the back flap. The packages were saved after the cards were removed and an entire room had been designed around the influx of one-liners and pictures now stuck in perfect patterns on the wall within. Another couple of inches all around and the room would be covered. Most of the images were clear and concise, but others were blurry or confusing and blotted out, but the words were what made the walk to the mailbox worth it every day. The red flag would go down on the metal container and a spring would find itself in each footstep closer to home as her eyes scanned every daily bit of linguistic art sent from who knew where and for what purpose, but the end result was always the same; a calm smile before bed and after waking. On the fifth day, Mary took the photos and spread them across her guest bedroom floor, admiring the imperfection of each image. They were washed out or developed poorly, angled strange or too close to recognize the objects in the frame. Some were flimsy, some firm, some rippled with water from basement floodings or tears, and still others gleamed like new while many reflected nothing but age and crease. With care, Mary began taping each image up on to the undecorated wall beside the fold out bed. One box of photos covered up a good section of wall and she began with another box, then another, then another, and finally the fifth. Her fingers graced the edges of the photos, left partial finger prints that she covered with tape and stuck to the wall easily. Side by side, they became a menagerie of memories, a flipbook of unknown faces and places with sentiment attached. Her wall had become the singular diary of a thousand strangers’ voices.

She worked well into the morning. All five boxes had been affixed to the one wall with a few stragglers creeping over onto the adjoining one. She sat on the fold-out sofa and stared, letting her eyes rest on the arresting imagery, letting the words permeate her weary mind. The sun tinted the horizon beyond the window-shade, turned white into orange and she slipped into dreaming easily, falling asleep quick and quiet to a chorus of whispered voices she did not recognize. After a full week of appearing parcels, she cleared out the garage and the guest bedroom. Once removed from the parcel, Mary taped each photo up on the wall of the guest room, none overlapping each other so that every bit of writing was visible. The first seven batches covered an entire wall. The empty boxes became a small stack in the garage. This continued for a month. The empty boxes became a small wall of their own, stacked up against the garage wall neatly, like soldiers. Mary found herself liking the new aesthetic; the brown boxes calmed her thoughts the way the pictures inside them churned her emotions. By now, the guest bedroom had become full of pictures. The original wallpaper covered over completely, masked by the frozen moments of other people’s lives. Not even a tiny glimpse of the wall could be seen behind the random visuals that now spread across the ceiling like the creeping fingers of a virus. She removed all the furniture, stacking it up in her own bedroom, cramping the space so that she had to crawl over dresser drawers and recliner arms just to get into her bed at night, if she even made it to her own bed. Many nights she passed out in the middle of the guest room floor, staring up at the ceiling, itself now covered in pictures and text, with the latest emptied parcel spread out across the floor around her. Her sleep came while surrounded by Polaroids of the past. *** Over the next several months, the coastal skirmishes had grown, moved inland, consuming cities as they moved. Had Mary gone outside to do her shopping, she would have noticed the increase in vagabonds and vagrants, refugees and displaced families moving into the area. The Midwest had become immediate sanctuary for those who chose no sides. Instead, Mary had her groceries delivered to the house, leaving only to visit her mailbox. The packages kept arriving and she kept taping up image after image along her walls. The spare bedroom had shrunk; 144 square feet had become just a pathway into the middle of the room, a passage into an overload of sensory. It was just tall enough and just wide enough for her to step into sideways, but the images had spilled out and crawled along the hallway walls and ceiling like ivy. More pictures and furniture were removed, put into the master bedroom that had became a collection of personal belongings stacked up and nearly covering the bay window.

Her grocery deliveries shrunk; she was not eating. Mary spent all of her free time reading the cards over and over, shuffling through the house at one end and reading her way to the other, often never stopping to use the bathroom, itself covered in the word-scribbled images. Her once pink robe had turned a filthy pale and stunk of urine and glue. Her skin hung in limp folds beneath, gone grey from spending so much time in the darkness of burnt out light bulb hallways. She worried the heat from the bulbs would destroy the pictures she had come to need like the day’s first meal, a drunk’s first drink, or an after dinner cigarette followed by another and followed by another. The only light that came through the house found its way through the crevices of stacked furniture or tattered curtains. It shimmered and glinted off the surface of the pictures like dim starlight. Had she paid more attention to the outside world, Mary would’ve noticed the droves of people clamoring across the countryside, their shoes barely considered as such and their skin smoke-blackened like refugees. Had she seen the waves of population filling up her town, she would’ve wondered who was sending the packages and why. She would’ve wondered what purpose the pictures had to someone else and why she had become the chosen caretaker for them all. But she simply accepted the packages, absorbed the photos and their sometimes poetically vague maxims, cocooned herself within their very personal meanings. Her walls had shrunk faster than she had, but even now, she found it difficult to walk through the hallways and rooms. The thick barriers made of glossy paper forced her to suck in her stomach, will herself into thinness. Sometime later, when a thin divot of hallway remained, Mary got stuck trying to move from one end of the house to the next. The pictures had finally grown too thick off the walls, imprisoned her, kept her immobile. She could feel the images burning against her, through her robe and then soaked up in her skin. Her eyes would roll up and over every glossy surface, drinking them in as she stood, wedged between the collected and wall-pasted pictures. Her chest constricted and left her with shallow breaths. She could look up or down, but not to either side. Her shoulder had pinned her in on the right, but she could wiggle her left foot. Unimaginably stuck and with no way to get herself out of the position. Statuesque and strangely calm. Five minutes, twenty. An hour, three. Mary’s sense of time disappeared with the wallpaper. She would feel the pictures tickle against her, each single edge itching against the bare skin peeking out from the robe. During the longer moments of impassibility, she would take to peeling off a single photo and nibbling at its edge to pass the time. She would graze on these new walls like a goat hungry to taste everything it saw.

She could taste the chemicals in the processed image, imagined the flavor of reds and blues, wondered about the caloric intake of yellow and the health benefits of black. The paper, rough-edged and indigestible, felt like stiff rock as she swallowed, scraping the lining of her throat before struggling down into her stomach. Mary became full and by day’s end, she stood wedged between her pictured walls unblinking and unmoving. Her throat had finally caught and prevented her from swallowing. She couldn’t breathe and slowly, the lives that she had so decorously pasted up on her walls had taken hers from her. Outside, the packages stopped arriving at the mailbox.

Adam "Bucho" Rodenberger is a 34 year old writer from Kansas City living in San Francisco. He holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy & Creative Writing and completed his MFA in Writing at the University of San Francisco in 2011. As of August 2013, he has been published in Number One Magazine, Alors, Et Tois?, Agua Magazine, The Red Pulp Underground, Offbeatpulp, Up The Staircase, The Gloom Cupboard, BrainBox Magazine, Cause& Effect Magazine, the Santa Clara Review, Aphelion, Glint Literary Journal, Criminal Class Review and Phoebe.

Amy Fanning Joshua Last night I dreamed of Joshua. I would swear he’s not been in my thoughts, that the spaces of time inside which I do not think of him grow larger with the years. Still, in my dream, I recognized the precise scent of his fifteen-year-old neck, something like tires on a hot day, something of that burntbitter scalp smell, something of the sticky cheap soap we used for everything – a fatty do-nothing no-lather bar you could buy cheaper than make. Even then he was taller than other boys, and thicker too, through the jaw and chest. His mother made him drink coffee, sent him to bed hungry every night, gave him tiny bowls of oatmeal in the morning, which he’d eat by pinching the mash together between two fingers and sucking them. He grew, though, and our eyes followed him, swallowed him up on meeting days. We watched him set up the folding chairs, flipping them open and shut with one hand and a knee, gripping their backs to carry more than one at a time, hands suddenly knuckled and adult. Our eyes followed him and the elders’ heads turned in the direction we looked. We killed him with our eyes. In my memory, only his shoulders are still boyish, the blades spearing out in two ridges that reminded me, oddly, of Sister Bean’s first spring crocuses. “I’m engaged,” I said, the moment before he kissed me the first time. I spent years thinking of that kiss, the way it was a question on my mouth, the way his hands asked, Here? And here too? And when finally I uncurled my own hands from my sides and touched his breastbone through the cheap cotton of his Sunday shirt, felt for the doubled-over thickness of the hem, ran two fingertips from belly button to ribcage, he trembled. This is how God feels, I remember thinking, when he uproots a town with one tornado finger, touches one cheap seam of the earth and buckles California. A few times we sneaked out to Thornscrub Lakes, which were five square manmade ponds surrounded by a chain-link fence. The lakes were made for a practical purpose, you could tell from the maintenance shack and triangle stack of concrete pipes, but whatever it was had been abandoned long ago. The lake water was a murky yet somehow virulent green and smelled like Sister Bernice’s rotting teeth, but hundreds of ducks had moved in and a few, especially the drakes with their heads gleaming metallic, snapped old bread right out of our hands.

“Sit in the pipe?� Joshua would ask, casually, watching the ducks flick water from their wings and dig beaks into chest feathers energetically, like dogs after fleas. We would climb up to the second row of pipes, where there were fewer duck droppings. Within the cement walls it was unnaturally cool and white, like the inside of the moon. Sometimes we lay on our backs with our feet resting on the curved ceiling above us, suddenly much younger together than we were apart. Sometimes I pretend we talked about running away, that we planned to meet behind the gate late one night and disappear into Mexico together. Sometimes I imagine we were caught and it all happened anyway. Sometimes I dream we drowned together in the eerie Thornscrub water. Sometimes I dream we made it, and these dreams are the worst.

Amy Fanning is a writer and English teacher living with her partner and their three cats in Portland, Oregon, where she is lucky enough to have been part of a seriously irreverent and supportive weekly writing group for the past eight years. Amy has previously published short works in American Window Cleaner magazine. In a mad stroke of luck, one of these pieces was purchased for reprint by Harper's. Though it was, sadly, never actually printed, she does have a nice letter for her wall.

Joan Colby For Benjamin It sounds like a fable, too good To be true but the fact is you were Conceived in Paradise. Seeking agates On the beach where every stone Shown in its lapidary luster Lapped by the chill waves Of Superior, our footprints deep In heavy sands. Sunrise over Whitefish Bay. Farther north, the graveyard Of lost ships. Cracked bell Of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The lighthouse A beacon in the forbidding gales Of November. But it was only July The month our bodies invented you While gulls swirled with harsh cries Over the sands where our prints had already vanished.

Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review's James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010). She is the editor of Illinois Racing News, and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She has published 11 books including "The Lonely Hearts Killers," "The Atrocity Book" and her newest book from Future Cycle Press: "Dead Horses." FutureCycle has just published "Selected Poems." A chapbook "Bittersweet" is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press next winter.

Aleksander Plonski Broke

Somewhere in Buenos Aires there was a long and narrow passageway leading from a sunny patio to a heavy metal front door with several bolts and locks on it. The walls of the corridor were whitewashed many years ago and showed their age with thin angular cracks, at times large enough to reveal the bricks beneath the paint. There was an old moped near the door, a case of mineral water and various plants. A dozen of oranges lay carelessly thrown upon the patio floor made of tiny black and white ceramic tiles. At a white plastic table in the center of the patio sat an apparently young man, drifting away in a reverie. On a table in front of him there was a notebook with a half-filled page of scribbles in black ink that looked like neat rows of tiny black ants. At least that is how it appeared to the voyeur hidden above, watching from the second floor window. Beside the notebook there was an ashtray, a pack of Lucky Strikes, a half-finished cup of coffee and a small prism. It was that last object that captivated the presumed writer. It could be seen from above that he was holding in his fingers an extinguished filter, topped with a tall head of ash. The witness swears that she could see through the eyes of the man, and that she saw a trickle of tiny black ants streaming off the page in front of him, winding over the resting hand holding the butt of the long extinguished cigarette. Patiently, the exodus of words proceeded ahead in its insect-like composition, circumventing the unattended ashtray and the half-filled cup of coffee. Having crossed the span of the patio table, the procession entered through the prism, into the world of broken shades of perspectives. *** The thin thread of his thoughts descended solemnly off the tabletop and down its leg, onto the patio floor that was a discontinuous chessboard. There, the single-minded stream of ants continued its laborious journey beneath the giant orange orbs carelessly left behind by runaway gods. It traversed the seemingly endless hallway, acutely aware that it existed at the edge of time and all the while sensing the minute subterranean tremors that underline the world and cause the cracks in the whitewashed walls.

Over time, the cordon of words reached the bolted door and scaled it with determination only insects are capable of. In this way the wandering mind arrived at the keyhole and labored through the rusted mechanism of the lock emerging into an illuminated world outside. It was a world bathed in unusually bright sunlight, a world of ever-forking streets that seem to expand continually in all directions, with new alleys angling away, as if the city unfolded itself as one passed through it. *** In the grand scheme of things, inconsequential is the fate of any singular ant that may fall out of step and end its brief and illogical existence at a moment’s notice. No sooner does the tiny black body stumble stiff-dead and it is consumed by those following it. The little things do not comprehend individually. They take no note of their own fate nor the terrain of the brightly lit cobble-stone labyrinth of the City. They navigate by purpose alone; without knowledge or conscience they go on, one little step after another. The procession continues its momentum indefinitely and independently of the wandering mind out of which it was born. A mind confined beyond the bolted door of the patio with whitewashed walls, chessboard floors and scores of randomly placed oranges beneath which, minute vibrations and tremors murmur. A tectonic rift is developing beneath us - that of ages trembling ever so slightly apart, unnoticed by our shortsighted history. It is the humming of the unsettling change that marks our age and appears upon the walls of the City in form of tiny cracks. If seen from a distant perspective, as if from a window in the sky, the thin thread of tiny ant-like words marching off the page, forms a definite and expanding fracture in the sunbathed fabric of rooftops, terraces, patios, alleys and checkered corridors. Corridors, just like the one where the apparently young man contemplates the secrets of the prism and the inevitable consequences that have shaped his life. *** The witness observing from the second story window asserts that the world of the man below was not broken up by the prism that offered his mind a refuge. In her view it was the death of his second child, not so long ago, and the ongoing irrevocably failed marriage that drove him to the brink of paralysis. It was the looming bankruptcy of his soul at the price of survival and various other addictions of the selfmutilating economic machine that were the cause of his resignation. He retained a lot of anger, doubt and guilt, not to mention the credit card debts and anti-depressants. Above all, according to the witness, he was certain that everything that has happened to him happened as planned, with absolute disregard of his will.

To support this, the witness submitted a note that allegedly came from the notebook of the young man in question. It reads: “We go on like ants, persistently trudging ahead with the undeniable sense that all the pieces have been pre-arranged, so that they may fit the mind that conceived them. In time, the unbearable becomes bearable, even though the laws of this ancient game escape us. Who, is watched by whom, when all we really do is watch ourselves through others? What do we see then, when the fear sets in, and we realize that all this has been prepared just for us, and that we alone, in the heart of the loneliest of Cities, are the witnesses of our own undoing.�

Aleksander Plonski, Born in Gdynia, Poland in 1977. Loved jazz and poetry from infancy. Benefitted from the excellent public education provided by the communist regime. By 1992, when he emigrated to the USA, he was already in awe of many of the British and American writers such as Blake, Whitman and Kerouac among many others. Since his arrival in Brooklyn, he has dedicated himself to the mastery of the written English language, efforts which culminated when he graduated with honors in Philosophy and Literature in 2000. An author of innumerable poems and short stories he never pursued publication as much as the adventure of life. His story continues in Buenos Aires where he currently resides and works, raising his 9 year old son.

Max Vande Vaarst Wanderer, Live @ the Someplace Lounge I. Sturm The fat prick goes hard at his cell phone, taps out three paragraphs of who/what/where/when/how digital chicken scratch an hour before the house lights turn dim, fifty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds before the sleepless flanks of indie-punk kids quit staggering in through the double doors. Dude’s a blogger. Dude’s a blogger because of course he fucking is. To his credit he fits the part, hairline failing, paunch buried beneath a faded black tee advertising a defunct local hardcore group. His hat looks like he cribbed it off the guy on the Panama Jack label. I can just tell that it’s his thing. Shit must have gotten him laid like crazy at commuter J-school. The fat prick catches me loitering by the emergency exit, lures me into his fat, prickish sphere with a couple distracted tics of the head. He’s media. I’m lead guitar. If I wanted to be ignored I would’ve made dad buy me drumsticks for Hanukkah. “You with the opener?” he asks. “Yeah,” I say. “Here’s my card,” he says, passing me a 3.5”x2” slip of pasteboard. It says his blog is called It says his mission is to “eat the noise.” He flips his phone sideways and flashes a picture. This is my glamour shot, I think; flushed and confused, a hand thrown in front of an eye. “For the site,” he tells me. “Good luck, man.” *** They don’t deal roadies to outfits like ours, so Tyler and Mike from the main act help us lug in our gear from the van. Tyler I know through a friend from industrial arts class. Mike I met at the start of the tour when he walked in on me heaving up half a box of El Charrito in his bathtub. Mahesh is one of ours, plays bass, occasionally sings backing even though he’s got a voice like a congested dracula partway through a staking. Also, he’s smashed as hell. Has been since six last night.

“Hey Hesh, careful with that thing,” says Marcus, our percussionist. Marcus is straight edge, but a rarity among the straight edge scene in that he knows how and when to shut the fuck up about being straight edge. Me and him have been friends since kindergarten. Hesh is staggering under the weight of a 150-pound SVT, the last of the major rigs from the rear of the cargo hold. He’s got it pinned to the sidewall, primed to deposit into our tired hands below. “You questioning these guns, man?” Hesh asks, bearing the scraggy brown lean of his arms. “I’d never doubt those Derringers,” says Marcus. “Damn right,” says Hesh. He strains forward to lay a kiss on his right bicep, dumps the amp cab, the receiver and that stupid wah pedal he insists on working into every demo onto the curb. We all scramble to appraise the damage, as if we never abused our stuff before, as if we never abused ourselves. We’re a couple weeks into an endless tour. Endless because we don’t know when it’s going to end. We’ve been riding the interstate for months now, drifting across the country because it beats another thumb-twiddling, dick-jerking minimum wage summer back home. The pairing with Tyler and Mike is a personal favor, but it’s not binding. We meet when it’s convenient, go our own way when it’s not. For those nights Erik handles the scheduling, calls ahead to whatever far-flung connection we can claim in a nearby metro, tries to arrange an honest gig. Erik’s the other guitar, but he’s also sort of our pseudomanager. It’s a position he won by default when he landed his grandpa’s ‘94 Econoline to serve as our tour van. That, plus he’s the only one of us who can stomach Excel. “Venue manager needs to talk to a couple of you in his office real quick,” Mike says after the last of the equipment’s been stashed indoors. “Just paperwork, no hassle.” Me and Erik follow him down the corridor and into the boss’s nook, an L-shaped cubicle panel adjoined to a one-way mirror overlooking the stage. The manager is youngish enough to wear a beard and a hoodie, oldish enough to have plastered a rainbow of invoices above his desk like accounts payable wallpaper. “This form here covers your standard injury liability language,” the manager says. “This details your obligations to the Lounge and this details the Lounge’s obligations to you. This is for tax purposes, this here keeps the bank happy and this here keeps me happy. This is the tech rider you forwarded – I made some margin notes you ought to look over – and this authorizes you to act as an approved third party vendor between doors open and doors close.” “We don’t do merch,” I cut in. “Band policy.”

The manager peers up, takes notice of me for the first time. He shoots an eyebrow at Erik. “His policy, technically speaking,” Erik says. “Your revenue to lose, chief,” the manager says, affixing another Sign Here tag. “Table’s open if you need it.” “Don’t worry about that blowhard,” Tyler says into my ear. He at least knows what I’m thinking, shares my thoughts about the commercialization of punk, the hypocrisy of the artist as property, as product, as pusher of product. “I mean, he’s nothing,” he says. “You should see what a bitch it is negotiating with a label.” *** The girl at the bar wants to know what our name’s supposed to be. She’s cute in a dorm party sort of cute, a flannel and ripped jean shorts and a hint of ink spilling out her sleeves sort of cute. She’s sitting Indian style on the stool, legs freckled and razor burned, hands scrunched under the rubber bottoms of her boots. Her shoulders lilt in a wayward sway. Her boots are Doc Martens, polka dot print. This is a thing they make, I guess. “Well,” I say. “It’s kind of complicated. You want the short explanation or the long one?” “Short,” she says. “It sounds cool,” I say. The bar girl smiles. I’m doing well so far. “Alright, cool guy. How about long?” Dammit. Now I’ve got to. I slump into my drink, arch my fingertips together in the shape of a tent the way I’ve seen the film auteurs do in interview. It’s more than a gesture. It’s a warning. It means gas up your bullshit detector. “It’s like…See, it comes from this old painting. And in this painting there’s this dude in a suit and he’s standing on a cliff looking out on these huge-ass clouds and sharp-ass rocks that go on for forever. But because he’s facing away from you – because he’s a – the fuck they call it? – a rückenfigur, a faceless observer – you can’t figure out if he’s afraid of them or dominating them or both. Or is he nothing at all – is he a wanderer? So that’s the name.” The bar girl manufactures a laugh. Her eyes flick away from mine, key in on her left pinkie as it navigates the rim of an empty Screwdriver. I call in a $5 shot of Jack. I know I’m losing her. “Of course, it’s not really about the painting,” I go on. “It’s more a philosophy, a signal to our worldview. ‘Des Künstlers Gefühl Ist Sein Gesetz – The Artist’s Feeling Is His Law.’ That’s Deutsch. Friedrich, actually. You know Friedrich? He’s the dude who made that painting.”

She nods at me like she’s in lecture. We’ve got twenty minutes to go until we’re due on stage. On the bar speakers they’re playing early Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade and shit. I spot Marcus alone by the coat check, plugging quarters into a Galaga machine. Hesh is folding origami cocktail napkins a couple seats away, having more luck than me with one of my bar girl’s bar girls while my own bar girl looks ready to bust out the bathroom window. “Basically he’s saying there’s no external truth or meaning or anything, so you’ve got to make your own code, your own laws. Like you’re a little America and I’m a little Russia and we need to live by what feels good for us, so we’re never fake, never selling out, never settling. And that’s the core idea behind our music. I mean, the whole EP’s a concept album about Friedrich, right? Especially the two closing tracks, ‘Return to Oakwood Abbey’ and ‘Death Over Dresden.’ Ever heard them?” The bar girl exhales. Loud. “I don’t know,” she says. "I don’t know any of your songs.” She gets off her stool, slips a self-rolled, all-natural cig between her lips. “Care if I step out?” “Oh. No. That’s cool,” I say. Then I decide to give it one more shot. “Want to meet after the show?” “I don’t know,” she says again, walking away. “Depends how much you suck.” *** Everyone loses it when Tyler comes out to introduce us. He keeps his words short, tells his fans that we’re a bunch of pissed-off nihilists with college degrees so they’d better treat us nice. The last part’s a joke but I appreciate it anyway. Among the audience I pick out my bar girl in the rear chatting with a few random guys, the fat prick blogger hovering in the corner, taking quotes from Mike with a voice transcriber app. He’s still wearing that idiot hat. Tyler returns backstage and the crowd settles down again. Me, Marcus, Erik and Hesh depart the green room single file, pass by the manager waggling his invisible wristwatch at us and separate into position beside our respective tools. We pick them up, turn them on, tune the strings, but we don’t play. They’re waiting on me for the go-ahead. They’re waiting on me to complete the stunt, same as at every place, same as in every city. I hold still, staring into the audience, appraising its single sweating face. It’s different than before, transformed by the blaze of the fresnels from a mob of militant burnouts and too-high hipsters into a grey and inchoate fog. The crowd pulses with impatience. It’s quiet for now, but it’s ready to attack. The hecklers get into the act, rousing the hall with squawks of “fuck you!” and “go home, asshole!” – all the classics. I twist the mic stand a few inches taller and conduct a couple 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 checks, strumming my thumb against the mesh. I reach for my beer and breathe in a last mouthful of alcohol. I

let the beer rest in my hand, admiring the condensation as I skim the sticker for corporate copy, nutritional information, this state’s bottle deposit incentive. Then I chuck that motherfucker into the wall so hard that the front row’s on its knees collecting glass shards as souvenirs. We lash into our progressions, the drive of the toms wrenching our fingers through D, G and B chords. We are mechanical. We play like Viking longshipmen at ocean, every note a hey-ooo or an ohwee-ooo as we speed through compositions first mastered in parents’ bedrooms, backyard gardens, battles of the bands and VFW posts. The crowd is mechanical too. It powers to life at our sound, white skin moshing on white skin like cogs sparking on the teeth of other cogs. I thrash the way I’m expected to, sling my head up and down, brain bruising against skull in consonance with our energy. I sear my throat singing about bad breakups and European wars I’m too young, sheepish and insubordinate to have died in, how it feels to hemorrhage away your genius and a portion of your left side at sixty-one or to get put on Ritalin at seven. The biggest chunk of the set is absorbed by “The Sea of Mists,” an eight minutes and change piece about the tragedy of the sublime, the surrender of one’s corporeal being to inexorable violence of the universe and the overlooked necessity of harmonica solos. Some dudes on the perimeter fling their pointer fingers my way, echoing the lyrics in jumbled and misconstrued variations. Fuck them. They have no idea who I am, who we are, who he was. The moshers roll like a vapor, encompassing the hall that minutes before had encompassed them. They stampede off each other’s bodies in the flicker of the strobe lights, muscle, bone, nails and hair colliding in a circus of anger; anger for having to go to work tomorrow, anger for rent and electric bills, anger for being drunk, anger for having ever experienced sobriety. A faction rushes the stage, reaching through the pyrotechnic haze for the touch of my jeans or the pittance of a loose guitar pick. I feel the insurgent danger stir at my feet, but I kick it like a stray puppy back into the pale expanse of human animals below. Still, I recognize their anger and grow angry myself; angry for thinking us good enough to make it, angry for pushing thirty yet straining to keep alive the forty year old anger of punks now pushing seventy – their tissues perforated by track marks and their lungs dusted grey with carcinogens – angry for being so angry yet incapable all the same of engaging my anger toward constructive ends or distinguishing my anger from the anger of others. People, would you get a load of this sad sight? Behold the bar girl, basking in her unattainability! Behold the fat prick blogger and his astonishing gadget, the man snickering outside the arena! Behold the manager, the profiteer, grown wealthy on our defeats! Behold me, weak, frail, lonely me at the

center of the shitstorm, stooped on a ledge with a cane in hand, an aneurysm or an apartment fire removed from curation as history’s most worthless museum piece, mustering all the will to power my conscious possesses not to strip into swim shorts and go for a dive. To hell with it already, man. I cast off my guitar and give in to the mob. They lift me like the championship coach, raise my fists to scrape upon the ceiling and parade me all over my domain from the cigarette machine to the neon Bud sign until the clock runs down on our gig and I’m no one again. II. Drang It's seven hours to the next city and those hours bleed steady through the night like a flatline, like a century in stasis. Marcus passes out on a sack of dirty laundry. Hesh passes out on Marcus. Erik’s got his earphones in so I’m left watching the numbers tick by on the odometer, thin white digits slotting into place mile by mile, exit by exit, xxxxx0, xxxxx1, xxxxx2, xxxxx3, xxxxx4, xxxxx5, xxxxx6, xxxxx7, xxxxx8, xxxxx9 and around again. I pull into a Roady’s across the state line. The blog review’s been posted. Most of it sticks to the headliner, but there’s some choice adjective reserved for us. To wit, we’re funny. We’re spirited. We’re a bit too aware of our own presence, but we kept the seat warm. After that the text dissolves into weight loss ads and scattered bullet points about the ten must-see acts of the season. I head into the all-nite convenience place for gum, scratch-off tickets, a pack of Red Bull and maybe a peek between the covers of the trucker atlases. *** Nobody said much when Friedrich went. The few who did only hung around the cathedral gate doddering their heads, saying, “Oh yes, oh yes,” as they reminisced about this bright, strange kid they used to know, the one who thought about death too much, the one who’d truck an entire studio to the shores of the Baltic and return with a sliver of the omnipotent on his canvas. But they said Germany had left him behind. They said that despite his ecstasy, despite his wraths, sicknesses and joys, he died an unknown, a recluse, a rückenfigur, a wanderer, so his art too must have gotten lost someplace along the way.

Max Vande Vaarst is a Jersey-born, Denver-based author of imaginative fiction whose writing has appeared in various print and digital journals. He is currently beginning work on "Isle of Noise," a novel of witchcraft, winged cats, proper musketwielding technique and English nautical law in the age of Cromwell.

Rhea Cinna Hypothesis

I’ve been called a liar before. I’d reply: “how observant.” It’s true, I switch between many faces, each morning, in front of the mirror, I sit, light-bulb smooth and blank, weighing the options: eyebrows, nose, cheeks. I’ll turn masochist, slap some freckles next to a crooked nose, have my ugliness howled at me on the street. I’ll stick a beauty mark next to Marilyn’s mouth, pretend I want the attention and flirt my tail off before my identity vanishes like a ghost after the guilt subsides. I’ll look like you if you’ll excite me, save you the trouble of fucking yourself in the mirror, because I love myself in other ways. Only once, I confessed my vocation, admitted to my chameleon ways, and was return-asked: “But what do you want?” so I spat, between Halle Berry’s teeth: “Not you.”

Rhea Cinna is a writer, film enthusiast and doctor. She loves big cities, museums, film festivals, animals in most non-reptilian incarnations and believes there’s no place like a moated chateau. She enjoys imposing her film taste on others as Senior Film Critic for The Missing Slate. Her work has appeared in Stone Highway Review, Rufous City Review and other publications.

Brandon Getz Franky Stanky and the Monster Cock

A couple of months after Corinne left me, my brother Frank got arrested. At the station, I had expected to follow the policewoman into one of those rooms with the bullet-proof glass and phones on either side like on TV, but instead we found Frank handcuffed in an area that looked like a middle-school cafeteria. He was wearing a long, drab green raincoat, a T-shirt with a cartoon kangaroo on the front (tagline: Hop On Over!), and nude-color tights. “What in the hell,” I said, “are you wearing tights for?” “I’ll leave you two alone,” the policewoman said, cackling as she locked the door behind her. Frank sighed and said he was sorry, could we just go home. He’d pay me back the bail as soon as he could. He would do extra boxes of CD-ROMs for the Do-It-Yrself! CD company he worked for, mow a couple lawns. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. The police had already asked him too many questions. “I won’t ask any more questions,” I said. “ Just answer about the tights.” *** To be honest, at the time, I didn’t need this. I didn’t need old Franky gumming up the gears of my already gummed-up and in-the-shitter life. When Frank moved into my apartment, I was still spending weeknights getting shithoused on hard lemonade and re-reading Corinne’s letter, the letter in which she informed me that A) I was worthless and going nowhere in life, B) she was moving in with Cliff, who sold wristbands with funny sayings on them at a mall kiosk, and C) I had never once given her an orgasm. Cliff, she said, owned his own business. He had a five-year plan. Fuck Cliff. I’d been steadily climbing the corporate hierarchy of GloveCo’s Research and Development department, from lab assistant to associate junior researcher with my own shared office and special space in the break-room refrigerator. That was my five-year plan, even if it had taken closer to ten. And, if I’m being honest, at the time of Corinne’s moving out of our apartment and into Cliff’s, maybe my position at the company was perhaps less than certain. The company was looking to trim the fat in R-and-D, and the bosses upstairs were not at all impressed with my Gloves That Double as Socks. About a week after Corinne’s total annihilation of my crushed and wretched heart, Frank called. He'd been evicted again, he said. He was mum on the details. My first red flag. But with Corinne gone,

I had a mountain of bills to handle on my own, so I let him sleep on the couch in exchange for paying half the utilities. He was quiet, mostly. He worked days for a landscaping company, assembled “How To” CD-ROMs at night. How To E-Mail. How To Word Process. That sort of thing. He didn’t program them; the company sent stacks of CDs, instruction booklets, and jewel cases in separate boxes, and Frank put them together and shipped them back. I’d go to piss in the middle of the night and stub my toe on a box of How To E-File Your Taxes. For two months, we hardly said a word to each other. *** The night before his arrest, he’d looked particularly pathetic stuffing jewel cases at the kitchen table. “Put a clean shirt on,” I told him. “We're going out.” He shuffled over to the duffel bag he kept all his worldly belongings in, rooted through it a little, then buttoned a bright orange polyester number, emblazoned with white disco daffodils of all things, over his t-shirt. We met some women I knew from work, including Sandy the Dish, who was notorious for giving it up to even the sorriest-looking salesguy. “Nice shirt,” Sandy said to Frank, spilling a little of her martini as she leaned over to speak. “You like flowers?” *** Frank left after one beer. A few martinis later, Sandy led me to the parking lot and we slobbered all over each other in the backseat of her Malibu. When I got home, I walked in on Frank holding up two sheets of paper like he was comparing something. I couldn’t see what was on them, but Frank looked at me like he’d been caught with his dick in the toaster. He was standing in the living room, shades drawn, disco shirt unbuttoned. The only light was coming from an infomercial on the TV. Red flag number two. “It’s not what it looks like,” he said. “It looks like jazzercise,” I said, gesturing toward the TV. “I’m going to sleep.” *** The next day, he was caught outside Curves Fitness in the trench coat and leotard, and I was answering his one phone call. He wouldn’t tell me what exactly he’d done, just that he needed bail and a ride home. Mom and Dad are dead; our older brother, Larry, is in Detroit working on a new six-wheel SUV— who else did Frank have? Frank looked around and mumbled something.

“What?” I said. “What is it?” “I—I was flashing,” he said finally. “I’m a flasher. I flash. I get these urges, it’s like I can’t even focus on the simplest task, I just have to go out and show myself to somebody. Women.” I recognized that sad-eyed look he had, the same one as the night before at the kitchen table, like a castaway stranded on an alien planet. In tights. “But, Frank, how are you flashing if you’re wearing those tights? It’s not against the law to run around in tights.” He looked all around the room again, eyes reddening around the edges, taking on a misty sheen. My brother, who I had never really known, who I’d laughed at in high school for being ugly and dopey and strange, who I’d called “Franky Stanky” to my friends. I remembered Dad taking me aside once after hearing me yell Franky Stanky down the block when Frank borrowed my bike without asking. Dad said, “Brian, you need to take it easy on your brother. He’s not the sharpest axe on the Viking ship. He’s a fragile kid. You need to look out for him.” By that time, Frank was failing out of trade school and I was only fourteen. I didn’t see why I had to look out for someone who was old enough to buy a Playboy. Now here we were, twenty years later, three feet from each other in a police station. I’d never felt so far from another human being. Frank licked his lips and spoke without looking at me. “I was too embarrassed to show—it. So I—I printed off a bigger one and glued it to the tights. I figured if I flashed fast enough, they wouldn’t realize it was just a photograph. And, you know, maybe they’d go home thinking, ‘Wow, that guy was really hung.’ I know it’s fucked up. I know it is. Don’t look at me like that, Brian.” *** Our dad had given us the birds-and-the-bees talk by showing a porno. When it was over, he'd say, “That’s how you make babies. So, you know, use a rubber.” The porno was called Monster Cocks 2, and I guess it affected us in different ways. Larry went on to design those tank-sized SUVs marketed to midrange executives and soccer moms. Me, I've got this attraction—a fetish, really—for big, spritzed-up Jersey hair. The first time I saw Corinne blocking a kid’s view at the movie theater, I wanted to bang her right there under the opening credits. It was love at first sight. But Frank, he got this complex. Turns out, there’s a Frank was a Member. Every now and again, he’d log on and pick out a good dick, print it out on eight-by-eleven photo paper, strap it to some naked-looking nylons, and cruise around town in search for a group of women to show it off to. This was his first arrest, but he’d done it dozens of times over the years. All this came out in court, of

course, but Frank confessed the details to me there, in the police station. He said the urges were getting worse. My first thought was that I wanted him out of my house. I wanted Corinne back so I could tell her all the fucked up news and share a laugh about old Franky Stanky. Hell, I’d even tell Cliff and we’d all have a big laugh. I wished he was somebody else's brother. Somebody else's problem. “What the fuck, Frank,” I said. “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this information?” Frank started to cry. First time I’d ever seen any grown man in our family cry. Not that it was expressly forbidden. Dad didn’t call us pussies or anything. But our ancestors were Norwegian. Stonefaced Viking-types. We didn’t hug or kiss our mother on lips. We didn’t cry. “I’m sorry,” Frank blubbered. “I’m just—I’m sorry.” He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his trench coat then looked at me, goose-eyed and defeated. “Can we just go home?” *** I paid the bail with my Hawaiian Vacation With Corinne fund, which, since she'd left, was just an extra savings account. The public defender tried to get the offense lowered to an obscenity charge because Frank was a first offender, but the judge, a Curves member herself, wasn’t sympathetic. She gave Frank three months in county. While in prison, he underwent his first community showers and realized there were dozens of inmates with dicks smaller than his. He was doing okay in therapy. One weekend, we started talking about what we'd do after his release, since his CD-ROM job had fired him for breaching the company’s morality code and his lawn-care customers had read all about him in the newspaper. GloveCo was moving R-and-D to Cambodia and had finally given me the pink slip. I was to be let go at the end of the month, and I figured when Frank got out of jail, we’d both be on the street. Then Frank told me this idea for a talking glove. It’s a personal autoerotic device, he said. Like those flashlights with mouths on the end, but classier. After Frank gave me the go-ahead, I applied for the patent and started working on a prototype. It goes like this: when the glove is in motion, a woman’s voice whispers softly between the fingers: You are normal. You are special. I love you just the way you are. Yesterday, I sent the first model to Frank in prison, a “Congratulations—Two Weeks to Go!” gift. We’ve already got investors lined up. Online pre-sales are exploding.

Brandon Getz has never flashed anyone. He has his MFA from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in Spokane, WA. His fiction has appeared in Versal and The Ampersand Review. He currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA, drawing monster cartoons, writing stories set on Mars, and hanging out with his dog, Marlo.

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Crack the Spine - Issue 79  

Literary Magazine

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