glassworks a magazine of literature and art
featuring Thomas Lynch Ray Amorosi Stephen Knezovich Christopher Howell & an interview about tiny presidents with Alex Forman
The staff of Glassworks magazine would like to thank: Rowan University’s Master of Arts in Writing Graduate Program
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Manda Frederick
Rowan University’s Writing Arts Department The Glassworks advisory board: Jeffrey Maxson, Jennifer Courtney, Andrew Kopp, Martin Itzkowitz, Lisa Jahn-Clough, Ron Block Cover art: “Refulgent” by Stephen Knezovich To see more of this artist, vistit: www.thenewgravycake.com Cover Design: Manda Frederick Layout: Michael Baccam Glassworks is available both digitally and in print. See our website for details: www.RowanGlassworks.org Glassworks accepts poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, photography, short video/film & audio relevant to literature. See submission guidelines for more information: RowanGlassworks.org Glassworks is a publication of Rowan University’s Master of Arts in Writing Graduate Program. Correspondences can be sent to: Glassworks c/o Manda Frederick 205 Hawthorn Hall Rowan University Glassboro, NJ 08028 E-mail: GlassworksMagazine@gmail.com Copyright © 2013 Glassworks
Glassworks maintains First Serial Rights for publication in our journal and Electronic Rights for reproduction of works in Glassworks and/or Glassworks-affiliated materials. All other rights remain with the artist.
SENIOR EDITOR Lindsay A. Chudzik fiction Editors Cherita Harrell Myra Schiffman C.M. Johnson Caroline Marinaro Poetry Editors Janine Sturgis Lauren Covaci nonfiction editors Phil Cole Kristin Tangel Antonia DiBona Nahid Ahmed new media editors Karen Holloway Jane Blaus Jason Enger Graphic Designer Karen Holloway
glassworks Spring 2013 issue six
Master of Arts in Writing Graduate Program Rowan University
Contents POETRY Richard Fein, Letters and Spirit | 4 Jeff Haynes, My Great Aunt Dies of Sleeping Paralysis at Sixteen | 5 Christopher Howell
Step By Step | 6
Memoryâ€™s House | 8
Open Any Door | 9
Carolyn Adams, Live From the Moon | 10 h.d. brown, Black Bird | 13 Savannah Grant, Stolen Privileges | 14 Anna Claire Hodge, Elegy, Daylight Savings | 20 A.R. Francis, Home | 31 John Grey, How to Bring the Boy Home | 32 Rebecca Clever, She Had a White Designer Evening Gown | 38 Ray Amorosi
Basin | 40
Letter to Myself | 41
Andrew Hamilton, Putting Myself to Sleep | 45 William John Watkins, On the Asbury Park Jetty: Winter Night | 46 Thomas Lynch, Walking Papers | 49
NONFICTION Amaris Ketcham, West Mesa | 1 Dianna Calareso, Dear Ray | 42 Thomas Lynch, from BBC Radio 4 | 47 Alex Forman
Wilson, 28th, 1913-21 | 58
Johnson, 36th, 1963-69 | 59
FICTION Valerie Cumming, Somebody’s Idea of a Gift | 15 Sean Conway, The Frozen Sea Within Us | 24
MEDIA Herbert Herschlag
Spiral Sun (painting) | 12
Jagged Night (painting) | 12
Monica Ong Bo Suerte (multi-modal) | 22
Innervation (multi-modal) | 23
Puissant (collage) | 33
Abecedarian (collage) | 34
Wanderlust (collage) | 35
Dust Race (collage) | 36
Vicissitude (collage) | 37
Otha “Vakseen” Davis III,
Accension (painting)) | 11
Audvantgardener (painting) | 39
EDITORIAL Antonia DiBona and Myra Schiffman, Interview with Alex Forman | 52
CONTRIBUTOR BIOS | 60
West Mesa Amaris Ketcham
In the stories we tell our children, monsters live in bor-
derlands, on the outskirts of civilizations, deep in lairs and lochs, or along the unfinished intersections of cities and wildernesses. They often emerge during a breathtaking cosmological event: when the planets align, the moon eclipses the sun, or Venus invades the Pleiades star cluster. A town’s paradigm shifts; a hero is born— you know that story. Other creatures just shake us from complacency, and those come out at night, on any old night. This is the second story, featuring average nights and a leathery unknown. The mid-winter sun had set before Albuquerque’s evening news aired, so I walked to my neighbor’s house guided by a distant porch light, sidestepping shadows. It was cold outside and the wind had picked up enough to whip even sturdy juniper trees. I did not hurry though airborne sand bit any exposed skin. I feared tripping over a bulging shadow and landing in a prickly pear cactus, or worse, being stopped by a drunk on a vision quest and entering a labyrinth of rambling conversation. At the door, I knocked twice before my neighbor rushed me into his dark living room: the evening news was about to start, and the feature story would cover the chupacabra found on the West Mesa. Chupacabras, storytellers say, usually stick to ranches, where they swoop through the starry night and feast on captive herds, but that such a creature was discovered on the West Mesa stretched the imagination little. As a designated “open space” beyond the Seven Sisters volcanoes, the West Mesa is a barren, wild territory right outside city limits. You can see Mt. Taylor from there—seventy miles northeast from where you stand. The land contains ancient petroglyphs, dried lava flows, and cracked arroyos. People visit the West Mesa to ride dirt bikes, hike, drink canned beer, and ditch incriminating evidence. During the afternoon heat, you can cook SPAM on the exposed metal of bullet-riddled cars that lack VIN numbers. Sometimes, the police unearth
whole sets of human remains there: one winter, they discovered the bodies of eleven young women and a fetus. It is not a place you’d want to be on any average night. Earlier that week, a local had been practicing his aim at the mesa. He must have been lining a row of Budweiser cans atop a junked car when he saw something partially buried in sand and rocks. He kicked it. Dust flew up from his feet, and when the cloud settled, a small corpse appeared. The thing was dead but not rotting, because the dry heat of the desert works to preserve and mummify the dead. The carcass resembled a gargoyle with a smashed up face, a vaguely human creature with slanted eyes and lips that formed the slightest hint of a grin. It had the pointiest teeth. From its torso came thin bones draped with flesh—gliding wings similar to those of a bat or flying squirrel. And there, a long tail of cartilage. He said he knew instantly: the chupacabra. My neighbor poured us a couple pints of beer and brought out a bowl of popcorn. We settled on the couch and muted the TV while commercials flicked across the screen. I could feel his excitement radiating outward, in the same way you can feel the heat coming off of someone’s skin after they’ve been in the sun all day. I was excited, too. “Is this really happening?” I asked because I could not tell. Having moved from rural Kentucky to Albuquerque right out of high school, by myself, looking for adventure, I hadn’t known that Santa Fe was the capital or what a jackalope was, let alone that they were a joke. Years passed before I started to acculturate, but New Mexico still surprised me on a regular basis. The one time I’d gone to the West Mesa, I walked ten feet into the desert before finding a dead German Shepherd with snarl preserved, and a wallet that included a driver’s li-
cense, credit cards, and illicit photos of some woman. And now this hunter had come down from the mesa with the skeleton of a mythological creature. “I don’t know,” said my neighbor, who was a local, a Chicano, a man whose family came from the Chihuahuan Desert. He had been my informant on eating stuffed sopapillas smothered in green chile, fishing in a river one foot wide and six inches deep, and avoiding the cops’ clouds of pepper spray downtown on Saturday nights. He had been to war in the Middle East; he’d had and lost a child; he knew enough to know. “It looks real.” “But it can’t be—it’s just a story. Right?” I asked. He shrugged. He didn’t know. I didn’t know. We were on level footing this time. We fell silent as the TV glowed in his living room, and the wind shrieked and banged on the windows. It was exciting to be a part of a story in motion. The Land of Enchantment has tons of stories, many of which are fine for adults to believe. You can call a crashed Cold War weather balloon an alien spaceship, and in Roswell, few people would dismiss you as crazy. You can make a tea from the dirt in El Santuario de Chimayo that will heal any illnesses, or gain enlightenment from a handful of peyote buttons. A whole civilization, which the Discovery Channel would call the “Anasazi,” is believed by documentary producers to have disappeared overnight, leaving us the archaeological floor plan of their city. The Virgin may appear in your tortilla tomorrow. Reality and belief could be negotiated on a daily basis. We waited for the news special. Maybe it would tell us definitively whether the mummified chupacabra was real or if it was merely evidence of a blinding love for making our own myths. All week, people were talking about the chupacabra. Did you hear? Isn’t just like your grandmother said? Can you believe it? The storytellers have described it as a small beast that changes color to blend in with the desert vegetation. One could be perched on a woven cactus fence,
camouflaged so well by a sage or sienna-colored skin that you’d walk right past it, never knowing it was there. After sunset, it strikes livestock and consumes the cows’, the goats’, the horses’ blood. When the sun rises, rancheros find their animals intact, bite marks in the neck, exsanguinated. But the West Side of Albuquerque isn’t farmland and ranches. Suburban development hugs volcanic escarpments; basalt boulders spill forth from sand dunes. Scratched in these rocks are petroglyphs from the Rio Grande Culture dating back four-hundred to sevenhundred years. This historical record shows anthropomorphs in strange costumes with horns, turtles and deer, and even macaws, which are not indigenous to the high desert. None of these drawings document the presence of chupacabras. This creature does not have the kind of lengthy, detailed history one might think it has. The chupacabra appeared first in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, siphoning blood out of small animals across the island. Spanish talk shows spread the news, and fiftyodd incidents were reported by the time the vampiric being landed in suburban Miami, slaying dozens of geese and chickens. The flight path continued on to the Mexican countryside, moving across the continent in one dry summer. Whenever one was caught, it appeared to be something else, usually canine. A peculiar, hairless animal found on the 14th hole of a Texan golf course was in fact coyote. A young boy outside of El Paso shot a chupacabra that turned out to be a bald coyote-lobo hybrid. In Southern California, a stretch of dead mammals with puncture wounds were related, perhaps, to the DustBowl-like drought conditions affecting feral dogs. Our chupacabra was different: looking at this corpse, you knew it was definitely not a mammal. A perfectly evolved parasite, a dreamlike demon, a grotesque reptilian composite—right here, in Albuquerque? Can you believe it? Everyone spoke about the chupacabra, but without the sense of mass hysteria you might expect. There were no riots or frenzies. People were calmer than if the weatherman had predicted a snowstorm: nobody rushed to the supermarket to buy milk, eggs, and bread
as if preparing for an apocalyptic event. Here there was no trace of fear. No, this feeling was gentler, an affirmation of belief. If anything, it was a mass wonderment. We were a city intoxicated. A veil had been lifted. This creature, with its preference for goat, chicken, and the occasional dog seemed to produce more local pride in Latino culture. The chupacabra’s appearance might as well have been the eagle perched on the nopal, devouring a hissing snake. We were not in the United States anymore, but in the Americas. A symbol of Aztlán was upon us: we were living in a mythic ancestral land, a home filled with pre-Colombian possibilities. Our chupacabra didn’t feel like the coyotes they found in Texas, or wild dogs in California or mangy, hairless raccoons in Oklahoma—no, our chupacabra was real. You could feel it in the air. Except, it wasn’t real. We knew this truth, too. Ounce for ounce, what our hearts believed, our heads did not. A type of contradictory consciousness took over. Magic and logic existed side-by-side without touching. Wonder, excitement, and this energy we had—the winter sun shone brighter; every bite of carne adovada melted in your mouth; the world was our rodeo—believing the chupacabra could be here. The afternoon knows what the morning can only imagine; our hearts sang. Still our heads knew a different truth. There were, of course, other plausible explanations. Maybe Intel had dumped something in the Rio Grande again, mutated a local hawk or zopilote. Maybe some bat whirled out of Carlsbad Caverns only to be irradiated at the Trinity Site, growing huge and terrifying, and gliding all the way up north before dying of cancer on the mesa. Maybe it was a product of our mess or a trick of light. The desert makes a harsh home, with unforgiving sun, mile-high altitude, and manipulating heat. Mirages bruise the horizon. Dehydration can make a man on a mesa see gods and devils. With any luck, the strange sights that arrive at midday depart by night. We sat on the edge of the couch, resting our elbows on our knees. Our backs straightened; we were alert.
The broadcast said something like, “And now for the story you’ve been waiting for….” It may have been my imagination, but the whole city stilled as half a million people held their breath in anticipation. The anchor appeared, summarized the backstory, and described how the city had sent the remains to the Fish and Wildlife Department to be examined by their biologists. DNA tests were done. Our results were back. The anchor made eye contact with every viewer while reading the teleprompter and announced that the skeleton was not a chupacabra. Born in the Paleolithic landscape that dominates nocturnal imagination, our swooping vermin, with its fangs and hisses, was nothing more than a folktale in a conquered world. Energy drained across the entire city. My neighbor and I deflated as we leaned back into the couch. It wouldn’t have surprised me had the electricity went out and the TV turned black just then, leaving us in darkness, so badly did I want the mythology to continue in some form. Instead, we learned that our chupacabra was a skate, a cousin to the stingray. You can eat part of the skate, a sliver of wing. The news anchor hypothesized that a local had ordered this delicacy and tossed its remains on the mesa. After all, isn’t that where we discard things we no longer want? Desiccated trash, Wal-Mart bags blooming from sagebrush, the bullet-riddled everything, and all those carcasses you wanted to dump—that’s the West Mesa. An intersection of city and wilderness made frightening not by fierce unknown creatures, natural forces, or cosmic shifts in reality. Our open space wasteland. The city released a collective sigh; defeat sounded in half-amillion lungs’ worth of air. Our complacency. My neighbor muted the TV and flipped the channel to cartoons. Wile E. Coyote chased Road Runner, dropping bombs and pianos in a clean, red desert. We sipped our beer, ate popcorn, and listened as wind beat the juniper trees. Outside, a drunk was on a vision quest. The Virgin appeared in an oil stain on the street. Monsters and heroes passed one another on the sidewalk as Venus continued in transit toward the Pleiades.
Letters and Spirit Richard Fein Whosoever toucheth the dead, even the body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself -- he hath defiled the tabernacle of the Lord; that soul shall be cut off from Israel; because the water of sprinkling was not dashed against him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanliness is yet upon him. (Numbers 19:13) And if the parent cares for a child who is passing, or child for the parent, or a friend for another friend, or even a stranger who happens upon another whoâ€™s mortally sick and puts a damp cloth on the feverish forehead and becomes the last human face to be seen as the darkness that too soon will settle on everyone falls over the eyes of that child, friend or sick stranger, while the tightly held hands of comforter and comforted at last release each other and the body heat of the one just dead dies down, then at what point do the neatly inscribed letters of the law decree the comforter to be a leper who would defile the tabernacle. Or does the damp cloth yet hold enough moisture or the hands that tried to comfort have enough dexterity to cleanse away any stain. Or if a mourner wants to hold on till all warmth leaves the departed or if he wants his lips to taste that last kiss for just a little longer would the comforterâ€™s flesh be made unkosher by skin now turned eternally cold or does that final loving rite of parting by itself wash all impurity away. If strict rules are broken during sorrowful days are the curves and swirls of the letters of the law wide enough to allow a keyhole for ministering hands and loving lips to become the keys that open the door back into the house of Israel?
My Great Aunt Dies of Creeping Paralysis at Sixteen Jeffrey Haynes The Carolina soil is rich with winter. Tobacco stalks bent and brittle beneath the frost, limbs stranded along the furrowed field. She waits in her bed, a straw-stuffed mattress tucked beneath the spine she no longer knows. To her, the body is a betrayal—a traitor slinking within her skin. Outside the steam-shot window, she watches her family as they feed the livestock, the cattle lowing in the pasture. They sleep on their feet, she thinks, even though she knows this isn’t true. There is safety in seeming. Still, though she cannot feel the cold beginning to creep under the windowsill, for a moment, she imagines the heat gathering the herd, the calves cradling into the folds of a mother’s fur. As the animals dawdle in the grange, their hooves snapping the surface of the frozen soot, she hears the whimper of her blood as it lumbers over the bone.
Note: Creeping Paralysis is now more commonly known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system. Often beginning as a weakness, or numbness in the limbs, it can spread through the entire body. It can be fatal if the paralysis spreads to the muscles needed for respiration.
Step by Step Christopher Howell I was hitchhiking once through northern Ohio, rain all down the miles betwixt Toledo and Sandusky where I stood like a blurred photograph in the backwash of the semis. I remember a momentary vision of heaven, blue shells bordering a daisy field. But night was coming on and the headlights began to seem murderous. At full dark I crossed the road to a pasture and slogged into a quiet spinney of summer trees. It can be beautiful to be alone when you are young and indifferent to death. I sat down against a huge oak and slept. Snarling monsters with blaring eyes rushed toward me, turning to water as they passed. Something in the treetops wondered who. I kept sinking and rising toward the woman I was on my way to see. No one knew me then, even the Devil had a hard time placing me. In my sleep I wondered if an angel had worked its way into my bones, I felt so light. Then the moon came out red over a field of stainless steel corn. I saw something ride across the high clouds. I hugged myself hard and wept, but it was not the woman I wept for, it was the wonder of timeâ€™s completion, that perfect freedom of the lost.
At dawn I woke. I had twenty-six dollars, one for each of my years on earth. To hell with women. I would get breakfast, somewhere, and go north into the U.P., maybe Ontario and work in a boatyard. I would buy a new shirt and become one of those nameless men distrusted by grocers and landlords, hoarding a secret not even they themselves could understand. Both memory and metaphor would forget the life I was leaving there in the field and it would become the field. I shouldered my pack, and step by step brought myself here.
Memoryâ€™s House Christopher Howell The back door bangs against the house. Jagged light from what were windows leaks onto chewed up chairs and curtains. Whateverâ€™s nesting in the corners should probably be left alone. Go ahead and be the telephone ringing somewhere out of reach. Who would answer cannot be a friend and anyway the damp cellar wonders who would call, who would climb the stair of missing steps and pace the hall, enter that door where all the lights are out and the moon is a mess on the floor.
Open Any Door Christopher Howell Sometimes I listen, then say one thing then another to the first lifting eyelid of the day, and put on my oldest shirt, for the softness, and step out and stand with my cat beside the hydrangea just as the birds begin their call and response. The meaning of this eludes me and my cat makes no remark. We both look around as though we had come here suddenly from another world nearby and so like this world only a strangely velvet love of flowers tells me Iâ€™m somewhere else. We breathe deeply and consider that some of those we love may be here already, just beyond the corner of the house where someone exactly like my wife has planted a perfect replica of our sunset maple so that coming here like this we will not be frightened or put out of reckoning by what is missing or the appearance of what we had thought never to see again. So much may be near us now, we open any door and take the sun in our mouths and stroll into the huge meadow we always knew was there where the various gods, arms heavy with grapes, laze and bicker and agree all afternoon.
Live From Moon Carolyn Adams The attic fan sucks another humid Houston summer into the house. But you can’t see that in the photo. You can’t see the chicken wire fences, the half-mowed yards, the kids coming in late for supper. The little three by five only records a lit blue screen, captioned with “LIVE FROM MOON” at its base, and a fat doll, mid-hop in a bulbous white suit, planting a toothpick flag on a desolate landscape. You can’t hear the incredulous announcer narrating the doll’s clumsy moves as if they’re part of a dramatic play, not the light opera they appear. You can’t see a kid slamming a screen door, running outside to stare at the naked moon, searching for spacemen crawling its dirty white face.
Accension Otha “Vakseen” Davis III
Jagged Night Herbert Herschlag
Black Bird h.d. brown a broken black bird in the gutter its wings dripping over its wiry bony frame like an old vinyl record melted over a clothesline next to a house fire a plastic tarp thrown over the shame of its naked death blows down the street in a gust of wind its bony feet roll up into the air like a pig caught out in the johnstown flood glisten in the rain that beads on the rings and scales that drip down to its pointy terrier claws
Stolen Privileges Savannah Grant I found the moment the tote bag slips from the shoulder to the crook of the arm, and now I hold it in my hand because I have already grown old. It does not matter now if I stumble in my black heeled shoes and button the wrong button on my coat because no one is going to catch up to me. I wear the black legwarmers my mother made for meÂâ€” but that will not delete her e mails. Did I ask for them in black? It is too cold outside, too sunny, and I am just too tired to walk back home.
Somebody’s Idea of a Gift Valerie Cumming
When old Mrs. Flores stops shoveling her walk it be-
comes our job to do it, mine and Rory’s. That’s because for years when we were kids we ran a sort of business in the neighborhood, with the help of our dad, who has since split. We raked leaves, spread mulch, shoveled walks, anything the neighbors were too busy or too lazy to do themselves and were willing to pay us to do instead. A couple of times we moved furniture, and once, only once, Rory got a blow job from a woman who called him over to help her move a fish tank, though he would never tell me who it was. I’ve spent the last five years since then looking into people’s windows— not pathologically, just casually, when I’m outside raking leaves or smoking a cigarette—trying to find the hot and horny housewife willing to do those things to my brother. But so far, no luck, though I’m not even sure I would know what to do with her if I found her. Ours is a neighborhood full of women: old women like Flores, and housewives like our mother, some of them with other jobs, some without. Some of the men have split and others are gone all day, working downtown. This neighborhood gets all kinds. There’s this cadre of young mothers who power-walk around the block every morning at nine sharp, pushing a whole fleet of strollers in front of them. I like to watch them bounce by in their spandex, squawking like a gaggle of Canadian geese as they go past, bitching about goodfor-nothing husbands and how hard it is to lose those last five pounds. Ladies, I often have thought about saying to them, come on over here for an hour and I will help you burn off as many calories as you want. But then my mother, stepping past me on her way to work, kicks me in the ass with one toe and tells me to get to school. Which I do, sometimes. Other times, I take the bus to my brother Rory’s apartment. He’s usually at work but his girlfriend, Candace, is there, and doesn’t mind
calling the school for me and telling them I’m sick. Then I walk down the block to the Jiffy Lube where Rory works, and where they are only too happy to throw me a blue jumpsuit and tell me to get my hands dirty. I don’t get paid or anything. I just like hanging around, learning what Rory and his buddies know, stuff that will help you in life a lot more than the shit they teach you in school. Algebra, Biology, Latin—Rory aced all of it. He was going to be valedictorian maybe, or so our mother always said, but then Candace got pregnant and he dropped out to get a job. Now what Rory likes to say is that the whole educational system is just babysitting, a way to keep kids occupied and off the streets so that their worker-bee parents can go out and make more money for the government. If this baby is a boy, Rory says, he’s going to bring him in to the shop every day of his goddamned life, teach him something that’s actually useful. “Over my dead body,” Candace says, but she doesn’t go to school anymore either, just sits around the apartment all day painting her toenails and working on a scrapbook for the baby and calling Rory up to find out when he’s coming home and what he’s bringing with him for dinner. Back when she went to school, people called her Candy and she had one hell of a reputation. Now, though, she goes around most of the time in sweatpants and eats leftover Chinese food straight from the carton for breakfast. Weekends, when he isn’t working, Rory is usually at our house, which my mother and I figure is because he needs a break from Candace. Back when he actually lived here, we never saw him much. But we don’t complain about having him around; he fixes the things that need fixed, like leaky faucets and running toilets, and then he and I suit up and go out into the snow together to shovel the driveways that have become my responsi-
bility now that first Dad and then Rory have split. We’re nearly the same size now, Rory and me, but he can still shovel twice as fast as I can. The weekend after Mrs. Flores’ husband shot himself, it snowed about ten inches and still Rory had her driveway clear in about fifteen minutes, which was good because of all of the relatives who kept coming over, carrying casserole dishes and kicking snow off of their boots. Mrs. Flores was not a regular paying customer. Still, we both knew that our dad would have told us to do something nice for her. The night her husband did himself in, the whole street stood around in their driveways shivering in robes and slippers, waiting for that moment when they would bring the body out of the house on a stretcher. But we didn’t see Mrs. Flores that night, and we haven’t seen her since, and meanwhile the snow blows in from the lake and keeps on falling. Pretty quickly, though, the relatives stopped coming and since then it’s been just Mrs. Flores, all alone in that big house that her husband kept up so meticulously, and seeing this is what gets Rory thinking that maybe we deserve a little payment from Mrs. Flores. He has a gun, he says, just for show; he bought it off of one of the guys at work, because their apartment isn’t in the best part of town and now with the baby coming, Candace is getting jumpy. I look carefully at my brother when he says this. Rory is a big guy, imposing even, but he is not what you would call part of the criminal element. Over the years he’s had some minor trouble at school, little skirmishes that my mother dramatically claimed would put her into the grave before her time, but nothing like this. Nothing that involved breaking any actual laws. He tells me the whole thing would take no more than an hour at the most. “Little old ladies like Flores,” he explains, the snow shovel still dwarfed in his big hands, “they squirrel it away for years, you know that? Coffee cans full, buried in the backyard or hidden on a shelf. And for what? So they can go around eating moldy Jell-O and living in squalor and die someday without anyone knowing enough to benefit from it? I tell you,” he says,
“she won’t even miss it.” And I’m still just looking at him. Thinking about how, a million years ago it seems, Rory used to get brochures in the mail on a weekly basis from the best Ivy League colleges but now makes $6.25 an hour changing rich men’s oil. Thinking about how Candace will have this baby and then another and another and my brother, with all of his schooling and book learning, will need a dental plan and clothes, shoes, toys, braces. I tell him I’ll do it, because we both know that what he’s doing is asking me, even if he hasn’t said the exact words. I want to wait until the snow breaks, figuring that, by then, no one will think of us in connection and instead pin suspicion on some of the rougher boys who have begun moving into the rental houses in the neighborhood, but Rory says no, that now is the time. “You’ll understand someday, little brother,” he tells me when we are at home again, in the garage untying our boots. “You start having babies and suddenly you’ll realize it.” “Realize what?” I ask him, only half paying attention, twilight coming on and the smell of my mother’s spaghetti and meatballs drifting out around the edges of the door to meet me. “That no matter how much time you think you have, you’re already too late.” Then we go inside in our wet socks and my mother asks Rory if he would like to stay for dinner, as polite and formal as if he were a stranger. When we’re finished and have eaten our fill, she boxes up a Tupperware of leftovers to send along to Candace, just as if she hadn’t once called Candace “that whore who is forbidden to come inside the house,” which just goes to show how quick people can be to forgive and forget, or so I am hoping. I am expecting a big show like on television, but all Rory does is knock on Mrs. Flores’ front door at three in the afternoon, just when all the men are at work and the women are too busy fixing after-school snacks for their kids to notice two men and a pregnant woman in skimasks standing on the porch of a woman whose hus-
band has recently offed himself in the living room. I figure the whole thing is already over, she’ll never open the door to us in a million years, but then she does, that old lady smell of cats and lilacs and half-rotten fruit rushing out like a warm gloved hand to meet us, and Rory says to step aside and let us in and don’t scream or do anything else stupid like that, and she doesn’t; she just shakes her head in that old-lady palsied way and lets trouble right on in through the front door, as my mother would say. Once inside, she even closes the door behind us and locks it again, which just goes to show that she is probably not in what someone might call the sturdiest frame of mind. Immediately Rory starts in with telling her not to be afraid, that we’re not there to hurt her, which sounds so funny coming from a man with a gun in his hand that I almost ruin the mood by laughing. He takes her into the kitchen to check the coffee and flour canisters while Candace goes upstairs in search of jewelry and I stay in the front room as lookout, trying to avoid the big dirt-brown stain that still covers a good portion of the blue shag carpeting, and which you know came from the force of Mr. Flores’ brains blowing out through the back of his skull. In the kitchen I can hear Rory rattling things around, and since there doesn’t seem to be much to look out for anyway, I go into the kitchen to help him out. What I find is Rory up on a footstool, going through the sugar canister on the top shelf of the pantry, while Mrs. Flores sits at the table, turning a pink china teacup over and over in her hands. I say, trying to be helpful, “You want some tea, Mrs. Flores? You want for me to make you some tea?” Not even bothering really to disguise my voice the way Rory told me to, because it’s clear her mind is three sheets gone and probably was long before we even got here. She doesn’t say anything, just keeps staring at that teacup, but because I have nothing better to do at that moment I go ahead and make her one anyway, using the single-cup Hot Shot next to the sink, just where my mother keeps it in our house. “Say,” I call up to Rory, “if you find any teabags while
you’re up there, toss one down to me, will you?” “What the hell is your problem?” Rory mutters, but he does it anyway, and the canister of sugar too, without my even having to ask for it. Then, because Mrs. Flores is still playing with the cup, I get a regular mug out of the cabinet, a brown one with St. Elizabeth’s Festival 1988 written on it in gold lettering, and serve it to her that way, with a napkin underneath to keep from leaving a ring on the table. And she looks right at me and says, clear as day, “Thank you,” just like that, as lucid and ordinary as the voice I’m using right now. “Mrs. Flores,” I say, feeling greatly encouraged, “I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I’m surprised that you keep on living here after what went down with your husband. What exactly happened there, anyway?” I’m hoping for a story to tell my mother and the other neighbors who have more or less chalked the whole thing up to a man’s reaction to his own impending mortality. “Donny, get the hell out of here,” Rory says—Donny being the name he has given to me for today, for this hour, for the sake of anonymity. “Make yourself useful and check the upstairs, will you?” “No problem,” I say, relieved I suppose to be farther away from what you might call the scene of the crime. “Don’t forget, Mrs. Flores, that tea is good and hot. Don’t go burning your mouth on it.” “Thank you,” she says again, the only two words she’s spoken since we showed up on her doorstep like a surprise package, like three newborn babies, like somebody’s twisted idea of a gift. Upstairs, Candace is in the master bedroom, unloading handfuls of cheap-looking beads from a pink satinlined box on the dresser. “My mother has a box just like this,” she says when she sees me standing in the doorway, watching her. “Only hers is filled with the real stuff, you know? Good stuff. Say what you like about my old man, he isn’t cheap.” “No he isn’t,” I agree, even though I’ve never even heard of the guy before. I sit down on the edge of the flowered old-lady bedspread to rest my feet for a min-
ute and Candace comes over and drops a string of red beads around my neck of the variety that you might get at a carnival or a Mardi Gras parade for showing your tits. “Junk,” she says. “This shit’s all junk. I don’t know what Rory thinks he’s going to find here.” From downstairs: the sound of Rory pulling out drawers, one at a time, yanking them out, looking for his prize. “If he did find any money,” I say – speaking in the hypothetical because by now I agree with her – “what would you do with it?” I expect her to say the usual shit, like new clothes or a car, but she closes her eyes a minute and when she opens them again, she says, “Europe. I think I’d take a trip to Europe. Eat chocolate in Switzerland, drink beer in Germany. That kind of thing.” She sits down next to me on the bed and the whole mattress tilts in her direction, though I’m careful not to let on that I notice. “Why?” she asks, smiling her cute crooked-toothed smile. “What did you think I’d say?” “I have no idea.” “I took two years of French in high school,” she says, sliding a junky bracelet made of pink seashells on and off her wrist. “I forget it all now, though. What would you do with it?” “I don’t know,” I say, because up until this point, I’m sorry to say, I haven’t given the possibility a moment’s thought, at least not in any serious way. “Maybe I’d like to get my own place,” I say, for lack of a better or more unusual idea. “You have to be eighteen to do that.” “You do? Well, I guess I don’t know, then.” She sits back and looks at me for a minute, long enough that I can almost forget the sweat pants and big belly and remember that I’m sitting here with Candy, the first freshman in our school’s history to be named Homecoming Queen. “You do everything your brother tells you to do?” she says. “Like, he says to do something, you just do it?” “It’s not like that,” I say, though of course it is exactly like that.
“You should call me Candy.” “Okay,” I say. “Candy.” “I hate Candace. Candace is a bloated old woman. Candace is living alone with too many cats and eating ice cream from the carton with a spoon.” I laugh. Maybe this isn’t what Candace expected me to do, because she looks at me, all wide-eyed surprise. “You remember when I was Candy, right?” she says. “Feels like a million years ago already. Do you think I used to be pretty?” “Oh yeah,” I say, without thinking about it. “Real pretty.” Moving with the crowd of other beautiful girls through the school, organizing the class gift, the canned food drive, her golden face on every page of the yearbook. “I read somewhere,” she says, more quietly now, “that the children of your siblings carry as much of your genetic material as your own children do. Have you ever heard that?” “No.” I shake my head. “I can’t say that I have.” “I forget where I saw that. Maybe in school. Or some dumb parenting magazine.” “Maybe.” It’s quiet downstairs, which makes me wonder if Rory has gone off to the backyard with a shovel. “Should we be doing anything?” I ask her. “Like, to help? With all of this?” She shrugs. “Rory’s a smart guy, or so he’s always saying. Let him figure it out.” She leaves me sitting alone on the bed and starts pulling open dresser drawers, unloading handfuls of silky old lady things onto the floor. “Nothing here,” she says, sing-songy, bored, like she does this sort of thing all the time, like she knew the outcome of the day before she even got out of bed this morning, which probably she did, which probably we all did. Downstairs we hear Rory clomping around again, his big boots stepping in all the places where Mrs. Flores’ dead husband probably stepped a hundred, a thousand times before he decided that enough was enough.
“That article,” Candace says. “If it’s true, then this baby might wind up looking as much like you as anyone else. You think people might talk?” “No,” I say. “Not if they know anything about genetics.” She opens the jewelry box again, starts looping lines of worthless plastic around her neck. “You’ll be a good father someday, you know? You’re really kind. And loyal. That’s all a father really needs to be, don’t you think?” “I wouldn’t know,” I say, on account of my old man ran off five years ago without a word and she knows it. “Rory isn’t loyal,” she says. The late-afternoon light is coming in through the dusty windows all mottled and slanted, but it looks to me like she might be crying or something pretty close to it. “You know what he said when I told him I was pregnant? He laughed and said, ‘Well, kid, it’s been fun.’ Just like that, like our whole life was already over, or at least the good part.” She sits down next to me on the bed again, which is how I see that she’s not crying after all, that her lip is quivering from something other than just plain sadness. “Just staying someplace doesn’t make you loyal,” she says, practically whispering. “There’s men who leave, and then there’s men who ought to leave, who would if they knew someplace better to go.” I nod, because I don’t know too much about women but I do know that it’s best not to contradict them, especially when they’re on a roll like this, like my mother talking about all the ways we’ve disappointed her, my brother and my father and me. Candace doesn’t need me to point out the obvious, which is that Rory is at this very moment downstairs with a gun pulled on a defeated and helpless member of our own community, risking her life and his future just to give the rest of us a shot at ours. Because maybe she’s right and he’s doing it for himself, to prove something about how smart he still is and what he’s capable of. But I doubt it.
Elegy, Daylight Savings Anna Claire Hodge Your family photographed you, sometimes, as you slept. Wanting to capture something rare, like the bison that crossed their path on a trip out west, your mother grabbing for her camera, or your foot slipping from its hold as you rock-climbed. Your rest was slack-jawed, all blond curls flattened, cushioning a mind like an attic papered over. Lists, incensed letters to foreign embassies, charts and graphs so clear in the grip of your mania, but later, you couldn’t explain. As the days shortened, light waned, you began to see grey, hid from me. Your silent evenings away, I wrapped my limbs in water, in wine: arms pressed to the sides of a claw-footed tub, willing you back to me, holding my body down. But there are still moments I’ve yet to fathom, though you’re one month dead, three weeks ash. Like why our last night together you held the plastic shotgun attached to the bar’s hunting game, and said it’s only a sport if you stalk the animal, creep through the brush like an Indian before killing it. Ben, I have placed my ear to the ferns that line my walk, to the refrigerator’s hum,
anna claire hodge
to the tight stitches of a blanket you clutched as you slept and slept, as if storing up rest for a trip, an itinerary youâ€™d yet to share. I listened, heard nothing but leaf, chill, violet silk on violet silk. My own lists appear: food and wine for the party your sister will attend. Hurricane lamps fill with ornaments, silver orbs that reflect each place you stood. I will show her the couch where you curled that week, toes tucked beneath you like a child. Will say he was here. Then here. This afternoon, I cleaned house for the guests that will soon fill my rooms, saw in the air the trails of their sure-to-spill martinis, champagne, like the arc of bullets, of blood. The vacuum caught on the pool of dried candle wax that pooled on the rug the night I rose to snuff the flame, and you said let it burn.
Bo Suerte Monica Ong
Bo Suerte Mother, each day I look for you. Try to recognize you in soup and sepia. As it happens in other lives, you come to me in secret. There were no elegant stairs in your childhood home, and this young woman, the nanny. Just the way her brows bend with humidity. I easily identify all four of your sisters in their von Trapp dresses, and both brothers, sporting crisp white linens. In your absence stands a son, slightly leaning, toes ablister from your brother’s too big shoes. You tell me Grandfather was ashamed. He didn’t want people shaking their heads, their tongues clicking: Bo suerte. Bo, which in Hokkien means without, or not enough. It does explain the hoarding, I suppose. Dusty magazines stacked into pillars. Grandmother’s purse of purloined sporks. The way your long locks fell like black feathers onto the kitchen floor. Suerte, is Catholic for karma, cruel as hunger, heavy as stone. The fact of five daughters was of the immutable kind. Payback, perhaps, for an unsavory ancestor in an imperial court? Or something during the war that Grandfather never told us? Hidden like your graceful arms in a brother’s long sleeves. Your boyface gazes at me. I place flowers at your feet, wet with pus. For the daughter, you, but not only you. Portrait as battle. The terror of asymmetry. This shortage of sons.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.
Deep in the interior division, Mother’s words nest: One eye open, one eye closed. (Because I am raw, All red inside.) Shame as communicans. We open up on each others’ walls. Sympathetic, But never in the same room. Blood is thicker than water. I waited for her. Still do. There is a way to cultivate birds from torn things, Find oceans in empty seats, her heavy door. How Do her words weigh on these muscular branches? You have to collect and select. Cutaneous gall. Tiny hands cup sand and blue sea glass. Anterior to the outbreak of war. Yet – We sleep best under each others’ skin.
DIARY OF AN INTERCOASTAL NERVE
The Frozen Sea Within Us Sean Conway
Whenever I’d open the door to Mum’s room to check
on her I’d find myself bracing for something, breath hitching at the top of my throat, joints tensing, as if somewhere deep in the recesses of my chest I expected to find her dead. I don’t know why. Maybe I thought she’d one day decide to kill herself, or maybe I just expected that her soul, deflated and spent, would expire one of these afternoons while she lay in bed staring toward the TV at Judge Judy or Guiding Light or Restaurant Rescue on one of the cable channels. “Mum?” The door was to her left, probably out of her peripheral vision, and sometimes she didn’t hear the delicate creak when I pushed it open. I’d look at her, my eyes on the clump of blankets piled on her torso, checking for any subtle movement, any indication of breath. Her eyes this time were open but dull and unfocused, her mouth slack. Bands of yellow-infected light seeped through the closed plastic blinds, particles of dust drifting in and out of the light, appearing and disappearing again, settling eventually on her dresser and nightstand and dulling everything in a coating of neglect and surrender. “Mum,” I said again, taking another step in. It didn’t smell bad in here, exactly, but the air was heavy and stale, clouded with the smell of sleep. Her meds littered the nightstand, a smudged empty glass, a discarded paperback novel. I looked at the med bottles again, and again imagined that she had taken too much this time, a mistake or on purpose. Probably on purpose. The volume to the TV was muted, and up close I heard small sips of breath pulling through her dry lips. Asleep with her eyes partway open. She sometimes did that. Next to her, abandoned and hidden in the folds of the comforter, was her yellow notepad and attached pen, the page empty except for the diamonds and circles and stars she doodled in the margins, tracing them over and over until they were dark and sometimes even bro-
ken through the paper. The top sheet was dimpled with the imprint of the previous letter that had been finished and torn away, folded and placed in an envelope and left on the kitchen counter with the other five, or ten, or fifteen, waiting for me to take them to the post office in a bundle. The next morning I took a pile of seven letters to the post office. I left in a pair of sweats and an oversized hoodie that once belonged to an ex-boyfriend. It said “Blaze of Glory” on it and has a silhouette of a muscle guy posing like Adonis, and “Lick” sewn on the upper arm, the ex-boyfriend’s name. Lick. Stupid name, embarrassing. I never said it. I’d always called him Tim, his real name, which always got him mad. Tim Lickley. I don’t why I still wore it. I think because it was comfortable and big. Lick, I don’t think he’d ever done that once to me, not a single time. Name didn’t even fit the bill. Still, it was comfortable and I hadn’t showered yet. I liked to run errands first—go to the gym, get a coffee at Dunkin’s, then the post office and library for Mum. I looked through the envelopes sitting on the passenger seat. Jodi Picoult. Jennifer Egan. Nicholas Evans. All the writers she loved and read over and over. Joyce Carol Oates. Wally Lamb. Harriet Plumb. I wasn’t sure about that last one, but I’d seen letters addressed to her before plenty of times. I tried to remind myself to Google her later. I remember when I was younger Mum would occasionally write letters to famous people. She once had wanted to be a performer, a singer or a dancer, I’m not sure. I’d seen pictures of her as a magician’s assistant, black and white, the woman in the photos slim and fit and smiling and only resembling the woman I knew in the vaguest of ways. The letters, I’d always supposed, were a way for her to connect to them—celebrities—to remind herself that they were not, in fact, just people
on TV or on a stage somewhere but were real flesh and blood folk who could be reached with a simple letter, just like everyone else. But after Dad’s passing, a lot of years ago now, the letters became more and more frequent as her physical size grew and her interest in work, and me, crumbled into pieces of oblivion. After the post office and the drive-thru for an extralarge coffee, I went to the public library. As recently as a year ago, I don’t think I’d ever been in the library in my life. I’d always been a lousy student and sometimes I don’t even know how I passed high school. When some friends of mine were heading to the community college, I enrolled too for no other reason than I didn’t know what else to do and I wanted to be with them. I took two classes that first semester and had withdrawn from both of them by November. And that was it for my college career. After working retail for a few years, I got a bartending certificate, and I’ve been working at T.T.’s for probably five years now, which at one time was a point of real shame for my mother but, like everything else, faded away under the blanket of chronic depression. She always wrote her name—very lightly, in pencil— in the upper right-hand corner of the inside of the back cover of her library books. Mavie Knotts. This way I’d know which books she’d already read when I was picking out a stack of new ones for the week. I’d peek inside the back cover, and, if I saw her name, slip the book back and try again. It was about a 50/50 shot, I’d say. I hated coming in here, reminded me of schools, reminded me that I’d probably—no, definitely—never finished a book in my life. Started a bunch, especially English class books: The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, The Outsiders. Usually I’d read five or ten pages and then buy somebody’s dog-eared Cliff Notes for a couple bucks at their locker. Later, girlfriends would give me books they’d just finished and loved, stories with beach chairs on the cover, or flip-flops or a martini glass. I’d abandoned all of them. Eventually, I managed to turn my guilt into resentment. Why was I feeling guilty for not reading? I worked sixty-hour weeks sometimes, took care of my mother, paid my bills, had traveled all over the place—Miami and Vegas, L.A., New York, Mexico,
Jamaica. There was something a little sad about all that reading, wasn’t there? Look at my mother: a hundred pounds overweight and rarely leaving her bedroom, much less the house. Cashing in any real-world experience for a stack of paperbacks…that I had to go get for her. If that’s what a well-read person looked like, no thanks. No wonder I felt guilty, though. Every week, waiting in line to check out, I re-read the wall behind the front desk, which was stenciled with quotes. About books and reading and whatnot. I had them memorized by now but read them again anyway, just to avoid making accidental eye contact with someone who would mistake it for an invitation to open a conversation, ask me about the books in my arms, force me to confess that they weren’t for me, I didn’t read any of this shit. They were for my mother, who couldn’t get herself out of bed for reasons unknown. So, I re-read: The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read. Abraham Lincoln. Ain’t? Come on, even my English is better than that, Abe. We read to know we are not alone. C.S. Lewis These were somehow all depressing. I looked away, at the fake plants lining the row of New Arrivals. A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever. Martin Tupper. I hadn’t even looked at that one. I was still staring at the waxy plants, but I could see that first ‘A’ in my peripheral vision and knew exactly which one it was. Just as I also knew that the one beneath it read, “A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.” I couldn’t remember who’d said it, so I glanced: Franz Kafka. Yes, I knew it was something with z’s and hard k sounds. A plastic sign on the checkout counter framing a sheet of paper advertised the library’s next author of their winter-long Reading Series. It had been obviously printed with an ink cartridge on the verge of dying, with its faint lettering sliced with horizontal bars. Thursday, March 19, 7:00 P.M. An Evening with Harriet Plumb,
author of Missing Angels and The Dandelion Fields. Sponsored by the Friends of the Brookbridge Public Library. Free. Harriet Plumb. I was pretty sure I’d just dropped off a letter addressed to her. The girl working the counter slid the books back to me and told me to enjoy. I smiled at her lip ring and lifted the stack onto my hip. I wished I could get Mum paperbacks—they’d be much smaller and lighter—but the printing was too small for her, so I was stuck with the hard covers. I made a detour back to the fiction section and, tilting my head, scanned through the P’s. I put my stack down. There were four Harriet Plumb novels here, and each one had Mavie Knotts sketched in the corner. She’d read them all. Gradually, hopefully without her knowing, I’d been oneby-one taking framed photos off the shelves and mantels and bookcases and putting them away, into drawers and storage boxes. Not just any photos, but ones with Mum in them: her wedding photo from 1971, she and her sister Marcy at a cookout sometimes in the 90s, a picture of Mum holding me on her lap, forever ago. I’d removed them all. Not to be mean, or cold-hearted, but just so I could walk about the house without losing my mind. I hated seeing her like that, young and thin and smiling and moving. But that was backwards, wasn’t it? I didn’t hate seeing her like that at all, I hated seeing her like this. The version that existed today, locked in her room, locked inside those wrinkled layers of thick flesh, her face only vaguely reminiscent of the woman in these pictures. I was used to it now, though. It had become the norm, at least until my eye fell upon one of these photos, and the jarring difference between then and now so often struck such a blow that my sinuses would suddenly sting with tears. I had a Nintendo video game system when I was a kid. I never loved these games like some kids did, but I enjoyed Super Mario Brothers and one called Paperboy in which you rode a bicycle up a street slinging rolled newspapers at the houses on your route. You scored points for hitting mailboxes and doorsteps, and lost points for breaking windows. I think I liked it so
much because it felt grounded in reality. I understood the space in which the game’s universe existed. But I also had this plastic mat called the PowerPad, square with rows of touch-sensitive colored circles, like a better-organized Twister layout. Essentially the PowerPad was an oversized game controller that you laid flat on the floor and controlled with your feet by standing right on it and running and jumping in place. It came with a track and field-style game, and I remember my mother playing this game with me, standing alongside me as we raced in place, her arms flailing wildly and knobby knees popping up and down, struggling to hold her balance because she was laughing so hard. Leaning on me for support, forcing me to stumble off my circles so that my runner stopped running. I laughed and called her a cheater and swatted her rear end. My father would sit in his chair in the back of the room, shaded in dark and nursing a drink, quiet as always but also amused. Even smiling. At the both of us. I eased her door open, looking in, eyes straining through the gloom. Books cradled in my right arm, grinding into my hipbone. A stale smell in here, heavy. I thought I might slip across the room and lift the window open, just a little, but knew she would complain, call me in from two rooms away and tell me to close the goddamn window, telling me I must be crazy, dead-of-the-GodAlmighty-winter. Instead I piled the books on the floor next to her bed. I stood up, hands hanging at my sides with nothing to do. I fisted them against my hips, looking down at her. Watching for the rise and pull of breath. “Mum?” I held my own breath so I wouldn’t mistake it for hers. The window was not locked tight and, with the stirring of the March wind, the frame rattled back and forth, almost as though someone were knocking on it. Blood started buzzing in my head as I thought suddenly that this time she was dead, that the knocking on the window was some kind of sign, an angel calling her home or something. I don’t know. I’m not particularly religious. But, still, in that moment, alone in the room, it
could have been true. Odd that I thought of myself as alone. She was right there, inches from me, and of course she was breathing. I could both see it and hear it. Wheezing even. She slept a lot, at least during the day. Still, she was getting through all those books somehow—probably awake for most of the night, I guessed, blocking out the night demons with those stories, keeping the brain in check. “Jo.” I was so taken aback by my own name that, for some reason, I looked up at the window again. Thinking, strange as it was, that it had come from that direction. That perhaps my name had been spoken by that angel on the other side of the pane, rapping her long, bony fingers against the frosty glass. The frame knocked around again, a quick one-two-three, but there was no one there. Of course there wasn’t. It was my mother who had said my name. “Yes?” I bent toward her, bracing one hand on the mattress, tilting my head, and again this whole thing reminded me of death, of last words, the infinite weight of importance. “Yes, Mum? What is it? I’m right here.” But she said nothing more. Her breaths returned to loud sips, the rattle of saliva in her throat. She’d said my name, I guess, in her sleep. Myself, I always had trouble falling asleep. Every night I’d lie awake, flipping to my left side, my right, curling into a fetal position, then stretching out onto my back, all just to start the rotation all over again. Sometimes for hours. Part of the reason was my work schedule. One night I might come home at one or one-thirty, take a shower and eat a bowl of cereal and watch TV, then go to bed around three. Another night, I might not have worked at all, and I’d be in bed at midnight or one, trying to normalize my schedule and wake up at a reasonable hour, have breakfast with Mum maybe. Then I’d work the next night, except this time we’d all hang around the closed bar and have a few, play quarters or just talk while some of the guys played pool or darts. Sometimes I’d get home at five a.m., take a quick shower and jump into bed, racing the breaking sun. I’d lie there awake and
bridge the gaps between the then and now, that onceupon-a-time version of my mother and today’s version, trace back to that time, perhaps select a different path, for her, for me, try to imagine where it might have lead: What if Dad were alive, if he’d taken back roads that morning instead of the highway. If he hadn’t been running late, trying to make up some time. If the raccoons hadn’t ravaged the trash can next to the garage, causing him to stop to clean up the wrappers and bags and banana peels. If—and this always made my heart race with anxiety, as if in this rush of adrenaline I could actually will my former self to do it differently—if I had taken that extra fraction of a second to push that garbage can lid down tight, securing it, late that night so long ago in my bare feet, breath spouting from my mouth and nose in smoky, fleeting wisps. Dispersing as quickly as they’d been created, like time. I never knew if it was the endless loop of what-ifs that kept me awake, or if they were just the product of my erratic sleep schedule. Maybe a little of both. Hour after hour, stepping back into the past and then one more step and one more, like hypnosis or something. What if I had taken a moment, late that night, to step into my slippers and maybe pull a sweatshirt over my head, instead of racing into the cold and then racing back. And then thinking forward, in the other direction: What if she hadn’t buried herself so deeply in that job in those months after the funeral. What if Mum hadn’t lost her job just one short year later. What if she hadn’t needed its distraction so badly. What if she had taken her sister’s offer to move in with her up at the lake… Maybe I never would have moved back in with her. Maybe I wouldn’t have filled in that application at T.T.’s. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten depressed myself, with a job that shamed my mother, with a makeshift studio apartment in her basement. Maybe I wouldn’t have said yes when Tim Lickly asked me out for the tenth or twentieth time, whichever it had been. A nice enough guy but everyone said don’t date customers. It was more a credo for the dancers but it applied to us all, waitresses and bartenders alike. Where would I be? Dad, too? And
where would she be, my mother? Who, I wondered, night after night, lying awake and staring through the walls and ceiling at these imagined alternate realities, would she be? That next Thursday I drove back to the library, after a quick change into jeans and a sweater but still smelling of that tell-tale mix of fried food and perfume—not my perfume, but rather, the dancers’. T.T.’s was heavy with it. You couldn’t escape it. Just like you couldn’t escape the chicken wings and mozzarella sticks, a fried stink that clung to my work shirts and pants and hair and somehow settled into the tiniest of pores in my skin. I’d switched my night shift for the day shift, and easy switch, as on a typical weekday a bartender might pull in sixty or seventy bucks, versus the two or three hundred a Thursday night could draw. I’d pocketed my sixty-one dollars, said a quick goodnight to my replacements Sarah and Leigh, and let Brett walk me from the back door to my car. I’d thought I’d be able to talk her into going, even though she had said no the night before and the night before that. Still, I thought, with push coming to shove, that in the end she’d get dressed and come along. You only get so many chances to meet Harriet Plumb, right? Mum claimed she wasn’t feeling well. She’d considered it all day, and had realized it would certainly be good to get out the house since the weather report said it was only settling into the low fifties tonight, plenty mild for March. But in the end she did what she did so many times before—she faked sick. “I don’t think so, Jo. Not tonight. My head.” Her head. Another excuse like so many before. I heard her retreat to her bedroom, heard the door latch shut. “You can’t just—” I stopped, pondered for a moment whether it was worth expelling energy over this, worth forcing myself to be heard through the closed door and walls. Screw it. “You can’t just hide in there the rest of your life!” My voice boomed through the empty house. It was always so quiet in here. “I know you hear me!” Then, pushing further, to the point where I sensed al-
ready my forthcoming regret: “Fuck, Mum!” It was the blatant selfishness that dug into me, the obvious fact that someone was bending over backwards for her, making a gesture, an offer. Who would discard that so easily? Through the sliding glass door, beyond the reflection of the kitchen lights, I was able to focus on the small lumps littered across the decaying back porch. I knew what they were even in the dark. Shredded hamburger rolls. In the months and even years following my father’s death she’d frequently liked to step out onto the back porch to feed the birds. But then, as the weight began sticking to her, as she found herself without work and without a schedule and routine, she stopped bothering. I’d go outside once in a while and fill the four or five bird feeders she’d made me hang from the branches, just because we had a closet full of seed and it might give her something to watch through her bedroom window. I decided, looking at those flecks of bread, to stop myself before I said anything more. To let it go, at least for tonight. She’d contemplated accompanying me, and for now that was enough. At least, somewhere in the midst of her afternoon, she’d stepped outside, into late winter air, and fed the birds. The library was a little quieter than I’d expected, for some reason. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised— if I’d never heard of Harriet Plumb before last week, then why would I think she’d be embraced tonight with celebrity status? Instead, she stood near a podium, talking quietly with another woman, near a folding table loaded with short stacks of novels. Between the two women and myself were several rows of metal chairs, perhaps ten wide and five rows deep, but only a handful were actually occupied. I could sense the rustle of bodies turning to see who had just entered. The fluorescent lights were bright. Somehow, perhaps absurdly, I thought they might all be struck by the same thought: a stripper just walked into our library. I peeked down at my jeans, my gray sweater with the pink patches on the shoulders and elbows. There was nothing ‘stripper’ about me, of course, but there it was anyway. I’m a bartender, I wanted to say. All I do there is tend bar.
Just as Harriet was being introduced (“author of six novels, including the bestseller The Dandelion Fields and this, her new novel, The Frozen Sea”), I took a quiet seat in the far back. I didn’t know how this worked—that we needed to endure her reading. I’d figured it would be some kind of presentation, maybe an interview. The idea of listening to someone read aloud for any length of time seemed not only boring, but completely insane. Still, the few people in the audience—not a single one within a decade, maybe two, of me—sat politely enough, legs folded, hands on their knees or clasped on their laps, smiling, nodding in appreciation and understanding. I spent more time watching them than I did Harriet Plumb. It all felt a little, well, cultish. And then without really knowing it I was listening. And watching. She was a petite woman, even frail looking, sixties, overly made up and draped in a long silk scarf. I imagined that there was nothing inside those loose-fitting clothes, just her head jutting up from her scarf wrapping, like a puppet. But, still, I found myself paying attention. The new book, I learned, was about a mother raising a young daughter on her own after a plane crash tragically takes the father and son. The mother struggles, does everything wrong, and acts destructively, unable to fill her role as a mother even as she manages to put up a front and fake her way through it. The girl’s name is Thea. She’s ten, but the oldest ten year-old in the world. Studying for school. Washing dishes. Sewing the holes in her dungarees shut. Trying to cut her hair in the bathroom mirror. Writing emails to her brother’s defunct email address. I couldn’t help but notice how comfortable, how poised, Harriet Plumb was up there. I made a point to focus on her hands, look for any tell-tale shudder, any nervous jitter. But there was none. She held her book in one hand, steady, reading but looking at us as well, sometimes looking at us for unusually long stretches while she recited the text. I didn’t know how she did that—like a TV show in which the driver of a car looks at her passenger talking for too long. It’s been fifteen straight seconds! Look at the road! But Harriet Plumb didn’t need to. She knew this story and she knew these characters. They were her own. And for that they felt all
the more real, at least to me. After, a few asked questions. You could tell they loved the chance to talk to a real-live writer, and probably had scripted their questions well ahead of time. I wanted to ask a question myself, ask her something that she probably got a thousand times before—where did this idea come from? But I never did. Even with just the six or seven of us, I couldn’t raise my hand and call out a question. Instead, I quietly cracked my knuckles and pursed my lips. They felt chapped. When it was over, people formed an unorganized line to get their books signed. I didn’t have a book but I realized you could buy one at the adjacent table, where the librarian I usually saw here was sitting with a metal cash box. All Harriet Plumb’s books were here: The Dandelion Fields, Missing Angels, another one called The Myth of Distant Horizons, and of course The Sea Inside. I picked up a copy, smooth and shiny and not much like the piles of books I brought home to Mum. Harriet Plumb: in big plumb-colored letters across the top. The title was a deeper, bruised color, more ominous. The New York Times Bestselling Author, it said under the title. I looked at it closer—at the smudged-looking brushstrokes of breaking waves, the dark slate of rocks. It all looked so grim, and I couldn’t help but wonder—worry, really— what was going to happen to that eleven year-old. Thea. “I enjoyed the reading,” I said to Harriet Plumb when I’d reached her table. The others had dispersed by then, chatting to each other near the coffee or else zipping their fleece pullovers and heading for the door. “I’m glad.” The librarian delivered her a coffee even though I looked to be the last customer. Harriet Plumb smiled up at her, then moved her smile to me. “To whom shall I sign this?” It took me a half-second or so to translate that to, “Who should I sign this to?” I cleared my throat to buy time. “Um, my mother. M-A-V-I-E.” “Mavie? What a pretty name.” “I’m going to read it too,” I added, suddenly fearing I’d hurt her feelings by having her sign it to someone else. “I’m a big fan.” “Thank you, sweetie. Then I’m a big fan of yours, too.”
I took the book from her, ran my thumb absently along the spine, caught for a moment in no man’s land, wondering if I should say something else or if this was it and I should move on and get out of her way. It seemed the other people had chatted with her longer. My eyes fell down to the book, this time the back cover—a large color photo of Harriet Plumb looking way too airbrushed and artificial, a little dead, actually. Not the warm, small woman sitting in front of me. In one nightmarish afternoon, 11 year-old Thea Garrey loses her father and older brother in a split-second flash of destruction, leaving behind a gaping wound scarring her soul. In the aftermath, her mother evaporates before Thea’s very eyes, unable to cope with the catastrophic loss. In Harriet Plumb’s new novel… There was more, of course, but I was aware of Harriet Plumb sitting there, sipping her Styrofoam cup of coffee. A pink corner of artificial sweetener wrapper stuck to the underside of the cup. I pulled the book to my chest. “What happens next?” The words were out and I’d wished I could reel them back in, feeling silly all of a sudden, knowing by the look on her face that she hadn’t been inside my head, hadn’t been following my train of thought at all. “I’m sorry, hon?” She placed the cup down on its napkin. The napkin, oddly, had a drawing of colorful birthday candles on it. I shook my head. “Nothing. I just wondered, you know, what happens to the little girl. Thea.” Harriet Plumb tilted her head. Her hand moved blindly for her coffee. “I’m glad you’re wondering. You’ll have to read it after Mavie does, right?” I looked down again, my thumb fanning through the first pages until my eye caught the dark squiggles of her signing. I slid my fingers over the page, holding it open. 3/19/12 To Mavie, a beautiful name for a beautiful person. Enjoy. Harriet Plumb. My fingers slipped back out, the book back against my chest. “Right,” I said. I didn’t go inside right away. Instead, I sat in the car, sitting quiet at the end of the driveway, behind my mother’s old Ford Taurus that hadn’t been moved in I can’t remember how long. Months. Maybe a year. I left the
key partially cranked so that the radio stayed on, but the volume was so low I really couldn’t hear much. I liked the soft blue glow of it, my splayed fingers sifting through the light, back and forth in the dark. With the heat off it would get cold in here fast, but I sat, the book on my lap and under the flat palm of my hand. I rested my other hand on the bottom of the wheel, looking at the house. Or, more accurately, at the windows. I did this sometimes, gathering myself for a moment after work or after grocery shopping, taking in some long, dizzying breaths, trying not to think too much. This time, though, I was thinking, and this time, her bedroom light was off. It was never off. Sometimes I’d see just the small yellow light of her bedside table lamp, and I’d know she was reading. Or I’d see just the gray flicker of the TV light, or sometimes the overhead lights were on, the whole room bright, and I knew she was sitting up writing letters. This time, though, the window was dark. On the other side of the front door, I could see the kitchen light on and my mother’s dull shape laboring from the counter to the breakfast bar. Something, I thought, was in her hand. A bowl or a pot. She bent to put it away, and I pulled the wall of my cheek between my teeth like I often did when I was thinking. Mum was putting dishes away. Cleaning up. I moved my fingers, feeling the slide of the book beneath my touch, and what I was thinking now was the same thing I’d been thinking after hearing Harriet Plumb read, the same exact question that I had asked her without getting an answer: what happens next? Through my dirty windshield and the cold space of the March night, I watched my mother place a bowl in the cabinet and then pause—her arms folding across her chest to squeeze out an apparent chill—to stare out the back kitchen window.
Home A.R. Francis where people are good but never truly good and the hairs split to gray and the eyes near gone the blue seem green the knuckles and fingernails crack and cry the dogs need new hips or backyard burials and baseball games like birthdays and loud bars stay true to a past youâ€™ve simply never been a part of
How to Bring the Boy Home John Grey First point him in the direction of his sixteenth birthday. Mark out Boy Scout camps, first kiss, favorite movie, roller-coasters, sizzling burgers in a back-yard barbecue, as that’s the trail he needs to follow. Take the rifle from his shoulder, too heavy for the trip. And that ugly head-gear and dreary camouflage. No need to conceal a thing— not at sixteen where he’s going. Jeans and t-shirt and tousled brown hair, the uniform that’s no uniform at all. Whisper close to his ear so the bombs won’t hear you. It’s mid-summer, green and hot, but the lake is cool and ripe with fish. So go now, while the attention of nineteen is elsewhere, looking out for roadside bombers or snipers in the red zone. You’ll be sixteen before you know it, with your future way off in the distance and unarmed.
Puissant Stephen Knezovich
When Henrietta Hoffman Stopped Speaking German Rebecca Clever A stroke suppressed her mother tongue, handed down from immigrant parents who outlawed spoken English in the house, so she dropped the hardedged words until the cold months of her years. She told us then how her Charlie ached for water: to swim against it, wrestle with its muscle, cool off the body summers in the Monongahela. Her lips knotted in recounting. Verr hot dat day, ran down Vest Street’s hill, ‘cross da Homestead train tracks to da river bank, dove in. Blood blossomed as clouds in the current when a boat’s tow rope hooked a nostril, tore the nose partly from his inflated face. Did not vant it to be my child, but no one else’s. A milk truck rumbled in passing an alley over. She rocked in her crippled chair. Ja, ja, once more, mein sohn. Rivers in her eyes.
She Had a White Designer Evening Gown Rebecca Clever Sleeveless snug as skin it gripped her hips neckline gathering at her breasts. Heavy cheek-boned, thick eye-shadowed my mother wore it proud as feathers down to her ankles with gold-strapped heels. It made my father nervous. He stood thin-haired seventies sideburns beside her in his pin-striped suit and wide silk tie for their Kodak moment. She smiled smugly. Uncertainty mapped his mouth a question of fidelity. Shutter snap.
Otha Vakseen Davis III
BASIN Ray Amorosi Ice more ice more soon, I won’t attract it. I pray for warmer demands. But it’s true that a basin of glitter will solve issues, stay up or break a hip. No sliding on this hill except to the sea. Salt sand a laughable contact. This is the real thing, many feet down, like inside ourselves. Like how I pray as I wash the floor again and again, not a trace of glaze just wood, a mirror. And there he is under the crust, my son, the one with no answers no scraping or ax will brighten. Always a dim visage, a few steps or many feet off. God who can do anything reach up your hand and take some bread. You’re wasting away down there, my son, wasting.
LETTER TO MYSELF Ray Amorosi Isolate, inarticulate frozen to the edge of your skin. Where do you come from and why didn’t you stay there? You could have sold oranges, flush red pears, sweet lemons from Tuscany at the crossroad where the tourists came in. The full block cheeses from Parma swaying over your head (don’t worry about the flies—there’s a thick crust, cut through it). You knew the ropes. Genovese prosciutto thin as air. ‘Five daughters and a son. You could have been so inside inside. When there was death you’d be at the house that night with hands full of gifts, and your teeth in your pocket, in grief. The fact is now you read the number of the last year of those you admired trudging through drifts, shouting poems, holding up. Yes it was and is that exactly. What happened to you my lost friend. Good man.
Dear Ray Dianna Calareso
Dear Raymond Carver,
Can I call you Ray? I’m writing because I have a question that I know you will be able to answer, honestly, perhaps painfully, without trying to clean the dirt out from under the fingernails of the thing. See, I’ve been thinking about having a baby. My husband and I have been married for two years, and I’ll be 30 soon, and I’ve always imagined myself with children. I have two nephews and a niece and another niece on the way. All of my best friends are having babies, and my husband and I talk with excitement about our future kids, what they’ll be like, what we’ll name them and what we hope to teach them. But as a woman considering becoming a parent, I suddenly feel like a child, longing for a clear-cut answer, a black-and-white boundary, a don’t-touch-that-but-you-can-touch-this. Can you help me, Ray? I realize I could ask my mother, or one of my three sisters, or my friends or my cousins or even my grandmothers. To be sure, there are plenty of mothers in my life I could ask. But none of them are writers, at least not the way I’m a writer, the way you were a writer. So I don’t think any of them would be able to make sense of my confusion: do I have to choose between writing and children? You had your children much younger than I would, and have written often about how Christine and Vance stole your concentration, misdirected your focus, sidetracked your work. Their need for play and attention and milk and toys was something you always felt responsible to, but not charmed by. During the leanest years, when Maryann was working several jobs to support the family and your writing, you seemed frustrated by the strings attached, those strings that needed to be watched, scolded, cleaned, fed. In theory, Maryann’s
paychecks gave you the time to write, but you had to wrangle that time, fight for it, wrestle it to the ground only to come up tired and bitter, brushing the dirt off your clothes and the sweat off your forehead. It seems that by the end of your life you’d finally gotten your “writer’s life”: a partner who didn’t need to be your wife, an empty house with a view of the water and the trees, space and quiet to think and write. Now and then a call or a letter from your children, but mostly just you and the work. Is this ideal? I suppose I already have that: my husband and I live in an apartment big enough for two, with his music and my writing and our not-so-needy cats and our ability to make the house quiet as snow if we need it to be. But then I have to ask…if you had gotten your writer’s life early on, without the bloody knees and peanut butter hands and bubble gum faces, without the bed time and bath time and prayer time and hand-washing time, without the kiss-mommy-kiss-daddy, be-nice-toyour-brother, brush-your-teeth and comb-your-hair, would you have written the novel you always meant to write? Would you have written stories about easier times, characters without stacks of bills to pay, couples without arguments over alcohol and other men, plots that wound themselves nicely and gracefully around your stories, like a silk sash around the waist of a woman whose belly has never been stretched? Without the whining and crying and broken bones and teenage outbursts, what would you have written about? I’m not trying to imply that all your writing, or even your best writing, is about the struggles of fatherhood. Your life was rich with struggle, from dodging bill collectors to fights with your wife, from the bottom of one bottle to the top of the next. I also know there were
happy, tender times, when you and Maryann loved each other best, when your writing was praised, when you were standing alone in a stream with a fishing rod and plenty of bait. But I have to know if there’s a balance, if it can be achieved, if it should even be attempted. Like you, I married my intellectual equal, a creative partner, a fellow artist. Like you, I ask my spouse to read and comment on my work, and I draw freely from my life to create new work. If we have children, will I resent them for stealing my writing time and replacing it with questions, bad dreams, lost socks, loose teeth? Will I wish they’d disappear so I can get some writing done, writing about a life I could have had, perhaps a memoir about my husband and I living in Italy, drinking wine, eating biscotti, sleeping til 10 and working all day on our writing and music? Will I be as proud to have created a human life that needs me constantly as I am to have created a piece of writing that goes its merry way into publication and never calls again? And if I don’t have a child, and then my family dies off one by one and my husband leaves me to bury him, and my friends are preoccupied with grandchildren and college graduations and high school football games, will my writing be able to comfort me? Can writing love me the way a child can? Will it think I’m a hero because I can reach behind a couch cushion for a lost action figure, see me as a friend when I know how much it hurts to be rejected? And then, Ray, there’s the terrifying fear. What if I have a child who succumbs to darkness, becomes the kid with a black bike and a pet snake that doesn’t like other kids and other kids don’t like him? What if my child is depressed, forms addictions, brings a gun to school? What if my child, the product of my own body, is unwanted at the lunch table, avoided on the playground, deserted on the bus? If other parents don’t invite my child to come over for dinner, if nobody wants to be
his hiking buddy at summer camp, if nobody asks her to the prom…if my child is, to use a metaphor we both know so well, just a rough draft? Your own children told you they hated you, that you’d abandoned them and put your writing first. They were hurt when you published stories and poems about them, and yet they still loved and needed you. In those moments, did you love them, too? What would I do if my child hates me, I mean really hates me? If my child hates to read and drops out of school, if my child gets into fights and goes to jail, will I still love him? Will I wish she had never been born so that I could have spent that time and energy writing, crafting a piece that I can completely control, predict the beginning, middle, end, editing where it needs to be edited so that the face the world sees is no less than my best? Ray, tell me what to do. Tell me that I’m a silly woman to think that children will make me happy. Tell me that I’m not a serious writer for thinking I can keep writing while nursing a baby through the night. Tell me I’m a fool to believe that children will be worth the energy, the lost sleep, the nonstop anxiety. Or tell me that your children were your best work, even if you didn’t know it for a long time. Tell me that all the brilliance on a cold sheet of a paper will never compare with the infinite wonder of a child seeing the ocean for the first time, that no editor’s glowing review will mean more than my child writing that I am his hero or her role model. Tell me about when you were close to dying and Vance came to visit and you told him, with tears in your eyes, how you wished you could see his little girl grow up. Tell me that this exquisite world, with its mountains and beaches and black bears and honeybees and whales and sky, endless sky, was made for living, not just observing, and that I’ll never have anything better to give than life.
Or tell me that this cramped world, with its disease and war and misery, is no place to bring a beautiful, clean baby, and that the best thing to do is write my way out of it. Tell me that writers can’t be good mothers or fathers, that their minds are too consumed with the right word and the way the smoke curls out of the chimney and the sound of feet stomping away after an argument and work, always the work. Tell me that any child I have will feel neglected, less important than the writing, embarrassed by the family scenes that I will inevitably write and share with strangers. Tell me I can be a better mother to my work. That’s how you always felt, right? Or tell me that a writer is the best kind of parent. Alive, awakened, in tune with the senses. A writer is the kind of parent who will stop and spend thirty minutes staring at a dragonfly’s wing, who will lie on her back and make up stories about the clouds in the sky. Tell me I’d be the kind of mother who doesn’t force my children to be anything they’re not, who understands what it’s like to feel different, who would encourage dirty feet and messy hair and bringing home ants and lizards in jars because the earth is here to be explored. Is that the kind of parent you thought you could be, too? Just please, please, don’t tell me what any good parent would tell me: “You need to make your own decision.” Thanks, Ray. I really appreciate any help you can offer, and I feel totally comfortable asking you, a father, a grandfather, a teacher. A writer. Yours, respectfully, Dianna, a daughter, a granddaughter, a writer, and maybe, someday, a mother.
Putting Myself to Sleep Andrew Hamilton My brown Labrador drops her wet tennis ball at my feet, tail wagging like a windshield wiper on high, but every time I reach to scratch her ears she vanishes and I awake on the couch, staring at the green ball on the carpet. The stranded bone in the yard. The empty bowl in the kitchen. Tell myself itâ€™s just a dog. We did the right thing, slam my fists on the dampened pillows and bury my body to sleep again.
On the Asbury Park Jetty: Winter Night William John Watkins Give me the Jersey sea, the gritty beach where condom and dead starfish wash ashore from New York’s barges dumping out of reach of law & order but still hardly more than out of sight beyond the curved world’s edge. In winter, when the flotsam of New York comes by current, not by car. Let me hedge my bet and ask for snow. Snow that can work its masking miracle on the sand. Each flake covering up one sticky grain, or wave-eaten drifts hiding it all, a wedge between the visible and the true, caulk for illusion’s cracks. Turning, let me go and watch the ocean filling up with snow.
from BBC Radio 4 Thomas Lynch
Sex and the dead, Yeats wrote in a letter to Olivia
Shakespeare, are the only subjects of interest to the studious mind. No doubt he was trying to chat her up. All the same, there’s some truth to his take on it. How handy for me, I remember thinking. I was fond of sex; the dead were everywhere. Sex and the dead, Yeats wrote in a letter to Olivia Shakespeare, are the only subjects of interest to the studious mind. No doubt he was trying to chat her up. All the same, there’s some truth to his take on it. How handy for me, I remember thinking. I was fond of sex; the dead were everywhere. Here I am, now forty some years since, still vexed by both. However good the sex is or the death, neither is ever quite good enough. Let the perfect here be the enemy of the good. Our inexorable pursuits and dodges define and divide our life and times. “We poets would die of loneliness but for women,” Yeats wrote later to Shakespeare, “and we choose our men friends that we may have someone to talk about women with.” The man who introduced me to Yeats was the first living poet I ever met. The poets I’d heard of were for the most part dead. We’d memorized them in bits and pieces of “Gunga Din” and “The Raven” “Macbeth” and “J. Alfred Prufrock.” Or else they were driving west in America with braless consorts, designer drugs and biblical footwear. I worked part time at my father’s funeral home, was taking classes at the university and could not imagine the life either of a patrician or hippy bard. But here was a poet in the flesh, the thing incarnate, in his three-piece worsted wool, with his watchfob and brown oxfords, looking like Eliot at Faber and Faber, pacing back and forth the room, reciting Yeats to witless undergrads, among them a fetching and breathless specimen smiling at him from her desk in the front
row. His name was Michael Heffernan. He was not yet twenty-five. The suit and the pocket watch, his elegant speech, the pipe he was always lighting up, all fixtures in his effort to appear some older. He’d studied in Oxford and Ireland and Massachusetts, after the Jesuits in Detroit had let him go from that sad city he’d been born and raised in. And here he was, the lately indentured professor of English at the state university where I was at the time, a lackluster student and feckless bon vivant. “Women,” I might have said to myself, “approve of men who reads poems.” It was September of 1967, I was going on nineteen and knew if I didn’t soon have sex I would surely die. “Poems,” I might also have noted then, “had a chance of outliving their makers.” Because here was Yeats, dead then a good few years and yet remembered. Almost brought to life in Heffernan’s recitation of his poems, wooing women as Yeats himself had meant to woo them: A sudden blow: the great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. Heffernan and I had enough in common—the common hungers, the usual thirsts, the standard Irish Catholic boyhoods – we soon enough became drinking buddies. Long nights spent drinking Bourbon, listening to Mozart and Puccini, reading the poems he’d been working on. Before he left for a better post in southern Kansas, he’d taught me Pound and Stevens, Williams and Dickenson and Robert Frost. I introduced him to his first wife, a fellow student. And helped him drive a truck full of his things to Kansas. We stayed in touch, writing letters, trading poems,
now and then a drunken phone call. In 1978 his first slim book arrived by mail. I remember holding it, “The Cry of Oliver Hardy” it was called, and thinking that it might outlive him, this little book of poems I had read on the desk of his rented house, years before. It is when I first really wanted to write poems, to have such a book of my own on the shelf where one of my sons or my daughter might find it. I was married by then and was having plenty of sex and was running the funeral home where there were plenty of the dead. Yeats I thought was not only right, but immortal and Heff, as I had come to call him, had a chance at that immortality too. I started writing poems that year. In 1985 the postal service raised its rates. We typed poems on postcards and mailed them out—fourteen lines for fourteen cents. It seemed like the postal service imitating art and for the next three years we corresponded in sonnets that would eventually find their ways into books of mine and books of his. Of course the rates went up and the poems got longer and over the decades have been replaced by electronic mail. He writes me one called “Purple,” I write back my own called “Red.” Heff is 66 now and I am 60. If not quite dotage, well past middle age. We both got divorced and then remarried, both publish books at intervals, both quit drinking for the usual reasons, both have three sons. I have a daughter. We have long since buried our parents and both, being serious, studious men, contemplate sex and death in great doses. Whereas we once, as Yeats said we ought, maintained the friendship to talk about women, now we spend more and more time speaking about the dead and how best to keep from being among them. Heffernan is a medical consumer. I stay away from those sorts because almost everyone I’ve ever buried or cremated was recently among the medicos. I’ve buried folks coming from their doctor’s office, or hours after a workout at the gym. I’ve been to the wakes of those who only hours before an untimely demise got a clean bill of health from their practitioner. I’ve never buried anyone
disembarking from the coney island hot dog parlor, so I spend most mornings in just such a place having coffee with old farts discussing the world at large and their recent visits to the doctor’s office.
Walking Papers to Michael Heffernan
Thomas Lynch I reckoned reading Frost would put you right and making something from a line of his a better way to use what’s left of time than trying to diagnose what’s killing you -something your doctor said about something he gathered from something in your latest labs, letting slip some quibble about blood work or enzymes or liver function. Listen – something’s going to get you in the end. The numbers are fairly convincing on this, hovering, as they do, around a hundred percent. We die. And more’s the pity. Same for the goose as for the gander, true for both saints and sinners, fit and fat. We get our dose of days and after that we get whatever is or isn’t next: heaven, remembered, a kick in the ass, a place in a frame on some grandkid’s piano, a grave, a tomb, the fire, our ashes scattered, the scavenging birds, the deep, nirvana – sure, one oblivion’s good as another. By all accounts there’s nothing to it, pal – a cake walk, kicked bucket, falling off a log; one moment you are and next you aren’t, the way that semicolon slipped in there before the comma in the following line three lines before the coming period. You can think of it as punctuation and maybe take some comfort from that, friend -a question mark or exclamation point – no matter, we’re all sentenced to an end, the movers and the shakers, bon vivants, all ne’er-do-wells and nincompoops, savants, sage and sluggard, deft and daft alike: everyone’s given their walking papers. Everyone’s shown the door and sees the light. The adverbials are incidental, dull as any devil in the details
and though the eulogists are reverential once it’s over no one gives a wrap whether tumor, tantrum, stroke or heart attack, too many cigarettes, too frenzied sex, too many cheeseburgers, too old an age, a murderous shell fish or tsunami swept the creature from creation’s little stage, waving and smiling, kicking and screaming, at ease or agonizing, anyway, the hush, the breathlessness, it’s all the same. The month, the day, the year, the proper names, the size of the stone, what gets cut in it— I had a lover’s quarrel with the world. Enough’s enough. Good riddance. Less is more. I told you that I wasn’t feeling good! Together wing to wing and oar to oar— but footnotes to insuperable truth: we mortals come with our mortalities, freighted, laden, born with our last breath in us. Why worry whether this or that improves or ruins your chances. No guarantees come with our particular models—we get our final markdowns, deep discounts: a coupon good for something more or nothingness. So quit the medicos and pharmacists, who’ve got a pill for whatever ails you— restless leg or ornery bowel, a lapsed erection, cauliflower ears, sugar, tapeworm, loose stools, septicemia— I say clean your plate and say your prayers, go out for a long walk after supper and listen for the voice that sounds like you talking to yourself, you know the one: contrapuntal, measured to footfall, true to your own metabolism. Listen— inspiration, expiration, it’s all the same, the sigh of creation and its ceasing— whatever’s going to happen’s going to happen. Who knows the number when your number’s up? So, go on out and count some syllables, lay some lines down one after another, check the pulses, make the meters tick, make up what ever noise you have to make
to make some sense of the day that’s in it. I have my doubts on almost everything. I sit in church and think these hooligans are only fellow pilgrims, like myself, no more beatific than a heap of bones, lost and grinning for no apparent reason. That said, I’ve had these glimpses, inklings, sometimes its almost as if I’m haunted. Things come to me as apparitions do. My late father, for instance, my dear mother, just now that fellow Frost you like to quote, they often reappear in lines like these as if they had a message meant for me which echoes with a thing I’ve always known Life goes on. Forever. It’s impossible. Remember when it cost just fourteen cents, to send a sonnet on an index card? “The postal service imitating art”— which one of us said that, my lettered friend? And now we carry on page after page as if we both depended on it still. We carry on and pay the going rate because we keep as articles of faith there might be something for us in the mail. God knows we could turn up, the two of us, long after our long correspondence goes silent as all such correspondents must. Maybe someone will get some wind of us in some old book or in the bonfire, the firebug rising to its occasion, the way the frost appears then disappears, a door that swings both ways on its hinges… It could happen. We could go on forever. If so we’ll want a codeword, secret sign, something to make it known we recognize each other. How about “New Hampshire?” How ‘bout we grab our groins or give a wave, like third base coaches when the count is full, to signal take a pitch or guard the plate, go for the walk or runner stealing home? To signal all is well, we’re not alone, let’s both of us turn over in our graves.
In Conversation with the Past: Interview with Alex Forman, author of Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents Antonia DiBona and Myra Schiffman
A young boy sleeps on the floor; his father stretches out beside
him, and then gently puts the child on his back to take him up to bed. It’s a private, tender moment, and it captures a dimension of the 16th American president in the new film “Lincoln.” Watching the movie, we are fascinated by such intimate scenes. The human, deeply personal aspects of the powerful intrigue us, and that is one reason Tall, Slim & Erect is captivating. This is the first book by photographer, writer and personal historian Alex Forman, who presents 36 of the United States presidents in an unusual and interesting way. Alex Forman says, “I define personal historian as one who explores history from a more personal standpoint, who is willing to rewrite the mythologies we have swallowed. . . I read history ‘personally,’ and these icons came to life for me” A graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Art, she has captured the likeness of these 36 presidents with her photography and unique text. Her book calls on the reader to see history differently. “Tall, Slim & Erect is a history of ‘What ifs,’” Forman explains. While public acts are writ large on history’s stage, Forman shows us how the smallest private details can illuminate those who stand on that stage in indelible ways. Glassworks Magazine: Thank you very much for participating in this interview. Your book, Tall, Slim, & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents combines both visual and written portraits of the United States presidents, beginning with George Washington and ending with Richard Nixon, and it does so in an unusual way. The left of each page spread features a black and white photograph you took of a 2 3/4” Marx Toy Company figurine of the President. On the right is accompanying text about that president, which you culled from various historical and biographical sources. It made for an interesting and engaging read. Alex Forman: Thank you! Especially for clearly having
read my book so closely. The greatest pleasure in making a book is meeting insightful readers. This book has been fun because it appeals widely. I enjoy the response I get from seven-year-olds and seventy-seven-year-olds alike, school children and historians, and also the literary community where it’s been embraced as creative nonfiction and conceptual fiction. It’s a book, as you can see, that crosses borders. GM: It definitely is, and the history it put forth is very unique. In your book, Tall, Slim, & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents, you’re described as “a photographer, writer, editor, translator, and personal historian.” Tell us what it means to you to be called a “personal historian.” AF: I have a multi-faceted answer for you. As a Personal Historian, I work to preserve the histories of individuals and communities by taking oral histories and coaching the memoir writing process. But I also I define “personal historian” as one who explores history from a more personal standpoint, who is willing to rewrite the mythologies we have swallowed. In terms of Tall, Slim & Erect, I found the more I read about a particular president, more layers come to the fore. And I was willfully inclusive about my source material. I searched far and wide and across genres. There are several aspects of the presidents that are part of the collective consciousness of the Nation, part of the American fabric. I used the arcane, or rumor, conjecture, slander, what is perceived as bizarre, to observe a more complete view of character. Of course, I brought my sensibility to the matter. I read history “personally,” and these icons came to life for me. GM: Your book contains photos of miniature president figurines. How did you discover these figurines, and what
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was your initial reaction to them? Did you discover a favorite or favorites? AF: I found the figurines in a junk shop, where they were in a huddle in a wooden box with a faded red ribbon. I took them home for $100. They sat on my bookshelf for a couple of years before I started to photograph them, at that time, in color. Eventually they came out of the box and assumed their stature in more formal black and white portraits. As for favorites, of the photographs: Madison winked at me while we worked together, and I was completely taken by his charm. Teddy Roosevelt was a dreamer who turned a rabbit pelt into a cloud, and there he floated.
in six-word phrases to avoid copyright infringement. One such phrase was “tall, slim and of erect carriage.” Nearly all the presidents were described in this way. Of course, some of them were portly, stout, or obese, and then I enjoyed the contrast. The double entendre was intended because the presidents, like rock stars, are often, and sometimes inappropriately, erect as well. As men, they have sex lives. Particularly in our American History this is a repeated theme. Studies have been done on the stature and the substance of presidents, and I felt this description brought them up close and personal. GM: In addition to their physical characteristics you draw from many sources to create a personal history of each president. Here’s your comment at the beginning of the Source Material: “This volume was composed, like the Jefferson Bible, “By cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject.” Each phrase was culled from pre-existing presidential letters, biographies, novels, children’s books, websites, blogs, accounts, rumors, hearsay, etc....” How would you describe this book as a whole?
GM: Were there others of whom you were less fond? AF: Even those men that were indistinguishable, dull, ugly, mediocre, unremarkable are so human it’s hard to dislike any. As Grant said about his wife, “I liked her with her eyes crossed and would not have her different.” GM: President Monroe was described as “tall, angular, erect”—did that phrase give you the idea for the title? Tall, Slim & Erect admittedly has a bit of a double entendre for readers. Why did you choose that title? AF: I became interested in the way history was written. It is repeated. Over and over, you hear the same words, but
AF: This is a conceptual project, if you will, of appropriation, a re-mix. The words, as you noted, were in fact culled off the pages of other books, from various his-
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torical and biographical sources. It is a pastiche, montage, collage, compilation, mashup. Jefferson’s taste for cutting and pasting from diverse bibles to create his own Jeffersonian Bible really inspired my process. I was in conversation with the past. I’d ask, “What was he like?” and a phrase would appear: Benjamin Harrison’s handshake was like a wilted petunia. GM: You said that some of your sources were rumor and hearsay. Does it matter that some of the information written about each president might not be able to be proven? Were you concerned in any way about the reactions of traditional historians? AF: Everything in this book was previously in print. The reaction of traditional historians has been wonderful. Many have corrected the grammar, and found the occasional typo. Generally, they enjoy the book. So do lovers of history, lower school history teachers, and collectors of Americana. Occasionally someone will comment, “Nixon wasn’t a liar,” or “Lincoln wasn’t gay,” or “Chester Arthur wasn’t fond of boys,” or “Rutherford B Hayes didn’t have incestuous feelings for his sister,” or “Harding wasn’t Black.” But, these things are merely implied, and the critic’s belief is as hard to prove as any other. Truth in any memoir is moveable, and story through repetition becomes myth, becomes conviction. GM: It seems like you purposely explore less commonly known details about each president. What do you find most important in rewriting each president’s story? AF: The potential for suggestion is what I find most important in rewriting or reframing the story. Tall, Slim & Erect is a history of “What ifs.” What if Buchanan or Arthur or Lincoln were fond of boys? What if “Buchanan enjoyed a 20-year intimate friendship with Senator William Rufus de Vane King,” and were called Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan? What if Hayes’ feelings for his incredibly smart and troubled sister seemed strange in the
day, strange enough that they “spilled over the customary bounds of sibling devotion”? Might they have been a reflection of his incredible and unusual respect for smart women? The woman he chose to spend his life with became the first college-educated First Lady, after all.. The book champions details that might have been omitted from recent retellings, might have fallen in the cracks, might have been obscured in the accepted history of the presidency. . . I sought affirmation and reaffirmation of all details in this book. Many were easy to find. But, what might be factual in 19th century culture might read differently to 21st century culture. There is always a filter of interpretation through current values. Important are the questions raised and the vacuities that exist. Pause to think about it. I wanted to honor that pause, that thought. GM: What guidelines shaped your research process and decisions on the quote selections or their order? AF: Appropriation in literature is as old as writing, from Jefferson to Joyce, who said, “I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man.” I read what I found. I got a lot of support, was granted a residency at the Blue Mountain Center for instance, and there found John and Alice Durant’s Pictorial History of the American Presidents (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1955). . . a collection of the The American Heritage Book of the Presidents and Famous Americans (12-volume edition. NewYork: Dell Publishing Co., 1967) came my way at a library book sale in Plainfield, MA. I visited Presidential Libraries and got recommendations from descendants of the presidents. I was particularly interested in what the presidents themselves said in letters, autobiographies, and in other firsthand accounts. . . in compilations such as histories, children’s histories, biographies, novels (I’m a Gore Vidal fan); how history was formed, how it was repeated, what was left out and what was included, and, by extension, collectors and collecting. The materials that were coming available online at this time were so fascinating, such as Manus Hand (interested in the burial places of the presi-
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dents) and Doctor Zebra (an expert on the medical histories of the presidents). Creative nonfiction was sort of in its youth, there were books like Assassination Vacation. I took from everything. . . I was interested in what they ate, how they moved, their confusions and their false steps, whatever made them human. And, I made over 100 drafts of the book.
intimate as well.
GM: In Tall, Slim and Erect, your level of detail is not just devoted to the written history, but also to the photographs of the figurines themselves. In the online journal Archipelago, you described your photographic process this way: “I have shot them in natural light, in abstracted, individual settings, using a view camera and Polaroid p/n film. I then scan the negatives, enlarge them, and make digital prints using carbon pigment on watercolor paper.” Can you explain why you chose these methods and how the results met your artistic and creative purposes?
AF: The “big/small” dichotomy is always present. It is the same as the “on the pedestal/off the pedestal” dichotomy. Actually a friend, who is also an artist, inquired, “Have you considered what they would be life-size?” That blew the project open. And Peter Seidler, with his gift of vision, was right. Enlarged to life size for exhibition, that is, nearly the actual height of the living president, they transformed. They took on breath. What I discovered is the following: blown up, the figures amaze us; they impose their greatness. Small they become intimate; we take our time to read them. Enlarged, we see them in parts, scaled down we take them as a whole.
AF: Making a book, or an exhibition requires the participation of many, often in the role of champions. Archipelago was the first to publish excerpts of this work early on. My friend Schecter Lee, who trusted me with his cameras when I was just a kid, suggested I work with Amadou Diallo whose inkjet printing business was booming at the time. Amadou was gracious enough to allow me to direct the process by choosing watercolor papers that were not inkjet prepared, and to specify the tonality of the prints. My aesthetic for the prints came from my background making photogravures with Jon Goodman in Florence, MA, for limited edition books and exhibitions. Amadou made prints that ended up looking exactly as I had imagined them in my head! No small task! Amadou said they hold up at any size. Amadou said they hold up at any size. I like them very much in their original size — 2”x 3” Polaroid sheet film for the Linholf Master Technica — as well as 36”x 60” + in life size. They are at once cards in a presidential deck and portraits to hang in the National Gallery. And, as images for the book, cropped to the tall slim format of the Les Figues TrenchArt Recon Series, they are effective in that they are
GM: There is a big/small dichotomy expressed throughout the book. The actual figurines are only a little over two inches high, but the photographs give them perceived substance and height. What was your reason for doing this?
GM: Just as you say that we see the presidents differently based on their size, similarly, the text makes the presidents very real, very human, not much different than you and I. In the photos you cut off the bottom portion of the pedestal. You take the presidents off their pedestals, literally and figuratively. For example you say “Cleveland evaded the draft by borrowing $300 to hire a man to go in his stead.” Why take them off their pedestals? AF: In the photographs, stuck to their pedestals, they look like dolls, off the pedestals they begin to appear as men. My intention was to remove them from their pedestals literally and figuratively. Sometimes we are blinded by idol status, we fail to ask questions. Ultimately and foremost, these are men, not heroes, not moral compasses, not measures of grandeur, not follow-through-hell-or-high-water leaders, though they may be, some of them, great. It is important especially with personalities that are so “large” that we be able to see them across the spectrum, not to
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expect too much and not to be apologetic for them. GM: In addition to taking them off their pedestals you composed each president’s photo in a different way. Can you comment on the compositions of the photo portraits themselves? For example, why did you face Lincoln away from the reader so that he seems to be walking away? Why is Grant posed low in the page frame? AF: The poses came from the presidential figurines themselves. They were informed by the reading I was doing. Each tried to capture an aspect of the president’s personality . . .this wasn’t an empirical research project. It was more a spiritual, conceptual research project. Remember, I was interested in who the presidents were as men. How they presented themselves physically in space. I wanted to shake hands, to look up at them (again, physically), to hear their words and to feel their breath. This exists in literature; every child knows that. The way I approached the photographs is not too different from the text. Instead of language, I read the presidential poses and the interpretation of these poses by Marx Toys for clues about history and about character. I drew from the history of art of appropriation, and from a long tradition of photographing dolls. I knew of [Lincoln’s] melancholia. I’d heard accounts that he was of mixed race, and possibly gay. His marriage to Mary Lincoln Todd was complex, and his politics too. His questionable position on slavery is an example of the difficulty to read Lincoln. He was slightly beyond grasp, and this is reflected in my photograph of him, and of the statue that Marx made. To give you another example, I might have thought about the photographic process like this: Grant was the antihero. “He was a failure in everything he did. But in war he was a lion.” I’ve photographed him pacing, before a kill. But also with the weight of life on his shoulders, looming over him, a light on his hand where he might have been holding a bottle, but instead clutches his jacket. He had no voice, “Penniless, in disgrace and dying of cancer of the throat,” but he wrote his memoirs. This
man, like all of them, was full of contradictions, and I tried to capture that tension in the image. GM: The content of the text is highly personal, even intimate in nature. “Jefferson suffered from prolonged, incapacitating headaches...In 1818, he had a severe attack of rheumatism. It was accompanied by life-threatening constipation.” For each president, you give cause of death and, when known, his last words. Tell us why. AF: We can consider cause of death a reflection of the president’s frailty, even in energetic terms. Last words suggest a clue to what most mattered to them in the end, an arrow on their moral compass. Even when the last words are, as in the case of Millard Fillmore, “the nourishment is palatable.” The words tether them to their humanity, put flesh on them, and give them breath. GM: If you were to create portraits of United States presidents after Richard Nixon, what do you think your photographs and culled text would emphasize about their subjects? AF: I would try to emphasize their same humanity. Our presidency has become a cult of personality post Nixon, post television, the veils of personality are greater in number, and it is harder and harder to discover the man beneath. Without hindsight, I’d say it is more challenging to uncover the might be trues. Patric Verrone, who wrote “An Afterword” to Tall, Slim & Erect, is a writer for “Futurama.” While working on one of the episodes that featured the lopped off heads of the Marx Toys presidential figurines, Patric remembered his own childhood obsession. He vowed he would complete the collection. So he has brought them up to date, and they are available on Ebay. But, as they are sculpted off of present day representations, in the camera they appear happier, less iconic, if you will. Occasionally words still float off the page that I might use. Recently, Bill Clinton said at the DNC 2012, “I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who
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burns for America on the inside…I want a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.” GM: Some of the material seems very humorous: “Benjamin Harrison’s handshake was like a wilted petunia.” At the same time, your book records many tragic personal events in the lives of the presidents, who suffered serious ailments, the loss of children and loved ones, and of course, there were victims of assassination. How would you describe the overall tenor of Tall, Slim, & Erect? AF: The book is humorous, poignant, true...as deep as the truths of any good story can be.
WILSON, 28th, 1913–21 from Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents Alex Forman Thomas Woodrow Wilson had iron-gray hair, a determined thrust of jaw, and slate-blue eyes behind glittering, rimless glasses. His face was out of proportion, there was too much below the eyeglasses, too little above. He had a beaked nose, protuberant ears, and a loose, meaty upper lip. His ugliness obsessed him. He never smoked, but decay had mottled his teeth, so that when he smiled, patches of yellow, brown, and blue with glints of gold were exhibited. On his face was a habitual astringence, but he could suddenly confront a person or a camera with a momentary expression of lover-like understanding and affection. Colonel Edward M. House recorded in his diary: “I never knew a man whose general appearance changed so much from hour to hour. He is one of the most difficult and complex characters I have ever known.” According to Sigmund Freud, Wilson’s single consistent trait was a hatred of nearly all men on earth. He did, in fact, greatly love himself always. All his life, he insisted on his “intensity” and his “strong passions.” But at the age of twenty-eight he was almost certainly a virgin. His pleasures were all connected with the use of his mouth. “Men of ordinary physique and discretion,” wrote Wilson in 1908, “cannot be president and live, if the strain be not somehow relieved.” Wilson’s handshake was described as a ten-cent pickled mackerel in brown paper. His career as a lawyer is quickly recounted: He never had a client. He did not learn the alphabet until he was nine and could not read until he was twelve. It is likely that he had dyslexia. He was the last president to write his own speeches. He composed them on a Multiplex typewriter. Wilson enjoyed being president. He was driven around in his car by his secret agents to apprehend speeders. Wilson asked the attorney general if he had the power to give speeding tickets. He was told no. Wilson suffered a catastrophic, disabling stroke in September 1919 and his condition was hidden from his cabinet, from the vice president and, of course, from the public. The man who lived on was a pathetic invalid, a querulous old man full of rage and tears, hatred and self-pity. He remained, in title, president of the United States until March 4, 1921; but during the last eighteen months of his administration, his wife, Edith, was in large measure the chief executive. Edith Boling Galt has been called the First Lady president. Wilson was dependent upon women to an extraordinary degree. The only president buried in Washington, DC, his last word was “Edith.” He died in his sleep. d. February 3, 1924 (Washington, DC), at 67, of paralysis and stroke.
JOHNSON, 36th, 1963–69 from Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents Alex Forman Lyndon Baines Johnson was 6 feet 3 1/2 inches tall and weighed about 216 pounds. “The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was,” he said, “and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.” He was taught to read by his mother by age four. White House tapes recorded him asking a photographer to take his family portraits for free, saying he was a very poor man living on a weekly paycheck. LBJ was a multimillionaire, but he still received the photographic portraits gratis. He insisted that photographers shoot only his left side. LBJ was a man possessed by inner demons. He was afraid of being alone. Within ten weeks of their first date, LBJ issued a marriage ultimatum. “We either do it now, or we never will,” he told Lady Bird. According to journalists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, LBJ had a “treatment” he used on people who needed persuasion: “He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy . . . rendered the target stunned and helpless.” Lady Bird Johnson was the first First Lady to build and maintain a fortune with her own money. In 1964, she organized the Lady Bird Special—a whistle-stop tour winding 1,628 miles through eight states in four days. She was the first First Lady to campaign for her husband. LBJ had a small control box installed in the writing desk adjacent to the Oval Office. It contained two buttons, marked “Coffee” and “Fresca.” Pushing one of these buttons would summon his military aide with the appropriate drink. His secretary revealed that LBJ would wash and reuse Styrofoam cups. It was known that LBJ would insist that others accompany him while he used the White House bathroom and continue to discuss official matters or take dictation. LBJ, on tape: “I do not believe I can physically and mentally, uh, carry the responsibilities of the bomb and the world and the negroes and the South, and I know my own limitation, but they think I want great power. All I want is great solace. A little love—that’s all I want.” His health was ruined by years of heavy smoking and stress. He died alone. He was found stretched out on his bed, reaching for the telephone. President Nixon, who presided over the funeral, did not speak but was lauded for his tributes. d. January 22, 1973 (Stonewall, Texas), at 64, from a third heart attack.
PoetRY Richard Fein was a finalist in The 2004 New York Center for Book Arts Chapbook Competition A chapbook of his poems was published by Parallel Press, University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has been published in many web and print journals such as Reed, Southern Review, Roanoke Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, Paris/atlantic, Canadian Dimension, Black Swan Review, Exquisite Corpse, Foliate Oak, Morpo Review, Ken*Again, Oregon East, Southern Humanities Review, Morpo, Skyline, Touchstone, Windsor Review, Maverick, and many, many others. He also has an interest in digital photography and many poetry magazines have published many of his photos.Samples Of His Photography Can Be Found On Pbase.Com/Bardofbyte. Jeff Haynes is an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Midwest Literary Magazine, Glassworks, and Jenny. He lives in Christiansburg, VA. Christopher Howell’s poems, essays, and translations have also appeared in a number of anthologies and journals, including Antioch Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Field, Gettysburg Review, Harper’s, Hudson Review, Iowa Review, Northwest Review, Poetry Northwest, Southern Review and Volt. Howell has received numerous awards for his writing, including two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and two Washington State Book Awards. In addition, his work has three times been included in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. He is professor of English and creative writing at Eastern Washington University, and lives with his family in Spokane. Carolyn Adams’ poetry and art have appeared in Caveat Lector, The Alembic, and Clare Literary Journal, among others. She has authored the chapbooks Beautiful Strangers (Lily Press, 2006), What Do You See? (Right Hand Pointing, 2007), and An Ocean of Names (Red Shoe Press, 2011). h.d. brown lives and works in Chico, CA where he gets by on wine and poetry. He has recent and forthcoming work in The South Dakota Review, Clackamas Literary Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review and other literary journals. In his day job, he is an English professor at CSU Chico. Savannah Grant is a student at Smith College studying English, Studio Art, and Poetry. She hates wasps but think that they make for a good metaphor nonetheless. She has a pet black cat named Peanut Butter who is very lucky. Anna Claire Hodge is a PhD student at Florida State University, and her work has previously appeared in Hayden’s Ferry, Copper Nickel, and Makeout Creek, among others. She was a finalist for the 2012 Copper Nickel Poetry Contest.
A.R. Francis was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His previous work has appeared in Black Heart Magazine. Francis is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Watching the River Through Stained Glass Windows and The Well is Dry and the City’s Still Burning. He currently resides in New York City. John Grey is an Australian born poet, works as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Bryant Poetry Review, Tribeca Poetry Review and the horror anthology, “What Fears Become” with work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Osiris. Rebecca Clever has been a contributing reporter, community newspaper editor, columnist, promotional and technical writer, and managing book editor & designer. Her poetry, nonfiction and interviews have been published in various newspapers, literary journals and anthologies. In addition to receiving a Pushcart Prize nomination, she is the first recipient of the Laurie Mansell Reich poetry award, co-sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and Chatham University, was a quarter-finalist for the 2012 Nimrod Literary Awards Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and is a past nominee for the AWP Intro Journals Project. Rebecca graduated from Chatham in 2011 with an MFA in Creative Writing. Ray Amorosi’s books include A Generous Wall (Lynx House Press, 1976), Flim Flam (Lynx House Books, 1980), In Praise (Lost Horse Press, 2009), and GNAWING ON A THIN MAN (Willow Springs Editions, 2012). A fourth full- length volume, Lazarus, is forthcoming from Lost Horse Press. His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Michigan Quarterly Review, FIELD, Crazyhorse, Willow Springs, Prairie Schooner, Kayak, New Letters, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, and many other publications. He lives in Marshfield Hills, Massachusetts. Andrew Hamilton recently graduated the University of Tennessee where he won the Margaret Artley Woodruff Award, the Bain-Swigget Traditional Poetry Prize, and the Knickerbocker Non-traditional Poetry Prize. His short story “Surface Tension” was named runner-up of The Saturday Evening Post’s 2012 Fiction Competition and his other poems have appeared in BlazeVOX, Emerge Literary Journal, Yes, Poetry, and Crack The Spine. He is currently applying to graduate schools where he hopes to earn his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. William John Watkins was a member of the founding faculty at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey from which he recently retired. He has published more than 500 poems and over 100 stories in such magazines as Rhino, South Carolina Review, Hellas, Asimov’s, Cosmopolitan, and Commonwealth.
Thomas Lynch Thomas Lynch is the author of five collections of poems and three collections of essays including The Undertaking, which won The American Book Award, The Heartland Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Apparition and Late Fictions – A Novella and Stories, was published in Spring, 2010. His work has been the subject of two documentary films: the PBS Frontline film of “The Undertaking,” broadcast nationwide in 2007, won the 2008 Emmy Award for Arts & Culture Documentary; and Cathal Black’s film, “Learning Gravity,” aired in 2007 in the UK and Ireland. Mr. Lynch has been an adjunct professor with the graduate program in writing at University of Michigan and currently holds the Alonzo McDonald Chair at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He lives in Michigan and in Moveen, Co. Clare, Ireland.
NonFiction Amaris Ketcham is an honorary Kentucky Colonel and a regular contributor to the arts and literature blog, Bark. She teaches in the University of New Mexico Honors College. Her work has appeared in Bosque, Cactus Heart, Sacred Fire, Rio Grande Review, and the Utne Reader. Dianna Calareso earned her MFA from Lesley University in 2007. Her creative nonfiction has been published in over a dozen literary journals and magazines, including Evergreen Review, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, and Saw Palm. Dianna lives in Boston, MA, with her husband, and links to her published work can be found at diannacalareso.com. Alex Forman is a photographer, writer, literary translator, and personal historian living in Rio de Janeiro. A graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Art, her photography has been widely exhibited throughout the world. She is co-founder of JUBILAT, an international poetry journal. Tall, Slim & Erect : Portraits of the Presidents (Les Figues Press, 2011) is her first book.
Valerie Cumming received her MFA from the University of Michigan and currently works as a freelance writer, teacher, and editor based in Columbus, Ohio. Her stories have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Roanoke Review, Ohioana Quarterly Review, and are forthcoming in Curbside Splendor. Sean Conway holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Orleans. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Solstice Literary Magazine, Digital Americana, fwriction review, and the anthology Mental Ward: Stories from the Asylum, among others. He is a recipient of the Jack Kerouac Award, funded by the Kerouac estate, and of a 2012 Norman Mailer Center fellowship. He teaches writing and literature at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and can be followed at www.seanconwaybooks.com.
MEDIA Herbert Herschlag studied at Pratt Institute in NYC. He had a long career as a designer for advertising, publishing, in television at ABC News, and WNET, as well as textiles and wallcoverings where he licensed his designs. He works in watercolor, pen & ink, graphite, colored pencil, and acrylic, on numerous paper surfaces such as watercolor, bond, tracing, as well as canvas and tyvek. His pictures can be seen in numerous galleries in Danbury, Kent and Ridgefield, or on the web at artbyherschlag.com. His studio and gallery are in Danbury, CT. For an appointment call 203-730-8479. Monica Ong creates narratives that investigate social hierarchies and cultural silences in the context of public health. She completed her MFA in Digital Media at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is also a Kundiman poetry fellow. Her experimental image-poems have been published in the Lantern Review, The New Sound: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Art & Literature, Drunken Boat, and featured in Tidal Basin Review. Stephen Knezovich is a writer, editor, filmmaker, and artist living in Pittsburgh, PA. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University and has served as associate editor at Creative Nonfiction since 2008. He produces collages under the moniker The New Gravy Cake and his work can be viewed at thenewgravycake.com, among other places. Otha “Vakseen” Davis III has showcased his work at the Emerging Art Scene Gallery, Norbertellen Gallery, Noho Art Gallery, Stay Gallery, The Key Club, Media Temple Studios and M. Bird Salon, to name a few. His art has been featured in over 12 art and literary magazines and was recently nominated as a semi-finalist for “Visual Artist of the year” at the 4th Annual RAWards.
Antonia DiBona received her B.S. in Biology from Ursinus College in 2005 and worked as a middle school science teacher in a charter school for underprivileged youth for three years after college. Although teaching was a challenge and very rewarding Antonia has decided to pursue a second passion, writing. She is a graduate student at Rowan University. Her focus is nonfiction and she recently published an article about women in the sciences for the journal HBAdvantage. Myra Schiffman graduated from the University of Rochester in 1974 with a dual major in English and History. After a long and satisfying career in advertising copywriting, she is proud to be a second year graduate student in the Rowan University Master of Arts in Writing Program. She is exploring all forms of creative writing, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and is honored to work with Glassworks Magazine.
Stephen Knezovich Christopher Howell Savannah Grant William John Watkins Jeff Haynes Thomas Lynch Richard Fein Carolyn Adams Andrew Hamilton glassworksh.d 62. brown
A.R. Francis John Grey Rebecca Clever Ray Amorosi Jeff Haynes Amaris Ketcham Dianna Calareso
Alex Forman Valerie Cumming Sean Conway Herbert Herschlag Anna Claire Hodge
Monica Ong Otha Davis III Antonia DiBona Myra Schiffmann
Issue 6: A Magazine of literature, media, and art.