faultline journal of arts and let ters
Faultline is an annual publication of the University of California, Irvine. Edition price: $10. Faultline welcomes submissions of poetry, fiction, essays, and translations between September 10th and December 10th. Refer to our complete submission guidelines at faultline.sites.uci.edu. While electronic submissions are preferred, you may also send work by mail with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Faultline Department of English 435 Humanities Instruction Building Irvine, CA 92697-2650 Any other correspondence should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Faultline is printed by McNaughton & Gunn. Copyright ÂŠ 2020 Faultline. No portion of Faultline may be reproduced without written permission. All rights reserved. Cover art by Anna Renken. Full text of interviews available at faultline.sites.uci.edu.
faultline journal of arts and let ters volume 29 â€˘ spring 2020
intern Sierra Myer
readers Marissa Ahmadkhani Sean Cho Ayres Korey Bell Lee Eisen Leandro Fefer Zainab Hussein Marisa Lainson Peter Lane Cassie Leone Maggie Love
Michael Malpass Derek Mosely Erik Moyer Miles Parnegg Sarah Beth Ryther Dillon Sefic Alex Stanley Lauren Swift Lizabeth Yandel
This volume is dedicated to Julia Lupton and Michael Ryan.
Contents Amy Gerstler
*on Listening & Speaking to Each Other1
Unearthing Our Bodies
Dustin M. Hoffman
Kill Your Music
F. Douglas Brown Aubade for the Unexpected Unearthed
Something’s Burning Clearing Up the Financial Picture
*on Archives & Grief
Choke Point Chicago
Ashley Sojin Kim
Parable of the Fig Tree The Son
The Apple Orchard In the Womb as in Eden
Aileen Keown Vaux
Aristotle Says Dear So-And-So
The Divorce Year
Mary Ann Dimand Old Uriel D’état
Jason Magabo Perez
Loss Tapes of Scyborg 51 Vol. 1, No. 1: Unprophesies Vol. 1, No. 2: Decolonizing, Decolonizing Vol. 1, No. 3: Mobilities Notes
Jason Magabo Perez
*on Language, Discipline, Pedagogy & Audience
Democide59 Moab: a dialogue
December 31st Why Now Do I Wish to Live on a Cliff by the Sea?
Villanelle74 The woman in Degas’ “Women Ironing” leans in
Lee Peterson Mirette on the High Wire Exercises
Passive Insulation Models, Studies, Drawings
Contents hands/bushes/birds Juan Carlos Beaz
todo bien 1000 â€™pa
Static GIFs for Broken Musicians Animated GIF With Ashtray And Spoon
The Art of Losing
There Comes a Point in Every Relationship When You Realize This Is Not What You Signed Up For 104
*on Remembering & Dismantling
Matthew J. Spireng
Hurley Sand & Gravel
At the beach
What kinds of contact can a literary journal facilitate, when the tangible and tactile is impossible? In this volume, you’ll find fragments of interviews with several writers who dwell between genres, modes, and conventions. Writers who redefine and reframe what is literary, who trace the boundaries between things only to redraw those boundaries differently, or erase them altogether. Through our questions, we imagined a kind of correspondence. And then we erased our questions. What results is a series of isolated, but interconnected, voices. You can read each response as a personal letter—from southern California, or Hong Kong, or Chicago—to a fellow reader/writer. We began assembling this year’s issue long before social isolation. Now, we find it especially comforting to think of a literary journal as a social, collective space, one made up of poems, stories, and images most often conceived and created alone. A journal is a gathering. We hope this finds you well, wherever you find yourself reading.
Amy Gerstler on Listening & Speaking to Each Other I know we all contain multitudes. But sometimes I wonder: are women’s identities, and the identities of the any/many who consider themselves outside sanctioned traditions, are those consciousnesses particularly hybrid, especially multi-sourced and fragmented and/or shape shifty and multi-vocal? Have they necessarily had to be? And therefore, in some cases, might these voices be most aptly housed in hybrid forms? Also: obviously I’m not alone in this and it’s not news, but I love the idea that a way of experimenting with forms, language and content from women’s lives might be to look to recipes, advice columns, beauty tips, etiquette books, etc. Everyone’s own evocative versions of those quotidian texts. Initially, these might not have been considered to have literary potential. But if, in fact, they are some of the means through which women have spoken to each other, exchanged information, encouraged or criticized each other, grappled with changing models of “the feminine,” if they have been forms we’ve hidden in or behind, do we/can we use them revealingly in literary texts?
Maybe it’s because I have a disorderly mind, but I tend to feel that when hybridity can mess with time and simultaneity it sometimes creates a reading experience that rings ‘truer’ than what I get in some more linear texts. I like how some hybrid writing can invoke the weight of history pushing against and rupturing the present, can enact contradiction and ambivalence quickly, pitting different registers of sensation and information against each other as they vie for primacy and attention. This is how I experience thought and consciousness: so much going on all at once inside the head and outside in the “real world,” mixing and humming and clashing, and if you’re lucky, once in a while creating harmonies. Song fragments and noises, sights and memories and emotions and physical input and one’s reactions to that constant churning. Backstory and future yearnings and present moments all flooding in. Sometimes hybrid texts embody this in a way I think my brain recognizes and is hungry for and deeply resonates with.
In terms of a hybrid writer’s responsibility to “reward an audience for venturing into a new form,” I probably want to aim for an acute version of that oft-quoted workshop maxim: The poem should teach you how to read it. If I’m going to play in the fields of hybridity, I want the reader to be able to cavort with me, and not get lost. I’m not saying this should be every hybrid writer’s goal: there are temporary or long-distance confusions, not-knowings, etc. that can be fertile. This is just a personal mantra. And I want whatever hybrid moves I’m making to feel integral, intensely necessary, like they constitute the most compelling way to get to a particular music, feeling, set of effects. For me this means the reader can ultimately take pleasure in ways the piece might be presented differently from what they may have expected, and that the departure from the expected will yield something additionally rich for them.
Jenny Boully’s The Body has fascinated me for years. As I’m writing this during the Coronavirus quarantine we are all experiencing, I want to praise this book’s ability to reveal new meanings now via its method and content. The main space of the pages is blank. The book exists solely in footnotes to an alleged absent “body text.” In a moment when much of what was considered “normal life” has vanished, pressing questions arise about what is central to our lives and what is peripheral, about what the “real story” of any text or person might be. Amidst so many kinds of absences, this book is painfully eloquent in its privileging of a subterranean inner life. Disappearences are important. The hidden, after the fact reactions are important. Texts within texts. The evidence left behind. So-called “marginalia.” In its lyrical, erudite, emotional confessions that cannot be fixed to exact persons or events, this book drives home how weighty and gorgeous the whispers thrumming under experiences are. This book teaches me how crucial what formerly seemed to sink beneath notice or be drowned out (when one was not awash in so much silence) can be.
Unearthing Our Bodies
I follow close behind you on moving day, our route pointed into the great spires of the Organ Mountains, my tiny pearl-like car pulsing across the warm globe. And without knowing it, we are already marked together in this spot of latitude. We find out how things work by dismantling them, pulling flesh from the bone and tasting the muscle. I can tell you that the only way to reach a center is to dig deeper, unearth the inner body to make a pact, to tear the road from the map, rip it from its background. I hold a nest of lines in my palms, tangled to the red and blue vessels of my heart, a confusion of whorls barely touching. This is how we got here, by unraveling each skeletal root from the next, by chewing them, by baring them.
We fight still over who found the skeleton. My brother and I with the only shovel and our dirt-smeared hands. The moon was a bright skull; cleaned then soaked in bleach. I told him where to dig or he told me where to remove earth. The smell of grass and soil. How the word soil suggests the deep brown and the bodily warmth—as if the yard were the animal itself. What were we doing out there with the house yellowing not far away? With the house and it’s headlight windows blinking to be sure it was seeing us correctly. We did what children must. We asked where the bones were and who if not us was going to find them. We knew about dinosaurs of course. That is the kind of thing no parent can hide. Picture book after picture book. Shelves of plastic dinosaurs all still and phantom like. A séance for dinosaurs is what we were making maybe unless they were still alive in their bones. The first we found was a femur. Maybe human maybe iguanodon maybe an allosaurus. There is no telling what could disguise itself in a single bone. So, there we knelt -4-
and we held out our arms to compare our own frames to that of the boneâ€”too bright in its dirt. Too sure of itself in the burning moonglow. Should we have buried it again? Should we have turned back and nestled into our respective top and bottom bunks? Should we have pulled the curtains shut and let the night do the digging? Of course, that is not what we did. The past is a jar of sand. Cool to the touch and easily dispersed. We dug and dug and dug and found the whole skeleton of a monster. And some nights the bones made the shape of a man and somedays we would gaze into the dirt and see animals of all kinds. Sometimes just a pit of pelvises. Sometimes our own skeletal forms. Who owns a set of bones given air and light? My brother says we need to rebury. I say there are more underneath.
Dustin M. Hoffman
Kill Your Music
For Daniel McDonald
Oh-No wants to be the drummer, is aching to play his first show, aching so much his fingertips sting. But Johnny Ventricle, frontman of the Imperial Coronaries, says there will be no traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus, trudging-through-the-predictable-set-list show tonight. Vindication, eradication, and eruption will be their show, Johnny says, and a glob of Johnny’s spit lands on Oh-No’s nose. He worries wiping it would violate Johnny’s punk-rock principles. “We will be rock-and-roll assassins,” Johnny tells Oh-No and Too-Bad backstage. Too-Bad smirks, chugs down her Pabst, balances the empty on her dreadlocked head. Oh-No tries to hold his smile, tries to keep nodding as gravely as possible, tries not to look at the crowd buzzing and smoking in front of their stage. Oh-No follows behind Johnny under the stage lights, and he imagines the crowd’s rib cages and lungs rattling to his kick drum, to their music. He swallows the loss lumping in his throat. This would’ve been his first real show, his first time performing instead of just basement practicing. Always practice and practicing. And now he has lugged his drum set out into the adjacent forest only to listen to his guitar player rant. “Just because we play punk rock doesn’t cleanse our sins,” Johnny preaches at the crowd, arms outstretched. “We’re doubly guilty in our self-awareness of the fucked hegemony.” And then Johnny explains how killing music at its source is the only way they can fight the machine of leather pants squeezed over fake cocks and pyrotechnics and go-go dancers and lolling tongues and Viagra-long guitar solos and one-hit-wonder soap-opera-spewing ballads. They must slay the means of production, and from the shards they’ll emerge pure artists, phoenix-fired revolutionaries. Frying under spotlights, Oh-No tries to meditate on post-modern antirock aesthetics and slaying. But the crowd makes teeth throb inside his gums. They flick lighters, cast random glows on lips and noses, sterling studs and septum rings winking, and then back to dark. Their faces shuffle like the leaves on the darkened poplars that canopy over the stage. Oh-No wishes he had his -6-
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drum set to hide behind—buried in the hum of his hi-hat, lost in the rattle of his snare-springs, the whomp of his kick, camouflaged within the throb and thrum of Too-Bad’s bass rig, the scratch and fuzz of Johnny’s Marshall amp, its broken gain knob cranked to the right. Oh-No’s drum set waits out in the woods for whatever anti-show Johnny has in mind, Oh-No’s drum set he earned working four thousand hours of silence. He worked as library janitor at the university after he quit going to school, because school took too long. The financial-aid checks paid for classes where he had to sit and be silent because if he made a sound the professors would call on him and pity him for being not only pathetically poor but also pitifully stupid. The library’s silence, at least, was his choice. During shifts, he divvied out his minimum-wage pay in his head—rent, food, electricity, or a new used high-hat stand. He would choose no electricity, practice starvation, cut rent and sleep in his van. It beat his parents’ trailer where he’d grown up. On cold nights, he’d sleep in the library stacks and dream next to the Marxist criticism and existential philosophy. Johnny loops a noose around the neck of his Epiphone, cinches the knot tight. “We’ve gathered here tonight to refuse the rock gods. Farewell long hair and leather and groupie blow jobs and gladiatorial coliseums of exploitation disguised as sold-out sports arena concerts.” Johnny grips the guitar neck, cocks back his arm. “Tonight, you all witness execution.” Johnny thrusts the Epiphone, and it swings into the tree branches. Johnny wraps the rope around his wrist. The guitar jerks sickly in midair, and the crowd cheers. There must be two hundred punks crowded in a crescent to watch a performance Oh-No isn’t sure he’s a part of. Someone chucks a beer can at the swinging guitar. Someone hacks phlegm into the night sky. A dozen lighters flicker. Maybe the glint travels all the way to reflect off his Zildjian hi-hat waiting by the creek. He bought that Zildjian the Christmas he took overtime at the library instead of going home to see his parents. An easy choice: two twelve-hour shifts of time-and-a-half in the stacks right through Christmas Eve instead of sitting with his parents around the two-foot-tall plastic pine they’d nabbed out of their next-door neighbor’s trashcan fifteen years ago. They would have smoked cigarettes and let the TV blare, their glowing cigarette cherries pointed at Ralphie and Rudolph and Jeopardy reruns. Instead, Oh-No had dusted Baudelaire criticism, replaced urinal cakes, called the cops on the long-haired homeless man masturbating in the second-floor stall and then scrubbed his ejaculate off the dividers. “Let him that has no idol worship cast the first stone,” Johnny says, tugging -7-
on the rope. “Are any of you innocent? You who have come out tonight with expectations of spectacle?” Johnny ties the rope around the trunk of the tree. The crowd silences. A few throw out “fuck yous” and Johnny lifts his chin. “Yes, fuck us all. This word with its neutered connotation that used to make the establishment cringe and now makes their movies authentically gritty, their music explicitly provocative, their sweat-shop T-shirts stylishly edgy. Yes, ‘fuck you’ has been good for business, thanks to our subcultural subversion. Fuck us all, indeed.” Johnny bows his head, motions the sign of the cross using his middle finger. The death-pendulum of his Epiphone slows. “Free Bird,” someone shouts. Someone else shouts, “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Johnny bends, picks up a rock. “I am not innocent, but I will take the lead. All of you may follow, like you always like to do, you sycophantic sheep.” He throws and the rock smacks the guitar’s back. The smack clangs through the Marshall amp, then dissipates into feedback whine. Oh-No realizes now that Johnny has plugged in. There is sound here. Sound he knows, wants, needs. Sound is what he prayed for every night as his dad stomped through the house, threw himself into walls, wailed about the end. As his mom chuckled over Wheel of Fortune, chanted at his dad, You’ll never have the balls to do it. “I lead us in cleansing ourselves of three-chord choruses and catchy riffs,” Johnny says. “The first stone is cast.” The crowd holds their breaths. Then a beer can sails. The crowd bows to pluck stones, and Oh-No remembers how at church they’d all kneel at the front, waiting for the wafer. When he was eight, he wondered if the priest’s palms sweated into the pieces of Jesus. He imagined the wafer salty. Christ’s body salty. But when he tried to go, his father weighted down his shoulder, whispered, “What have you done wrong?” Oh-No’s spine jammed against the hard pew. “This family does nothing.” Oh-No’s family was best at doing nothing. The gameshow reruns hissed and his father never needed a 9-1-1 call, despite his threats that tonight—every night was tonight, the night, this night—he’d open up all his veins or lodge bullets in his brain. Oh-No would tap his fingers against the mattress and feel a sound he wanted to make a million times louder. Louder than living. The Epiphone’s strings wail to one hundred rock throws. Wobbling flashlight beams illuminate a chipping black finish. Oh-No hops off the stage, bends to the dirt and sifts for a rock. He squeezes a jagged chunk of concrete. A flashlight catches a humbucker pickup hanging by its last screw. And then the guitar’s body gives, falls, will never strum another Fugazi cover or chug another Circle Jerks tune. Oh-No is too late to contribute, and he’ll have no part in this -8-
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show. It’s another night of doing nothing. He won’t throw rocks or play his kit. His kit alone in the forest. The rock drops out of Oh-No’s limp grip, smacks his big toe. Johnny’s slaying, his vow of music assassination, all makes sense now. Oh-No does have a part in this show. His big toe throbs to the loudening thump of his heart. He knows now: His kit will be the next to die. Oh-No ducks into the crowd. Someone squeals out an obscenity merging shit and fuck into shuck. Near the back now, he hears others moaning, bleeding, leaning on their belligerent friends. Just before Oh-No weaves into the trees, he hears Johnny’s voice: “And did you think there wouldn’t be casualties? Did you think the stones you throw wouldn’t find your flesh? The death of rock and roll wants to drag you along. Will you let it?” The crowd shouts more ecstatic fuck yous. Last night at practice, Johnny had told Oh-No this would be the truest music they ever made. Oh-No wanted that. But now he sprints. He tries to count the trees between himself and his drum set by the creek. He doesn’t have long until Johnny’s next act. When he gets to his drum set, it’s waiting patiently in the dark, arranged as if it were on stage about to be played. His heart eases from its knot. He’s not too late to quit this killing. As he nears, he smells a familiar sting, the skunk waft of gasoline. Johnny told Oh-No that it would be a wonderful surprise of evisceration. Now blazing chrome and snapping drumheads fire behind Oh-No’s eyes. He can smell the char of melting lacquer, molten brass. It’s a prophecy he can’t stand to imagine for another second. Oh-No’s van is parked on the other side of the forest, and he doesn’t know how long he has, how many trips he can make. He must choose carefully. His fingers slide under the wooden frame of the kick drum, but he would only be able to carry this, and he got a hell of a deal, giving one of Johnny’s crack-head friends fifty bucks and lucking into a perfect thump. Instead, he scoops the snare, the one his music teacher Mr. Stallcup snuck him from the high school’s equipment room. Together they replaced the snare wires, tuned a new head, fiddled the lugs a thousand quarter-turns in every direction. When he was finished, Mr. Stallcup licked his teeth and pointed to the exit. Yes, Oh-No had to save this first piece of his set. Over his shoulder, Oh-No hears the voices shifting like a brontosaurus neck slowly craning his way. He can’t make out Johnny’s words, but he is the chanting tongue of this giant beast. Oh-No panics, snatches up his hi-hat with his other hand, and he runs. Oh-No is halfway to his van, hi-hat clapping to his stride, synced to his cranking heart. In his path, a spindly body holds up his hands. A mohawk -9-
springs through the figure’s clean-shaved head. “Where the fuck are you going?” the mohawk says. “That’s Imperial Coronaries equipment. That shit’s gotta die tonight.” Oh-No bets this man would be slamming around the pit if they were playing in a bar or basement party. Without enough decibels to deafen his violence into dance, his fist must be aching to swing. “I’m in the Imperial Coronaries,” Oh-No says. “This is my equipment.” “I could say that, too. Lies are fucking easy,” the man says, stepping closer, and his septum piercing twinkles. He knocks his knuckles against the hi-hat. “Who would miss a few pieces, right? Down to the pawn shop and off with a few bucks.” “I’m not going to sell my own stuff.” The mohawk man pulls the hi-hat stand. They tug-of-war the stand and the cymbals crash against the snare. The mohawk man’s septum ring shines again, and if Oh-No tapped it with his stick it would clink so quietly. But Oh-No yanks the mohawk’s nose ring. The mohawk screeches, claws at his face, and Oh-No runs. He doesn’t look back, but he hears the punk screaming, and it blends with the clap of his high-hat: shit-fuck-shit-fuck-shit-fuck-shit-fuck-shitfuck. Johnny would appreciate the post-punk-rock performance, if he would ever stop talking to hear. Oh-No emerges from the trees and his sneakers grind in the parking lot gravel. He can drop off his snare and high-hat and loop through the shadow-black pines to save more. The key grinds into the van lock. The back doors butterfly open. He tosses and slams the doors closed. From the side of the van, a cherry glows and lights up a face—pug nose, those puffy cheekbones, the curly-Q eyeliner, all framed by Too-Bad’s chunky dreadlocks. “Too good to stick around? Too cool for Johnny’s show?” Too-Bad says. She clicks out the side of her mouth. “Why did we spend all that time practicing if he was just going to break everything?” Oh-No locks the van, needs to run to his drums, but here is TooBad. “You’d prefer the big gig, the adoring fans.” She inhales, smiling cherry glow. “You fucking sellout.” “I didn’t join your band to burn my kit.” “Not my band. I don’t own shit.” “Whatever. Johnny’s band, the proletariat’s band, the ghost of Lenin’s goddamn band. I just wanted to play songs.” - 10 -
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“Well, buddy, you got a self-unproclaimed genius on meth and LSD with an endless savings account refilled by mommy and daddy’s software company over in Ann Arbor. So you get this.” Oh-No didn’t know Johnny’s parents were rich. People that yelled into duct-taped microphones and wore staple-stitched plaid pants looked like they could be as poor as him. Maybe the difference was poor people tried not to look poor, tried really hard. “I quit,” he says. “I’m out of the band. I’m getting my gear and going home.” “I accept your resignation. But we’re going to need a two-week notice, and I left the paperwork back at the office. I’ll mail it to you.” “OK, fine. I have a pen in the van. I’ll write my address,” he says. Too Bad laughs. “You’re too damn dumb to be phony, too sweet to be punk.” Too-Bad starts walking toward the pines. “Not sure I’ve ever met a real-live person before.” “What about your bass, your rig? You don’t care that Johnny’s gonna ruin your stuff?” “What kind of punk rocker would I be if I wasn’t game for some DIY destruction-core?” Now he knows she’s the same as Johnny. Just screaming into a wall for fun. He takes a deep breath, has it firing up inside him. “Must be nice to be rich like Johnny,” he says. Too-Bad’s lips snarl and her eyes turn to slits. She flicks her cigarette in his face, and he has just enough time to turn his head. The cigarette smacks his ear and hot ash sprays against it. One tiny ember gets stuck inside his ear, and it smolders, burns, kills. He slaps at it, his ear now both stinging and ringing. He screams. “You don’t know what I’m like,” she says, immediately lighting another smoke, her face already slackening back to its usual unreadableness. “Who the fuck said I’d let Johnny touch my bass? I already busted your side window and stashed my shit in your van.” In his rush, he missed the broken window and stowaway guitar. He wants to curse her, push her, and he wants to kiss her for caring as much as him. “Why didn’t you warn me?” “The trick with Johnny,” she takes his elbow and guides him toward the pines, “is acting like you don’t care about his bat-shit-crazy ideas. Apathy trumps rebellion. Subvert his subversion with who-gives-a-fuckness. Paper beats rock.” “I never got why paper would beat a rock.” - 11 -
“You think too much,” she says. “That’s why we call you Oh-No. Every word out of your mouth is worry.” She loops a hand through the crook of his arm, leads him as if it was prom and she was wearing a tuxedo. He wonders if she went to prom, or maybe she set prom on fire and lit a cigarette off the prom queen’s burning scalp. “I thought it was like a Yoko Ono joke,” he says. “I hate worrying.” “Then don’t.” “I just want to play music.” “Do that.” But it’s never that simple. Oh-No walks with her into the forest, but he wants to sprint through the trees, make a diving slide to catch Johnny’s match before it strikes the gas puddle under his kit. He’s stuck with Too-Bad’s pace. In practice, her short fingers slid frets and pressed strings like the shadow to his drumsticks. Her four coiled strings are power lines lacing his highways, hugging close. But click off the amp and she turns into this apathetic apparition—dirty waist-length dreadlocks and chain-smoked lungs and two middle fingers constantly at the ready. Finally, the pine trees part to reveal his drum set. The gasoline burns his nostrils, coats every dollar he’s ever spent purposefully. The chrome gleams and the heads catch moonlight and beg to be beaten. Nearby, the crowd has busted into song, are belting The Misfits “Where Eagles Dare.” Their flicking lighters near. He could take the emerald green timbale he converted from a crackedshell Pearl snare scavenged from Golden Hands Pawn. He gazes again at the kick that would fill his arms. We ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch, the crowd chants. Too-Bad whistles along. “Always liked that one,” she says, “but The Misfits suck, all hair and gym muscles and makeup.” He spins the wingnut off the Zildjian K crash, jams it under his arm and then begins the next wingnut on his Sabian ride. Too-Bad wanders around his set, swaying to the nearing chant. She taps a tiny beat on the heads he can’t rescue while he works frantically at the next three cymbals. The toms and kick and timbale resonances he might revive like a séance with the right tuning. But the cymbals are impossible. There’s no replacing perfectly cast brass. They form the family of shimmer and ring he’s created. Better than his blood family: his dad always threatening departure by noose or barrel or a Walmart bag stretched over his face, his cackling mother eating Doritos and consuming Family Feud. On the final china cymbal, Oh-No’s hands dash too quickly, and the edge slices his knuckle. The gasoline stings his fresh wound. The crowd’s singing - 12 -
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splinters as it nears. Johnny’s voice strains through the discord, shouting. They’ve spotted him. Oh-No runs past Too-Bad, brushing her dreadlocks. He aims for the trees, lugging thirty pounds of brass under his arms. The crowd has broken into another chant of expletives. Rocks whip through the trees. The branches slash and sting, and his steps go chunk and his cymbals clank and mute, clank and mute to the crowd’s fuckin’ poser, sellout shithead, fuck your mother. It’s not until the rocks are landing well behind him that he worries about Too-Bad. The crowd might tear her into pieces in place of his drum set. They’d each grab one of her dozen chunky dreads and pull until her head was a starburst. But then she’s running beside him, short arms wrapped around his kick drum. She’s laughing. She’s outrunning him and every thrown rock. And of course that crowd couldn’t bust Too-Bad. Rocks would bounce off her skin. Her dreads are so dense and grimed they’d never burn. She runs, liberating his music. Or maybe kidnapping it, Oh-No considers, as she zigzags ahead of him and disappears into the trees. When he looks back, flames fizz through the pine needles. He imagines the tom’s triple-flange hoop warping into a grimace, smoke smudging the chrome legs and mounts, his drums’ lacquer flaring and a final beat eviscerating into the black between the stars. The van locks turn and the doors open and he dumps his brass inside. Oh-No slides into the driver’s seat, and Too-Bad’s lighting up a smoke. “Get in,” he yells at the broken window. “You’ll miss the rest of the show.” The roof of the van plinks. Oh-No flinches, is surprised he can be surprised by any more destruction tonight. Glass shatters nearby. The idiots are vandalizing their own cars now. “We have to go.” Oh-No sees the first bodies spilling into the parking lot. They’re dancing, arms pinwheeling, rocks and bottles catapulting from their hands. “Nothing stays anyway,” she says. Too-Bad blows smoke at the night, and Oh-No shifts into reverse, stomps the gas. But before he shifts into drive, Too-Bad has opened the door and swung onto the passenger seat. He can’t help a smile, a tapping of the steering wheel. He serpentines through the punks flailing around his van. They poundpound-pound the sides. A whole body thunks his door. He honks the horn, - 13 -
revs the engine, spits parking-lot stones in a flurry against the other cars. He hauls past the VWs and Subarus pocked in stickers: The Dead Milkmen, The Damned, The Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion skeletons and The Descendants’ Milo, Ramones emblems and Sex Pistols safety pins. They aren’t rusted beaters like his two-decades-old van. Just as he’s about to escape onto the road, hands slide over Oh-No’s eyes. They smell like smoke and sting with gasoline. The soft-warm of the palms against his cheeks pulses into his gut. She opens her fingers a crack, enough so he can see out one eye, enough to escape onto the road and then they’re free. Too-Bad keeps her hands over his face, and Oh-No doesn’t fight it. The engine hums. The radio is silent. Cement and stones smooch under the tires. The muffler and the wind harmonize through the broken window. Too-Bad breathes behind him. Headlights spark up in his mirrors. “Shit. Could be them,” Oh-No says. Too-Bad’s hands lift from his face, leave a wound of cold behind. “So what?” He’d been too excited for the first show on the way here, blindly following Johnny’s Audi’s missing bumper and dreaming about dancing crowds. They had turned down dirt roads, wove across country two-lane highways. And now he is lost. “They don’t have the follow-through to murder us in the woods,” Too-Bad says. “They wish they were that punk rock.” The headlights blaze in the mirrors, sting his eyes. Oh-No doesn’t know about follow-through. Rich white kids seem to him the only ones who get the chance to become doctors or lawyers or serial killers. Back home, one laugh, one dropped coffee mug, one ill-timed snare tap and his dad’s fingers could startle and squeeze the trigger and he’d become nothing. A constellation of bullet holes decorated the thin drywall in his dad’s bedroom. But an inch to the left, and dad would be slurry. Those were the follow-through opportunities housed in his trailer. “Take the wheel,” he tells Too-Bad, and she does, like a magic trick brushing her body over his hips. Oh-No heads to the back of the van, opens the doors to swerving headlights. Oh-No could leap and be wavering on their hood. And if he were them, as wild as they think they are, he would jump, stomp, whip out his dick and piss on their windshield, banshee-sing. But he’s not them like they’re not them, not as pure or as bold or committed as they think they are. Too-Bad’s laughing up front, probably thinking that he’s always too worried, always saying, Oh-No, I can’t, I won’t, what if. The more they honk and - 14 -
dustin m. hoffman
flash and swerve, the less he cares, the more he wants to show them what they aren’t made of. He was raised on near-death, his dad’s lullaby of threatened suicide every night, the whimpers, the cocked pistol and click of an empty chamber against a skull, the bullet report blare that ended up lodged in a wall stud. Oh-No can show them what terror feels like. Oh-No grips a cymbal. All he can see is blinding headlights. The highway air whooshes. It’s better not to count the hours it cost him. His throat tightens as he winds up to throw. His cheeks scald, wet, sweating or crying. He’ll throw it all away and not care and be the best not-giving-a-fucker any of those wannabes ever imagined. Before Oh-No throws, the van jags to the left. His shoulder crashes into the wall. He’s frozen in momentum, and she’s yelling, “Stop. Just fucking stop.” “I got this,” he yells back. “No.” The van swerves and sways his body again. “Get up here. To me.” She’s beckoning him, coaxing like she does with those small fingers of hers impossibly spidering over the frets in practice—the notes pinging higher and higher and slip-slapping and buzzing up the scale and tempo and Johnny growl-howling for more. But that was in the basement of Johnny’s rented shithole on Clemens Street that his parents surely paid for. Oh-No bought this van himself, bought his music that he was about to throw and thank God Too-Bad stopped him. He was at the edge, but she saved him. Of course, Too-Bad always knows him best. Oh-No relents. He sets down the cymbal, weaves his way to the front of the van where Too-Bad’s proffering one hand, the other steering through the black night ahead. Her fingers are rough, balls of calluses that grip him and swing his body back into the seat. “Take the wheel,” she says, and she’s standing. He shudders into the seat, mashes the gas. They laugh together, because they’re both fucking nuts together. At their first practice, he tapped out the four-count and she skidded up the scale and he rolled into a double-time beat they’d never played, but it felt like they’d played it ten million times with caveman hands playing femurs against a sabretooth ribcage. Their pursuer’s high beams strobe on and off. Too-Bad’s silhouette eclipses the light as she moves to the back of the van. She lifts a cymbal and it flashes, and he knows it’s the Zildjian crash, and now he’s so glad he didn’t throw it. Its sizzle against his drumstick is the sound of perfect breathing, a sigh after sex. But she disc-throws the crash into the high beams. He can’t believe it and he can’t hear the hit, the smack or shimmer. He doesn’t even get that pleasure. - 15 -
She hurls another cymbal, and his mother cackles, her molars crunching chips out of a riotously crinkly bag. The headlights behind him swerve, but they stay on him. Oh-No must stop this, but he doesn’t understand the shape of the song Too-Bad’s performing back there. He tap-taps the gas pedal. TooBad hefts a massive shadowy block he doesn’t recognize. Not from his kit. It’s her amplifier, he realizes, her Kustom rig with the sparkly blue vinyl on the outside that Oh-No always wanted to touch. He’d never seen a rig like that, and it seemed like it was a part of her sound, her tongue, her skin. She lets it go crushing into the night. Out the corner of his blearing eyes, their stalker’s lights spin. He slams the breaks just before the van’s speedometer needle stutters into triple digits. The hum-rattle of the twenty-year-old engine hushes. Oh-No allows the van to idle down the highway, and he could give a shit that Too-Bad hasn’t spoken yet, whether she tumbled out the doors and is highway smear or what. He doesn’t want any of it anymore. It all costs too much. He flicks off the lights. Not even the nuclear glow of the dashboard shows. He’s a coasting shadow. He’s darkness and silence. He’s post-post-modern non-noise rock and nothing. Then a twinkle from behind. A glow of blue far off, far back down the road. “It’s the fuuuu-zzzzzz,” Too-Bad hisses into his ear. She bites the top of it. “What you gonna do now, worry man?” She’s whispering in his other ear. She’s everywhere faster than he can care. “What are you gonna do, Oh-No, drummer boy, drummer man, got no plan, got no kit, got no nothing no more no way no Oh-No and ain’t that,” she sucks air so loud his whole head ices over, “too too too bad?” Oh-No feels his lips smiling, flesh tightening over teeth. He can’t help the automatic reflex. That’s what a beat is when it’s going right. Reaction reaction reaction. Oh-No spins the wheel, hand over hand over hand over hand. The twinkling blue and red is gaining, and Oh-No trundles over the shoulder and into the grass. The night is becoming revisible to his halogen-blinded eyes. The ghost shape of cornstalks appears through his windshield, and the stalks chunk a one-two-three, one-two-three shushing against his feet. “That’s it. That’s it. That’s it,” she says, two fingers dragging up the back of his neck. The red-blues blur past, zip a D-note bleat that Dopplers into a G flat. The van thwacks into a tree at three miles an hour. His forehead bumps off the wheel, and he looks up at a crooked tree’s arms stretching across a smear of Milky Way. This is where it stops. “Nice going.” Too-Bad slumps into the passenger seat. “Well played.” She - 16 -
dustin m. hoffman
sparks up another smoke, crumples up her empty pack and chucks it into his hair. His loss settles into his tailbone: thrown cymbals, the mob-burned pieces of his kit, his first real show he’ll never play. His father whimpers. His mother burps out a laugh while Vanna White swishes by, dinging letters. All those hours spent in silence to earn another piece of his kit. Oh-No rips the keys out of the ignition, and in the silence, his father’s whimpers turn to wails. Alex Trebek chides a contestant for forgetting to form a question and his mother guffaws. Too-Bad breathes smoke through the smashed window. She breathes. She inhales. She exhales. She inhales. Father pulls the trigger, and the empty click is thinner, quieter, a nothing-tick. She breathes she breathes she breathes she breathes. He breathes. There are many breaths to stop a silencing. The TV is unplugged, zipped out, no reception. “We could go back and get the cymbals. They might be right in the road. Worth a fucking try,” she says. “Way better chance of surviving than my rig which is chunks now.” But that brass is as gone as her rig. Lost lost lost. Just like he promised himself two years ago that he’d never step through the trailer doors again. His dad was skipping his meds and preaching about how much better he was doing this time, but Oh-No could see the purple gashes peeking through his wrists. His mom had patted the couch cushion next to her. You like music, right? If you don’t know this you’re an idiot, right? and Jeopardy said, To play this composer’s 4’33”, you won’t need an instrument. It would never end. Oh-No stomps into the back of the van, stubs his toes against the hi-hat, a wisssshhhhh in the pitch dark. He picks up the stand and the snare, steps out the back door and on top of smothered cornstalks. The kick drum takes a little convincing to heave onto the van’s roof, but after a few trips, he has each surviving piece out underneath the twinkle of too many stars. The arrangement is improper and awkward. He squats over the empty five-gallon bucket he uses to carry his scrub brushes and plumber snake and wrenches into the library bathrooms. Without stands, the surviving cymbals rest numbly against the van’s roof. A small sigh of wind brushes over him, and his ear stings where Too-Bad’s cigarette burned it. He doesn’t have sticks and he lost the kick pedal, but his fingers and knuckles and feet know what to do, have known pulse since their scratch and thump against his childhood mattress. “Don’t be such a mopey prick about it. Your shit’s still out there.” Too-Bad’s dreadlocks thump against the van roof as she heaves herself up. “If we wait ‘til - 17 -
morning, we’ll be able to spot them on the road I bet.” Oh-No imagines that, the early flickers of orange and pink finding his cymbals. The crumbled remains of Too-Bad’s amplifier will cast long shadows. Maybe they’ll be easy to find. “Don’t worry,” she says. Or maybe a giant green combine’s knobby tires will crush them. Raccoons will drag their new treasures to some burrow. Johnny Ventricle’s hoards will scour the road and stomp with rapture just before brunch with their parents. “Or do worry,” she says. “Maybe you got it right. Beats the hell out of what everyone else is doing. Just using each other up and moving on.” He just does it for attention, his mom had said of his dad on one of the last nights he’d seen her. And why should I give it to him? Why should I listen? Be his victim? Shit or get off the pot, right? Oh-No fingers the throb in his ear. He uses his thumbs to start a tap on the snare that his sneaker toes follow on the brass. He begins a beat that’ll last until Too-Bad joins in on her unplugged bass. They’ll be quiet under the blearing stars, blending with the crickets, and they’ll play until morning, play until they’re satisfied, play until they feel like quitting, play until there’s no reason not to.
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F. Douglas Brown
Aubade for the Unexpected
Sometimes she seizes me, when I’m cooking Or handling the baby in a manner I should know Better: for goodness sake, cover her Head; it’s cold out. Even today, at morning’s break The floor creaks mom back, awake & Meddling: can you visit later? Although I’m too old To be spooked by any specter, family history Reminds how one granddad abandoned My father at the sight of a body floating through Thick night, while another granddad embraced the Pentecost So fully, he claimed to witness the holy descend Upon his bologna. Think a scarcely traveled dirt road, apparitions ambling Amongst Mississippi elms. Or think a hazy glow resting On cold cuts— unexpected grace upon a meal. Some mornings I laugh, some I pray. I do what it takes To tell myself, all good. I custom control, master & remix Deflection, until a friend’s drawing somehow appears In my notebook to tell me otherwise & peeking between her Sketches—: my dead mother captured in ink. This dark Drawing, this imminent morning slaps: you are living Without parents—& there is no drama, no wind, no maelstrom, Nothing but my newborn cracking this quiet. I go to the baby Offering incantations & ease: you’re alright Sweet girl. You’re alright. My faint whispers & an extra Blanket guarantee the child’s sleep will last an hour More. In a barely lit day, so much can be mistaken For cold, but nothing I conjure— my mother’s talent To make peace with the unwieldy. For goodness sake, boy. For goodness sake.
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Son, I spent time in a Detroit field side by side some students tending to the chances for sweet potatoes & quinoa. Here, so much coexisted: discussions & differences, heart-shaped, & long grassy leaves, & stalks before threshing. Here, an imposter weedâ€™s stealthy composureâ€” assertive until called out: you fake as hell! Son, one weed at a time, down - 20 -
f. douglas brown
the row. What was I uprooting? What daydream deep within me unearthed the plea for your forgiveness? Out of dirt—all the staredowns a father throws toward a boy’s heart, lodged within my fingernails. Son, you’ve said soil heals yet I’ve traveled to a place where approval dwells amongst the discarded & the repurposed to finally hear you: tell me about Nonnie, or Paw-Paw.
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Son—: so much thrives in Detroit. Everyday someone offers a seed. Did I tell you, I cried halfway down the line, tears making more weeds & more tending to? Neverending, you’ll tell me later, & we’ll laugh—: yes. Yes to what’s collected, & yes to what rinses, too. Yes, the dirt is good for you. Yes to dinner, hot & ready. - 22 -
My small-town shoes are black patent leather, small-town socks thin, white, small-town skirt (half off at Penny’s) cinched by a cinch belt, blouse sporting a button-on ruffle, beneath it my heart at the center plane as seen in mechanical drawings, the hive of that heart, the buzzing and complex veining, arterial looping and gathering. Small town. That heart. Something is burning, an indignant flame. Lips, blue smudged eyelids, blobbed pink polish on my never-a-manicure fingers, hopeful small-town haircut, scent of lemon drops, hay after mowing, small city of sweat and regret. Switch on lights at a crosswalk please, grass green, harvest yellow, true red to deep dye puddles on this Main Street. I’m prepared for the drafting compass, calipers,
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dusting brush, ink bottle, T square. Iâ€™m burning. Make me into a martini, please. Make me into some vertical blinds. â€ƒ
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Clearing Up the Financial Picture
A man asks for money. “I have no weapon,” he tells me, lifting his jacket to show his thin torso. He told the same story months ago—his wife in a hospital, newborn twins, holes in their hearts. Later I check my bowl of change. Among the nickels and pennies a cough drop, a house key. I think my old therapist rarely buys groceries. I never see her among the tomatoes that look so delicious and taste so bland or the eight dollar bread she’s surely too smart to buy. Thursdays after I paid for our sessions, I had an appetite. I find a dollar that went through the wash, a quarter under the dryer. As a child I wished for poverty so I could live like the Boxcar Children though even they came into money. When friends talked of hitching - 25 -
to California, it was too late. Iâ€™d given up happiness. People who beg near the university frequently disappear. Itâ€™s sad to outlast them, to own socks, a dry jacket, a bowl full of money, to grow fat and almost contented.
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Collier Nogues on Archives & Grief My favorite articulation of the affinity between maps and poems is Craig Santos Perez’s. He views poems explicitly as navigational tools, imagining the page not as blank but as an ocean connecting islands of words. This way of thinking is full of anticipation, waiting to see what relations will surface. It also speaks to how poems imagine the spatial possibilities of a page in a way other forms of writing don’t. Beyond that sort of figuration, you could say that a poem reaches to express something that is only barely, if at all, reachable by language. Insofar as maps always fail to contain or adequately represent what they seek to map, the gesture poems make is a maplike one.
Besides maps, I also like bureaucratic records and lists in hard copy. These documents are so plain and minor, but so charged with what dailiness felt like in a particular place and time, which is otherwise lost. For similar reasons, I like to visit, as much as possible, the places central to whatever I’m researching. Most recently this has been Mississippi, where my mother grew up. I want to sit near buildings or replicate photograph views and access all the sensory data I can, how it feels to be in that place in that season. All of this sends me to poetry. I don’t really want to turn to anything else; writing prose always happens for me when I feel like I’ve failed in poems.
My manuscript-in-progress, Shoppette, is named after the 24-hour mini-marts on overseas U.S. military bases. I’m interested in the peculiar militarized suburbia exported by American armed forces. Those suburbs, like all suburbs, are shaped by gendered (shoppette!) and raced narratives of consumerism. I can’t go on base now that I have no affiliation with the military; I have to depend on memory, or I search online for other people’s photos and Google Earth views, or I take my own photos through base fences, as in “The Perimeter.” Reading the logic of places like this is not only an imaginative exercise but an emotional one: I want to see things, as though the seeing would make the knowing manifest. But I can’t see anything at all with
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my own eyes; so what kind of knowledge does that give rise to?
There’s a considerable wow factor, both for me as a writer and for audiences/readers, when I take advantage of the interactive possibilities of the internet to manipulate old-fashioned archive materials. It’s two pleasures combined: first, the pleasure of making something happen on a screen just by clicking or rolling over text, and second, the pleasure of seeing historical documents, for all their institutional power, vulnerable to a human hand and subject to rewriting. But also I should say that most “concrete historical archives” I’ve worked with are things I’ve found online, not in brick-and-mortar archives. (The Internet Archive is a treasure, I could spend all day there.) I don’t think I am likely to make digital literature that is not anchored in archival texts; the latent life in them that can be coaxed into the foreground by technological tools is what’s most interesting to me.
Jason Magabo Perez’s examination of the making process as part of the grieving process is very compelling. The “generative contradiction” grief produces is a mess, an uncontrollable, unpredictable cluster bomb of feeling and memory. The attempt to write through it meticulously is at once a fool’s errand and the single thing that makes most sense to me to do. And that’s an archivist’s impulse, I think—to catalogue, to inscribe, to leave marks that may compose a trail. After my mother died, I made my grief into my first book. It may be fair to say that grief is what my second book is made of, too, The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground. That book is much more obviously based in archival research. Its grief is of a monumental, public magnitude: the human cost of the Pacific War. In that book, I erased historical documents written by powerful institutions and idealogues to make them say something other than what they meant to say. I wanted to change what had happened, what could happen. And just like private grief, it’s impossible to change anything; to try is to practice “grief as internal/external performance” as Magabo Perez writes. I admire his method of documenting that performance with a critical but also self-forgiving eye.
Choke Point Chicago
They drive with the kids to one of the city’s lakeside parks for a potluck dinner with Dominik’s coworkers. As Phyllis holds the baby on her lap with one hand and eats corn-on-the-cob with the other, she catches the telltale pull of the neck that means her husband has food stuck in his throat. “Holy cow,” she mutters. “Here we go again.” “A Schatzki ring,” a doctor pronounced shortly after they were married. “Not life-threatening, as you have discovered, and very easily treated. I insert a series of graduated tubes into the esophagus. When a tube comes out bloody, we’re done.” Dominik opted to chew his food more thoroughly. “With this ring, I thee wed,” Phyllis joked as they left that doctor’s office. Dominik raised his hands in surrender. “I had the ring when you married me.” True, the first time Phyllis had seen him gag was right after they started living together. They had been at The Star Hotel Restaurant in Elko, NV eating steak after a camping trip in the Ruby Mountains. She watched in horror as Dominik pointed to his throat and strained. She was halfway out of her chair before he whispered, “I’m okay. I can breathe. I just have a piece of meat stuck in my throat.” Dominik had to either force it down or bring it back up; he much preferred the former. Phyllis was solicitous the first half dozen times he struggled, but married for more than a decade now, concern has molted into something different. She wants to be sympathetic, but—more than anything—feels inconvenienced despite the pains he takes to handle these moments discreetly and independently. This summer evening, Dominik labors quietly by a picnic table at Ardmore Beach, head bobbing like that of a foraging pigeon. He puts down his plate and strolls toward Lake Michigan. Phyllis follows, still holding the baby. “I’m having trouble getting it down,” Dominik gurgles. Seeing Dominik heave makes Phyllis queasy; she focuses, instead, on the two older children digging tunnels in the sand beneath a volleyball net. “When - 29 -
are you going to learn to chew your meat?” Phyllis hisses. “I was so hungry I ate too fast.” Dominik looks sufficiently miserable that Phyllis doesn’t press to stay for volleyball. After the kids mangle their cupcakes enough to get at the icing, she helps them with their shoes and joins Dominik in saying goodbye. No one comments on his discomfort or her irritation. No one notices that Dominik doesn’t finish his meal. Any co-worker who sees the regularity with which he spits into his Dixie Cup—not even saliva is seeping past this plug—must conclude Dominik is going native. Even after two years in Chicago, Phyllis cannot suppress the autonomic flip flop of her stomach when she sees people hock loogies onto the sidewalks. On the way home, Phyllis realizes this incident is different from the others. Before, Dominik has dislodged whatever was caught within minutes. An hour has passed and the gobstopper hasn’t budged. They need help. All three children are asleep by the time the teenager from downstairs finally arrives. Phyllis and Dominik drive south on Lake Shore Drive for the second time that night. After shuffling back and forth between cubicles at St. Joseph’s Emergency Room, a nurse calls for Dominik. Phyllis stands to follow, but is told to wait. “I want to be with him.” “Doctor prefers to see patient alone. I’ll come get you when you can join him.” Phyllis raises an eyebrow to the nurse’s backside as she and Dominik wiggle fingers sheepishly at one another. She is glad he has an old Sports Illustrated, pictures of green Masters’ jackets and pink azaleas splashed across its pages, to distract himself. Phyllis waits. Between the lobby and the street are two sets of sliding glass doors and an insect light mounted in the vestibule between them. Being so close to the lake, there are bugs. As soon as someone enters through the first set of doors, the rat-a-tat-tat of the bug light begins and continues until the guard gestures to the vestibule’s captive to push the button that opens the doors to the hospital proper. Like most Chicagoans that night, the guard is distracted from his work by the fifth game of the NBA playoff underway on the waiting room TV. The Bulls are fighting to win their second World Championship in a row. Guards, staff, even patients wander in and out of the lobby to follow the score. Phyllis hears the noise of a game somewhere behind her and surmises from the angelic upturn of six bright faces that a TV is mounted high on a nearby wall. Ruffled - 30 -
at being dismissed by the nurse, she considers the spectacle of people and insects trapped inside the glass entrance more compelling. When finally escorted into Dominik’s room, Phyllis finds him sipping a barium solution designed to highlight his esophagus on x-ray. Dominik drools into a steel pan, shoulders lifting. His attempts to swallow the solution, coupled with its noxious taste, trigger violent gagging. Red-faced, drenched in sweat, he coughs up a beef kabob and wipes tears from his eyes. He and Phyllis huddle over the thing, waiting for it to shake itself off and moo. “I guess this is as close to childbirth as I’ll ever get,” Dominik quips, his lips chalky white with barium. “Can I get you a doggy bag?” the nurse stares over their shoulders. Dominik whisks the meat off the tray with a paper towel and stuffs it into his pocket. Phyllis guesses he doesn’t want the woman parading it down the hall, nose wrinkled, as she buzzes toward a hazardous waste bin. “Get me out of here,” he begs. Phyllis tucks her arm through Dominik’s as they slip through glass doors into the night. “Are you hungry?” “Starving.” Dominik hits the elevator button of the hospital’s parking structure and the doors open as if they have been waiting for them. “Want to go to Jack’s for omelets?” “Milkshakes, too,” Dominik chortles. “Chocolate.” “Do you ever think about getting it fixed?” Phyllis asks, unlocking the car doors. “Every time I choke.” They know who wins when fireworks start popping all over town.
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Ashley Sojin Kim
Parable of the Fig Tree
Your father sits in his study, preparing his Sunday sermon. Outside his window, the fig tree is budding. Summer is near. Your father beckons you inside.
Female wasps enter figs to lay their eggs—losing their wings and antennae on the way—and die inside the fruit. It is their duty unto death. Like Jesus, see?
Wasp-coffin thoughts are difficult to suppress… you can’t help but feel sympathy for the insect who gives up her body, becomes nothing, dies alone. Weeks pass until the first ripe fig falls from the branch. Its skin splits, baring sticky, red flesh. Your father gathers a basketful to give back to the congregation.
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ashley sojin kim
The Son Jesus lived In a little house In Nazareth with his parents He went out Filled water jars With wine And he called his mother â€œWomanâ€? He touched A man With flaky skin And told him Not to tell Crowds flocked to Galilee They ate up His wisdom Five barley loaves And two fish He calmed a storm While he walked On water And woke Lazarus Who slept in a cave For four days He stepped out Of a tomb After three Went back up To his Father And left No trace - 33 -
The Apple Orchard
I really did see a snake in the apple orchardâ€” a shame that Iâ€™m made now to think of my failures. A warm yellow day. Picking the fruit without blemish, the light shifting through the leaves, and alone when the moment came: I really grabbed the snake. Really picked it up, really wrapped it around my throat; as a living necktie, it hissed the names of the different cultivars: Gravenstein, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp. I fed it apples fallen and already partially rotted. Then it spoke to me like a priest, or even Death itself: I remember what it said, yes, because it moved me. Then, the creature writhed out of its skin, my sight. I don it from time to time, on formal occasionsâ€” the beautiful design, empty, hoping to trade the goods for their worth, memory for meaning.
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In the Womb as in Eden
God creates in his likeness Adam. “Human.” A whole, God makes a whole. And it was good. It was, you know, the same. Then, God removed from the human their mi-tzalotav (“rib” or “side”) splitting the being in two: ish and ishah (“man” and “woman”). Talmudic tradition calls this a kindness, insisting only the broken can achieve togetherness. The lecturer then points to an odd parallel: in the womb as in Eden, after about five weeks, one side gets torn away, ish from ishah, then from the parent, the home, the body itself. Progress is an undoing, I think, is his point. The only thing we ever made is violence— at Lola’s or The Eagle where drunks and artists argue with the women they find attractive. The obsession with wholes is an obsession with holes, you said. As in, to behold? To be held? These words are getting us nowhere, again. Next time, my soul, we’ll go all the way back to Babylon.
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Aileen Keown Vaux
You cannot make a friend without a trial but did not say itâ€™s possible to lose a mother for the crime of being alive. At the Vet Clinic a pregnant cat endures a sonogram while leaking raw sewage on the floor. It could be kittens that liquefied inside her while she lived on the street. Each strong chapter of the world ends some species, but launches othersâ€”grey dorsals swimming in the shallows. Bones, my friend assures me, appear phosphorescent on film after a few gestated weeks so weâ€™ll know soon if the feral is quick. Pleasure glues bad men together but what did birth do to me and my mother who emerged from the same swamp both claiming to have invented the other.
- 36 -
aileen keown vaux
Each summer I walk with gleaners beneath the trees undoing the work of pollinators, picking the gems of the season, remembering the ripest peach of my life at 19, sitting at the desk forging documents in the Valley heat so that people could go on picking. I eat the fruit leather and reproach my mother, the largest harvest of my life. My mouth keeps taking the wrong tunnels to the words I want to free but I work seven days a week and am too tired to learn another language. Dear So-and-So, there is no way to leave this Earth unscathed, even in the fields I canâ€™t help but molder with spores that devour the strong and weak alike. I wanted to be young, until I no longer was, when I discovered they can kill you for that sort of thing. Once I lived between canyon walls in so much pain I sent a thousand numbing agents to heal the divide until one day I stitched the walls shut with three tiny loops, stronger than a spiderâ€™s work.
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The Divorce Year
That year Marie would later refer to as “the divorce year.” That’s just how it would come out: “And then there was the divorce year.” In fact, she wasn’t officially divorced until two years later. “That’s the way these things usually go,” all her friends said. “It’s just a piece of paper.” And they were right. It was just a piece of paper in the same way their marriage certificate had been just a piece of paper. She always said, “We were married for nine years,” though it had only been six with three years of courtship before, and it was the year she moved out— the year of the separation—that her particular turn of phrase referred to, not the one in which the papers had actually been signed, when it hardly mattered anymore, when of course they were divorced. The facts had a way of muddying themselves. The whole debacle had been a process of taking things one day at a time, which is how the husband had always talked her out of panic attacks over the years. “We’re just going to take things one day at a time,” he’d said. “Like in AA.” First, under the guidance of her husband, she’d set up the online dating profile. Then she’d gone on the date. Then they each slept with other people. Then they’d had to decide to not stop sleeping with other people. Then she’d decided to try living alone. And eventually, though a decision had not exactly been made, it was apparent to both parties that alone was just where she lived regardless of what the marriage certificate or the lease said. Marie thought of it all like a small child being dragged into cold water. She’d cried constantly, every step of the way, but eventually she’d gotten used to the cold and found she was still capable of movement even if she was numb and achy. She’d taken to writing long rambling emails to her friends. The over-sharing was a coping mechanism, of course, but also a host of attempts to create a narrative she could live with. “My skin is suddenly worse than it’s been in years, maybe ever,” she confessed. “I have dreams about peeling my whole face off, starting at the forehead, slowly working away at the edges until it all pops off at - 38 -
my chin, revealing a myriad of strange things stuck to the underside—crystals and plants. God. Could my dreams be any more obvious? It’s gross.” She also had a dream that she showed up alone to a party and tried to hide in the corner for a while until a man who used to flirt with her in college said, “I know what will make her feel better!” and handed her a baby, but she didn’t write this one down. The man she’d started sleeping with, when they’d decided to sleep with other people, was named Daniel—a name both she and the husband had agreed was “a good name,” back when they thought they were having a baby. She watched a lot of bad movies with Daniel. “You would’ve loved me ten years ago,” he told her one night, sucking on a spliff behind the theater. “I used to be all Art House—all Kubrick all the time.” “What happened?” she laughed, but the question wasn’t really meant to be answered. Marie’s head spun from the weed, and she had to lean against the graffiti-ed concrete wall. She held a large popcorn, propped on her hip. She swayed a little, patting the bottom. “Your popcorn baby,” he said, immediately recognizing the crazy thing she was doing. “Oh my God, your belly would look so big with that inside you.” “Everyone in my family had pretty easy natural births,” she said, though she didn’t know why she was telling him this. Though she hated herself for telling him this. In fact, she’d had a baby, with the husband, just a few years ago, a girl, born dead at sixteen weeks. It had been an accident, and they’d decided not to try again. The medical bills from the first one, the failure, were already too much of a strain. They hadn’t announced the pregnancy in any public way, and so many of their friends never knew. Ever since, she’d cultivated fantasies of other lives in secret, in little corners of her mind. She’d imagined a clean new apartment, a guilt-free flirtation, a past in which she’d never met her husband. It had kept her awake at work and had helped her sleep at night. For this reason, her husband wasn’t completely wrong when he’d suggested that she might want to sleep with other people. She had never wanted casual sex, an open marriage, or a divorce, but she had wanted to be someone else, maybe with someone else, in an alternate universe where she wasn’t approaching her mid-thirties. Where she was certainly more beautiful. “I had my own reasons for agreeing,” Marie told her friends. Daniel hadn’t been one of the reasons, though. He was just an internet date, - 39 -
the result of her husband saying to her while she blubbered, “Maybe if you just get some messages, some men telling you you’re pretty, you’ll feel better about the whole thing.” “You charmed me,” Daniel wrote, “From one photo to the next. Let’s meet.” She liked his assertiveness. All the other men said things like, “Do anything fun over the long weekend?” or “What kind of movies do you like?” or even a vague, “Hi, how are you?” which left her feeling stranded, holding the ball, unsure what would happen if she lobbed it back into their court. She didn’t tell Daniel anything about the baby. Daniel’s best friend was a lesbian named Katie who they sometimes smoked with outside the movie theater. Not all straight men could get along with lesbians, and she gave him a little credit for it. Katie had recently moved in with her girlfriend. To celebrate, they invited Marie and Daniel for dinner one summer night. It was sweltering that evening; Marie fanned herself with her blouse and wiped sweat from her upper lip, hoping her make-up wouldn’t run too much. The apartment was inside a small building behind a larger building and between the two there was an uneven patch of grass and a few shady trees. Katie had set out four mismatched lawn chairs on the grass and a little table for the food. Not much of a dinner, Marie thought, eyeing the guacamole and pasta salad. Katie handed her some wine in a mug. When Marie and her husband used to have people over for dinner, Marie had always gone overboard. Her mother had bought her a whole set of beautiful blue-and-white china when they were married, and Marie folded cloth napkins, bought flowers. She hadn’t grown up with much money, but she had been raised old-fashioned enough to pretend she had nice things, nice food, in front of guests. She beamed when they all squealed, “Marie! It’s too much!” But then her husband had said more seriously one night, “You have to cut it out. It makes people uncomfortable, having everything perfect.” She guessed he was right. Nobody else did things that way anymore. Even the last time she’d been over to her richest friends’ place, they’d ordered duck à l’orange from a restaurant and eaten straight from the aluminum take-out containers so they could all sit around and get drunk without thinking of the food. Marie had never met Katie’s girlfriend Viv before. She was somewhat surprised at Viv’s attractiveness. She looked ten years younger than Katie, her forehead smooth, not a trace of crow’s feet around her deep brown eyes. She was skinnier than Marie could ever reasonably hope to be again, and her hair expanded away from her face in an adorable cloud of honey blonde curls. She - 40 -
leaned forward in her chair as she spoke, bent at her little waist. “How did you two meet?” Viv asked. “The Internet,” Marie said. “The great romance story of the ages.” “She was married,” Daniel said. Marie didn’t like the way he said it, the way he grinned like he had won a contest. “Wow,” Viv said. “You left your husband for Daniel.” “Hey!” Daniel laughed. Marie had at first assumed a lot of people would think she’d left her husband for another man. That was the kind of narrative that people understood, one with a clear-cut cause and effect. She didn’t know how to explain the overlap between the two men. “It was his idea,” she said childishly to her friends, explaining it exhaustively to each one by one. To her surprise her friends had just nodded sympathetically and offered hugs. “Yes,” they said, “it was his idea.” She noticed all their sympathetic faces. She stared at tiny red spots, pockmarks from old high school break outs. Whenever anyone else had a pimple, too, she wanted to hug them, to collapse in their arms. She pictured herself six years ago, in a cab on a double date, seated in the back with the other couple while her husband, then fiancé, drunkenly badgered the driver with questions about what it was like to drive a cab. She and the couple had been talking about a mutual friend’s pregnancy. Marie had said, “I always thought it would just look like a big belly, ballooning out, you know, I guess like sticking a pillow under your shirt. But, you can actually see the position of the baby—where the head and the butt are. Sometimes you can make out a heel through the skin.” The couple shuddered, and the man said, “Look at her,” pointing hard at Marie, “Look at how much she wants one.” Marie supposed this was the version of herself most people knew, and the reason they had all turned out to be so understanding. “No,” Marie said to Viv, defending herself the way she’d expected to for the very first time. “That’s not true. I was married. But I left because my husband wanted to sleep with other people, so he convinced me to do it, too. I left because I didn’t like how we’d become.” It was true, but it was also true that Daniel had taken her out for steak and martinis, that he’d bought her a cashmere sweater. He probably still carried the debt around from those early months. She had been happy for those rare hours away from her husband—delirious and confused, but really soaking it all in, worried it would get ripped away at any moment. Daniel would smell the top - 41 -
of her head for twenty-minute stretches. It was a time in which everything felt erotically charged. “How is your husband?” Viv asked. “Does he regret it?” “I don’t know,” Marie said. When she thought back, she could only remember him saying, “You’re going to regret this,” as she packed up her books, slighted by the reality of her departure, by her ability to really leave. “It makes me feel guilty to wonder. I can’t think about that.” “But why would you feel guilty?” Viv asked, still perched on her chair like a little innocent bird. Marie didn’t know how to answer the question. For once, she had no desire to overshare. “Anyway,” Viv said. “If Katie slept with someone else, I wouldn’t want to know. You are free, you can do whatever you want with your body”— she didn’t look at Katie—“but I don’t ever want to find out.” “Yes,” Daniel said, “Don’t ever tell me.” A funny thing for a man who’d known all about her husband from the beginning to say. “Would you want to know?” Katie asked Marie. “Yes,” Marie said, imagining how easy it would’ve been for her husband to cheat on her behind her back if she’d ever said something like that. Thinking how she never would’ve been able to do the same. Remembering once, early in her relationship with her husband, it had happened just like that, him covering his tracks to protect her, but she’d found out anyway, from friends. Everyone looked appalled by her answer, frowning deeply, as if she were saying she thought she had the right to own someone. “It’s not fair!” she shot at their disapproving faces. “We’re all free anyway,” Viv said, smiling prettily, her cheeks radiating warmth in the golden hour light. Marie let her have the last word. She smiled back. She thought about how many times older women had looked at her and smiled the same smile she was smiling now. The evening wound on. The sky darkened, and Marie’s legs were soon itchy with mosquito bites. She rubbed hand sanitizer on them because she’d read that if you could clean some of the poison out right away they wouldn’t swell so much. Everyone looked at her like she was a little crazy, rubbing hand sanitizer on small patches of her legs, but she didn’t explain herself. Katie held the light from her phone so Daniel could see to roll a joint. Viv giggled and admitted she’d never really smoked. “Well, once,” she said. “But it - 42 -
didn’t work.” “Ok,” Daniel said, adopting his position as patient teacher, “It’s a three-step process: take the smoke in your mouth, then breath it in, then exhale.” Viv obediently tried to follow his directions and ended up coughing all over herself. Then she laughed, which made her start coughing all over again. “Easy, easy,” Daniel said, putting his arm around her, rubbing her back. “It’s good, the coughing will help get you high.” She looked at him doubtfully. “I didn’t use to smoke,” he told her, starting in on a story he’d told Marie once before, in bed. “I got very depressed one year, just thinking about everything, just thinking about everything I’d never figure out. It was like I was standing on the deck of a ship and looking up at the stars. I was lost, and I knew they could guide me, but I didn’t know how. All I knew was that I knew nothing.” He took a drag from the joint, exhaled. “I had to put some fog between me and the stars. They’re still up there. And I’m still lost, but at least I don’t have to look at them all the time.” Viv and Katie busted up laughing. On Marie’s way back from the bathroom, Katie cornered her in the building’s lobby. She was perched on the steps next to the mailboxes. “How’s it going with Daniel?” she said. It was an ordinary enough question, but there was no way for Marie to answer. What was she expected to do? Confide in Daniel’s best friend? Say everything was great and have her hear the real truth from him? What was the point? What was her angle? When Marie stumbled for words, Katie added, “He’s the best man.” Marie nodded, tried to smile. “But don’t worry,” Katie said. “You’ll be okay.” “What do you mean?” It was at that moment that Daniel emerged in the doorframe of the front entrance, the twisted tip of a second unlit joint between the perfect cupid’s bow of his lips. “I see everything,” Katie said, looking at him. “What do you see, you cunt?” That was just how they talked to each other. “Some people think it’s weird,” he’d said once, but most people Marie knew talked to each other this way, even though she’d always struggled to keep up with the insults and name-calling. It never came naturally. - 43 -
“Everything,” Katie said. She was high as a kite; Marie could see that now. Her eyes were tiny, and she squinted like she was looking at Marie from a far distance. Though Marie was desperate for more explanation, she wouldn’t get it. Katie made binoculars out of her fingers and pointed them at Daniel. “The beautiful man,” she said, swaying back and forth on her rump. “The beautiful man.” The last time Marie smoked, alone in her tiny studio apartment, it was like a door opened in her mind. When she was with Daniel smoking usually gave her a static-y dull feeling, but alone, it was entirely different. Nights in her new little apartment lasted forever. She’d tried to access hidden intuitions she worried she’d put aside by thinking only about her husband all those years. She’d bought crystals and left them on the windowsill to cleanse in the moonlight. She’d cast spells by writing down her desires on little scraps of paper and burning them in a tall candle from the grocery store. She’d tried reading tarot cards every day, hoping to memorize each of their meanings, their patterns in her life, but eventually she’d had to stop. Witchcraft was the current trendy way to convince yourself you had control over your life, but it seemed no different, after a while, from picking at the acne on her face. She was just touching her own anxieties over and over again, staring at them morbidly in the mirror. So instead she watched endless reruns of sitcoms on her laptop. She slathered on face masks, and when they failed to make a difference, a cocktail of chemicals that left her skin flakey and red. She did crunches and push-ups on the floor next to her futon—the only exercise that little space allowed. She took long baths even though the tub was only half-sized and she had to curl her legs into her chest or drape them over the sides. Sometimes she fell asleep like that, after either too much wine or too much Xanax. She woke those nights miserable—the water gone cold, her skin damp and shivering. That’s why she’d started making Daniel roll her extra joints: so she could smoke to fall asleep. But when she tried it, it didn’t have the intended effect. Instead, last time, she’d remembered a childhood friend she hadn’t thought about in years. She remembered the layout of that friend’s house, which she’d only been to a handful of times in the first grade. She’d loved the house because there was a backyard full of trees and they’d been allowed to play on the mother’s waterbed. They’d had two versions of make-believe. One, where scenarios changed - 44 -
as the game progressed according to the whims of the players, and a second that Marie had dubbed “Whatever Happens Happens.” That meant if Marie and her friend were playing House and one of the girls dropped their doll on the ground, the doll would have to be taken to the hospital in the living room. There was no “starting over”—changing children or professions or names. You had to see things through from beginning to end just like real life. You had to remember to feed your dolls, to change their diapers, to drop the older ones at school. Marie reveled in this version, although it usually ended when this friend got angry after Marie called her out on some detail. Once, this friend dropped her doll on the ground and stomped on the torso screaming, “It’s not real!” A lack of malleability always took the fun away for other children. Remembering this had made her cry. There’d been no one there to stop her from crying, so she’d cried for a while. Eventually, worn out, she’d stopped herself. Marie was drunk. She didn’t realize it until she got into the cab and there was some mix-up: it wasn’t their cab after all. They had to get out and call another, had to walk across the street. It was still hot, though the sun had gone down hours ago, the humidity wrapping around them like blankets, and Marie was not nearly all right enough for this confusion. By the time they reached Daniel’s building, everything was spinning. She needed water. She was full of liquid, filled to bursting, but also desperate for a drink of water. She pictured mountain streams and waterfalls. She thought of when she had the flu and her mother would give her two tablespoons of the precious liquid at a time, to keep her from gulping, so she wouldn’t throw it all up. Daniel stopped to talk to one of the men that was always hanging around his stoop. “You okay?” he asked the man. Though Marie was pretty far gone herself, she supposed the man looked droopy. “Let me buy you a water,” Daniel said. Marie was left with no choice. She had to follow Daniel to the bodega on the corner to purchase water for this man, the same man she recognized from other nights, when she’d arrived alone at Daniel’s building and he’d hooted and teased her, asking her out. Once he’d put a hand on her sweaty neck. She should’ve yelled at him for that, should’ve told someone, but she’d just recoiled, shrugging him off like an insect, and stared daggers as he’d laughed. “Do you have two dollars?” Daniel asked. She did. She had exactly two dollars. “No,” she said. - 45 -
“You’re not even going to look?” Begrudgingly, Marie pulled out her wallet. She was too drunk to bother with an act—some mumble of, “Oh, I guess I do.” She just shoved the bills at him. He gave her a mean look, but thanked the man at the counter. Back at the stoop, the neck-toucher was still there. Daniel slapped him on the shoulder. “You have to stay hydrated,” he said. “We gotta take care of each other.” The man nodded, slumped against the stoop’s railing. “Thank you, brother,” he mumbled. “It’s hot,” Daniel said. He was always doing things like this even though he hardly made any money: buying cat food for strays or cookies for the old Latina women who ran the Laundromat. Once, he’d given a homeless man a raw egg from his bag of groceries because it was all he could spare. The man had chucked the egg back at him, insulted by its uselessness, but he’d missed and the shell cracked against the sidewalk, a golden puddle spilling out. “You care more about that guy than you do about me.” She couldn’t be sure why she said it as they climbed the stairs. She didn’t know if she was bitter about having to buy water for a man who’d harassed her or bitter about Viv and her naivety, her stupid beautiful face. “You’re going to have to stop talking that way,” he said, “Seriously. Or you can just leave.” She continued climbing the stairs behind him but said, “You like the idea of people more than the actual people.” What she probably meant was that he’d started looking at her like an actual person instead of the idea of the perfect person they both wished she was. He turned to look at her and she watched his face change. He wasn’t really so beautiful, when he was angry. His nostrils flared, his eyes shrank. Inside his apartment, they sat across from each other at the dining room table. He folded his arms, still glaring at her. She wanted then to have a serious conversation, a mature argument. To do everything better than she’d done in her marriage. To not mess this up, too. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to explain about the baby, her tiny dead daughter, no bigger than a tennis ball. Instead she started to cry. So many tears. She thought of a single resolution for the year to come: cry less. If only she could stop all that water from pouring out of her face, everything might be all right. “Okay,” Daniel said. “Okay, okay.” She slithered from the dining room chair onto the couch. She couldn’t hold - 46 -
herself upright any longer. “Danny,” she said, her face half buried in a couch cushion. “Danny, I need ice.” He shook a glass in front of her on the coffee table. The ice rattled. She opened one eye and plunged her hand inside, bringing a cube to her mouth, suckling it. She didn’t care what she looked like for once. She didn’t care that her makeup was probably all smudged, revealing the blemishes underneath. “You’re so weird,” Daniel said. His voice didn’t sound tender, didn’t sound the same as when he called Katie a cunt. On his way to the bedroom, he mumbled, “Learn how to drink.” Marie didn’t yet know that in the morning he would listen to her vomit with concern. He’d come to her when she sat in his shower and kiss her horrible face through the curtain, feigning that he’d forgotten what he’d been angry about the night before. As if she’d been injured, he would bring her an ice pack for her headache and laugh at how attached she would become toward it. “We’re a little family,” he’d say. “You, me, and the ice pack.” She thought instead that this might be the end of them. That she was no longer a wife and he didn’t have to put up with a single harsh word. She was nothing. She was only a few pictures on a screen. She could feel how completely the sharp lines of her old life had dissolved. She’d started over. She hadn’t meant to. It seemed like an accident. Nevertheless, it wasn’t regret that she felt, as her husband predicted. Instead, the word unmoored came to mind. She didn’t know how else to describe it. She was drifting, alone, the couch floating underneath her, rocking back and forth. In a few hours she would flush everything inside her away.
- 47 -
Mary Ann Dimand
The flames have been out for a long time. Sometimes I think, “I should make a smithy. “Whack this old thing into a plough blade.” But that’s not what the assignment says. And I’m not sure it would ever forget what it was made for. Metal is truer than flesh. Inside the wall, though, badgers dig as badgers ever did. Worms turn the soil they build. Snakes strike order into a chaos of mice, and eagles fear into serpentine hearts. Bees hum more than they sting, and lightning takes the old trees down toward humus. And the seasons turn, and creatures alter in accordance with what works— and doesn’t. Still they remember the tasks and delights of hunting or gathering, play and feasting. It was feast over task that got the humans ousted. Wanting to embed immortality in their meat, not live it in the service of an ever-turning garden. All fruit, no soil. And now they’ve forgotten fruit. It’s been fifty years since someone’s come to snatch some shoddy immortality in their teeth. But I hear that some, hungry for the feel of life in them, around them, are waking garden out of drugged - 48 -
mary ann dimand
and sluggish lawns. Iâ€™m sending pollen. For wild grace cannot be captive, no matter the walls. It spills out, ferments life, seeds the cracks of a world grown parched. You canâ€™t hold it still. Just work with it. And flowers will shoot from your touch. Meanwhile, the iris and I nod to each other. My sword rests among their leaves
- 49 -
The company regrets it cannot blush—bloodless, livid, its every coup is bloodless, its bloody deeds the pale of paper, white, the laws it makes you sign to, whiteness on white. Can you read its signs?
- 50 -
Jason Magabo Perez
Loss Tapes of Scyborg
Maybe you could be a scyborg, and so I’m writing to maybe you. —LA PAPERSON, A THIRD UNIVERSITY IS POSSIBLE
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Vol. 1, No. 1: Unprophesies
Here is land, here is grant, here is grabbed, here is university, here is super-market, here is space super-marked with knife, here is where everything is even more or less super. Here is where scyborg takes selves super seriously. Here is where scyborg leaves selves super seriously. Scyborg seriously super leaves shadows super behind. Scyborg leaves shadows escaping escaping. Para todo todos, isulong, struggle, super seriously, limb to metal, metal to limb, abolition, abolition, for real, for rent: brooms which have a chorus, brooms which have a future, flights which is a future, that which is a witching, lack which is a conjuring, fact which is a haunting, maps—seething presence, contingency of unthinking, flesh is theory. Theory: a past carved with eagle’s beak, a past carved with aswang nail, past carved against skin, carved against vein, a past, dirt of possibility, past as position, a super refusal to die. Scyborg makes sound of history beginning, sound of lovemaking, sound of mud singing singing. There goes scyborg—ghost-riding whip, ghostwriting this matter in which Black life is Black freedom on Native land for land Native. Yes, Native land for land Native, yes, Native land for land Native. Seas unseized, cartography unceded: bone, blunt, breath, an archipelago of wishing. Wait, so who gave scyborg permission to write? Who gave scyborg permission to pink this English, permission to circus, permission to scratch and short-circuit, to build conjuncture whenever, to brigade, to build bridge away from star, lay crayon on its ribs, permission to shade, to color and color carbon dust black their hermetically sealed denim gown? Scyborg lives within & without this land, this grant, this grabbed, this university, within & without these apparatuses—o, settlement, o, state, o, discipline, so violent, so violating, so machine gun, so guttered body, so hyper-citational, but sometimes, butterfly embraces sun. Sometimes, scyborg smoking skywalker. Sometimes, scyborg smoking archival. And remember, humanism never meant to give genealogy to third world nobody, third world anybody, third world bodies. And thus, humanism could never anticipate, record, track, or trace scyborg remaking, scyborg unmaking, scyborg redoing, scyborg undoing, scyborg returning, scyborg unturning, scyborg archiving, scyborg archiving archiving futures the futures these futures our futures us futures we futures. - 52 -
jason magabo perez
Vol. 1, No. 2: Decolonizing, Decolonizing
Make space. Make hermeticallysealed thought. Sit & visualize a penultimate insecurity. Make in the continuous. Escape that. Be for Indigenous. Be for Black. Be for you, too, only contingently, only unfulfilled. Do not have false commitment. Do not think of greatest, or of discovery, or of exception, or of self. Intend a third vista of stars dancing against father grandeur. Write analyses in & in excess of English, beyond & beyond humanism. This operates like a mobile eagle, a disciplinary memory of its own theorizing. Be in writing. Take responsibility for anger, for gut work, & for living in a whirl with the ecstatic. Smoke leaves outside super-market. This is about fully the best we could talk of worlding & what makes innards. Rock barong & gown. Sound without past. Sound position of dying. Make naked scars of history. Be nowhere needed. Be behind & within somewhere. Rib apparatuses. Die alive in carbon dust. Die alive in work rather than in shadows that bridge us with words again. Give more circle. & refuse conjuring gaps & transgressions no more.
Carve a body, a terrain. Make room. Embrace the sovereign. Look at beak of struggle, not at promise or declaration. Make space outside of the violent. Make space outside of power. Make space outside of property. Mark ideas with super crayons the color of nobody. Work against I, & everything sick & illusory, sick with permission. Fill space with something of love & denim. Dust new positions. Be out. Name sleep when skin is dead. What is an ultimate literature of possibility? Think queer. Act in numbers. Act in language. To those haunting sun, wear shorts, expose bone, expose bolt, expose loose wire, find & lay veins for futures. For those independent, try knife & form. Wash war tissue. Surround a beginning. Form a long & just creative commitment to Black & Native & your life, this moment to build with people that which enables a learning of the possible for homies, for cousins, & for most anybody. Sound a typhoon. Sound a typewriter: these words, bridges, selves, perform a literature against all violation. - 53 -
Vol. 1, No. 3: Mobilities
In grammars toward tomorrow, against literature, against power, against permission, writing will enable pink scars of momentary spaces in a surround, a vein of memory & transgression. There will be this fully alive scene: Cousin rests on deathbed. A new vista of literature circles cousin. Cousin looks all around. Cousin is fully alive, fully unnamed. Cousin leaves terrain of self, terrain of shadow, of thought, of lung. A super bridge of bone. Everything will become again a mobile war for flowers and position. Everything will become sleepy typhoon learning to blow againâ€”a space for future hauntings. In grammars toward tomorrow, we arrive a living tissue made from refusal & contingencyâ€”carved with Black thought, anger bone, queer thought, fugitivity of gut work, Indigenous super sovereign work. We will be naked in sun & nobody, scratch that, no police, will ever be able to hear this.
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jason magabo perez
This work is for mentor-homie-kasama Professor K. Wayne Yang/la paperson. In no particular order, this work samples, remixes, & is deeply animated by fragments, sentences, & attendant critical energies from the following: • “I’m sick of filling in your gaps” (xxxiii) + “nobody can talk to anybody” (xxxiii) + “I must be the bridge to nowhere” (xxxiv) from Kate Rushin’s “The Bridge Poem” & “I sit here naked in the sun, typewriter against my knee trying to visualize you” (163) + “Who gave us permission to perform the act of writing?” (164) + “It’s not on paper that you created but in your innards, in the gut, and out of living tissue” (170) from Gloria Anzaldúa’s “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers” & “the anger bone” (197) + “carved with eagle beak” (ibid.) + “I mark out the space I am with knives” (ibid.) from Chrystos’s “Give Me Back”—all in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, 4th edition, eds. Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa (Albany: SUNY Press, 2015) • “the discovery of a new vista of literature” (188) + “the greatest responsibility of literature: to find in our struggle that which has a future” (ibid.) + “the false grandeur and security, the unfulfilled promises and illusory power, the number the dead and those about to die” (189) from Carlos Bulosan, America Is In The Heart (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973, 2014) • “The scyborg operates within and without apparatuses” + “black gown is continuous with the carbon dust that smokes through their best hermetically sealed works” + “Theorizing contingently is not to take the ultimate position on what is possible, nor even the penultimate, but rather to commit to analyses that make space for Indigenous sovereign work, to commit to making room for Black and queer thought” + “always already decolonial lines of flight, or the ‘witch’s flight,’ an uncanny turn of phrase that Kara Keeling reinvents to describe the transgressive path of the Black Femme” from la paperson, A Third University Is Possible, Manifold Edition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016) • “a conjuring, a haunting from a past that refuses to die” (14) + “mobile war of positions” (ibid.) + “humanism was never intended to embrace third world peoples” (13) - 55 -
from Gary Y. Okihiro, Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016) • “Supermarket, where everything is even more super” + “I declare myself independent from those who build bridges to the stars” + “sleepy typhoon must learn to blow again” + “the butterfly embraces the sun” from Kidlat Tahimik’s film Mababangong Bangungot/Perfumed Nightmare (1977) • “discipline is both violent & violating” (19) + “We think, we body. We have come. From somewhere, something” (74) + “lay the crayon on its ribs” from Jason Magabo Perez, This is for the mostless (Cincinnati: WordTech Editions, 2017) • “the sound of vein against skin” + “the sound of a history beginning” + “we needed to name the language of memory and possibility” from Jason Magabo Perez, “Because Love Is A Roar: Toward a Critical Race Poetics,” in Entropy, February 18, 2019, www.entropymag.org • “No words. No English. Just the scar” + “The Homie’s father, in a barong, in a denim vest, in long Dickie’s shorts” + “The Cousin was about die & he looked at all of us in that room” from Jason Magabo Perez, “Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish: A Labor of Grief,” The Operating System, Field Notes Series (February 2020), https://medium.com/the-operating-system/tagged/field-notes • “That moment when I whirl with words, when I dance in that ecstatic circle of love surrounded by ideas, is space of transgression” (45) + “writing enables us to be more fully alive only if its is not a terrain where we leave the self— the shadows behind, escaping” (11) from bell hooks, Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work (New York: H.H. & Company, 1999) • “the surround in the face of repeated, targeted dispossessions through the settler’s armed incursion” (17) from Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013) • “CHORUS FOR BROOM” (116) from Hari Alluri, The Flayed City (Los Angeles: Kaya Press, 2017) • “under the pink of new English” from Vejea Jennings, Free Lunch (2013) • “The past—or, more accurately, pastness—is a position” (15) from Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995). - 56 -
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Jason Magabo Perez on Language, Discipline, Pedagogy & Audience I think I’m trying to mobilize and employ all of the various languages happening around me. Both of my parents migrated from the Philippines in the early 1970s and each have different inclinations toward English. My mother was born in a town that spoke deep Tagalog but also later grew up in an Ilocano town. My father grew up speaking Pangasinan and Ilocano. They met here in the states and they communicated mostly in Ilocano and English. My mother is a retired nurse and eventually became comfortable with English in that professional setting, but my father, who worked in factories, mailrooms, and as a custodian, refused English. While I don’t employ much Tagalog or Ilocano in my own writing, I think I attempt to mimic my parents’ capacity to navigate different legibilities, intelligibilities, and registers. So, my desire to collapse and refuse distinctions between disciplinary languages and conventions, between academic and literary conventions, is less about a constraint and more about exploring possibility and mess rather than precision.
I’m becoming more and more comfortable with exposing and de-fetishizing the critical and creative act. I can say upfront that because my formal academic training is hybrid and super interdisciplinary across political science, creative writing, and ethnic studies, I come across varied forms of writing and communication. And I think making explicit the process and labor of critical and creative work is important because it helps demystify the work of art, the work of the artist, and knowledge production in general. I’m recently returning to Third Cinema as generative for my practice. I’m trying to think of failure as a limitation only within traditional rubrics guided by capitalism. In many ways, hybrid writing fails genre, fails discipline, fails known forms of consumption. In more recent years, I’ve tried to think of how the archival gesture performs alongside other sorts of written lyrical or narrative gestures.
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Pedagogy is central to both my thinking and my writing. I’m a teacher first and foremost. In fact, I got the MFA because I wanted to teach, not necessarily because I wanted to write. So, I think in my writing I try to de-fetishize the poem, the essay, the story in order to provide readers multiple entry points into the work. In my creative writing classes, but also now that I teach solely within ethnic studies, I invite students to simply amass various types of responses to our materials and discussions. Once they have journal fragments, critical summaries of readings, and erasures and blackouts of texts, I ask them to assemble these with intention. I haven’t figured out the most effective way to do this in an ethnic studies class where students aren’t readily expecting to produce anti-disciplinary zine-like works. I would have loved the opportunity to turn the marginalia of my class notes into an intentionally curated and designed assignment. To go back to something I was thinking through above, I think I’m interested in the defetishizing of creative acts because it provides for me a way to develop scaffolding for different types of text experiments with my students.
It took me a while to realize who I was writing to. I’m interested in the performance and invitation of language. Those performances, those invitations, are messy, fraught with all kinds of political tensions and contradictions and hierarchies. I dig this notion that hybrid writing for the reader, depending on the reader, is full of things like delight and discomfort, intimacy and distance. On a daily basis, I’m often unwittingly code-switching, playing with conventions, in the classroom, at meetings, at home, on the phone, in intimate and public settings. “Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish” is my attempt to show how I’m trying to say what I need to say, the underlying desire of what I want to narrate or share. I think often that underlying desire (to be more human, more connected, less disciplined) is more significant and resonant than what actually gets produced and performed.
From ‘demos’ (Greek), ‘citizen’; ‘caedere’ (Latin), ‘to kill.’ A term made by the demographic historian R. J. Rummel, and understood to refer to, ‘citizens killed by the state, outside the immediate context of war.’ In Death by Government, Rummel estimates the democidally dead of the 20th century at two hundred and sixty two million.
Blessed are the dead on whom the rain falls, grey as rain falling through rain into an open or opening eye. (They died in hunger and in rain). Over their necropoli grasses may sigh.
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Moab: a dialogue
Alienation— an RV on cruise-control— without a subject. Personified dirt takes selfies against outcrops of a future self. “THIS IS NOT A TRAIL.” “THIS IS STILL NOT A TRAIL.” Fuck you Kilroy, not here. Dead Horse Point drops sheer into spectacle: money banked as an image. *** Piss glazed rat middens seep archaeology, seed by seed: holy shit. Verbs? No. Adverbs? No. Nouns? No. Adjectives?...really: finite articles. The long negative, ‘not to be,’ may yet be long enough to read rock. - 60 -
Wind glyphs, bluff and cliff unmade in their making, fix airâ€™s geology.
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My wife’s grandmother has reached the age of ritual where each morning she eats rye toast with strawberry jam and checks the obituaries for the names of friends or acquaintances. The act is localizing. Planning the weekly outings. Visitations. The ink is disappearing. The heat is on. Now I am addressing you. Tapping at the glass. Later—I will turn ever so slightly away but extend an invitation. I knew a man—and uncle even—who in his fifties reconsidered and by sixty-five was featured on the cover of a health magazine. I knew another man about my father’s age who ran the NY marathon and years later lungs still freely filling still attending
had an aneurysm
while standing in front of his front door searching his pocket for the keys. ‘Your kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternities.’ He said. Yours is mine. He said. Mine is yours. Buddy. I feel guilty saying I. I is calling attention. I is before you. I seem to recall. Experiences. Not thoughts since thoughts are the recollection of experiences. Among other things. Come calling to us on the clark fork river. Water as clarity
as its carries
them crisply not exactly
over and rounds river rock
where they are in the shallows
—I am apologizing mid-stream / wait for it—
have the capacity have a heart for seeds
for the world - 62 -
searing at some
the sea of ice
my deep and dearest
I was born in nj and you elsewhere here it is:
has been happening
at me in profile—
and you forty days before
or me and we met you are peering
my bershert in what he called
our shoulders together
as we stood
holding our shoulders together
‘we have made of this world a neighborhood’
are made ready through the work we must do
the work we must not do.
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Too cold to drag your sled across the frozen lake, auger the hole and chisel it wider. Too cold to sit in a shanty shack, drink beer, tell a joke and drop your line into the lapping blackness.
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Why Now Do I Wish to Live on a Cliff by the Sea?
When I was a boy I was afraid of sharks, was stung by a jellyfish. Once, standing in the Sound, what I thought was a floor of broken shells were crabs without claws scattering laterally.
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I. It began with an exhibition rumbling through town, a massive flatbed truck strapped with something big, the skeleton of a reptile: ochre bones, mast-like beak, eye sockets deep as buckets. The apparatus swayed, suspended on chains, as the truck pummeled potholes. Several pickups followed in its wake, belching exhaust, headed for the woods. We tugged Grandfather from the pub, marveling at those claws. He wore the same look as when certain songs came on the radio, when blood sluiced through the gutter during the spring boar-hunt festival. People tottered across the plaza to where the truck disappeared, foothills aflame with maples and aspens. The caravan, we’d later learn, settled outside town, a giant tent pitched over those bones. We huddled inside the Balancing Owl, listening to adults Grandfather’s age, their cheeks pink with brandy. A fire crackled in the stove. Grandfather said it was no coincidence, all these new exhibits dredging up bones—the world, he said, is waking up to what happened here. For God’s sake, it’s just a reptile, someone shouted. Someone else said the caravan was an indication of progress, foreigners again feeling welcome to pass through town. Another mentioned the housing permits now offered to outsiders. Grandfather banged his glass, said, They won’t have to dig long to find what they’re looking for! Perhaps, at this stage, he’d already been voted off town council. Or perhaps this was one of those final, contentious meetings. Or maybe it was simply one of those nights when someone eased the mug from his grip, whispering that things had changed, peace was permanent, there was no need to drink like this every night. He’d taken us in when Mother and Father vanished. Children at school had teased, said prison. But Grandfather said they’d gone abroad, to clear their heads. His rental flat sat above a flower shop run by an elderly woman with whom Grandfather once went on a date. Afterwards, he’d lumbered upstairs, groaning he had too much to drink. The woman, later gravely ill, rasped that - 66 -
the men in town had made many mistakes, but most regrettable of all was Grandfather never asking her out again. When she died, her family sold the shop, and we went looking for a home. Landlords eyed Grandfather, said they didn’t like fusses, all his talk of guilt. We landed at Wilfred’s Bed House, near the casino, ghastly drafts and smelly latrines and women howling through the walls. Grandfather drank at the beerhall, smuggled us beef sandwiches from the canteen. Then one day he snapped, said he couldn’t bear to keep children in such conditions. An old friend offered a cheap rental in the woods. So we hiked a ravine blossoming with spring, reached a logger’s house tucked between beeches and maples, creaking in wind, blotchy with mildew. A tall, rusting water tank croaked against the cold. Grandfather said not to climb it, that those vessels were used, not so long ago, to hide terrible things. The landlord greeted us on the porch with a bottle of brandy. His eyes were blue as marbles. He and Grandfather drank in the yard, discussing those old times, the swiftness with which troubles flared up, then, seemingly overnight, died. The landlord said no one in town wanted to live in these woods. He asked if Grandfather recognized it, the clearing, the granite outcropping. Grandfather sat up. Remember, asked the landlord, that important work we thought we were doing? Those promising ideas, so poorly executed? Grandfather squinted. Feet drumming, hands shaking, he said this was the opportunity for which he’d been waiting. That autumn the caravan arrived. Tickets to the tent cost two marks. Inside, beneath those massive hanging bones, placards displayed photographs of the excavation effort, the paleontological history of our valley, our glacier-scalped moraines. Children gawked at the spotlit claws, the beaked skull, dagger teeth. A man lectured into a megaphone, said it was unearthed just outside town. He invited us to imagine its once-leathered wings. Men in beaked masks wandered the tent, leering at women, eyes bulging and bloodshot, as though they’d witnessed killings in the labor villages from which they surely came. We cowered behind Grandfather as he whispered: how had we not seen the excavation? Were others taking place? The man with the megaphone cried out: Things are in your soil, waiting to be plucked! People applauded. Grandfather whisked us outside, whispered to stay away. But the following week, and the week after that, we snuck back to the clearing until, one night, the tent disappeared. II. Back then—waking to the thunk of his shovel, Grandfather in the leaf-smothered yard, red-faced, flinging soil—we thought he was after reptiles. - 67 -
Now, of course, we know; when we finally learned, we demanded to leave, to get away, to go abroad just like our parents. The house, that first November, crackled like a gun going off, followed by groans, the wood resettling. Damp chill knifed through windows. Still, it was better than Wilfred’s Bed House. The landlord’s trinkets cluttered the rooms, vases and icons, mason jars sprouting scummy hydroponics, the house of a medicine man or exotic bird dealer. The kitchen was best of all: a big porcelain sink, waxed wooden counters, cupboards of unrecognizable utensils Grandfather used to slit trout, to tenderize rabbit, to crack chestnuts and blend dough that rose in the oven like storm clouds. He baked pies stuffed with rabbit and leeks, trout and lentils, sparrow-meat and carrots. Outside we watched him dig, pressing our ears to the water tank as though it might teach what he was up to. A boggy must leached from the soil. Toads sprang about. Grandfather cried out at each unearthed kibble of bone, some slender and cracked, others globular hunks, always brown. He roped tarps over his piles, didn’t let us touch. We sketched reptiles made of bone-bits. Often a fox perched on our porch; Grandfather asked if we believed in reincarnation, said the fox might be a boy barely older than us who’d died in the woods. At night, in his bedroom, he drank and sang along with the radio. When the earth froze he suspended his dig, recommenced it in the spring, collapsing at each discovery, sifting soil, crying out. Tarps mounded the yard. He ceased making meat pies, said we’d survive on nuts and fruits, tubers and roots, as God originally planned. But we’d enjoyed watching him skin and quarter rabbits, scraping guts, snapping sockets. At the Balancing Owl, between gulps of brandy, he described his finds to town council—the circus, he cried, was right: bones are everywhere. Someone said drink had finally liquefied his brain. Murlap, the bartender, played loud weepy music, our region’s best composers, the stuff Grandfather said was ubiquitous back then, anthems of sorts, music pure as fresh snow—how, he bellowed, could something so beautiful be used for such horror? Drinkers whispered, eyed him warily. We said he ought to stop digging up reptiles if it so ruined his mood. He smiled, said, Yes, children, reptiles. We daydreamed at school of stringing together shards, taking them town to town. Our art teacher assigned historical dioramas. Given our relative expertise about the woods, she asked us to cut maples from crêpe paper. Others thatched dolls from reeds, which she drizzled with fake blood made of cornstarch and chokecherry juice. Then she slid the dolls under our trees—imagine, she said, staring up at leaves the color of the blood pouring from your throat, wondering how neighbors could do such a thing… She was summoned by the - 68 -
headmaster, who requisitioned our work. She returned looking frightened, never mentioned dioramas again, taught us instead to weave regional crafts like those sold in tourist shops—for many of you, she said, it’s not a bad career. We befriended a boy bullied by classmates who scissored his shoelaces, stole his bookbag, smashed his sandwiches, said he was lucky to be here—how’d his family escape? Probably, they teased, his grandma knew just whose pecker to suck! Our teachers covered grins. Only the art teacher shrieked that the bullies were as bad as our elders, all that shame brought upon our town. One day, for show-and-tell, the boy tugged a squirrel tail from his pocket, said he found it in the road. There was, naturally, a smell. This sort of thing, someone said, was why his people had been marched to the woods years ago. The homeroom teacher, a stern, big-chested woman, said to go wash the filth of death from his hands—surely, she said, you understand this, given all that your people suffered. Go home, discuss hygiene with your parents. But his parents were at work, at the casino: his mother cleaned the gaming floor, his father and uncle dealt Kalooki at the low-bid tables. We sometimes accompanied him home, wary of classmates following. His mother brought pastries from the casino buffet, called us peaceful little munchkins, said we weren’t like the others. Inside their flat—paint peeling, wires sprouting from walls—she fed us bread slathered with jam, with rabbit forcemeat. The boy said he hadn’t meant any harm with that tail. Nor was he ignorant to hygiene. He merely wished to share that this particular tail was reddish-brown rather than gray like other local squirrels—reddish-brown squirrels, he said, disappeared long ago, their pelts favored over grays’, once fetching exorbitant prices in local shops. After the casino opened, the boy’s uncle added, outdoorsmen flooded the town, eager for cards and liquor and women, the start of the squirrels’ decline. At least, said the boy, our classmates had laughed during show-and-tell—for people like us, he said, people living in town on special housing permits, laughter is indication of tolerance. Then one day, returning from lunch, children snuck behind the boy and drenched him with red-dyed water. (The head cook in the cafeteria, we knew, had a big bottle of Red #3 for the annual Christmas feast, potatoes and soup and meat all dyed red.) We joined in the laughter, afraid we’d be next; we later apologized to him. On our last visit to his flat we stayed until dark. He offered to escort us home, but his mother said no, said we were old enough to understand it was safe for us at night, but not her son. Trembling, we slipped behind the casino to avoid loitering men. There in the dark, by dumpsters and loading docks, we saw a man in one of those beaked exhibition masks (where’d he get that? - 69 -
we whispered) accosting a woman in a waitress’s uniform, spinning her, cawing, smacking her backside. Then he pecked her face. She shrieked, clutched her head. He howled, pecked again. She screamed and fell. The man, hearing our wails, turned. The woman, shrieking, rolled into lamplight. Only then did we see that she was laughing, not screaming, laughing hysterically. The man shouted we ought to run home or we’d be kidnapped, chopped into pieces, fried in skillets. The woman laughed harder. So we ran. At home Grandfather threatened to punish us, but then, after brandy, he drew us in, kissed our heads, said it would be years before we understood this world. We said his arms and back were strong from digging. We felt his tears lick our necks. Children, he said, I’m trying my best. At the Balancing Owl, his old friend, a retired cabbie, accused him of tucking tail, of hiding in the woods—nothing, said the cabbie, is accomplished by this guilt, we have to live our lives! Grandfather said it was impossible to not feel pulverized (the word he used, pulverized) by shame; sometimes this shame took the form of howling alleyways, other times glimpses of figures smothered in oil or blood, standing in doorways of houses long since abandoned—we’ve sunk so far into madness, he said, that madness feels normal. Listeners snickered. The bartender, Murlap, looked ready to toss him. Someone shouted, It’s only old bones! A din rose. Grandfather smacked the counter, said they’d been lying for years, blaming their behavior on economic and agricultural failures, as stupid as those rumors a few years back, zealots claiming the local doctor injected patients with viruses. He slumped against the bar, breathless. Someone said if he continued collecting bones he’d regret it, which was how Grandfather came to purchase a shotgun from a local outdoorsman in need of cash. When, one afternoon, the cabbie and landlord paid an unannounced visit, Grandfather dropped his shovel and hunched like a cat, glanced at the firearm leaning against a tree. The landlord shouted that was hardly necessary. He uncorked a bottle, invited Grandfather to drink beneath a quivering maple. People, said the landlord, blame me for this dig. He prohibited Grandfather from continuing. The cabbie went over to a tarp, pried back a corner. A jackdaw chirruped. Grandfather snatched his gun, said the men had ten seconds to leave. He pumped the forestock. They went zigzagging through the trees. We’d spot other men out there in the woods, men who argued while watching Grandfather dig. Soon snow frosted the soil. The last visitor we received was the boy from school, asking about bones. Breath curling against cold, we - 70 -
taught him to tiptoe so Grandfather wouldn’t notice. Then we watched as Grandfather extracted a long bone. Wide-eyed, the boy asked if that was one of our reptile bones. Of course, we replied. His face went grey. He said he felt ill, said Grandfather was digging something much worse—he’s one of them, he hissed. We shoved him, shouted to take it back. We tackled, began pummeling. Grandfather came over, yanked us off. Kneeling, cupping the boy’s bloodied face, he said, Look at you. It seemed he might cry. He asked the boy for forgiveness, asked if his grandparents were alive. The boy stumbled backwards. We’re on your side! cried Grandfather. The boy snatched the bone, ran. Grandfather jogged several paces, grabbed his stomach, cried, I’m doing it for you! We’d see the boy just one more time, outside the casino, long after he vanished from school. He and two older boys, wearing sweatpants and stocking caps, guarded a leashed creature. We saw, up close, it was a lion: malnourished, adolescent. Boys and lion looked equally sullen. Passersby petted the beast, squealed, dropped coins into a metal box. Its fur was patchy, balls big as apples, mane beginning to darken. Men from the casino growled, mussed its fur, spat at the boys. Wind kicked up; the lion writhed in the dirt. Our friend trotted over, lips flakey and dehydrated, skin dark as though he’d spent months in the sun. We expected an embrace; he said he ought to turn the sick lion loose in our house while we slept. We asked why he quit school. The boy said the only thing school taught was that his people were still treated like shit in these foothills. The wind shifted. Dust engulfed the lion. Someone screamed. Outside the casino, we saw, men surrounded a woman, her skirt blown up by wind. We pointed, but the boy was gone. We’d never see him again. Grandfather, that night, swirled his brandy, said it wouldn’t be so bad, a lion making quick work of us all. Unnerved by his morbid state, we crept to the closet, removed his shotgun. In our bedroom, we reviewed the safety rules we’d learned. We tucked it under the bed, covered it with a blanket, heard him yelp in his sleep. He’d taken to sprinkling bones across the Balancing Owl countertop, tapping them, spinning them like tops, shouting for others to mind their own business. The bartender, Murlap, threatened him, but Grandfather threatened back: he’d been transcribing his confessions, the sins of our town, papers hidden away in case anyone thought to harm him or his grandsons. One day, we happened past the casino and saw a dirt-colored lump slumped against the gutter. It was that lion, dead and abandoned, bloated at the gut, smothered with dust. Insects tunneled from its eyes. A terrible stench. - 71 -
Grandfather, at home, hung his head and wept, said men from the pub had done it, had driven those boys from town—Loppler and Granz and Munti, he said. He’d tried to warn the boys, but they’d shouted at him and snatched the bones from his pockets. Just then, men from the pub appeared: a tangle of chaos, boys getting punched, boys punching back, Grandfather begging, a right hook to his head. When he came to, Loppler praised him for his change of heart, for sticking up to those boys. Across the street, Munti and Granz laid into that lion, kicking, thumping with logs. Grandfather, at the table, reached for our hands, said, I tried, children, I tried… Our friend, we later heard, fled for the valley with his family, was involved in an auto accident, a semi barreling from the other direction, a slick of ice… III. We took to tromping highlands thick with snow-clumped grass. Icy fog drove beasts downhill, ancient elk with ropy fur, sheep trembling like men in the pub. We even invited Grandfather, who shivered and muttered and scared things away. In the spring he resumed digging until, one afternoon, he collapsed on the porch, cried out it was no use, there were so many bones, he’d spend the rest of his life digging and never clear the property. That was the year rains forced worms from the earth, thousands of pink things that crunched underfoot. Grandfather claimed to hear their screaming. He picked worms from the sidewalks, placed them in flowerbeds, until Murlap came out and said it was bad for business, to come inside or get cut off. The worms drew salamanders from the woods, streets soon littered with flattened amphibians. Grandfather brought two home in a tin—better to save two, he said, than none. Drinkers at the Owl now openly mocked his bones, said they were salamander, squirrel, sparrow. At home he stomped about, gasping with drink, pitching plates, flinging bones. We checked for the gun underneath our bed. Then one night we heard our parents, our long-lost mother and father, whispering from somewhere across the room, a room behind ours, curtained by semi-transparent cloth. Is it loaded? they whispered. Yes, we replied. They said peace was dependent on us, on people our age preventing elders from taking up arms again and driving others from town, blasting buckshot at trees. Grandfather, in the hallway, groaned and kicked the door, tossed a boot, wept. We asked our parents, in their dimension, why they advocated for such a thing when they’d once believed the opposite, that firearms brought good. Our father whispered that one learns things late in life, rights and wrongs, and by then there’s no - 72 -
turning back. The door burst open and Grandfather entered, looking wild. We tried to stay calm, to speak peace: Grandfather, come in. One of us kept a foot under the bed, toe against stock. Grandfather, we said, it’s time to set rules. He curled on the floor, speaking from what sounded like that faraway place holding our parents. He blubbered apologies. Said, Children, please, when I’m gone… We gathered around, stroked his back, pinched his whiskers, said he had many years left. Said people in town would soon be on board. It’s important, we said, to study ancient things. You’re innocent, he said, but you must understand. He asked what we knew of this maple-splashed ravine. If we believed in unseen things strangling one’s brain, an entire town’s spirit. He asked if we were ready to listen. If, no matter the story, we’d promise to stay.
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“Let’s write something…villanelles?” Courtney said, and I said “YES,” and thought, I could do that, just put the pieces together in a pattern…I wanted to make myself a bed of words on which to lay my frantic head, “I could do that,” I said to myself in the car, repeat, affirm, drive home, downshift on the curves, and invented another me with the radio on, a little breeze—instead I found myself home again somehow, the same me, my two sweet daughters having blanketed the house with hundreds of red and blue and grey and orange and pink small scattered plastic things—I’m at the microwave. The small one’s speaking mysteries: “Brains? Or bones?” she says again and again with a forkful of pasta, grinning. The large one’s spread eagle-ish on the couch, behind a book just her knees visible. What was it I meant to do or rather intended to become? “Brains,” my daughter says. “Bones.” Bread is rising somewhere. Shift gears, watch out for peace which might be around that corner, right? We said we’d make something, pass it back and forth, move ahead.
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The woman in Degas’ “Women Ironing” leans in
Not the layers of tulle, not the lightness of dancers on the stage. Not even the painter’s small-mindedness: misogynist. Anti-Semite. Voyeur. No, today I see it: he’s painting effort, he’s showing the work. Sweat-haloed in a close room dragging a burning hunk of metal around. Or else spinning in a cold studio, the arm stretched further to make that long line that means beauty; the leg in extremis, in turnout; the foot permanently bruised. It’s not pretty. The white linens don’t lie that way naturally. They have to be pummeled, flattened on the table.
Beside the sculpted dancer: sculpted racehorse. Beside the woman ironing: gilded frame, unwrinkled museum wall. In the painter, the same terror of failure as in the laundress, the dancer, the horses running for their lives. The painter alone got, for his effort, immortality. I wish I couldn’t see it: his utter success.
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Why now, when the endless poster reproductions after so many years faded, then became invisible? Because I had you, my daughters. Grew you in my body and pushed you out. Kept you close as my own limbs. Itâ€™s the truth: how the dancers massage the tender arches of their feet. They must soothe themselves; no one else will do it. I am at the museum with my mother. In plain sight: our secret muscles. Our aching lower backs. Our all-seeing eyes.
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Mirette on the High Wire
After the children’s book of the same title, by Emily Arnold McCully
The girl watches first, Mirette watches bleached sheets like sails swing on the line, tugging against the rope. Swollen. One day she wants. One day she tries. One day falls. Balances. Walks. Runs above the white, along the wire. The man who knows the air better than her—knows how to thread the gulf between rooftops, who came to rest in her mother’s house—instead inches out— night twinkling and full on the page. Instead inches past his new fear—for her— night painted blue and the city —the girl, Mirette—sparkling— along the rope path—above the earth.
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Found text—from Phillipe Petit’s “On the High Wire,” trans. by Paul Auster
Walking. Running. Dancing. Splits. The pretend fall. The headstand (with or without a balancing pole). Resting on the wire. Balancing on one leg. One-arm handstand. The cartwheel. Balancing, facing the audience. Dancing in wooden shoes. Dancing with scythes, sickles or daggers attached to the ankles. Ankles chained together. Jumping through a paper hoop. Walking with a pennant. Crossing with flags. With a pitcher and glass of water. With a candlestick or sword. The half-turn. The half-turn. The half-turn. Juggling. Walking into a hoop. Hoop around the ankles. Passing a hoop over the body and stepping out. Walking with the pole behind the back. Walking with the pole above the head. With the pole on the shoulders. Putting the pole behind the back. - 78 -
Walking backward. Wearing disguises. Imitating characters, animals. Wearing armour. Balancing on a ladder. Balancing on a chair. With a table and chair. A meal on the wire. With a stove and kitchen equipment. Pistol dancing. Sword dancing. Knife throwing. Precision shooting. Walking on stilts. The reverse. The human load. Falling astride the wire. Spinning around the wire. Hanging. Crossing a burning wire. The human column. Passing the sleeper. Passing the sleeper by jumping over him. The human belt. Head to head. Head to foot. Throwing away the balancing pole. The half-turn through space.
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The theater has been renovated since you fell asleep there, the chairs placed farther apart than when the storm filled the screen. The hallway was hidden from the room where we waited for the smoke to stop. After the glass doors, you have to walk through curtains to keep the cold separate, an airlock where itâ€™s not too serious. The snow stays longer if the ice is first, making the ground easier for it to touch, and when I looked up, the hooks on the pot rack were empty above our heads.
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Model for a roof garden with periscopes and trellises Paper, wood, mirror material, 2017 - 81 -
Model for a pavilion, made by marking, folding, and twisting Paper with graphite, 2012 - 82 -
Crushed Pavilion Collograph printed from model, 2012 - 83 -
Serial study with sculpture, made by moving light source and tracing shadows 2014 - 84 -
Sculpture with layered drawing Plexi, dowels, thread, glue, graphite on tracing paper, 2014 - 85 -
alice grown-up paper and paste (family photos), pencil, ink and watercolor, 2019 - 86 -
hands/bushes/birds paper and paste, watercolor, 2019 - 87 -
Juan Carlos Beaz
todo bien Linocut Print, 2019 - 88 -
juan carlos beaz
1000 â€™pa Linocut Print, 2019 - 89 -
The Tiles Majolica ceramic tiles, 2018 - 90 -
The Tiles Majolica ceramic tiles, 2018 - 91 -
The Tiles Majolica ceramic tiles, 2018 - 92 -
Static GIFs for Broken Musicians After Nick Francis Potter Better to paint a gif than to gif a song, to fail at aphorism than to whittle the world to a disingenuous pith, says the long face in the Dorian progression. F-holes warped into bruised eye sockets, an SM-57 mic aimed for a mess of pencil lines and paint. You’ve promised this won’t wind up being about love, but contour hatching is as devotional as prayer or malediction if we’re to believe the baffled music or the leach of smurfy lichen. You’ve promised that this won’t wind up being about the road, but you’ve taken the Kelly-green froth as horseback, the shambolic equitation for an unaccompanied progression beneath which the air always seems about to kick. If you trade prevention - 93 -
for elegy, you’ll be much more impactful, say the beer cozies with “Suck It, Suicide” printed on their stomachs. It’s hard to argue anyone’s been saved but a precious few were named and then forgotten.
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Animated GIF With Ashtray And Spoon
A spoon stands in a ceramic mug where the dregs of instant coffee have congealed. Each interior is an embarrassment or a bird with ponderous wings grounded, upended, and mercilessly teased. For whether with spoons or thoughts or cutty pipes, these worlds exact their cruelties. Each interior is a couch whose armrests are threadbare and hard, reminding us that our grandparents stood for nothing as they reclined into a time of pedestal ashtrays and technicolor. History is the best approximation of a decade within a century one can supply given textual clues (in the rooms we continue to occupy thereâ€™s no fourth wall). Itâ€™s other things too: quotidian rock
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music, galoshes, the banal clamor of appliances, the moon. There’s a gauzelike tissue that encapsulates an organ after toxic trauma. We’re only happy when our taste buds zang against flesh, which is an imprecise way of saying, Docile lounging soothes in a manner that memory cannot. All we’ve stored in phones and clouds is all we haven’t lived sounds fallaciously nostalgic. That that time caused this time post hoc yet irrefutable.
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The Art of Losing
Will and I first met in middle school because our fathers knew each other from working in television. His father was a glamorous writer for a well-known and long-watched network sitcom, and my father, enamored of him, would often invite the family over for dinner. My parents argued constantly in those days, but when the Eastons pulled into our driveway, we’d assume our roles. Back then Will was very sarcastic and extremely opinionated, and he liked to show off. He’d ask my mother for her roast chicken recipe and then advise on how to make it better next time. He’d walk around the house and ask my father if the cabinets were Eames. At school, he once got detention for telling our English teacher, Ms. Miller, that her analysis on Lord of the Flies was wrong and then storming out of the classroom and refusing to come back in. But even at that age, Will was extraordinarily charming, meaning he rarely got in trouble despite this superior attitude. Everybody fought for his attention, and though we knew each other then, we were not friends. We didn’t see each other again until I left Los Angeles to go to Boston for college. Will had already been at school a year. I caught a glimpse of him outside the semester’s first staff meeting for the campus literary magazine. He looked the same but taller. Thick, gold curls framed his wide face and angled jaw, and a thin nose sloped delicately beneath dark eyebrows. His green eyes blinked slowly, like a tired cat’s. He was smoking and had on headphones that cupped his ears like insects. I stood awkwardly with a few old issues under my arm, looking at him until he saw me. Hello, Anna. He slid off his headphones and asked me when I had joined the magazine. I responded that I’d just started, hopefully writing, maybe even a column. He nodded, flicked his cigarette into the street. He asked me what I was studying. “Poetry,” I said. We talked about classes and where we were each living. Two dormitory buildings close by. “We’re neighbors.” It was very easy to feel important around Will. He talked loudly and often, but people thought of him as smart and listened to his ideas when he spoke in a group. They respected his generally polarizing opinions, which he still had a - 97 -
lot of, and genuinely considered what he had to say when he discussed things like the Culture Industry or Philip Roth. He had older friends that he introduced me to and we started going to parties together. We took a lot of the same writing workshops in the English department. No one was that surprised when I became his girlfriend, and having come into school hardly knowing anyone, I was happy to have someone. I often felt too serious or intense, like everyone around me was having the fun I wasn’t allowed to have. I had no close friends and only occasionally saw my roommate Kate. We sat in the dining hall and went to the library together. I felt different from the New York prep school students who’d arrived to campus already knowing each other, and I felt unworthy of real companionship, or a cohort of my own. My old life in California felt far away. I barely spoke to my mother unless she called to complain about my father and needed me to tell her she was right. They were no longer living together. But I was on the periphery of this life too, could see the way they lived but wasn’t invited to join in. I wrote notes of what those girls wore—their illogically slit dresses, how their glossy mouths moved when they whispered in the back of lecture halls—pinning them to the cork board above my desk to study before going to bed. After I started seeing Will, things were different. He showed me how being a student could be different from the ways I had been living up until then. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t seen it before. I could go to the movies in the middle of the day if I wanted, or stay up late to read books, or meet his friends in their dorm rooms for a drink at any hour. We’d walk along the river near campus drinking coffee and sit on stoops like gargoyles, smoking packs of Parliaments from the convenience store near the quad. We spent afternoons after classes in his bed, watching movies from a projector balanced on a stack of library books. Will told me about his favorite things, stories and movies he’d been obsessed with for years. This felt surprising to me because I usually kept the things I liked best to myself, possessively. I couldn’t conceive of someone else knowing about them. Things matter to me more than they do to most people, I’d think. Like I’d have to be dead before I could imagine that someone else had also read my favorite book. Discussing the reasons why I liked something felt too sincere, and so I rarely did it. I once told Kate about a class I was taking on T.S. Eliot, and she asked me to read part of a poem out loud to her. I started with the first section of Four Quartets but my face flushed right away and I couldn’t finish. - 98 -
Will respected my ideas and asked my opinions on things I cared about. He dropped his harsh attitude when we were together. He wasn’t opinionated or showy. It was like a secret part of him that only I got to see, and I reveled in the idea that I knew what he was really like. It felt like the first time another person understood me in ways I understood myself. A sincere empathy I’d long been desperate for. I’d see him at a party from across the room and catch his eye. I know what you’re like when you’re alone.
Early on, my father called to ask how things were. “I’m dating Will now, you remember him?” He was impressed and glad. He worried about me being alone on the east coast. Our conversations were always short. He asked me how my classes were and how my mother was, and if it was still snowing. After I hung up, I called Will immediately. I asked him if he remembered my parents. “Of course, I’ve always liked them. Your mom is funny.” “You were terrible as a kid,” I said. “Maybe I still am.” He laughed. “But your parents loved me.” The truth was that I had always greatly admired Will’s parents, perhaps more than my own had. I was particularly taken with his mother. When Will and I went home for our first summer break together, he took me to visit her. I hadn’t seen her since I was thirteen and seated at our dinner table. Miriam Easton wrote novels and lived in Santa Monica with her husband in a low, wide house with expansive windows. She opened the door when we rang the bell. Will re-introduced us and then we all walked together through the narrow entryway into the quiet living room. I liked seeing the inside of other people’s homes, especially people I admired. I committed to remembering every detail so that later I could write it down. The whole place was filled with a warm, yellow light and smelled faintly of salt and sunscreen. I thought I could hear waves crashing onto the sand below. Miriam had her own small office off the dining room that looked out onto the ocean, and a red canary that she kept in a large wooden cage near the front door. She was small and striking, with angled features and bright eyes like Will’s. She wore a grey cashmere sweater with her initials embroidered in red thread up near her left collarbone, and stiff, dark jeans with the cuffs turned up, exposing leather loafers. Her brown hair fell to her shoulders, slightly mussed—like she’d just endured an intense period of concentration. I saw on her desk that she was reading the same book I’d just started. Criticism on the - 99 -
poet Elizabeth Bishop, by the Irish writer Colm Tóibín. “I like Elizabeth Bishop,” I said. “I like ‘One Art’.” “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” Miriam quoted. “Anna likes poetry too, and books,” Will responded. “She wants to write. Anna, you should talk to my mom about books.” I felt flustered. I hadn’t written much of my own since being at school, spending most of my time writing academic papers on things like Shakespeare and The Enlightenment. I was also in a required math course on probability. It was called Fat Chance. I told her that I worked on the magazine with Will and that I sometimes wrote poems. Elizabeth Bishop once said she was the loneliest person to have ever lived. I thought about how sad that was. “What kinds of poems do you write?” Miriam asked. I shrugged because I didn’t know what to say. I liked poets who wrote about complicated feelings that I could not explain. Really, insofar as I was interested in being a poet, I was more interested in the way that poems could say things that I couldn’t otherwise say, even in writing. The closest I’d come to doing that myself was in my papers for class, but that mostly involved simply pointing out what the poet was doing in the different lines, then embedded in my own prose and cut up by slashes. I could tell someone what the poet was doing to convey the final feeling I could identify with, but it’s not like I had written those lines myself. Miriam told me she was working on a manuscript about lyric poets. “Like Eliot?” I asked. “Eliot, Blake, Whitman, Lowell, Bishop. Their poems are meditations on moments in time. They let us into the inner-most chamber of their mind. You know, it’s poems that make us privy to what is otherwise said in complete secrecy.” What we say to ourselves when we’re alone. I stared at the canary as we spoke, its saturated feathers absorbing the light. The sockets of my eyes felt hot. Discussing poems was hard because they demanded a certain earnestness that I found difficult to access. But the truth was that Miriam was talking about what I liked best in poems. Their intimacy in the presumption that the reader resembles the writer enough to step into the writer’s shoes and speak the lines they’ve written, as though they were their own. That for a moment, they let us become the speaker. It seemed strange that I could talk to a parent about a poet I liked. Miriam was an adult who wanted to know my thoughts and whose ideas I wanted to - 100 -
know. What she said comforted me and made me more aware of myself as a person. I could more clearly see why a good poem, in its efficient lines and varied rhythms, could feel so pleasurable to read. In sharing, the poet tells us something about ourselves that we may not have already known, making us feel understood and perhaps even reshaping how we see ourselves. It’s what it felt like to be with Will. The conversation moved on. We got into a short discussion about California politics and cage-free eggs. A spasm of jealousy swept up into my throat at the idea that I could never have the relationship with her that she had with Will. One time I walked into his dorm at school and saw a hard-cover box set of Chekov plays Miriam had sent him. They’d been placed on his shelf among a self-conscious arrangement of books, spines pressed together tightly—gleaming, like rows of teeth in a smirking smile. My own mother was nearly unaware of what I was studying in school. She’d sent me off with a suitcase, a new set of sheets, and a wave from the car at LAX. I knew that she liked the idea of me going to school back east, but that was all she understood. We hadn’t been in touch much since I moved—I texted her a few photos of my dorm room and the changing trees on campus, and she’d responded only to advise that I should have my comforter professionally pressed. I’d called her at the start of the semester to tell her about Will and told her that I wanted her to call me more. “Well, you can call me,” she’d said. Miriam cut up some cheese and apples for us to eat, and gave us wine to drink. It was cool and sweet and I took a big mouthful. “I hope you’ll stay for dinner,” she said. Those days felt so momentous. I could walk across campus and run into people I knew, who would come up to me or wave. I was in charge of things at the magazine since younger people had joined, and I had a weekly column. I could take the classes I wanted to take. Will’s friends became my friends and we all spent entire weekends together, writing papers while lying out in the buttery light, going to house shows in the city and dancing until our legs grew sore, dazed permanently with night and little sleep. I’d get back to my room on Sunday evenings to find Kate seated rigidly at her desk, asking me where I’d been with her chipper meteorologist voice and questioning glance. One spring when classes were off, Will and I rented a car and drove down to New York to stay in Miriam’s apartment in the village. It was beautiful and everything inside was blindingly white. Spiral staircases with black railing stretched up four stories and crowded bookcases enveloped every wall. We were alone in the apartment and stayed for a week, eating burgers from the - 101 -
place on the corner and sleeping in a different bedroom each night. Several months later, Will graduated and moved back to Los Angeles, and we broke up. I went back to school with one year left before graduation. I hardly slept then, instead staring at my phone hoping for Will to text or looking at my laptop screen until it went black. I wrote long emails then held down the delete key so the lines disappeared in great gulps, repeating this several times over before I could minimize the window and shut the computer. Great feelings of despair washed over me several times a day, and it felt like deep inside, my stomach had fallen off the end of a table. My skin constantly felt too hot, like the loneliness was strong enough to burn through my body. There was not anything terribly remarkable about the breakup. But despite everything, I could not reconcile it—the backward notion that it was now somehow necessary to forget Will in order to lose any prevailing feelings of affection toward him. I didn’t tell anyone about the breakup for weeks after it happened, worried that talking about it would reverse any progress I had made in trying to forget. My mother was the first person I told. I called her one evening from my dorm room in a moment of weakness. The phone rang four times before she picked up, and I did not think she would. “Hello?” she asked. She sounded confused, like she didn’t know who would be calling, or why. With tears in my voice I explained on the phone, worried I sounded highpitched and annoying. “You’re just depressed,” she said. “You should be focusing on school, Anna. Talk to you friends.” Later, Kate caught me seated at my desk, staring at my face in a hand mirror. “Anna, what are you doing?” she asked. “Is it still about Will? It’s been weeks.” I slid into bed then, pretending to sleep. But the truth was the mirror had become a strange, soothing ritual. I’d been spending hours looking at my reflection for signs of what had happened or what had changed. I had grown particularly obsessed with the shape of my mouth, how the corners naturally turned up slightly, like I was always smiling. I was sad and felt hollow like an empty jar, yet my face looked strangely happy. I couldn’t understand how my own body could deny my inner feeling. I felt like this nearly every hour of every day. For weeks and weeks, and then for months, I could not think of anything but my own despair. And then slowly, less and less. Then our relationship began to feel more like an idea than something that had happened to me. And it felt increasingly far away the more - 102 -
I thought about it. Like the colors behind closed eyelids dissipating the harder you try to look. One morning a few weeks before graduation, the phone rang. It was my mother, calling me to say that she and her new boyfriend, Ben, had broken up. “I wanted to wait to tell you because I didn’t want you to be sad.” This did not make any sense to me. Ben and my mother had dated for six months, and I barely knew him. He was the first person she’d seen after my father moved out of the house. I’d met him once briefly, when they’d just begun seeing each other, and when Will and I were still dating. I had been home for a visit and watched my mother get ready to go out. “Help me with my dress.” She’d sat on the edge of my bed and turned her back to me, a thin line of skin exposed where the zipper gaped open. I’d pulled upwards, feeling the dampness of her back under my fingers, and secured the hook at her nape. A small strand of hair had escaped from her bun and clung at her neck, sticking slightly to a light sheen of sweat. The familiarity of her sloping neck and the lemony smell of her skin had surprised me. She was crying on the phone now, and it was difficult to hear what she was saying. I put the phone on mute and let out a long breath, closing my eyes hard. Maybe this was all there was. Once, when I was a child, my mother told me that she still feels like she did at twenty years old. That you always feel the same inside despite the years you accumulate. “We had everything we needed to be happy,” she said into the phone. I said that I wondered if that was true, if being happy with another person required proper circumstances or things. Was it not enough to simply know someone? I stayed on the phone for a while longer, listening to my mother’s breaths. Someone I had rejected, relied on, and would come to use—ruthlessly and lovingly and gratefully—to become something more.
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There Comes a Point in Every Relationship When You Realize This Is Not What You Signed Up For My boyfriend is 36 and ailing. He shits blood and cries from the pain in his lower abdomen. I do not tell him how sickened I feel when I’m around. Instead, I smile, clean his apartment, and hold my breath when we kiss. The ulcerative colitis has ruined our fun—we no longer smoke or drink or snack. Instead, we sit on his couch covered—me, him, and the ostomy bag between us. I work on my Mac, he watches football, and together, we are careful not to puncture it. I am 26 and jaded. I force myself to laugh at his funnies, and I let him beat me in Mortal Kombat. I stick around for security. And the gifts he buys. When I tell my friends I want to leave, they remind me: “this is about engine maintenance, not joyriding.”
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Pimple 1. My explanation is simple – who wouldn’t rise after being pressed for so long, who wouldn’t blood and pus. Ugly name, passed from a foreheaded mother to a nose-born son to say: be thankful for your bacterial past. 2. I once thought this is where we keep our secrets, in the pronounceable words we give to everything that stares back. The mouth growing with thin air as scaffolding. The index fingers going towards the peak. Then, the light. What a gorgeous, empty animal am I. What a gorgeous, bloodied mirror I leave behind.
To herd. To pattern. To utilize the tunnels underneath the skin. Even now, I hear them, kin communicating with kin, standing on the bones of their ancestry, to reach for a hand.
laddering up - 105 -
“We pretended to be seagulls, not even chewing the fish and feeling them swim down our throats.” -Tanya Tagaq
the tundra news
is bubbling up and out
supply breath of palladium & matter we fever and and dig Arctic language
pingos firing back
headline eating brain
and collapsing breath
if you were alive
about a time
how I wet
mouth open holding
you were fading
breathing to the shower
strung out sometimes
I close my eyes where you kneeled in love
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only a voice
to keep to bring you back to wash my limbs
Watching you gently set the wild berries around the dish of ice cream I think of the small friction of your fingers on my skin and of a trail overgrown with wet and sharp new leaves, brush thick and reckless with round, plump fruit. Your stained mouth, cold lips pressed against my shoulder blade.
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It was a Saturday morning in the last week of December when Dad threw open our bedroom door, turned on the light, and said, “Roll up, kids! Roll up! Big surprise in store today. We’re taking a trip. Wake up, fall out of bed, drag a comb across your head, and let’s hit the road!” Danny and I pulled on our matching shorts and Beatles drop-t tees, thankful to at least temporarily get out of our weekend chores, and made our way outside. The sky was just beginning to brighten. From outside the Grand Am I could hear the Let It Be album playing, which I knew meant the ride would be one of complete silence. I’d be required to subdue all inquiries about the purpose of our journey. As the album played on repeat and we cruised the interstate, Danny and I tried to contain our eight-year-old energy by spotting out-of-state plates and knuckling each other’s arms if we made an identification first. “Shut up, Judey,” Dad would say when I whispered “Texas!” or punched Danny with enough force to make him shriek. Dad was what Mom called an “obsessive Beatles obsessive.” Any time we were with him, he’d divert conversation to the band in some way: lyrics, intraband personality battles, creative strife, personal triumphs and tragedies that had blessed or stricken the band and their families, his collection of their music. Since setting up a sleeping bag on Vine Street so he could be the first to purchase the new single, “Hey Jude,” on August 26th, 1968—that’s where my name comes from —he’d collected all of the band’s recordings on every available format. Pressings from every country you can imagine: Uruguay, Israel, U.S.S.R and associated satellites, and of course Japan, famous for their delicate and decorative white cardstock sleeves that protected each record’s spine. Every reissue and remix. Every record post-1970 breakup from all four Beatles and their wives and kids. Outtakes, false starts, cuts and splices, studio chatter, nixed solos, and altered lyrics present on official and bootlegged releases. Also stereo and mono mixes because every obsessive had to be encyclopedically versed in all slight variations in harmony or endings or lyric. - 108 -
After we’d been driving for what felt like forever, I asked, “Where are we going?” When he didn’t answer, I continued, “Are we finally getting presents?” He held up an open palm to indicate his answer. The previous year, I’d requested the Young Spies kit, which was sold exclusively at Target. But on account of Dad’s ever-expanding record collection, all the money that could have been spent on such a gift for me had instead funded the installation of new shelving in the listening room. So for the second year in a row I’d taken extra care to write down in all capital letters the exact present I wished for: the young spies kit, which in one box contained sunglasses, a pair of walkie-talkies, a conical long-distance listening device, an expandable spyglass, and a polygraph test, all of which would allow us, among other practical uses, to learn finally what Mom and Dad talked about when they went outside in the midst of an argument “to chat.” To glimpse what I wanted to understand most, which was anything kept from me. When the album finished for the third time, Dad turned off the stereo and said, “This is an incredibly huge day. An important day. We’re doing something incredible here.” Then he flipped the cassette and the album started from the top, with him mouthing “Two of us riding nowhere…” We drove through Side A before Dad pulled off the interstate at a place called Carlsbad and straight into a Walmart parking lot. Before I could remind him that Walmart didn’t sell the spy kit, he stepped out of the car and shut the door, leaving us in the back seat. Dad put his arms in the air like John on the cover of Help!, which in Beatledom is an international signal of zeal, prompting an obese man with long oily hair parted in the middle to struggle out of a tiny Beetle parked across the aisle. The man wore round wire glasses and a sleeveless t-shirt that read new york city. Dad walked to meet him, and they kissed each other’s cheeks. Using my spy technique of reading Dad’s lips, it was obvious that they were talking about—what else—vinyl records. “He looks like the poster of John Lennon in the bathroom,” Danny said. “A very fat version,” I said, and our laughter softened the growing disappointment I felt from uncovering the true purpose of our trip. A few minutes later, they were both pushing dollies toward our car. Each dolly had three boxes stacked on it, and their pace was so slow it wasn’t clear whether they were moving or just posing there alongside what I knew to be a massive collection of records that our dad would fawn over and that we would never be invited to hear. “What do you think’s in there?” - 109 -
“Records,” I said. “Wanna bet?” “Okay,” Danny said. “But it depends on what the bet is.” “How about you do the trash for a month if it’s records.” I despised the smell of garbage, which lingered and seemed to concentrate in pungency in the municipal barrel we kept in the backyard. “If not, I’ll do it plus trim the hedges.” “Let me think about it.” Dad approached the car with the dolly and yelled at us to get out and help. Danny pulled the lever to make the front seat tilt forward and we both stepped out. “Happy Hanukkah!” Dad said. His hands were tremulant with jubilance. “It’s for us?” Danny asked. “This is for everyone,” he said, lifting the lid off the top box, which had a large “4” written on it. “Here we have the holy grail.” He pulled out one plain white record jacket housed in a protective plastic sleeve. He held it with open palms so that there was as little contact with his skin as possible. After admiring it, he removed the jacket from the sleeve and slowly exposed what appeared to be just another record. “Yes,” he said. “Yes!” I began to laugh at the dismay spreading across Danny’s face. Dad slid the record back into the sleeve, jacket, and box. “What do you think I brought you here for, kids?” Dad said, pointing at the car. “Load her up.” He opened the trunk and we leaned in with our nimble bodies, folded down the back seats, and as a team of two lifted each box into the expanded cargo area. The obese man in Lennon costume forwent helping us to talk about various “surprises” that awaited Dad: “‘Back Seat of My Car’ rehearsed by The Beatles. Harrison singing ‘Threw it All Away.’ Many, many other life-changing gems.” Dad hugged the man. “This is the greatest day.” On the way home, sharing the front passenger seat with Danny and suffering through the fourth and fifth listens of Let It Be, I asked Dad if were also stopping at Target, if he brought us along because we were all receiving presents. “I could pick mine out,” I said, “like you did.” “No. You need to discern what’s important in life,” he said. “An average vinyl record spinning at thirty-three and a third revolutiones pero minuto holds about forty-five minutes of music. Do the math. I’ll be busy for a long while, and it’s important you understand that. Go cold turkey on the complaining. Don’t ask me to play catch or take the dog to the park. There are three hundred records, which means: don’t bother me.” He shut us out of the listening room a week later, on the second of January. Occasionally, he’d emerge for meals, standing bedraggled and barefoot in the - 110 -
kitchen. Danny and I surveilled his movements, even without spy equipment —what else was there to do in the waning days of winter break?—but still Dad’s schedule of appearances made no sense to us. Finally, Mom, who worked overtime at the hospitals most weeknights, explained with her usual cocktail of inextinguishable charity and simmering vexation that Dad’s project required him to recreate to the “most insignificant detail” the schedule of the sessions, so as to “fully immerse.” The three hundred records, she explained, contained every second of the infamous January 1969 Get Back sessions, during which the engineer rolled the tape from the moment the band walked in the studio and began chatting to the moment no Beatles remained in the building. Immersing himself meant “becoming” a member of the band. If they were jolly or churlish, so was he. If they breaked from noon to one, so did he. If they mentioned a craving for tea and crumpets and jam, he drank Earl Grey and toasted whatever bread happened to be in the house – until the shipment of crumpets from England arrived. His immersion was so all-consuming that he’d let out our sheepdog, Martha, and leave her there overnight. He’d often sit in the kitchen with an elbow on the table, palm supporting his forehead, as if consumed by artistic rumination. Interrupting him earned us a verbal lashing, especially on “fraught days.” Then he’d return to the listening room without explanation or apology. Sometimes he wouldn’t reemerge for days. We attempted to access his project by pressing our ears to the closed listening room door, and all we could hear was a band that couldn’t sing in key or stop talking or laughing long enough to make it through a single song. Why would Dad imprison himself with such awful noise? It made no sense to us. I wished for the long-range microphone in the spy set, which I was convinced would allow us to hear with absolute clarity everything he listened to, as if we were in the room with him. Then we could understand why he’d chosen them over us. Finally, in mid-January, I decided enough was enough. We needed to get in that room and investigate for ourselves. I devised a plan on a Sunday night and revealed it to Danny once we were in bed. “When Mom comes and turns off the light, we’ll feign sleep. We’ll get the emergency flashlights out, tiptoe down the hall, and spy. We’ll be spies. I know exactly what to do. Just follow me.” After Mom came and went, still smelling of the hospital, Danny tried to back out because spying was wrong. And he didn’t want to get caught. But I could not be swayed. I knew that Danny would not let me walk down that hallway alone. - 111 -
We waited until silence gripped the house. With flashlights pointed just ahead of our cautious feet, we moved down the hall toward the listening room. As we approach the closed door I turned my flashlight off. Danny did the same. We placed our ears against the cold wood. “You hear anything?” “No,” Danny said. “Maybe we should go back.” “Go back? This is our chance! We’re here and Dad isn’t. We have to go in. Open it,” I commanded. “We’re spies, remember?” “But you have to go in first,” he said. “I will.” He held the brass doorknob with two hands. Looking at me with a blankness that is now forever the image I see of his face, he turned it and pushed the door open. In an instant, the barrier was lifted. “Whoa.” Inside the room, lava lamps beamed globs of red and green and blue around the room and onto all four walls. I nudged Danny forward and then followed him in. Finally we were among the records, standing as victors in that vaunted, mysterious space from which we had been barred. My commitment to spycraft immediately transformed into joyous, unrestrained exploration, like we’d discovered our own holy grail. The carpet was so plush we could stomp on it without making any noise—and, so invited, we did just that. We marveled at the globby light spreading over and around our hands and bodies. We ran our fingers along the rows of records, imagining—or at least I did—that they would animate and electrify us as they did Dad. Then I saw Box Four on the ground and knew I had to open it. I knelt down and lifted the top. Of all the records in the room, I felt a strong compulsion to hold those in my own two hands. “I don’t think we should touch that,” Danny said. “I know how to do it.” I pulled out a record just like Dad had done in the parking lot. With the naked and unprotected vinyl in my hand, I stood there waiting for something to happen. Danny beheld me as if I was in the beginning phase of some grotesque and awesome physical transformation. Then there was a distant clang and the click of the stovetop lighting. “Uh oh,” I said. “Teatime.” Danny and I looked at each other and without saying anything lunged Olympiad toward the door. But I was never that gifted: I tripped over the open box of records and fell hands-first into the carpet. Once I registered that I’d taken a tumble, I looked down to see half a record still clenched by my little, stubborn fingers, and the other half resting in several pieces, just out of reach, - 112 -
against the suddenly less inviting white carpet. Stemming a surge of tears, I crawled over and pressed the pieces together, as if by applying enough force— of will if not physical—they might regain their unity. But the physics of repair were not on my side. “Come on,” Danny said, so I tossed what remained of the record as far away from the door as possible, hoping they would never be discovered. We escaped before the kettle whistled, and when we were back in our room, I made Danny promise that he’d never tell. Later that night, I realized I hadn’t replaced the sleeve in the box, or the lid on the box. I knew we were doomed. The following morning, we didn’t see Dad until the afternoon. He was standing in the kitchen, tapping one heel while the kettle boiled. We watched him from a distance, waiting for the impending eruption. But without even noticing us, he brewed his tea and returned to the scene of our mischief. We didn’t see or hear him for the next two days, and for me, the emerging reality of having escaped punishment coursed through me as powerfully as anything I’ve taken to land me here. But for Danny, the longer the silence lasted, the more certain he was that the damage I’d caused—he always said we, but which record had he smashed?—had been uncovered. He was certain that Dad was tormenting us by delaying the inevitable. I explained to Danny that most likely Dad had already listened to all the records in Box Four and would thus never miss the one that I’d broken. He’d probably been so consumed by his “immersion” that he believed he’d left the lid on the floor. But the sleeve absent a record? That I couldn’t make sense of, beyond of interpreting his silence as absolution. On Friday, a full five days after the incident, Mom, Danny, and I were watching Jeopardy! when Dad stepped in front of the screen and held aloft the broken record. “Here they are,” he said. “Little bits of record here, there, and everywhere in my beautiful Twickenham soundstage.” He shook the pieces as I’d imagined he would shake us. “Shit,” Mom said. I laughed until he threw the broken record at me and several pieces hit my face. “One hundred twelve records in, and I am somehow supposed to accept that not far down this very long and winding road there will be a forty-five-minute gap? Please explain what certainly must be your role in the destruction of my project!” “Leave the kids alone. They go to school all day, you know, while you’re home. It was probably the dog.” - 113 -
“And how do you propose she found her way through the locked door of Twickenham and—” “Well,” Mom said, “perhaps I went in there to retrieve all the coffee cups you let stain—” “Tea! We drink tea!” “Jesus,” she said. “The dog got into the room and ate a record because dogs are dogs. Or who knows what happened? ‘Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass’ and such? Give us all a break, Merv.” “You know the end of that refrain is ‘The answer’s at the end.’ So what is the answer? The dog just magically pulled a record out of its jacket and sleeve and chewed it into several pieces without leaving a single tooth mark?” “Isn’t a pity,” Mom said. “Do you know what I had to go through to get the complete sessions, of which each record is an integral part?” “You mean, am I aware of the four thousand dollars it cost? It’s all I, me, mine with you. Of course I understand what it means to earn four thousand dollars.” I looked at Danny as he turned as white as the record sleeve I’d left behind. “Four thousand dollars?” I asked. “That’s a lot of money. Mom gave us twenty dollars on night eight and—” “Out!” he yelled at me. “Run for your life and hide your head in the sand— that’s the end, little girl!” Danny followed me as I ran past the listening room to our bedroom, where we kept our door open so we could eavesdrop. Then they went outside, like they always did during arguments, so I snuck into the kitchen to listen as best I could without the assistance of the long-range listening device in the spy set. Mom explained, in not her calmest voice, that Dad had deteriorated beyond recognition and needed to grow up. He could start by seeking professional help. “Call the primal scream people again if you need to,” she said. “I’ll pick up extra shifts.” Dad rebutted with a long history of the records. One of the engineers had “saved” a copy of the complete tapes and fled to Bermuda. There, so as to serve broader Beatledom, the engineer had a hundred sets pressed to vinyl, of which one sat now partially destroyed in their home. “My project is ruined. The schedule’s been disrupted, and a chunk is forever gone.” “You really and truly do need help,” Mom said. “Too many people preaching practices,” he said, laughing. “I won’t let you tell me what I wanna be.” - 114 -
“And who is it that you want to be? Huh? A shit father?” “It’s a rough ride,” Dad said, “to heaven. But for art we sacrifice.” “No, we don’t,” Mom said. A moment later, the sliding door to the backyard shrieked open and shut. I ran back to our room and pretended to be reading until Mom came in and sat on Danny’s bed. “Sometimes people become very invested in things,” she said. “So invested that they lose sight of the things around them. They just turn off their minds and float downstream, like in a dream. And then they wake up. They usually wake up.” “I feel bad,” Danny said, unable to look at Mom or me. “I know,” she said. She twisted Danny’s hair around a finger. The house was silent. “So, do you want to tell me what happened, guys?” “Umm,” I said. She reached over and held my hand. “Hard to say?” I nodded. Before long I drifted off to sleep. I don’t remember what I dreamed, but I woke to the sounds of Martha barking and shrieking and Dad screaming in the backyard. Mom was still on Danny’s bed, so I asked if we could see what was going on outside. “I think we’d better,” Mom said. Standing at the closed sliding door, we could see the shadows of a melee at the far corner of the yard. “Bloody hell,” Mom said. She rummaged in a kitchen drawer and returned with a flashlight and carving knife. The microwave clock read two thirty-three. She led us outside, and as we approached the scene, I could make out an entire family of glowing eyes in addition to Martha’s two. Dad was half saying, half singing, “Get back! Get back to where you once belonged!” “Dad?” Danny called. “There’s a whole family of opossums out here,” he called back to us. “I’m working on it. Martha’s been pawing at one for a while. ‘Oh, what have you done,’” he sang. “I’m leaving some kitchen utensils here for you,” Mom said. “Right here. Behind you.” Mom ushered us back inside, where we stood at the window waiting for something to happen. “Was he singing?” she said to herself. “Was he out there singing? Jesus.” She curled Danny’s soft brown hair around her fingers again and scratched my scalp. I wanted to know if those animals were dangerous, but the sudden tenseness tempered my usual proclivity for asking questions. - 115 -
We stood at the window for what felt like forever until Dad appeared, pulling Martha by the collar, singing, “Hey, Martha my dear, what did you kill, Martha my dear?” “She killed something?” Mom asked. “Many things,” he said. “There was a whole family of shrieking, hissing opossums out there, and she apparently made it her life’s mission to torment each and every one of them. Sort of like you all never leaving me be.” “Did you leave her out again?” Mom asked. Ignoring the question, he instructed Danny to help him dispose of the dead animals. They disappeared into the night and then reappeared moments later with limp creatures, one in each hand, dangling by their wiry tails. They carried the opossums across the yard and dropped them in the municipal barrel. When they were finished, Dad slid the door open and said, “I’d say it was another wasted night for me, but I feel high high high right now.” Mom sent us to bed and stayed outside with Dad. “What were the like, the dead possums?” I asked when we were in bed. “I don’t know,” Danny said. “Weird.” The following morning was Saturday, and Dad put us to work. Because of the bet he’d lost, Danny had to deal with the trash in addition to trimming the hedges with the giant shears. I was stuck with the “inside tasks,” which included grocery shopping with Mom. When we returned home from the store, Danny was sitting on the couch watching cartoons. His right arm, which he rested on a folded, bloody towel, was more draped than wrapped in gauze. “Danny,” Mom said, “what the hell happened?” “The branches got me,” Danny said. Mom sat beside him and held his arm like Dad did the records. “Jesus,” she said. “You need to keep this elevated.” “I’m supposed to man up,” Danny said. “Who’d you hear that from? Bungalow Bill out there?” Mom retrieved the first aid kit from the bathroom and inspected the wound. “These are bites, Danny,” she said. “What happened?” He began to cry. When he calmed down he said he’d accidentally stepped on Martha’s tail, and she’d been startled and snipped him. “I’m fine,” he said. Danny winced as Mom sterilized and rewrapped the wound, tucking the end of the gauze just like she tucked us in at night. “We’ll check on this tomorrow.” Every morning she cleaned and rewrapped the wound and each time he relished the attention and said he felt fine. But about a week after the injury - 116 -
he started complaining of pain and “feeling weird.” Mom decided it was time for a doctor’s visit and drove us all – Dad stayed home – to the local urgent care center, where after being seen Danny was prescribed a bottle of liquid antibiotics. All week he displayed what I now understand to be malaise. The following Saturday, when we were supposed to get out of bed “with the sun” and start on our chores, he said he felt too weak to do anything. I promised to do his chores if he’d get up, but he just shook his head. The skin on his face was wet and pale. I called for Mom. “My arm feels weird,” he said. “Like what?” Mom asked. “Like it itches?” “Like when your foot falls asleep, but it hurts.” Mom said she’d be right back, and I asked, “Are you sure you don’t mean that it itches?” “I’m sure,” Danny said. “It tingles. It’s different. I feel weird. And my head hurts. My eyes hurt. Everything is so bright.” Mom returned with the first aid kit and told Danny to lift his tongue, under which she placed a thermometer. Martha curled up next to him. “Hundred and three. We better keep an eye on this.” Martha kept Danny company all day and night, and Mom moved me to the living room so I wouldn’t catch whatever “bug” had gripped Danny. On Monday, his fever crossed 104 and he was talking like a record spinning backwards. He rambled about digging ponies and endless roads and rain falling into paper cups. He refused to eat or drink by swatting at the crackers and slices apples we brought to his bedside. He had never once approached violent behavior in his life and suddenly he began swinging his arms like that one famous non-Beatles guitarist Dad denigrated more than once. His lips started flaking. Mom made the executive decision to drive him to the emergency room. She knocked on the listening room door and explained the situation. “I’ll meet you there soon,” Dad sang to the joyful tune of “I’ll Give You a Ring.” “No,” Mom said. “You’re helping me carry your beautiful boy into the car right now.” “I don’t even hear any music,” I said. He opened the door a moment later and stepped past us as if we’d disrupted John and Paul’s first meeting behind the church. Danny was admitted and taken to the fifth floor. Quickly they understood that he was afraid of and refused all food and drink, and in response wheeled him down the hall to perform the life-sustaining installation of a feeding tube. - 117 -
Afterward they moved him to the fourth floor, where in his constantly monitored room I traced with my stunned eyes a new addition to his body: a tube that travelled from the side of his little boy belly to a bag suspended on a metal hook. With all the wires and noisy machines around he looked more bionic than boy. I tried to entertain him with spy stories where he was the hero, but the only character I could see him as was the boy in front of me, not the brother he had always been. I remember crying in the lobby and Dad telling me to “buck up.” “This is the time for a song to provide some much-needed comfort,” Mom said. “Why not ‘Put It There’? Why not something hopeful. ‘Hope of Deliverance’ would really work right about now.” When he began to hum the tune and tap his foot she stood and walked away. Then the seizures began. The whiteboard on his door read “critical.” Two days later, I was sitting next to his bed, my hand resting beside his. His face recalled the blankness of the night we broke into the listening room. Mom and Dad were outside because only one family member at a time was allowed in the ICU. He put his hand on mine. That’s when his body went limp, aggravating the monitors and causing a storm of medical staff to surround his bed. In the process I was shuttled out of the room for good. Danny died. My crisis was folded into the wide-ranging grief I didn’t know how to grapple with. And still don’t. Not in a productive way. Once we were home, Dad burrowed himself in the listening room. I sat outside the closed door and listened as the songs shifted from topics of repent and loss —“I Know (I Know)” or “Aisumasen” —to acceptance to nostalgia —“Beautiful Boy,” which for four minutes moved to the double beat of the heart and lulled me away from my initial urges to break into the room and snap each and every record. At night, I’d knock my head against the wall to the rhythm of those songs. A month after Danny’s death an autopsy report arrived in a manila envelope. Mom told me it revealed the presence of rabies in his young body and brain, putting a chilling, antagonizing name to what had weakened, crazed, and killed my brother. The coroner noted his arm and the damaged tissue as the site of infection. We all understood. Maybe Mom and Dad had known ever since the hospital and had simply avoided the challenge of attempting to explain it all to me. They never confessed. I thought about our bet and have never stopped thinking about it—that’s how I remember it so vividly. That night Mom and I fell asleep in Danny’s bed, with the light on. At some point Dad turned off the light and joined us, unable to sleep in the silence of the night. - 118 -
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Jenny Boully on Remembering & Dismantling How does one pick up on the tremors, the invisible netting underneath, or the microscopic universe of lost and random thought? Writing is a gathering, yes, but it is also an intuiting, I feel. As much as I gather from the empirical realm, I also find myself faced with a task of getting quiet so that I can also mine not only the existential realm of philosophical thought generated by the empirical, literary, and intellectual, but also that realm of the unknown, the mysterious, the awesome. A piece, for me, is complete when I know I’ve gathered that one last mysterious orb and placed it just right. My essays can often take years in the gathering; life intertwines and sends out its tendrils; my work begins in a mess; I adore sifting through it all, organizing, reenchanting, and giving it a name and form.
It’s taken me so long to think on this, mainly because I think my response will be lukewarm—that is, I feel as if the response is deeper than I can know right now. How has poetry hurt me? I think Poetry hurt me when I was too devoted to it that I turned away from the world and its love. Poetry hurt me when, for instance, years and years ago, I kicked my lovely little sister out of my room so that I could work on poetry; Poetry hurt me when I told her to leave my room because I was reading poetry; Poetry hurt me when I felt that its calling was nobler than the space of love and family and connection. I used to think Poetry was more important than what was truly important to me.
I’ve been publishing now for more than half of my life, but I’ve yet to write about the period of my life that most affected me—that is, the years of my adolescent and early teenage years. I’m only now writing this. I’m only now feeling that this story has anything in it. I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction by women writers who are truly writing it—not merely retelling, but wrestling with it existentially and critically, interrogating both the act of
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memory and writing. In addition to all of these wonderful books, I also hold dear Claire Vaye Watkin’s essay “On Pandering,” which was extremely liberating for me: I was able to get rid of all the books I was holding onto because I felt that I needed to; I no longer read things that I have been told I should read; and I no longer teach things that I have been institutionalized to teach. Likewise, I believe, like Watkins, that I have also been institutionalized to write in a certain way, that certain kinds of writing are valued; it’s going to take a long while to dismantle and deprogram it—I can’t just throw out decades of institutionalized thought as easily as I can books. While I feel that I have been struggling to always write this way, I believe I’m still figuring out how to write towards this sincere and unaffected writing.
I think that’s a lovely idea—to knowingly and willfully inhabit the realm of the in-between, to be the boundary, to own that skin. It’s interesting how returning to a site that one is both connected to and disconnected from will reveal not so much binaries and oppositions, but rather more overlap, layers that will now require more investigation, introspection, and excavation. These overlaps and layers of complexity don’t often become manifest until we willfully live in the margins—that is, both in and out, right there on the borderline. Oftentimes, we confront what the border can’t contain, what seeps out from both sides. That’s what’s interesting to me, that indistinguishable space, when the writing begins to dismantle that rigid boundary. In a recent essay I’ve been working on, like Collier Nogues, I wanted to return to a site from my past in order to see what there was to see. In this case, I was visiting a church that was built on a pet cemetery that I used to hang out in when I was young. I could only observe from the outside. The pastor refused to let me into the sanctuary when he knew what I was all about. That refusal to allow me entry to the inside, well, that certainly had more value, to me, than being allowed to enter. That refusal illuminated both sides of that boundary and precisely what I needed to excavate.
There was the War on Uncertainty. The country, curbed but unroofed in perpetual dusk. We walked the glass perimeter, saw roots of trees peeking from the ground like bent fingers. I touched the small moon of your cuticle, the government of each knuckle. In the dream of this country, the body was a kind of wealth. Highways stacked like rungs, holding. Winter summered to spring. Our snowcaps became headaches, our stomachs the engines of something unbreathing. Climbing your lattice left me filthy. My hands leveraged the window frame, the first splintered threshold. The next, impossible â€“ yet the two hinted at their own frailty. The country was wide with greyblue leaves of rain. We wanted to stay.
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Matthew J. Spireng
Hurley Sand & Gravel
It was only a matter of time that the big pits left after sand and cobbles were removed would not only fill with water but become part of the creek that changed course when a too-narrow berm between the creek and the pits gave way in a spring flood. One pit flowed into another and it all flowed back into the creek. A half mile of the old creekbed became a backwater, then dried up and filled with brush and trees. It’s fifty years and Hurley Sand & Gravel is long gone, and what the state did, if anything, about the change in the course of the Esopus Creek— short of correcting it—is long forgotten. I remember, though, how much deeper the creek was before the breech and that a breech - 122 -
matthew j. spireng
occurred. One day, I and others who recall will be gone. Still, there will be large water-filled pits where the creek flows and a wooded swale nearby that sometimes channels water during the worst spring floods.
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At the beach
Everybody in the catalog was perfect, but the rest of us were diving rangers assigned to replant kelp forests, we were seekers of otters, we found ourselves flipped occasionally to reveal our softer undersides. We thought the language was lacking, the “g”s of each word malformed, the “e”s so often undernourished. Luckily, the bar was always open until at least 10pm, which allowed us fries and chips or tots or lagers. Our selves were certain ones, we could create a shelf from a drawer, a grocery sack from a ratty tee, and we tested ourselves to find we all had the same personalities: welcome of criticism, foreign-feeling in groups, undeniably bearable much of the time. Our feelers rose from our foreheads, from our shoulders, and as our feelers rose, that hidden thing within us rose, too.
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Acknowledgements Faultline wishes to thank its generous donors at the University of California, Irvine, for their support: Associated Graduate Students Illuminations The Composition Program in the Department of English The Department of European Languages and Studies For their advice, encouragement, and personal and technical support, the editors also wish to thank Michelle Latiolais, Sandra Mueller, Ross Green, and Taylor Bratches.
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Contributors Juan Carlos Beaz, hijo de doña Mati y don Chente, is a Vista, California based artist. Beaz’s relief print work primarily stems from his Mexican heritage and is a personal reflection of his Chicano identity and experiences. Although primarily a printmaker, Beaz does not shy away from exploring the realms of collage and mixed media. Daniel Biegelson is the author of the chapbook Only the Borrowed Light (VERSE) and Director of the Visiting Writers Series at Northwest Missouri State University as well as an Associate Editor for The Laurel Review. My poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Cream City Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, FIELD, Salt Hill Journal, and Third Coast, among other places. Jenny Boully is a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow in General Nonfiction and the author of Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life. Danny Bredar was born in Colorado and grew up in Maryland. He graduated from Harvard University in 2014 and served as studio assistant to Matt Saunders. He completed an MFA in Painting and Drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2019 and was awarded the 2019 Arts Club of Chicago Fellowship. He is currently working with the artist collective carbon copy and makes collaborative work as Q&A with Leah Zheng. F. Douglas Brown is the author of ICON, a new collection of poetry from Writ Large Press in 2018, and Zero to Three (University of Georgia, 2014), winner of the 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize selected by US Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith. He is both a Cave Canem and Kundiman fellow. Shanique Carmichael was born and partially raised in Georgetown, Guyana, South America. She immigrated to the United States at the age of three. Shanique is currently an MFA candidate at American University, and Poetry Editor of the college’s literary magazine, FOLIO. Her poems and short stories have been featured
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in Poet Lore, Lunch Ticket, The Poet’s Haven Digest, Bayou Magazine, and UC Irvine’s Pushcart prize-winning journal, Faultline. Barbara Daniels’s Talk to the Lioness was published by Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press in 2020. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. Barbara Daniels received a 2020 fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Mary Ann Dimand was born in Southern Illinois where Union North met Confederate South, and her work is shaped by kinships and conflicts: economics and theology, farming and feminism and history. Dimand holds an MA in economics from Carleton University, an MPhil from Yale University, and an MDiv from Iliff School of Theology. Some of her previous publication credits include: The History of Game Theory Volume I: From the Beginnings to 1945; The Foundations of Game Theory; and Women of Value: Feminist Essays on the History of Women in Economics, among others. Her work is published or forthcoming in The Birds We Piled Loosely, Bitterzoet Magazine, The Borfski Press, The Broken Plate, FRiGG Magazine, The Hungry Chimera, Mantis, Misfit Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Slab, and Sweet Tree Review. Hollie Dugas lives and teaches in New Mexico. Her work has been selected to be included in Barrow Street, Reed Magazine, Crab Creek Review, Pembroke, Salamander, Poet Lore, Watershed Review, Under the Gum Tree, Chiron Review, Louisiana Literature, and CALYX. Hollie has been a finalist twice for the Peseroff Prize at Breakwater Review, Greg Grummer Poetry Prize at Phoebe, Fugue’s Annual Contest, and has received Honorable Mention in Broad River Review. Additionally, “A Woman’s Confession #5,162” was selected as the winner of Western Humanities Review Mountain West Writers’ Contest (2017). She is currently a member on the editorial board for Off the Coast. Jeff Frawley ’s fiction has appeared in South Dakota Review, Portland Review, Crab Creek Review, Beloit Fiction Journal and Bridge Eight, amongst other journals. - 128 -
A former Fulbright scholar to Budapest, Hungary, he now lives and teaches in the mountains of southern New Mexico. “The Dig” is taken from his short story collection, Trace Lands. Cal Freeman is the author of the book Fight Songs. His writing has appeared in many journals including Southword, The Moth, Passages North, The Journal, Hippocampus, Drunken Boat, and The Poetry Review. He currently serves as music editor of The Museum of Americana and teaches at Oakland University. Amy Gerstler is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her most recent book of poems is Scattered at Sea. She is currently working on a musical with actor/composer Steve Gunderson. Richard Godden teaches English at the University of California, Irvine. His first collection, Breathing Exercises was published by Peterloo Poets in 1986. He writes slowly. A second manuscript, Marks, Bits, Larks, from which ‘Democide’ is drawn, seeks a publisher. Robin Gow is a queer and trans poet and young adult author. They is the author of the chapbook HONEYSUCKLE by Finishing Line Press. Their poetry has recently been published in POETRY, New Delta Review, and Roanoke Review. They is a graduate student and professor at Adelphi University pursing an MFA in Creative Writing. They is the Editor at Large for Village of Crickets and Social Media Coordinator for Oyster River Pages. Their first full-length poetry collection Our Lady of Perpetual Degeneracy is forth-coming with Tolsun Books. Dustin M. Hoffman is the author of the story collection One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist, winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. His second collection No Good for Digging and chapbook Secrets of the Wild were published by Word West Press. He painted houses for ten years in Michigan and now is an associate professor of creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. His stories have recently appeared
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in The Masters Review, Wigleaf, Bull: Menâ€™s Fiction, Redivider, and Juked. You can visit his site here: dustinmhoffman.com Camille Jacobson is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Cleveland Review of Books, The Harvard Advocate, and elsewhere. Genevieve Kaplan is the author of (aviary) (Veliz Books, 2020), In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), and three chapbooks. Her poems can be found in Third Coast, Spillway, Denver Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Poetry Magazine, and other journals. Genevieve edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose; she lives in southern California. Christos Kalli, born in Cyprus, recently graduated from the University of Cambridge. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Ninth Letter, the National Poetry Review, the American Journal of Poetry, the Adroit Journal, the Los Angeles Review, the minnesota review, PANK, The Hollins Critic, Harpur Palate, and Dunes Review, among others. His chapbook INT. NIGHT / Nightscarred was a finalist for the Sutra Press Chapbook Contest (2017/2019). From 2017 to 2019, he has served on the editorial board of the Adroit Journal. Visit him at christoskalli.com Ashley Sojin Kim is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Florida. She received her BA in Writing Seminars from The Johns Hopkins University and is originally from Los Angeles. This is her first publication. Scott Lerner is a writer and lecturer in the Composition Program at UCI. He lives in Claremont, California. Chloe Martinez â€˜s poems have appeared in publications including Waxwing, Prairie Schooner, PANK and The Common. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she is a book reviewer for RHINO and a reader for The Adroit. She is the Program - 130 -
Coordinator for the Center for Writing and Public Discourse at Claremont McKenna College, as well as Lecturer in Religious Studies. See more at www. chloeAVmartinez.com. Adair McPherson: In addition to publishing scholarly papers in refereed journals of psychology, McPherson produced a satirical alphabet picture book, Roadkill abc, in 2018 that features photographs taken with her iPhone camera of things that met a premature demise on the road. Her story “Night Waltz” was a finalist for the 47th New Millennium Writings 2019 Flash Fiction Award. McPherson lives in Davis, CA. Collier Nogues’ poetry collections are The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground (Drunken Boat, 2015) and On the Other Side, Blue (Four Way, 2011). Her work has been supported by fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and Lingnan University. She teaches creative writing in the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s MA Program in Literary Studies, and is a PhD Fellow at the University of Hong Kong, where she studies 21st century anti-war poetry. She also edits poetry for Juked and curates Hong Kong’s English-medium poetry craft talk series. Jake Orbison is a writer from New York. His work also appears in the White Review, the Boston Review, poets.org, and elsewhere. Jason Magabo Perez is the author of Phenomenology of Superhero (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016) and This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Perez serves as Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at CSU San Marcos, and works as current Artist-in-Residence at Center for Art and Thought (CA+T) and inaugural Community Arts Fellow at Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. Lee Peterson is the author of Rooms and Fields: Dramatic Monologues from the War in Bosnia (Kent State University Press). Her poetic, research, and community
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interests center on issues of human rights, displacement and migration, motherhood, and the female body and female desire. She teaches at Penn State University. Lee lives in State College with her husband, the novelist Steven Sherrill, and their eleven-yearold daughter, EsmĂŠe. Kalliope Price is a poet, essayist and screenwriter. She holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. She earned her BA from Skidmore College, where she was awarded the Academy of American Poets College Prize. She lives in Los Angeles, CA. Anna Renken is a current M.Arch. candidate at the Princeton University School of Architecture and holds a B.A. in Architecture and Art from Yale University. Working across disciplines, she explores spatial issues through research, writing, art, and design. C.R. Resetarits is a writer and visual artist. She has had writing out recently in Southern Humanities Review and Native Voices: Indigenous American Poetry, Craft and Conversations (Tupelo Press). Her collages have appeared recently in New Southern Fugitive, Midway, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Gasher, Sonder Review, Pretty Owl Poetry, Empty Mirror, and Nashville Review. Mark Robinson earned his BA in English Literature from the University of Iowa and is a MFA candidate at Lindenwood University. His poems have appeared in The Red Flag Poetry Postcard Series, Naugatuck River Review, Levee Magazine and Bending Genres, among others. His collection Just Last Days appeared in January 2020. Mark currently lives in West Des Moines, IA with his wife Jen and their children Lyla, Aya, Liam, Cora, and Minni. Will Russo is a poet from New York City pursuing an MFA in Writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Berkeley Poetry Review, Waxing & Waning, Meniscus, and Newtown Literary, where he - 132 -
received a Pushcart Prize nomination. He has attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and the Bread Loaf Writersâ€™ Conference. Matthew J. Spireng â€™s 2019 Sinclair Prize-winning book Good Work is forthcoming from Evening Street Press. A 10-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he is the author of two other full-length poetry books, What Focus Is and Out of Body, winner of the 2004 Bluestem Poetry Award, and five chapbooks. Madeline Stevens is a writer from Boring, Oregon currently based in Los Angeles. Her first novel DEVOTION is out now in the US, UK, Portugal, Germany and Mexico. It is also forthcoming in France, Italy, and China. Madeline holds an MFA from Columbia University and her work has been published in places such as The Guardian, CrimeReads, and Monkeybicycle. She teaches creative writing to adults and children through Catapult and Writopia Lab. Jason Tandon is the author of four books of poetry, including The Actual World, Quality of Life, and Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt, winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award from Black Lawrence Press. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, and Esquire, among others. He is a Senior Lecturer in the College of Arts & Sciences Writing Program at Boston University. Aileen Keown Vaux lives in Spokane, WA and is an essayist, The Inlander columnist, and poet whose chapbook Consolation Prize was published by Scablands Books in 2018.
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Faultline is sponsored in part by
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AGS is the officially recognized graduate student government at UC Irvine, representing over 5,000 graduate and professional students. One of AGSâ€™ consitutional duties is to fund projects that improve the social and academic environment of UC Irvine for graduate students. We are proud to be able to fund Faultline, as it provides a unique opportunity for the students participating in its creation in addition to contributing to the intellectual output of the university.
For more information on AGS, please visit us on the web at www.ags.uci.edu.
The twenty-ninth annual edition of Faultline Journal, published by the University of California, Irvine.