volume ii, issue i
“I am art. Touch me—but leave my invisible pieces for someone else to find.” —Richard King Perkins III
Established in 2012, Fractal is a literary magazine founded and edited by students of the University of Southern California. Fractal publishes fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction in print and electronic format. Jackson Burgess, Editor-in-Chief Kelly Belter, Fiction Editor Sonali Chanchani, Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Editor Shelby DeWeese, Poetry Editor Winona Leon, Fiction Editor August Luhrs, Poetry Editor Submit your work and visit us at www.fractalmagazine.com. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art by Allen Forrest Design by Winona Leon Printed in the United States of America Copyright 2014 by Fractal Magazine. All rights reserved.
F R A C T A L
After several months’ work (and several hundred submissions), we’re proud to bring you the newest issue of Fractal. This one is packed with talent, risk, diversity, and, above all, emotion. Sandra Kolankiewicz contemplates airports and guano, Dani Bailes explores teenage disillusionment, and Cortney Lamar Charleston shoots from the hip with family, home, and loss. We’ve got elegies and odes, haunting meditations and tech-savvy sonnets. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it somewhere in these pages.
voume ii, issue i
With a new layout to commemorate the start of Volume 2, and artwork by Allen Forrest, this issue begs to be read. Give it a look through—you’ll be glad you did. And, as always, thank you for your continued support.
Sincerely, The Editors
Robert A. Geise
Richard King Perkins II
Gary Charles Wilkens
Cortney Lamar Charleston
C O N T E N T S
THE SPIRIT OF SOMETHING
The tentacle appears in the poem as a small jacket. The rest of the poem appears in the spirit of something. This here is the spirit of tissue paper. See the sound split in half, desynchronize? They say it’s getting thinner, but you know Not to trust what anyone says completely. Please, crush my cell phone like a soda can And you can buy another one for a dollar. I bought this poem and turned it for two. Isn’t it cool what something can do? I made William Carlos Williams my cat. Instead of reading Now I scoop his most prized accomplishments. The new common idiom is indefiniteness But you kind of already knew that. “No ideas but in things.” Something was keeping me Asleep from the hours of four and ten. Sometimes I wondered if William was half-blind. He’s always jumping into the murphy bed And getting stuck between the wall and mattress. If you put a new plum on the other side He comes burrowing through. I kind of like that but Where is the graphene, the solar-powered highWay? Help me take this class on how To push this button right. When I see someone like that, Honking and revving and swerving past cars Into the other lanes, I always imagine them With something in their eyes, fire maybe, Sparking onto the steering wheel.
REBIRTH THROUGH A PISTOL I eternally re-sculpt you like soft molding clay into a beautifully textured history, create you as a choose-my-own-adventure story tailored for any occasion; I manipulate you as my marionette rather than remember you as my murder victim. Your empty cupboard cruelty becomes the warmth of Thanksgiving dinner, your chalk outline absence now a reliable presence and a sympathetic ear. No longer do you pick at scabs of old wounds bleeding me into an intolerable tomorrow. Sins washed clean do not re-gather the dust of resentment. I absolve you through your erasure.
sandra kolankiewicz FRAGMENT We havenâ€™t left yet, are in pre-boarding, news crossing the screen in the terminal. Authorities give us twenty minutes before the airport becomes a shelter. How many taxis can you fit on the end of a ramp before they spin away filled with strangers, all luggage abandoned except the most necessary items: contact lens solution, diapers, blood pressure medicine, car keys. On the ride home, we consider boxes prepared, or not prepared, in our basements, whether the contents of the freezer can be preserved by smoking, too far from the sea for a tidal wave though many wells are tainted from a process we never questioned when men came to raise the rigs which light the sky.
sandra kolankiewicz AT
You tried too hard, your retort a report. They quacked through the reeds and flapped overhead, first sign that the season is changing and summer is over unless you count the geese squatting year long on the levy, no more traveling south, having found right here what they perpetually seek, afraid of no one, never paddling out more than five or six feet into the flow before swinging back, waddling up, honking for ice cream. Don’t call it ‘poop,’ says the mother. It’s ‘guano,’ fertilization in this green river preferred by some to the trash on the shore: beach whistles, plastic bottles, the occasional bobber that escaped or that drop you had to cut because your hook snagged the rocky bottom and now trails line entangled with our detris same as a rainbow patch of oil catching the light and shining, just as a feather still dry on water becomes the crack! that sends them flying.
MY FATHER LIES UNDER
Up beyond the apple trees and hog brush lies a ruin of pasture wall stumbling toward the pinesâ€™ soft floor, separating the cool green shade of the forest from the locust trees of the field, their needled branches undulating in the blinding sun. My father lies under a stone from there, or the wall that stretches along side the driveway he shoveled for hours to carve a thin path to the mailbox, or from the wall bordering the back field, where he was going to build the barn.
william blome REFLECTING
O swans reflecting elephants and spheres begetting pyramids, through binoculars I watch you fuck the finial atop a table lamp in a Best Western Suites motel near Allentown. Up and down and up and down you squat on the major source of light there is in a Saturday room that can’t include Pennsylvania bluebirds or a regional zoo’s red panda now prowling along the branches of some velvety evergreen. O orchids reflecting winter wheat and cubes begetting cylindrical solids, it’s you and this inn’s pastry chef who share a room that from the parking lot keeps blinking bright and dim and bright behind a half-drawn curtain. I chuckle there’s irony in the fact that I can secretly see you pleasure yourself while the sweets cook is sawing wood on a complimentary king-size bed; by my watch he’s got about an hour left before the clock-radio clicks on and bids him rise and stretch and dress and descend to his all-dark kitchen, where he’ll jam turnovers and croissants into a good-size heated oven to begin the brunch buffet long before most beasts get hungry.
robert a. geise
TOUCHING THE HORNETS’ NEST UNDER A SLIDE BY THE NEIGHBOR’S POOL
The first was a mere needle prick, the nurse with a syringe on flu shot day at the drug store. The second was a real jab like that of a green phlebotomist, or one pissed off at his boyfriend. “I’ll slip you the injection, Steve. There!” The third was a nail fresh from the forge, driven into flesh by a ball peen already warmed up from sitting by the fire. The fourth was a scalpel, pressing into skin already numb to pain but not sensation. (Perhaps a worse feeling.) I lost count after that. I couldn’t count how many times faggot had been thrown my way before I even set foot in high school. I swelled inside a little more each time my friends (how were they friends?) called me one for missing the ball again. Then a man eighteen years my elder let me touch him underwater, where I had escaped the swarm of hornets 12
angered by my invasion of their personal wasp space the summer before. His liquid stung my throat, and I exploded.
richard king perkins ii
THE SADNESS OF GIANTS
You try to take what you cannot hold— the map of my skin, the bend of my knee. You try taking my exposure, my fungal wings, making the brighter later, the sooner higher. Still, you lost the clench of your hands and now your empty motions rise to the ceiling, as bland as nowhere, more forlorn than the sadness of giants. Images multiply in the randomness you rejected— a few were revelation more were the endings of other stories most stopped before they began. What is forgotten must never have happened. but will be exhumed with words you can’t decompose. You think you’re certain of the spot on the living room floor where it all started below where the black leather hide-a-bed now rests; but what you see belongs to another. 14
Iâ€™m accused of tampering with your vision so that fish rise up to stipple the surface of white graves in an aerie of stillness saying I am art. Touch meâ€”but leave my invisible pieces for someone else to find.
richard king perkins ii
Stepping inside myself even for a long instant feels like being sewn into clothing that used to be mine— a forgotten comfort, the closeness of familiar agreement. I’ve dug through millions of years of sediment to be here right now— absorbing a momentary fireshower that rises from my feet like an infusion of gentle flame. My soul spreads into clouds, becoming substance, moon-smoothed like whitest-grey talc of the finest ash— an addition of infinite mass. The sky stiches shut, intentionally forgetting me, leaving twigs to march like naked armies into a permanent syncopation— into a color which skin cannot attain.
This worn photograph depicts an 80’s handshake in the nude It takes me back me to those thumbprints— traded and exchanged like numbers never called So many aging polaroids linger in my molding scrapbooks, Still dripping with the sticky heat of Fire Island, New York Back when no one gave a shit if the cum was dangerous or not Yet, this relic still has a sting to it: A mattress, stained with morning breath and flakes of dead white skin soaked in sweat, entangled in striped linens The kettle is wailing beyond the borders of the frame and is moments away from shooting its load (if my memory still serves me well) Meanwhile, the window light spilling in from the corner has clothed a naked stranger’s back in shadow— A stranger, yes, but one well versed in foreign tongues— I remember him well, aside from the name He used to drop unremarkable phrases of Spanish and French in my ear, but only after the lights had been cut and the legs had been opened There’s a joke waiting to come out in this Death took me from behind without a reservation and I still said “Thank You” When he finished
valentina cano WOOD I am counting on you to sing of the geometry of trees. Their branches and bark balanced by xs and ys, dancing in the pale pool light, a moon drowning. You have to mention the fluted fences that block words from car parks and people with no interests but in slick-free sneakers.
valentina cano HALVES
ON A MONDAY
I split myself in two and hang one half off my closet. I stash it next to a worried dress that smells of warmed-up coffee and plastic spoons melting at the edges. I balance out the other half to keep from tipping over and try not to look like a cracked plate through the day.
emily corwin BLOODWORK Moon-lightning and silver trains the station slick with witching hour grandmother clock washes her glass cheek. Loosen my luggage on the track beam loud dazzle, I think I will go when they go, a pink clot family tree taking up the window seat their stems and whispers, is there room for one more * The fishery, the boat masts winking like war pikes, great-great grandfather was a whaler. I am in the water, hangnails and salt blister, scratch my namesake, bloodline all over his ship side. I am yoursâ€”donâ€™t do this the humpback breaking open the blue like a boiling pit of coals, their harpoons black on belly fat, he drags me from their juicy net a blade crying in his fist. * We have Mayflower blood, Salem witch trial blood red gavel in his grip, a girl keeping devils in her cap. We killed her, the curled back catching like a broomstick
white bristle in the fire. I rub my dream mouth there over his window, in the witching house, heart peeling off in petals. Outside she sparkles on the stake wants to take me with her. *
emily corwin HYPNAGOGIA This is how you slip out of the dream shoes, out of the train cars the tree root, ripples in a darkroom. This is how you run with scissors, clipping shadow fruit tailbones rattle in the closet. Press your face here, into the early water, comb the nightfall from your mouth. Maybe you will find a white hair, string of ash, of engine smoke glowing slow on you like a ribbon like the kind they tie over your eyes in sleep the kind you cut by morning.
emily corwin HOLY
Your hands smell like church something I say to my father what I really mean is coffee, echoes, empty chapel. I am twelve communion like a pale cud in the teeth a wakeful something falls something like a somersault like tuck and roll to the bottom of a well cold spellâ€”it steps into the aisle takes a lock of hair for safekeeping.
john lowther (FROM
Note on the Text 555 is a collection of sonnets whose construction is databasedriven and relies on text analytic software. I crunched and analyzed Shakespeare’s sonnets to arrive at averages for word, syllable and character (inclusive of punctuation but not spaces). These averages (101 words, 129 syllables, 437 characters) became requirements for three groups of sonnets. I collected lines from anywhere and everywhere in the air or in print in a database. The lines are all found, their arrangement is mine. Values for word, syllable and character were recorded. Typos and grammatical oddities were preserved; only initial capitals and a closing period have been added as needed. The selection of lines isn’t rule-driven and inevitably reflects what I read, watch, and listen to, thus incorporating my slurs and my passions as well as what amuses and disturbs me. These sonnets were assembled using nonce patterns or number schemes; by ear, notion, or loose association; by tense, lexis, tone or alliteration. Every sonnet matches its targeted average exactly. Think of Pound’s “dance of the intellect among words” then sub sentences for words—it is amongst these I move. The dance in question traces out a knot (better yet, a gnot) that holds together what might otherwise fly apart. I espouse only the sonnets, not any one line.
john lowther (FROM
Trash is naked again. The powder pee scent is just necessary collateral damage. We see the world through commodity eyes. So this is boob sweat. They’re doing a god damned poetry reading out there again. But fast as you make it you putting it out. I peed on the hamster. Here, I am a grain like all of you, ground down in this salad. They would also call me a bump-on-a-log. This was no movie, this was retail. Thought as such is, before all particular contexts, an act of negation. My sky daddy demands the concern of strangers online.
john lowther (FROM
I feel so much better now that I know I’ve been poisoned. Loss, in such a context, can be a name for what survives. So tell me what it is that drives you mad about your muse. I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes. You’re a house cat; you’re very important and you have nothing to do. I guess nihilism is always pretty positive if you think about it. It is difficult to perform emergency surgery in pitch darkness. Drive-by art criticism. So the discourse of truth was always on the road to disappointment.
john lowther (FROM
We shouldn’t feel guilty about our biases. That’s the trick. This is a question of personal preference. Clandestine too. Then the evening would really get started. And therefore suffocate between the two commands. Sex is the word. Tools change. It’s something which is behind this, and which conditions it. My fingers traced the scars below where breasts had once been. My face is wet. I needed this. Attention is a way to connect and survive. It was sad, funny, and kind of pathetic. His movie stopped and so he left the booth.
william doreski BLACK
WORDS, BLACK BIRDS
Black words. Or black birds. Same cosmic punctuation. Tracing clues from town to town I search for my stolen bicycle. After forty years it’s likely faded to scrap. But the pain of losing it lingers. You paw at your phone, sneaking photos of my lifeline. It’s shorter than this long grieving suggests. Your black words fail to comfort. The black birds could be ravens or crows. They circle something dead in the road. It isn’t me but isn’t quite dead, either. It mutters black words and sighs that sigh that warns me to run for my life. The black birds squawk and hover. A tire track in mud left since the recent rain proves my bicycle still functions in this or an adjacent dimension. You with your digital outlook claim that a virtual bicycle
has replaced the one I lost. You show me photos of me pedaling an old black Raleigh. Yes, that’s my familiar gray hair and yes, that’s the three-speed model stolen from our brownstone steps most of a lifetime ago. Yes, your black words convince me, and whatever those black birds are they aren’t yet feeding on me no matter how they punctuate the otherwise unyielding sky.
william doreski RED
Leashed to a barrel-shaped dog a woman in a red bikini jogs down Temple Mountain trail. In her wake I feel too clumsy even to gaze after her. Dust whispers of gnats and black flies. Weeds have begun to flower. The distance to the summit flails step by step and wrinkles me in the heat. That woman left a hole in the air. Sour heat fills it with sweat and decay. The afterlife, the universal cosmic nightmare, seems distant as the next mountain over, which bristles with antennae and cell phone towers. Heart attack, asthma, flatulence, the gout. Any random ailment could strike and close the loop. Meanwhile I slog forward, upward, hoping to uplift myself into blue heady enough to stave off the rush of thunder from the west. Descending these exposed bedrock ledges in heavy rain doesn’t appeal. I turn and look deep into the view. The opposing mountain blinks. No, that’s a shrug of lightning, so I should retreat. Following the bikini woman worries me— she could misread my fast descent as a reckless onset of lust. 30
But I wonâ€™t catch up. The bulky dog has already hustled her down to the parking lot. When I reach the flat by the highway Iâ€™m alone with the mountains bulking over me, the storm ripping at its seams, and my open pores absorb the gloom with perverse and bottomless thirst.
karen neuberg LUNCH
CONVERSATION TURNS TO OUR MOTHERS Then elongates into keening — we have arrived in the after — our mothers are dead. We talk of them speaking — ourselves now their voices repeating last words — don’t worry, or I do what I have to do. We’re bereft again recalling for each other what they couldn’t give, how we couldn’t get, what we couldn’t return, the with and without or the overflow — constant, or sudden saving that made us, that we carry that we pet, heated stone massage, we dangle over an edge, our hearts in perpetual free-fall preparation, little kites, taken aloft
by the slightest, by a candle, by a certain date too close no matter the distance since.
gary charles wilkens WISH Naked after sex, in the light of a salt stone lamp, we fling our socks at the whirling ceiling fan, making bets as to where they will be flung. The orange light makes your skin like sunrise. I gather the sock sojourners and we place them back onto cold feet. If I am lucky, the last thing I see in this life will be your face, and it will have been good, and it will have been enough. Then elongates into keening â€” we have
cortney lamar charleston UPON
THE HOME BREAKING IN HALF
Home: my grand fresco thrown on daredevil bone, my ship in a bottlerocket. I am ankle-deep in mercury, reflecting. Bulb in my heart: dead. The basement of what I am rides elevator. My conscience is made of molasses. I am liable to love anything right now. Hide the women who are loaded guns. /// Hide the guns loaded with love. I am liable to hold them woman, my good mind running molassesâ€™ speed to trigger finger. Forgive the dust in my mouth. My basement flooded, light bulbs fizzled out. My mood, made of mercury, reflects heat inside me that could rocket me to a fresco of crisp blue sky, my home-nostalgia. 35
cortney lamar charleston KNIVES Stabs of sound through the stillness of sleeping hours. I can hear them sharpening. Metal making love to metal. The echoes persisting in their fragile lives, filling the empty hallways of this heart with phantom music. This heart: the organ I think with. The one that recalls every beating taken in the name of survival, that strives to forgive, but never forgets, because it is also a muscle. It remembers; and the last gift I clearly remember my mother giving my father was a set of silver-handled kitchen knives. And I think she would say that the last gift my father gave to her was my youngest sister, who is like one of a set of silver-handled kitchen knives. Teeth forever showing; her smile, serrated. Her mind, as sharp as the intentions behind the extension of knives as gifts, those that halved me like everything else. Since then, I have dropped crumbs of myself everywhere I made travel, and despite it all, lost my way home. Found myself sitting at a table of surrogates who carried me in the womb of their love for the holidays. I always knew supper as a solitary endeavor: as separating the foods on my plate like parents into different rooms to protect the taste of each, as discussing politics in poor manners with a television resting idly on cable news, as swallowing my pride because I hadnâ€™t learned to cook. But
time has passed through me like heat. The yeast in my voice has risen, and friends have been fed from my words. I have grown, only to see much of what was with me, still is. Television dining. Leaving all pots unstirred. Separating my foods with restraining orders. The shame of it all is that a meal never satisfies when one fears becoming what they eat, so I am left with all this: a stomach full of holes fit to sheath the knives my father forgot to take with him. I sleep atop my belly at night and drive them deeper into myself. My silence, an accessory to the crime. Not to say there was a crime, just that there were victims. Not to say I am a victim, just that I want to avoid making more. So, when I find myself in that place, I take that youngest sister, who is like one of a set of silver-handled kitchen knives, and bring her head gently into my gut where there is a groove for her. Tell her to be still in what she is, since she is blade, and life cannot always be trusted with a gift such as hers: the rare mettle to love.
cortney lamar charleston STILL
LIFE WITH BALLOONS IN NOIR
I remember we crucified a song that night: nailed it to the wall, let it bleed, we sinful rolling stones. It was dark, like the back of a mouth is dark, except for the moon, a vibration of ambiance we inhaled, pushed out through verbs of muscle. My name sat on your tongue in peril. It couldnâ€™t hold on, eventually fell where nobody could see it. I remember your arms separating from the shoulders, your legs losing touch with the ground; you became a happy phantom the alchemy of passion made using nothing but the vapor of a leaf laughing inside a flame. I had to tie you around my pointer finger â€“ keep you from floating off, drifting homeless in the space between stars like just another fantasy.
The blood helped hold you down, too, I guess: why you always seem to like the artists I put you onto, play their songs to death, I tease you, sometimes into fever pitch, and until the lights come on, we donâ€™t have to be alone with what weâ€™ve done.
cortney lamar charleston ELEGY for Bryan
VIA NINTENDO 64
199__ And I told him: sometimes the on-switch is up but the screen is completely black. The trick with these cartridge-based games, is to blow under the case where the reader is. You have to make all the dust inside there scatter; make it totally unfamiliar with the operation of machinery. Matter of fact, sweep the cartridge slot in case any of it got stuck inside the console, maybe in between the gears and what not. Slide up the power switch again. Check for the light. Now and then, a flash of color will happen on screen before cutting back to black. Hit the reset button when that happens. Do it a couple times if you need to. If that doesnâ€™t work, and you cleaned everything, unplug it then plug it in again. Toggle the switch. If it still doesnâ€™t come on, pray for the next generation I guess. You are a pretty good kid; I am sure that your parents will buy it for you if they can. 40
201_ And a dream told me: sometimes his heart beat but the eyes were completely black. The trick was to blow some of their life into his life, watch for the chest to rise. Then they swept all the airways clean, tried to see if any dust got in between his gears. Put their ears to his RAM of flesh, waited to see if it remembered how to make sound, if it gets free from the process of buffering breaths, of stalling the beautiful game of life. They waited for a flash of color to cut across his cheeks, waited for his cheeks to warm, but his body remained in power outage. Hit the reset button. Checked for the light. Hit the reset button. Checked for the light, that never came, at least that they could see. The only option left was to unplug themselves from him, because he couldnâ€™t plug back in. So they prayed, since he was such a good kid; his parents will buy him heaven, if they can. 41
cortney lamar charleston BALLAD
OF THE BROKEN
The days have been sugar-knobbed in sour sunlight recently. Dissolve inside mouth like unwanted humble. I am still not hungry for this type of peace: neck broken; vocal chords severed like guitar strings from the tuners of my cheeks. Numbness grows over my coatless tongue. All shades sound the same bit of melancholy and my spit doesn’t stick to the wind anymore. This silence is too loud. Somebody, please, build me telephone cables that shake when spoken to, power lines and street lamps to light my way since the filaments in my eyes have died. My life is a maze of deadend streets drenched in night. I’ve walked for quite some time and haven’t moved far from the spot where God dropped me. I can still see the crater where the ego landed, the comet tail waving white flag, too beautiful for words, not that I have any spares. I saved only a few in hopes of giving them away like brides someday, but their gowns are ash-kissed, torn from idleness, leave such bitter lonely on the palate. And I’ve been trying to get the taste out my mouth. I can’t get this taste out my mouth. It has nowhere to go: 42
I am homeless in my own bones.
The dust inside dust. An urn with motor, but still an urn, trying not to fall, trip tych, spill my everything on the concrete and have people dismiss it as nameless dirt, because I remain a motherâ€™s son even when set into black.
carol roan THE
I might not have noticed the woman and the dog if they hadn’t been the same color, a tawny gray. He was a Weimaraner, young, muscles moving close to the skin, the energy and power only surfacecontrolled. She must have trained him herself, for their long legs moved in the same rhythm. But her bent neck and bowed head had lost the ability to command; he seemed to heel from habit and not out of respect. She was no longer his mistress, merely his owner. They were walking toward Jason’s shop through the wintry slush of a Sunday afternoon. Her gray SUV hunkered, forlorn, under the maple tree in the corner of the empty parking lot. That’s where Jason’s women usually park when his shop is closed—back where their cars can’t be seen from the street. He designs fabrics and clothes for women. He makes good country wear for the new wives in town, wools that he may himself weave, or the very best flannels, the most supple crêpes—timeless clothes that one can wear for years and then pass on to a daughter or a favorite niece. In the city he’s best known for his hand-printed chiffons. Chiffons printed with feathers or flowers that change, as the gown moves, into vulvas jeweled with drops of pearly semen. The breath catches and grows heavy when one’s eyes become caught in the undulations of his vulvas, and one can struggle an entire evening to find again the gown’s flowers and dew and some respite from its filmy weight. When Ann, Jason’s wife, shows up at parties here in town she wears a sweater and a brown tweed skirt he made for her before the children were born. She says she has a chiffon blouse to wear, should she ever go to the city again. She often tells us Jason is a genius. One evening we may hear he was a child prodigy as a pianist, on another that he was a chess champion, or a brown belt in karate. She announces each of his publications in academic journals, each of his spreads in Vogue or Elle. And of his appointment as a visiting lecturer in esthetics at the university. 44
No one doubts that she is telling the truth. No one thinks of her stories as boasts, merely her need to will his presence beside her by dulling the more ordinary men in the room. One or another wife smiles kindly and offers her another glass of wine. I smile politely from the other side of the room, with nothing to offer but guilt for our broken friendship. Ann is the only woman who talks about him. She and the lighted windows of his shop, and the sign above the door are the only public elements of him that exist here in town. He slips home to dinner and back on a BMW motorcycle. Dressed in black leathers, with the black-sheathed engine between his legs, he glides to the end of the street and is gone. I hadn’t seen him myself for years. Not until I caught sight of him on the university campus yesterday and noticed, for the first time, his walk. I am, by nature, a watcher of people. I watch them in the halls, in the theatre, on the streets. When I see a face that’s not present, but reliving a past grief, or legs too thin for the body, or arms too rigid and stiff to balance a walker, I watch the muscle movement. When I can imitate the muscles, transpose the movement into my own body, I know what the walker is feeling, what he’s thinking. I use the people I watch for my acting classes, make up exercises from the bodies I’ve collected, and teach my students how the body reflects the self. A student wrote me from Italy that she had taught the tourists around her to understand Michelangelo’s David by showing them how to put their bodies into the sculpture’s muscles. They had put their arms into his arms, their backs and shoulders into his, until they had been, for one moment, poised for his future, and not their own. Jason had a walk worth watching—the shoulders curved slightly inward, the legs more determined than the body. If I had observed only his upper torso, he would have looked like many other professors, with shoulders bowed under the great weight of the head. If I had concentrated only on his legs, he would have seemed out of context on the campus. His legs belonged in the grimy outskirts of some city, surrounded by jackhammers and horns, by the smell of oil and something burning, not walking through the shadows of Gothic buildings. 45
I should have watched him years ago. But I was too close to him then to see him. I need to separate myself from the people I use. I need to be objective if I’m going to enter them unbidden. My legs began to imitate Jason’s as he crossed the quad toward the library, but my head and shoulders struggled to adapt to his. I went back to my studio and worked on his walk one set of muscles at a time, hitting my heels hard on the floor, tightening my calves, pulling my buttocks in sharply, bending my legs at the knees, but not flexing them. Not all actors work from the body, as I do, but we all know when we have stepped over the divide between ourselves and the character, when all our work to think like someone else, talk, move like someone else falls away, and we have become that person, with thoughts and habits not our own. I knew my lower torso had become Jason’s when I felt my shoulders pull forward into his. And then came the fear, floods of fear, until his gut was filled with it. Fear of what? I didn’t know, for I couldn’t find an end to his terror, couldn’t swim out to the edge of it so I could turn and see what it was, see the color of it, feel its texture and mass. My head filled with my own fear and threatened to merge with his. I willed myself, inch by inch, out of his body and into mine, and sat down behind my desk, shaking. Dangerous work, character building. Actors must always be able to extricate themselves from a character, must retain enough of themselves to remember that their bodies hold two persons. I dared not become Jason again until I had let him drain out of me completely and could distinguish between his fear and my own. Then I could inhabit him again fully, but hold the knowledge of us separate in another entity. I call mine the Knower, for it knows not only what the character thinks but also what techniques I have available to make the character’s thoughts visible to an audience. It knows that the character wants to cry and knows how to let my tears fall without gathering in my throat and choking back the words the character must say. It knows that the character’s head is heavy with grief and knows my neck must not bend with the weight, or the audience will perceive me as vulnerable and lose faith. It separates the character from me, mediates between us, and protects us from each other. 46
Guarded by the Knower, I began Jason’s walk again, back and forth across the room, hitting his heels, bending his knees. The fear came again, and I let it flow until it filled him, up from the gut into his chest and then up into his head, where it roiled and twisted. He couldn’t see clearly, hear clearly. He was near madness, the bones of his skull threatening to give way under the pressure of the fear storm. And then, before I understood the source of his panic, an insulating layer of anger formed between it and his skin. He was no longer aware of his core of fear, only of an internal churning that he had labeled his creative power. His eyes, his ears and brain opened to feed the anger and keep him safe. I experimented with his smile and felt his penis rise to become his shield and his weapon. And knew the women who followed each other to his closed shop were more real to him than his art. We were the success he valued. I had gone too far. I lost the Knower. Became Jason as he saw me the first day I walked into his shop. I was thinking his thoughts: “Dowdy, wrong hair, bad makeup. Ann’s friend. But why not?” Saying his words: “I’ve been waiting for you. Waiting to dress the woman you are.” The Jason I’d become stood behind the woman who had been me as she looked into a mirror. He smiled into her reflected eyes and said, “Trust me. I will make you beautiful.” And slid his fingers down her arm. He lined a black wool stole with red taffeta and told her, “I’ll always be with you. You’ll always feel me caressing you.” He locked the shop door and turned off the lights. He led her to the back of the shop and made - not love to her - but rather another victory for himself. “Come again tomorrow night,” he said. “After I close the shop.” His greed for her neediness fed on her, night after night, until her eyes no longer begged for him and his own need was no longer satisfied. “Not tomorrow,” he said. “I have to finish a gown for Christa.” And locked the door after she left. My body shuddered, throwing me out of Jason’s. I sat there, as numb, as unbelieving, as I’d been that night. Hearing, over and over, the thunk of the deadbolt on the shop door. When I could move again, I walked over to my mirror. To make sure I no longer resembled the lonely gray woman with the dog. 47
Or the woman I had been when my marriage was dissolving, and I’d thought what I needed was a new dress. Black wool, I’d thought then. With maybe a flash of red.
yaron kaver SMASH Moments into the meeting, he felt the urge to reach for the pitcher of water set out on the conference room table and smash it against the wall behind him. The pitcher’s handle was graceful, its curve inviting. The squat bottom resembled a single bubble in a sheet of bubble wrap, begging to be popped. Its neck narrowed to the protruding lip of a snob who deserved a punch in the face. Un-shattered and un-splattered, the pitcher was a gift waiting to be unwrapped. He had wanted to do this—or something like this—for months now, to break an object to pieces, abruptly and in the presence of an unsuspecting audience. The specifics were unimportant. The object had to be within arm’s reach, it had to be breakable, and it could not belong to anyone in particular. He did not want its destruction confused with anything personal or emotional. This was not about anger. He had something pent up in him alright, but it was not rage. It was simply action, empirical and unequivocal. The vision played clearly in his mind, his elbow locking and unlocking, the cold handle moist against his skin, the water turning to waves as the pitcher took flight. The more time he spent focused on the image, enriching it with sensory detail, the more unreal it appeared. An action rehearsed to no end became second nature; muscle memory took over to the point where the motion could be done in his sleep. But an action contemplated to no end took on an air of increasing impossibility, to the point where translating it from notion to motion seemed as unlikely and wonderful as acting out a dream. And so he did not know, not until the very last moment, not while the meeting droned on and he remained at the table, whether he would smash the pitcher or not. For now, he reveled in the thrill of the stare. He ignored two interruptions, offers of water from coworkers who mistakenly took his fixation on the pitcher as a sign of a different kind of thirst. He thanked them with a fleeting smile and resumed his reverie. He reviewed the action over and over again, marveling at 49
the intricacies of movement and manipulation he so often took for granted. How easily he could will his hand forth, command his fingers to clench, jerk his muscles back and then let go. Whip, snap, smash. Any one of his colleagues could do the same, yet he felt certain that none ever had, and none ever would. He waited. He kept perfectly still. The urgency rose in him like mercury in a thermometer as his mind came to a boil. He coaxed his body forth, or perhaps he let it loose. His arm was finally moving, and all he could think was, “I’m doing it. I’m doing it. I can’t believe I’m actually doing it!” The pitcher felt wrong in his hand. A protruding seam ran along the inside of the handle, compromising his grip. Still he kept going, pulling back as planned. The weight of the water took him by surprise, and his muscles clenched. The woman to his right had sat too closely to him, forcing him to bring the pitcher in toward his face on its way to the wall, awkwardly bending his arm so that the pitcher’s path broke off in frustrating angles, not nearly as graceful as he had imagined. The handle did not slide off his fingers as he released his grip but stuttered over them like a car crossing train tracks. Rather than shoot straight like a bullet, the pitcher sagged and dropped into the corner where the wall met the floor. The smash itself sounded oddly muted, as though covered by a blanket. Numbness spread from his fingertips. He frowned at the dripping stain and the pieces of pitcher on the carpet. His coworkers’ reactions came dimly, as if partitioned off by cubicle walls. He excused himself from the room to consider the incident in silence. The points where reality had parted from the plan stung at first, but the pinpricks of pain faded during the drive home. What remained was nothing in particular. To call it emptiness was to imply a vastness that it did not possess. In time, however, the memory ripened. It softened and changed colors. It grew larger with distance. He felt the pitcher’s handle, sanded smooth. He watched the woman by his side tilt back to allow for a perfect ballistic curve. And he heard the crystalline shatter of glass as it turned to rain.
dani bailes YOU
WANTED AN EXPLOSION
You can be expelled on the last day of school, after the last class has ended. If you didn’t even know that was possible, rest assured that yes, it is. Finding a mangled television set in the local liquor store dumpster to throw, cord and all, into your school’s olympic-sized pool is a good start. Because you’re no good at sports, toss it underhanded, a granny-style basketball shot, and find yourself surprised how high it soars before finding its downward trajectory, culminating in an unsatisfying plop. You wanted an explosion. The rippling set sinks face up to the pools bottom, a broken-eyed Cyclops shedding shards of glass that seep into the water like poison. It doesn’t matter it’s the last day, and the swim and water polo teams are finished for the season. All that matters is you’ve done something incorrigible and the pool will have to be drained and cleaned. Immediately. The cost of draining and cleaning is worth more than your academic career, and possibly your life. The Principal will drum his fingers on the desk and your parent will be made to feel ashamed. What goes on in your home that makes your child think this is ok, he will ask. Perhaps he’d phrase it less directly if your parent was someone important, like a lawyer or a chiropractor. If your mother is feisty she will fight the Principal, tell him it’s none of his goddamn business and she’ll deal with you later. If she is frail she will nod and pull out an unscented Kleenex to dab at her eyes with. Your father will most likely not be there, because you only see him on alternate weekends and even then only if no women in a five-mile radius will return his phone calls. That evening he will take you to a bar to play darts and eat peanuts. The shells can be thrown on the floor, but you aim for the cleavage of the waitresses’ jiggling breasts. He will tell you that you are acting out, and that your mother cannot deal with your shenanigans any longer. You will feel embarrassed that your father uses words like shenanigans and make a note not to ever let him mingle amongst your friends. You once caught him staring at a too young girl’s upper thigh. He caught your eye and remarked that 51
she looked healthy. Two weeks from now, when you come back from a day trip to the beach, he will remark how nice your tan is, how healthy it makes you look and just the mention of the word will cause you to run to the bathroom and vomit. Examining the broken blood vessels around your eyes, you will understand why some girls are bulimic. After the expulsion your mother will take you home and go on a rampage. It might be silent, it might be loud, but all of your possessions will be packed more quickly than you thought possible. Your mother will not let you help her carry the boxes to the car. She will fold down the back seat and stack them, methodically. The silent treatment is standard, but she’s sure to rant and rave about your shortcomings and ask herself why it is possible to divorce husbands but not children. Understand she is not angry at you, but embarrassed at herself for ignoring you to the point that you have become feral. She works late every night and comes home craving wine rather than your company. Can you blame her? Probably. Once the car is packed you will be seated and driven to your father’s. Your mother will have a cigarette and turn up the radio. She will drive erratically, sucking her teeth every time she extends her arm into the cool breeze to flick away the powdered ash. The car will be parked next to your father’s apartment complex. You will be told to wait in the car. You will have to wait a very long time. When your mother comes back to the car your father will be alongside her, saying hey kiddo and pretending they didn’t have an argument about who will be forced to deal with you. You will love him for trying to spare your feelings, and hate him for having those feelings at all. He will have an amber colored drink in his hand and nervously shake the glass to make the ice cubes clink. You will find the sound strangely soothing. Your mother will acknowledge you with a terse hug and head pat. She has been patting down your hair since you were a little girl, with no regard as to whether or not it actually needs it. She will drive away without looking back. Your father will feel guilty that he has been out chasing tail instead of keeping up with his court appointed visits. He will bring all 52
of your boxes inside and offer you the living room couch. No matter what race he is he will say, mi casa es su casa. Once again you will feel embarrassed but most of all tired. He will take you to the bar mentioned earlier for supper, and then not ask for a menu. The waitresses will all know his first name and return his winks. The youngest and most attractive one will be shocked he has a child your age. He will selfconsciously run his fingers through his hair, beginning at the receding hairline and remark, we were married young. Your entire meal will consist of an overcooked hamburger, peanuts, and pilfered drinks. When you walk back to the apartment complex, which has a palm tree outline drawn on its stucco front, you will see a boy around your age. You know him from school, but he runs with another crowd and is more of a stranger than an actual one. You are afraid he will say hi and even more afraid he won’t. He will watch you walk up the stairs and your father will motion with his hand, uneasily, and say, my daughter. You will be surprised he feels the need to explain this. The boy will nod at you if he is polite and if not, he will roll his eyes or make some type of noise that mimics a wet fart. Word will have gotten around that you’ve been expelled from school. Some of your friends will not be allowed to talk to you anymore. These are the ones whose parents have high expectations for their predetermined futures. You will want to tell them who had an abortion, which one is addicted to meth cut with the dust from Maui Punch flavored Pixie Stix. The drug-induced post nasal drip tastes too bitter for her without it. Your dedicated friends will still find a way to see you, like your very best friend. She will tell her parents a lie only a parent could believe, that she wants to catch up on summer reading at the library. Instead, she will arrive at your father’s place while he is at work. You are not completely sure what he does but know it involves shuffling around papers at an office where everyone jokes that it is his job to change the water in the cooler. He has told you several times that when he does it he rolls up his sleeves and all the women flock to watch, including Estelle who is a grandmother but still a damn knockout. Possibly he has acted out the above scenario late one night when he didn’t down 53
enough drinks to save you from an impromptu performance. Your very best friend will cheer you up by telling you that you’re a legend, a legacy. But she will also tell you that some of the boys on the swim team have threatened to gang rape you because you ruined the pool, which they consider their turf. She will say don’t worry about those piss ants, they think they grew up in Compton. They touch you and I will lay them out. You’re not sure she’s capable of that, but appreciate it all the same. You like most of her sayings and in many ways that’s what your friendship boils down to; each of you spinning the other’s reality into an entertaining story. You could talk to her for days. You will both put your bikinis on underneath your clothes, or something more modest if you are not attention seeking, and catch the bus that goes all the way to the beach. The bus driver has dark skin and white teeth and she whispers, do you think all dark people have white teeth or their teeth just seem whiter because their skin is dark. For this you won’t have an answer except to shrug and put on your sunglasses. The cute boys at the back of the bus with surfboards won’t seem to notice either of you, and that will be an annoyance. Boys are supposed to notice girls in tight clothing, no matter what they look like. Your best friend whistles at them and now they are annoyed, but you both laugh. The driver, a secret pervert or not used to warm weather, turns on the AC full blast and your nipples pucker. The ride is always long but you can sleep on her shoulder while she braids a piece of your hair. For her last birthday you drew a picture of monkeys picking fleas off one another and labeled it ‘Me and You.’ She said she loved it but lost the paper a week later. You won’t draw a replacement. When the bus stops you both will get off and the driver winks and you remark how it’s never the right person that pays attention. She agrees, and you both watch the surfer boys avoid you and cross to the other side of the street. They must be Mormons, she says and you think that’s a pretty good guess. The sun is hotter than usual and you can’t wait to get goosebumps from the cold cold water. Sick of your sandals slapping against the sand, you both finally put down your towels and sit to rub suntan lotion on each other’s 54
backs. I thought you would be in trouble, she says, looking at you over her sunglasses. No, you say. Not anymore. There’re worse things than getting kicked out of school. Yeah, like staying in school. You both laugh and it’s understood you’ll never talk about it again. Now she tells you she has a joint and you debate on where to smoke it. Everywhere seems to have hidden traps and policemen waiting and you keep repeating that getting arrested would really be the last straw. She understands and says maybe later. Ten minutes later she lights the end and you know her brother rolled it, because it actually burns properly. No matter how much she takes in on the first hit, or even if she coughs it all out, she will look at you sleepily and say, I am high. You pause to consider the effects and exhale. Me too. So, she says, what are the plans this summer. I want to write a love letter to the world. In cursive. Hear, hear. She raises a can of orange soda that seems to have been produced from nowhere. Seeing your look of surprise she says, don’t you remember when I went to the vending machine. You don’t. I wish I had some firecrackers left over from Mexico, you say. We could put one in your soda can and throw it in the air, watch it explode. Take someone’s eye out. You hook your forefinger inside your cheek and give a sharp pull. POP. That leads to a few minutes of giggling that feels like ten. Holding your stomach, you look around to see who’s watching. There are lots of boys your own age on towels or wading, but they have brought their own girls who wear bathing suits that aren’t faded. They have tans, straight hair, anklets. Some are pretty, and some have just been told they are enough times to make it true. So what do you want to do now, your best friend says. By her tone you can tell that she’s bored. You are too. The sun is so bright that everything around you turns white with small red spots. A dog barks somewhere and then goes silent. Do you ever see a big house on a hill and think, if I lived there, my entire life would be different you ask. 55
Your best friend lays on her back and crunches the sand between her toes. She shakes her head no and says, that’s dumb. Everything would be exactly the same except in a different house. No you say. It would be completely different. I don’t think like you, she says. ‘What if ’ means nothing to me. One time I saw a house among houses, you’ll say. It looked like a castle.
DANI BAILES is a literary, film, and television writer based in New York and Los Angeles. In 2013 she was selected to attend the Yale Writers’ Conference, and also received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. This marks her debut publication. WILLIAM C. BLOME writes poetry and short fiction. He lives inbetween Baltimore and Washington, DC, and he is a master’s degree graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His work has previously seen the light of day in such fine little mags as Amarillo Bay, Prism International, Laurel Review, The Oyez Review, Orion headless, Salted Feathers, and The California Quarterly. VALENTINA CANO is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time either writing or reading. Her works have appeared in Exercise Bowler, Blinking Cursor, Theory Train, Cartier Street Press, and elsewhere. Her poetry has been nominated for Best of the Web and the Pushcart Prize. Her debut novel, The Rose Master, will be published in 2014. You can find her here: www.carabosseslibrary.blogspot.com. CORTNEY LAMAR CHARLESTON lives in Jersey City, NJ. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Rattle, Eleven Eleven, Folio, The Normal School, Chiron Review, Word Riot, Storyscape Journal, and Kweli Journal, among other publications. His poems have been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. EMILY CORWIN is a graduate student at Miami University, writing her thesis on dream poetry and the images that emerge from sleep. She has been published in Split Rock Review, The Rain Party & Disaster Society, Lipstick Party, Neat Literary Magazine, and Scholastic’s The Best Teen Writing of 2009.
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WILLIAM DORESKI lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and teaches at Keene State College. His most recent book of poetry is The Suburbs of Atlantis (2013). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals. Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., ALLEN FORREST works in many mediums: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles and digital media in art and design at Bellevue College, receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production. He has created cover art and illustrations for many literary publications, including New Plains Review, Pilgrimage Press, The MacGuffin, Blotterature, and Under the Gum Tree. His Bel-Red painting series, created with an art grant from the city of Bellevue, WA, are on display in the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh creating emotion on canvas. You can view his art at www.allen-forrest.fineartamerica. com or follow him @artgrafiken. AMY FRIEDMAN is an English instructor at Harper College with an MA in Comparative Literature from Northwestern University. Her poetry and creative nonfiction pieces have appeared in Extract(s), Crack the Spine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, and Decades Review. She is currently co-authoring her second satirical correspondence novel. Amy lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.
B u t o r s
ROBERT A. GEISE holds a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His work has appeared in Sensations Magazine, Red River Review, and Artella. Bob most recently participated in a collaboration of artists and poets titled, “See Me, Hear Me, Get My Story.” Bob lives in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey with his family. YARON KAVER has written for Israeli television and translated screenplays for hundreds of Israeli films and shows, including the original series adapted into Homeland. His fiction has appeared in The Bookends Review and Cold Mountain Review. He recently won first prize in the 2014 Mark Twain House Humor Writing Contest and is pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. SANDRA KOLANKIEWICZ’s poems and stories have appeared most recently in Per Contra, Fifth Wednesday, New World Writing, Appalachian Heritage, and Hueso Loco. Finishing Line Press just released The Way You Will Go. Turning Inside Out is available from Black Lawrence Press. JOHN LOWTHER’s work appears in the Atlanta Poets Group’s Anthology, The Lattice Inside (UNO Press, 2012) and in Another South: Experimental Writing in the South (U of Alabama, 2003). Held to the Letter, coauthored with Dana Lisa Young is forthcoming from Lavender Ink. Other sonnets from 555 have appeared or are forthcoming in altpoetics, Cartagena, Counterpunch, Futures Trading, The Gambler, Moss Trill, Otoliths, PoetryWTF, Unlikely Stories, and Uut. John also works in film, photography, paint, and performance. KAREN NEUBERG is the author of two chapbooks—Myself Taking Stage (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and Detailed Still (Poets Wear Prada, 2009). Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Paper Nautilus, Pirene’s Fountain, The Vehicle, and Tinderbox. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and is associate editor of the online journal First Literary Review East.
RICHARD KING PERKINS II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He has a wife, Vickie and a daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. His poem â€œDistillery of the Sunâ€? was runner-up in the 2014 Bacopa Literary Review contest. CAROL ROAN has authored three non-fiction books, including Speak Up: The Public Speaking Primer (Press 53, 2010), and has co-edited three anthologies, including When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over 50 (Holy Cow! Press, 2010). She currently teaches voice and writing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. KALEN ROWE is a kid in Houston, Texas. He has lived in Idaho, Montana, California, and Colorado. He has been published by Gargoyle Magazine, The Aletheia, and a few times by Glass Mountain. In 2013 he helped found and now assists with Anklebiters Publishing, which prints Poets Anonymous and Mimic (www.kalenrowe.com). GARY CHARLES WILKENS, Assistant Professor of English at Norfolk State University, was the winner of the 2006 Texas Review Breakthrough Poetry Prize for his first book, The Red Light Was My Mind. His poems have appeared in more than 60 online and print venues, among them The Texas Review, The Cortland Review, The Adirondack Review, The Prague Revue, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume II: Mississippi. SPENCER WILLIAMS is from San Diego, California and is currently an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, where he is studying English and Cinema. His work has appeared in Ink Lit Mag, The Periphery Art and Literary Journal, and Potluck Mag.
(contributors continued) 61
f DECEMBER 2014
Selected prose and poetry from Fractal Literary Magazine (www.fractalmagazine.com)