Volume 2: Innovation
IN LAYMANâ€™S TERMS
VOLUME 2 – FEBRUARY 4, 2018 \
Editors Brit Barnhouse Beck Adelante
In Layman’s Terms welcomes submissions of poetry, nonfiction, and visual art. Visit iltreview.com/submit for details on upcoming issues and themes prior to submitting your work.
TABLE OF CONTENTS POETRY Diane Ray
Dancing With the Stars
1850’s: Patents and the Peripatetic
The Gross Clinic Across Our Dining Room Table
A. R. Dugan
The Naked Mole Rat
Cusp, Swallowtail, Butterfly
Now and Then
Neither of Them Saw It
On the Road
American Horror Story
dating in 2k17
Ruth Sabath Rosenthal
Monarch Among Concretions
Steamboats and Porcelain
You Are a Calculator
A Barleycorn of Boogaloo Shrimp
VISUAL ART Tamara Stoffers â€“ Mightily Marvelous: Leninsky Avenue
: new methods; ideas; ways of seeing.
: discover through intention.
: make changes to something established.
DANCING WITH THE STARS They are the consummate dancing stars, perfectly paired to flamenco the firmament, all fiery flirting in a whirling encircling, eleven billion years of palmas near light speed, coyly not touching â€™til mature passion reels them close. And closer. These two lived as giants, then squeezed down to dwarves, stars indubitably dense, as though the sunâ€™s atoms shimmied to New York. All of them. Stuffed In the boroughs. And fit. Their footwork ignites as they step one step too close, or is it a saucy reach across loneliness? Love with smoldering head snap declared? One thundering golpe step tsunamis gravity throwing the star dancers cheek to cheek, skin to skin, colliding, exploding like cosmic piĂąatas, losing their second lives as stars. Old innards aglow in a nuclear dahlia, petals pulled wide as the sweep of a solar system, dying like divas in a hundred second aria, weakly chirped until: Ole! in high soprano C. Two neutron stars from Hydra reborn as one kilo nova gritty with debris but giddy with poofs of platinum, gold From the forge of heavenly alchemy the gold, alone, two hundred ingots for Tiffany. Earth-sized. For which it takes one hundred thirty million years for the ad and obit to appear as though via dinosaur gram in the astronomical post. Space time trembles like a laughing cosmic Buddha. 10
METEOR Ten feet tall, 6.5 feet wide, 4.25 feet deep, pitted Willamette Meteorite found in Oregon weighs 15.5 tons, largest in North America, 6th largest in the world. No crater at discovery site, researchers say fallen guest from space landed in Canada or Montana, traveled as a “glacial erratic” in Missoula Floods at end of last Ice Age 13,000 years ago. American Museum of Natural History acquired the rock in 1906 and in New York City the meteor has greeted 40 million viewers, Willamette almost most famous meteorite. Composed of 91% iron, 7.6% nickel, and traces of cobalt, phosphorus, the visitor contains metals quite rare on Earth. Iridium in the shooting star is many thousands times more frequent than in our crust wherever the fireball hit after slanted arc across unlit sky and amazed ancient human eyes, stare of wooly mammoths, pupil of saber tooth, extinct horse’s lifted gaze turned red before the world shook.
1850’S: PATENTS AND THE PERIPATETIC Every town had their photo shop farmers queueing with egg money for a three-inch copper plate that stared back at them when tilted just right. Daguerrotype, Collotype, Ambrotype, Woodbury— processes multiply almost as fast as photos. From brass to glass, the liquid magic tried on any surface— sometimes the whole thing exploded. But when cameras shrank, grew tripod legs, the world was their postcard— Sphinx, Alps, seraglio: bring home the Grand Tour to enjoy by the fire. Prove you were there. A candid view through a windowed eyepiece: the mundane suddenly compelling Cool sepia caught the world in chiroscuro stillness. What stared back was all there was. Even wars could be pinned down. Frozen moment something you could point to: This is how it was.
DARKROOM Vinegar. That smell. It fills the darkened room. One yellow bulb defines the black tank, black walls, black carrel holding the enlarger. Like one of its photos, the darkroom is carved from gray and night. Sound also is muted, a murmur. Slips of plastic, pre-cut, slotted into the frame. Flip the switch—a scene floods the table, fuzzed then sharp as you rotate the rings. Shrink/grow— line the edge with the marks, scrutinize, crop, adjust. Is it right? Switch off. Fumble in the black plastic bag—one slick sheet of Kromekote, deputized to hold the image. Shield the rest of the pack, set it aside. Carefully place the sheet on the marks, those ministers of protocol. Is it ready? Flip the switch—the scene kisses the paper, Zeus streams again onto waiting flesh and something is made. Light off. The blank page waits, gravid but pure. Take it to the ritual bath, soak it in the acetic tang, lift with tongs the newborn photo.
1870’S: EXPLORATIONS Another wagon on the survey team— glass plates stacked in wool roving clunk softly over Rockies, beyond the map. The metal salts' magic grabs the image of geysers, hot springs, giant redwoods— delivered eventually to stunned East coast eyes. William Henry Jackson caught the “crater of the deluge geyser”; his landscapes acquired the Yellowstone wonderland for a city-bred crop of tourists. The Fortieth Parallel, One Hundred Meridian Surveys dragged Tim Sullivan down the Colorado— canyons and carrion birds, scrub brush, pinyon, bleached skies. Wet-plates sensitive only to blues; clouds double-printed from under-exposed plates. Scraping off the mediocre; saving only the exquisite— then 300 plates sank in a capsize. Heat, mosquitoes, drought and barren limestone transformed by his camera’s hungry eye into icons that drew civilization across the plains like a wick draws water.
YOU ARE A CALCULATOR How does a calculator work? You mean one of the old school ones with the buttons and the LCD display? Yeah - like the one on your desk that you never use. I've got a slide rule sitting in a drawer somewhere too. It's a sentimental thing. What are we trying to do with our calculator? Add and subtract and multiply and all those other things. Correct - we are applying functions to the number input and seeing what comes out on the other end. We're going to stick with one plus one for the time being. It's a lot more complicated than you think. I already know how to add one plus one. I know you do but we need to make sure your calculator does before we can trust it to do much else. Mathematical induction tells us that if we can prove that one plus one equals two then one plus two equals three. We'll get to this a bit later. For now, we need to figure out how to get that number into the calculator. What do we use for that? The keypad thingy. That's right - any computer system, and we are talking about a computer here, needs a means of receiving data. In this case it's a number pad but there's a wide range of ways to input that data - you might use a keyboard or a microphone or any other component capable of interpreting data and transforming it into meaningful information a computer can work with. In this case we've got a fairly limited set of input variables - there are numbers and operators and, in some cases, a memory key. So what happens when you press a key? Before we even get that far you need to have the computer watching or 'polling' the keyboard so that the moment you hit a key it's sent to the processor. That's a reasonably simple task so we'll just convert that number to binary... What's binary? Any decimal number, which is what us ten-fingered smart mammals use, can be represented in other bases. Computers like to talk in binary so every number is reduced to a series of ones and zeroes on the way from the keypad to the processor. This is called 'binary encoding'. We're going to start by sending that binary information to a register. Registers store information temporarily when you're using a calculator. Can you explain binary a bit more? No problem - you know how when we get to 'ten' we end up with the first two digit number? 16
With binary you go zero, one, ten, eleven, one hundred. That's nonsensical. It's the way binary works. Computers, unless we're talking about quantum computing, are almost exclusively binary. Transistors store and process information in that format. It's not an option. Accept and assimilate - it's binary all the way down from here. I distrust you. This is all true, right? It's close enough for what we're doing here. I'm airbrushing things a bit but I don't think you want to discuss Turing-complete machines just yet. What's a Turing? Alan Turing was one of the godfathers of computing. He came up with a basic set of rules to describe how a computer functioned at the level of 'bits' which are the binary numbers we were just talking about. In theory a Turing-complete computer can perform any computable problem. A calculator is designed to handle a very specific subset of computable problems so it doesn't quite meet the criteria of being Turingcomplete. A computer, however, is Turing complete. Now's a good time to talk about algorithms. Does this have anything to do with the calculator anymore? Absolutely. We've got a number in a register now but we haven't done anything with it yet. This brings us to what's known as the flag register which is where the algorithm for a specific function is stored for when you need it. Conjunction junction, what's your function? Dear God. A function is like a very small program inside the calculator that correlates with one of the function keys, things like 'plus' or 'sine', that are stored in something called 'ROM' and moved to a register when you press the key. Are you following so far? When you press a key it goes into a register? That's right. Now we have a number and a function we want to apply to it. What else do we need? Another number? Exactly. We now have three pieces of data to work with - two registers and one flag register. Using our example of 'one plus one', the ones are stored in the input registers and the plus is stored in the flag register. Now we're going to make some magic happen. The 'equals' key tells the calculator to apply the function in the flag register to the input registers. It's magic! Close enough for our needs. The calculator then sends the registers to an arithmetic logic unit which is a very rudimentary processor that specializes in calculations. 17
Modern computers are far more versatile than that but until the mid-nineties a lot of computers still came with a separate processor dedicated to nothing but math functions. These days it's built right into the processor. For our purpose, we can just think of the ALU as the brain behind the entire calculator. So now it's easy - just tell the computer chip to add one plus one and you end up with two. That's not nearly as easy to calculate as you might think. Are you sure 'one plus one' equals 'two'? Of course it is. What else would it be? It seems logical but proving it is quite different than thinking. To keep you from going insane we're not going to get into the proof of one plus one equals two but two of the smartest mathematicians of the twentieth century, Russell and Whitehead, took over three hundred pages to, mostly, prove it. That's ridiculous. They could have called me. I'm sure you would have set them straight on the properties of numbers. Never trust anybody who tells you numbers are stable. They aren't. Coming back to our calculator - what happens when you turn the power off? It goes away. Yes it does. All this requires is electricity running through the calculator. However, there is information stored in the read only memory, or ROM, of the calculator which is where the functions that fill the flag register come from. The other type of memory, random access memory, or RAM, is temporary. You can also have a memory key that fills the output of the calculation into a register until you need to use it again. We're not done talking about the ALU yet. What happens when you hit 'equals' on the keyboard? Voodoo? It sends the number to the screen. Actually it sends the result back to the second register which displays on the screen after making a stop - the calculator needs to convert the binary information into decimal information so you can understand it. Once that's done it gets sent to the display. Let's walk through it again... When you press your first number it... Gets converted to binary. Right. Then it gets put into... A register. Good - next you enter a function. And it finds the function you want to apply. I still want to know more about how one plus one equals two. Not going to happen. It exceeds my knowledge set and, most likely, exceeds yours. 18
It falls into the obvious but incredibly hard to prove category. Back to our calculator. What's the next thing we're going to do? Enter another number that goes in the second register? Right, now when you press the enter key it's going to... Do calculator magic and make it into normal numbers again? And then it sends it back to the screen. Presto. That makes sense. Can I build a calculator out of cookies? In theory, yes. You would need the various registers, inputs and outputs we discussed but I see no reason you couldn’t build a gingersnap calculator. I like chocolate chip. Then we’ll do it with chocolate chips. That’s one of the beautiful things about binary information - you can represent it with any sort of object. The cool part is that four binary cookies equals one hundred digital cookies. I like binary cookies. One final thing - you do realize what happens when you enter 58008 in a calculator and turn it upside down. You’re an idiot.
A BARLEYCORN OF BOOGALOO SHRIMP Son, there comes a time in every boy's life when he grows to be a man... Let me guess - I must run around in the jungle and get mauled by an ocelot as part of this ceremony? No, now is the time you learn to boil shrimp for friends and family. We’re going to need this here five-gallon kettle. Why did you say gallon instead of liter? Bloody foreigners with their metric system, everything dividing cleanly and scientific units normalized. To get ahead in a world of imperial measurements you needed to know the length of a thumb, a foot, even a barleycorn and a dram. This is the glory of the imperial system - chaos in all directions. Why does the US still use it? Sheer arrogance. Do they use it anywhere else anymore? The only places left that use the imperial system besides America are Liberia and Myanmar. Don’t ask, I have no idea. But there are still a lot of countries, mostly Commonwealth, where people think in imperial sometimes. Old habits die hard. Your generation is confused. At least we have SI units to make sense of it all. What's an SI unit? That's the whole metric system and it makes a lot more sense than gallons and pints and quarts and hogsheads. Hogshead - is that where they stick the pig in a big barrel, cut its head off, drain the blood and then measure the difference? Not quite - it's how they measured wine and beer for about four hundred years starting in the 15th century. How many gallons was determined by the type of wine. Pass me some potatoes. Bag says four kilograms but old folk like me think of it as ten pounds or so, close enough. Throw those potatoes in - we've got a boil to finish here. There’s one other little complication you should be aware of - not all gallons are the same. In fact, there are three completely different gallons - the US gallon, the imperial gallon and... I thought Americans used the imperial system? They do, sort of, but they also have a US gallon which is about twenty per cent more than an imperial gallon. Don’t even get me started on the US dry gallon. They’re all ‘close’ but you’ll have to memorize which one you use for what. Memorize? Absolutely. A lot of jobs are going to require you to be able to convert all these things in your head. 20
Joy. Knowing that one meter equals 3.281 feet is critical for being an architect. Converting kilopascals to pounds per square inch is part of being a civil engineer. If you want to do the cool science things start working on it. Here's one for you - do you know how long a meter is? A meter? I mean the ‘official’ length of a meter is? 3.281 feet? You keep telling and telling me. But how do you think they decided the exact length of a meter? Measuring tape? But how do they make sure the measuring tape is right? Line up a whack of barleycorns? The official definition of a meter is derived from how fast light travels through a vacuum per second. How do they know how long a second is? That's even cooler - that's based on radioactive decay of an element called caesium which is a liquid at room temperature. What if caesium is made of shrimp and can’t be measured? Quiet or I’ll measure you. Why don't we have centi-seconds or kilo-minutes? Let's get this water boiling first. Three gallons. We'll call it twelve liters to keep things simple. Time for a math lesson. Further joy. What do we know about the number sixty? There are ten numbers that evenly divide into sixty. For people measuring the world in barleycorns and inches these kinds of things were important. Sixty was a nice clean number that people could divide simply. It's the same thing with compasses have 360 degrees. Those numbers are intended to keep things simple for simple people. The average person did not get the decimal point until well into the 20th century - it was fractions all the way down and you can't land on the moon with fractions, boyo. I’m pretty sure you can. Dad, why do you like to boil shrimp? Because I like a good party and ten pounds of sea bugs makes for a proper feed. This is how they do it down in the south. We have family in those parts. Where? Well, your grandmother was born in New Orleans but we've got kin... Kin? It's a word for family, Old English, barleycorn times. We've got kin scattered all over the south. Carrots! I need carrots! I'd say fifty ounces of carrots - Imperial measurement? You bet. Sixteen imperial ounces to a pound. Alternatively, let’s say fifty-five troy ounces. Just like 21
gallons thereâ€™s a handful of different ounces. They were all used for different things and they weren't really standardized. That had a lot to do with the origins of the metric system back at the end of the nineteenth century. A big part of it was making sure everybody was measuring things the same. Pass me some of that andouille sausage. Time for some spices and secret stuff. This is where it gets interesting. You're dumping a box of stuff that says 'seafood boil' on it. Is that really that secret? It is if you don't know where to buy it. Throw it in and give it a stir, might as well put all of it in. It all comes down to the ingredients. Time for a few drams of Tabasco sauce straight from Avery Island. How long do we cook these potatoes? About half an hour. Time to throw a bit of corn in. I'd think a six-dozen ears will do it. So what do they mean by a degree when they're talking about the globe? A degree of longitude is one 360th of the diameter of the earth. Think of it like slicing an orange into vertical pieces. Thin slices. Very. Latitude is slicing the orange horizontally. If you draw a line around the equator there are ninety degrees to the pole each way from the equator. Those are called degrees of latitude. We live about halfway between the equator and the North Pole, just past the forty-ninth degree, what they call the forty-ninth parallel. Who cares? Sailors to start with. Not knowing where they were in the world led to crashing into things and dying. East and west were easy by day or night because you could follow the sun and the stars. North and south not so much because you needed those stars to tell you where you were and that didnâ€™t help when the sun was out. They needed a reliable daytime clock. Clocks have been around for thousands of years. Most of the clocks that date back to antiquity used gravity, whether sand or water, to properly function and evenly measure out time in those handy little second units.
If you think about it what we think of as gravity is changing with the ebb and flow of the water when you’re at sea. That's a bit of an airbrush on Newtonian mechanics, real gravity is quite different, but I think you get what I mean. Deep dish trip. So how do you measure time without gravity? You use a clock made with a mechanical device called an escapement. Pass me that corn. What's an escapement? It's a device that works because of pressure that ticks away the seconds unaffected by gravity. It's still used in a lot of manual watches. A fellow named Harrison invented something called a marine chronometer to measure time at sea. The British government lost a very valuable ship at the beginning of the century so there was a lot of pressure to come up with a solution. They paid Harrison almost three million in modern money. We're on the homestretch here with the shrimp - my personal touch is a bit of asparagus but any old green vegetable works just fine. How do you know the potatoes are done? Timing, boyo. It all comes down to knowing how long it’s been in the pot. You've been watching me for a half hour working on this and, truth be told, it's one of the easiest meals to make, very forgiving as food goes. I’ve never been much for measuring ingredients when I cook. I don't like thinking in drams or troy ounces or angstroms or anything much else. I go by instinct and boiling shrimp is about as instinctive as cooking gets. Doesn't matter if you have a few too many of this or not enough of that. When do we add the shrimp? Right about now - you only need to cook them for about three minutes or they get all rubbery then mushy. Respect the shrimp and don't overcook them. Ready? Throw them in and tell everybody it's time for dinner. By the time they finish their drinks it'll be a boil on the table. We'll talk more about the decimal system some time. How do you tell the shrimp are done? They turn pink but just barely. Can we come up with a measurement for shrimp? Sure - what are you thinking? How about a boogaloo of shrimp? Perfect. Out of the way - we're draining things here. Let there be shrimp.
THE GROSS CLINIC ACROSS OUR DINING ROOM TABLE When you heard his name pulled from silence like an avalanche victim, I bet the room shimmered to hornets, as my articulators froze in time like soda cans and mangled bikes, waiting for spring thaws, illuminating what glittered behind my eyes; the curiosity of every slain housecat, the spectacle of unsolved mysteries sharpening my shovel as I plunged deeper and deeper into the permafrost of his absence, pulling up frostbitten fingers, until his body lie across our dining room table, burnt black by ice and visions of God, so we ate dinner around him, passed beer over the decay of his brain, talked about post graduate plans a s his synapses withered like wisteria at the turn of November, whittled down to snake grass and snapdragon skulls; so, I precipitated apologies in the morning, inadvertent skeletons that never bothered to hear the cold on your breath; all ski pole fingers and cellophane skin, running through your hair, as they used to, veins periwinkle like the eyes of a favorite friendly ghost, or yours like black diamonds from a mineshaft of dead canaries.
BIRD BANDING His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and though his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet when they stoop, they stoop with the like wing. - Shakespeare, Henry V
We caught the birds in mist nets overnight. Dimmed plumageâ€”comfortable in a wooden box with many small rooms. It doesnâ€™t sound like much of a ceremony, but I was chosen. They gathered around in a group and saw legs, fragile as dry twigs, encircled with special pliers in careful hands, tiny numbers on metal. Memory beats its wings against my skin, then rests. My fingers embrace both sides of a downy head, small heartbeat in my hand and the exhilaration of releasing it while all the others watch it fly away. 26
NUPTIALS On the rim of the sapphire birdbath gold finch and western bluebird meet, dark eye to eye, two minutes or more inquisitive, tilting of bills. Each dips its head twice, steps in, submerges, double flurry of wings beating water like liquid air, hops out, shivering dry as cold drops scatter. So different and alike, uneasy with those of their kind, they sing two songs modulating into one learned by heart to seal the pact. They groom the other, quick beaks, start a dynasty on blue basinâ€™s edge, round seaâ€™s shore, fly blue and gold toward cobalt sun in the yellow sky.
THE NAKED MOLE RAT In our quest for godliness, we have gone underground— Wells was right about us, it seems. The naked mole rat has answers: he lives an eternity in rat years, has no menopause, no cancer, no enemies. Berryman said bats have no bankers, they have it made, but by that logic, mole rats also have no symphonies, no sympathies, no fashion. There is freedom in nakedness, but no one will ever paint the naked mole rat in anything other than poison to test its immunity to toxins (it won’t get sick). The fountain of youth is buried in the desert—blind albinos scurry around it, unaware of its power. Death is the price for painlessness, but acid
will not scald the naked mole rat. We may, one day, live forever, for nothingâ€”shutting our eyes, never leaving the cave, drained of all color, vigor. In this new version of the underworld, we are not shadows, but blanks, with red eyes and translucent skin, who chew through the walls blindly, fetuses groping in the dark. In the future, aspiration is excavationâ€”plumbing the depths, and cells, and the hideous, not for meaning, but for some clue, something to sustain us. If we give up pigment and purpose, anything is possible.
METAMORPHOSIS LAB If tortured willows twisted up my bench as shadows doused the roomâ€™s fluorescent sheen; if, instead of latex, these gloves were leather, stopping at the knuckle to reveal fingers black and crusted under candlelight; if I ditched this lab coat for an alchemy robe and stole sips to test my brewing samples; if opals pulsed to the hot plateâ€™s hum, to the tap of water into a scrying pool, to the kick of dead frogs through formaldehyde; if the teaching skeleton scaled the drop-ceiling and ripped holes for starlight through the roof; if we arranged the Bunsen burners in a pentagram and danced the Darwin dance as cocoons rattled from the shelf and split apart; if dusty wings unfurled among the crucibles and tongs as the scientists, dropping to our knees, began to pray: spirits of the moon untamed, arise! This place would make a little bit more sense.
Objective: Students will be able to: look at themselves and others in the eye and not flinch when sharing panoramas of the heart; understand and navigate labyrinths of differences and view such not as obstacles but as tools to unravel tangled and knotted challenges both local and global; apply knowledge gained through personal experiences and through lessons left by crestfallen generations to identify, denounce, and thwart tyranny, doing so in the name of those who came before and for the sake of those who come after; as based on international standards on what it means to be a decent human being. Preparation: In the first week of school the teacher choreographs self-guided routines based on the rhythm of ethics and the tempo of diligence so that students transition harmoniously through stages of all lessons like planets in the solar system. Warm-up: Students review the basics: they are equal, they are valued, there is hope. Input: Teacher creates a hook so enticing it slices through peer pressures, disparate learning levels, daydreaming, social media drama, consuming moments of embarrassment, hormones oblivious to convenience, shipwrecked self-esteems, broken homes, and insufficient funding and supplies. Teacher takes the first letter of the alphabet, the cardinal catalyst to everything, and, with its prongs, unlocks the horizon. Teacher plucks a megalith of the world, rolls and shrinks it to a marble, and lets it sparkle until studentsâ€™ eyes reflect the gleam. Teacher models how to take the flecks to create crystal luminaries and prays to never disappoint the young.
Guided Participation: In heterogeneous pairs, students practice beading beacons. Teacher circulates the room to extinguish any fires. When partners cannot agree on either blue or yellow light, the teacher helps them see the beauty of green. Extension: Students work in groups of four and see if they can expand a glowing sphere and, based on preference, mold its essence into a graph with triple axis, a symphony, a painting, a novel, a play, a garden, a pet, or a machine. Let students showcase outcomes in a gallery of balloons inflated with their laughter and eurekas. Multiply by 180 days and thirteen years. Closure: Students display mastery of concepts through the choices they make beyond the classroom door. Teacher can verify learning by counting the stars; there should be so many that night never falls.
MILKWEED MEDICINE Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, Grows in a sleepy section of my yard. When broken, its leaves and stems bleed white, a reflex Releasing latex As part of a baneful concoction meant to deter predators. Caterpillars of the Monarch Take in the toxins easily With every inching bite. What agitates aggregates, Weaves an inward armor That will someday make wings. We, too, pull in our personal poisons And turn them so naturally into song, What was meant to slow our heart Can push its beating onward Reborn from the burning Bearing warnings on our skin Our stories reaching out before a word is said. We are walking cautionary tales. And yet Every discerning apothecary will tell you The danger is in the dose A slight of hand, A tip of the scales. When did we become the bitter pill, Marked by our makeup? An end is always So close. But let the only closing we seek Be the knitting of our chrysalis. A temporary darkness where we only sleep, Rearranging, light and free as a mote, Let transformation Be our antidote.
CUSP, SWALLOWTAIL, BUTTERFLY The New York Times obituary did not say how long Dr. Rene Thom suffered from severe arterial inflammation. An expert in topology, the study of abstract shapes and symmetry, He was born with a normal heart and lungs. By the age of ten he was able to see in four dimensions. His blood branched to both meridians, both lobes. He sought to predict sudden change -how the symmetry of sailing along smoothly could give way to the disorder of plunging over a waterfall. He was shy. This fascination led him to invent the Theory of Catastrophe. Sociologists and stockbrokers practiced it without success. Born in 1923, he had a wife and three children. He gave his abstract forms names like cusp, swallowtail and butterfly. He used the term “Anglo-Saxon” in the pejorative. He was French. His life’s work, all 8000 pages, is available on compact disc. Shown his image on the cover, late in the disease, when it had taken a foot and all but his earliest memories, Thom saw the face of a strange man he might have called precipice, or proof.
NOW AND THEN I stood at the corner of Spring and 6th. The intersection at an impasse. A flatbed unloaded pipe; hard hats assembled scaffolding. Commuters climbed out of the ground. The light turned and each began to weave his or her way and then one, a woman, alongside an eighteen-wheeler, reached out and steadied it like giving notice to a nervous beast with a touch to its flank - her hand went to the metal above the wheel wells, below the hood, as if she trusted tons of steel would yield like a team of oxen to the flat of her hand as if she carried some old way of life within her. Or as if, in that moment, the light shifted and she found herself in one shaft among cattle that once came this way to drink from a nearby spring. Buried, it floods basements now and then.
NEITHER OF THEM SAW IT Not the Tesla zooming down a sunny Florida highway before the tractor-trailer turned, white, invisible against a summer sky too high for the Tesla’s radar (it might have been a sign). Not the techie-magic-loving driver screening Harry Potter on DVD before the crunch of shearing metal—the semi’s undercarriage peeling the Tesla’s roof like it was opening a tin can—the Tesla still running— through fence, field fence, trees until it hit a power pole driver dead, Harry Potter still on, human and machine intelligence undone.
ESTATE SALE Sundayâ€™s best looked untouched As if saved for a day that Never did come Those fine china dishes Piled under some obscure Painting of a farmhouse And piles of old photos All unrecognizable Next to miscellaneous items That must have once been treasured But today only marked down An additional twenty percent.
HEIRLOOMS The house is empty, save for this one box containing grandmotherâ€™s zither and the stripped cotter pin that wrecked grandfatherâ€™s trailer and threw the tractor it carried over a guard rail, down a ravine. My son finds the piece of knotty pine he placed in the box the day we ran out out of wood and burned the attic floor. Here is my leather bound set of Dickens and the bell I rang the day the war ended. Funny, the things we keep and pass on, pocket watches, tie pins, and cuff links our once-used bells, our lessons learned: stronger cotter pins, much more wood, and when all is lost a zither to play.
ON THE ROAD As a child, my mother moved me many times And on the road, I saw: Dead deer shrines unremoved by slacked highway workers, Broken glass from the eyes of car accidents bloodstained with questions, Abandoned duties of guard rails fresh with discontinuity, And I trembled at mortality. But etched naturally, in greenery, I saw: “What hasn’t been done?” So while sandwiched between Freedom and responsibility, I turned to my mother and asked: “Would you let me cash in my inherited consequences For a different life?” The road is the reason I am half in my life, but Half out the door With a canvas backpack and fifty dollars That I’ll spend on poisonous escapes From the path followed for success Older generations age into frail, failing hearts But we were born with fear in ours. But after being on the road, God no longer looms on my shoulder. Just dust Begging to be brushed off, So I can say: “Yes, I did something new. Yes, I was scared.” 40
CYCLICITY I know of a boy who wakes every morning by the sun pouring in through broken blinds, And the first thing he sees, are dressers with no drawers, clothes strewn on the floor, mold on the shower walls and plates, cups, spoons, piled in the sink. No one will wash them, as No one will take out the overflowing trash, or rotting tomatoes from the refrigerator, or clear off months old mail from the dining table, But despite this, he still puts on his best “I don’t live in squalor” costume, and goes to school for free. For a bit he forgets how uninhabitable it is at home, until the teacher checks the homework he didn’t have the means to do, and shakes her head in dense disapproval, Sparking the reminder: it is hard to break free from poverty. But there is nothing he can do, Except go home to the cable cut off, no dinner made, and the bed bugs that’ll bite until that bastard sun wakes him again.
DUMP RUN They do not call it the dump for that term is now most déclassé so instead it has become the Recycling Center and Swap Shop where garbage not composted is dropped off in plastic bags where slightly worn stuff can be exchanged for other slightly worn stuff or objects like children’s toys from children who have moved on up to more expensive gadgets to be played with as if one were to be seriously occupied while sometimes the truck from Goodwill arrives to scoop away the clothes dropped off by the affluent for the bargain hunters because the poor seldom come to our Recycling Center or brave the rush of SUVs and the brightly polished extended cab pick-ups for social class in this New England town is most in evidence at what was once The Town Dump.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY Somewhere in America, Helen Keller has a perfect score on Dance Dance Revolution. Nike is making her a signature sneaker; the laces encoded with Livestrong quotes in braille. Somewhere in America, Nat Geo photographers have moved back to disposable cameras, outsourced their Instagram accounts to children from broken homes. Someone needs those followers, a spokesman says. Somewhere in America, a group of Amish boys have caught God on Pokemon Go and debate his release. They are nervous about the implications of political asylum. Somewhere in America, Kanye West has interrupted a bingo game, a family dinner,
hopped the barricade at a high school wrestling show and cut a promo on how he is untouchable. Somewhere in America, some of us have gotten away; Molly Ringwald and Jeff Mangum sip luke-warm Miller Lite and write a thesis on the Marfa Lights. But somewhere in America, fame is a white Bronco on the California 405, SchrĂśdingerâ€™s Orenthal with a starting gun to his head, fading in and out under streetlights. The television audience, a laugh track, hissing.
dating in 2k17 i should’ve swiped left but i am an idiot.
maybe it was your blue eyes illuminating my iphone screen maybe it was the thought of going places i had never been maybe it was your perfect teeth and tatted shoulders a still image and still i was set back by your smolder your bio read like a nicholas sparks novel and i’m not even a fan but for you stranger
i can be. i can be someone else.
my eyes stare into the color blue illuminated on a glass screen— frozen pupils frozen in a moment.
i wish i could dive in, and the hypothetical you would cease to torment
me. i wish i could catch your eye from corner to corner, and that youâ€™d approach me with a
on the shoulder nerves now boulders crushing any grip you thought you had on your first impression your emotions a pool that your heart might sink in our worlds become the single place that you and i both dream in blue jean pockets soaking up the nervousness dripping in the palms of your hands the melanin of my eyes a brand on the flesh of your mind
does this kind of love exist anymore?
it might so i swipe right
i am a gambler for love. in this fight i will let you rip out my stitches
touch my bloodstain’d wounds my remnants upon bones i’ll let you in because it’s better than being
alone bind your skin to what’s left of mine the veins in my heart a serpentine drought’d stream quench my soul with yours
reign over me
how many stabs until i find my own flesh? god knows. i should’ve swiped left.
and like a naïve hungry child 46
i met you that night wanting you to penetrate
like cupidâ€™s stab, but you only penetrated my reflection.
i lied in your bed that night. and i also lied to myself
this is the way itâ€™s supposed to be.
souls cannot inhale souls trapped behind a glass screen. try to break through in 2k17
and you just might crack your skull.
CHERRY PICKING Nick Bragg's Lincoln Town car was the biggest sedan I had ever been in. My legs, which are not short legs, stretched almost to the leather of the seat in front of me. I had deliberately given Cheryl the front seat, even though Nick asked me to join him first, mostly because I wanted to look at the bone at the base of Cheryl's neck, as Aimee had advised me to do. From the back seat, I could see every pearl-like bone stemming from the base of her pageboy cut down under the collar of her white shirt, through which darker pouches of sweat were collecting in the North Carolina late afternoon summer heat. Cheryl hadn't eaten anything in front of anyone the entire summer session. I want to note that we had been living together for weeks, sharing showers with filmy plastic between us, sharing the same dorm rooms, sometimes the same beds, passing books (Bukowski, did men really fuck like that?) under the stalls we sat in every morning and talked, like easy spouses reaching over torsos for razors, for brushes, all of us insisting we would teach one another to take our coffees black. We were all sweating students together, all envious of the other coastal fellows that summer whose parents had paid for their summer dorms to have window airconditioning units and were leaving straight from the summer session to go back east. They had prescription drugs so they could focus better and grew up in boarding schools far from our farms. Our bodies too were in obvious contrast. We were Midwestern, all athletically built, except for Cheryl who pulled edamame from its skin tenderly and with care, lengthening her anorexic meals, making us all feel fat and tan and not as breathless as she. I thought she would turn sideways and disappear, all cloven in half. Aimee had seen her through the shower curtain, "her hip bones look Holocausty, for fuck's sake" and patted her own pudge. Aimee was a tough country lesbian who tended bar back in the college town we worked in. She collected lovers like trophies. When we shook hands for the first time I could feel where the cardboard holes in the cases of beer had coarsened her finger pads. Aimee knew every artist in the MoMA, naming them alphabetically once while we sat on a bus stalled outside of Queens with a package of Big League Chew bubble gum, a novelty of sugar that looked Skoal. She was good with her memory. She could rattle off birthdates and death-dates of the people she cared about, and she loved the Frick Gallery, which takes a certain patience. Our favorite of the art teachers was Randi Hook, who had two of her own art books 49
out and who was Dutch and compact and whose long-term girlfriend had shared a cubby-sized apartment with her in Greenwich while they were graduate school. Randi told us once after a bottle of wine that she loved this woman, but they were poor, so the girlfriend started stripping at night to support Randi at Columbia. Randi said she didn’t get jealous of all the men looking at her body since they were men and it didn’t matter and, girls, she said, “that’s love” and we believed her since it was night in the fragrant gardens south of the art hall, all three of us sitting closely together, so open with our secrets on the concrete bench, that sudden intimacy, free from the gaze of any men, then nothing forever. Randi died six months after the institute when she was hit by a bus while crossing the street in back in Jamaica, Queens. She died instantly. After a month in the museum, Aimee begged for company at the only gay bar in Winston-Salem. After three vodka and grapefruits, which made her breath even warmer somehow, she started kissing the bartender, a heavily pierced girl even taller than we were. She had kept kissing her and taking a drink and then kissing her again while I sat at the end of the bar watching the dancing all around, but all I could think was how Aimee's hair kept getting fucking caught in that bartender’s lip ring. It was at the corner of her mouth; didn't she get it caught on everything? But the girl didn’t care it seemed, as she came back to the dorms with us in the same car and then quietly left the next morning, her boots in her hands as she tiptoed out of Aimee's room for her taxi as I was coming back from my run. She stopped in the door to light a cigarette in her long fingers, my hand cupping hers to block the morning wind. And that next day Aimee didn’t mention it, like it was yesterday’s sport. The summer heat grew so much that summer, the Board worried for us. The Missouri students laughed since we had not been allowed the luxury of complaint when children in the tall grass close to the Arkansas border, but the east coast kids had pull, so we were moved into the main house on Reynolda campus the next day, our bunks blue-sheeted and cool one floor above wall after wall of American art. That evening Aimee’s rough hand grabbed mine in the front room unthinkingly and her breath warm whispered, "they have an Audrey Flack," all the games of the night before forgotten as she had upgraded to quiet politeness in the close company of the curators. It was that same breath that told me to get a look at Cheryl’s neck, her "fucking chicken neck, and make Nick fucking feed her." I spent thirty minutes in front of the Flack, whose oils stood richly apart from everything else acrylic, the portrait of her blurred daughter in the right corner and I wondered if I ever would have girls, daughters. And now looking back I suppose I finally understand that fervent motherlove Flack had pressed into the canvas. Girl children are the bodies the same, the smells all sweet and half of you when they ask for water in the night and the sound of the pads of their feet while I read in the basement below them, their legs under their nightgowns, feet touching 50
mine in the morning light. But the Flack. I was still there, still looking the colors, nearly too red, the bone of the pearls curling around the skull and Nicholas Bragg, 72, white suit and bow tie, said, "Allison, youâ€™re in boots. Grab your bag. We're going to Virginia. And bring the skinny one." Nick was the curator, power beyond what I'd ever seen. He was old tobacco money, and he was safe, so I said yes. And he was a gentleman to the bone, to the bone as white as O'Keefe's bone in the painting which was hanging upstairs in Reynolda House, and in our walking tour one day that summer the older gentlelady in the course had expressed to the crowd, "it's NOT a vagina," since the girls were commenting on how the flower looked like us, down there, and the lesbians laughed, rolling eyes, and Aimee had asked, "Ms. Evelyn, what do you suppose O'Keefe thought about all those months when Stieglitz was away fucking those whores in New York City?" and Evelyn's eyes widened but she pulled a kerchief from her purse, her tiny elegant lavender Southern North Carolina purse, and dabbing the corners of her mouth, she said, "I don't suppose I know what O'Keefe was thinking, but crudeness is not a lady's concern," and that was enough to keep Aimee quiet. So, after Nick asked, well, rather simply requested the company, I went to Cheryl since it would have looked bad to keep Nick and his head to myself for a day trip, and I said, "Cheryl, I need you to come cherry picking with me, we're taking Nick's car." And no one, I mean no one says no when you declare it's high June and the cherries are ripe on a hill in Virginia so you just get in the Lincoln for Christ's sake, we will eat at the road stop on the way. And even starving Cheryl didn't say anything, unblinkingly, she just grabbed her jacket, and yes she wore a jacket in June in Raleigh-Durham since she hadn't eaten anything but soft edamame in weeks and she was cold, the little white hairs standing on end on top of that pearl bone. In North Carolina there is food on the side of the road, Ma and Pop truck stops but not for truckers. For men in their Lincolns. For Midwestern anorexics looking for just two saltines and hot tea to curb the hunger pains. And we walked around the back of this stand and washed our hands in well water from a pump out back. Nick had bought white fish and a strawberry gelatin, the square sleeve of simple crackers with fish that had been hand-caught on the coast two hours before, head off and split, and a homemade jar of preserves. He laid out his handkerchief, scooping the fish expertly from the body and putting both on a plain saltine. Cheryl was across the grocery, but he put the cracker to my lips and I held my hand to his and ate the whole cracker, mouth wide. He waited, eyebrows raised. I suppose when I look back now the jam should have been colder, but the fish was good, but that I liked Nick's hands close to my face since I missed my own father who was white-haired like him. So, I made myself another to please Nick and Cheryl was still looking at hand woven throw rugs in the back until Nick called us to the car where the highway dust was all over the tires and chrome and my 51
feet. I took the front seat the rest of the way across the state line, and Nick asked about the tractors and the dog breeding and if I had ever shot anything while Cheryl listened politely from the backseat. I didn't tell him about the only living creature I ever shot, the trusting sparrow, junk birds my dad called them, who came too soon on the bird feeder while I waited still with my father’s gun under my left arm, and when it perched in its simple flutter on the metal stand, I used my BB against him or her and, just like that, the punching click of the gun, and the bird fell hard against the ground. I was eight and trying to show my big brother I wasn't so little since he'd always say, “You're such a girl." And it was how he said it, as though I was our crying mother with her paperback with the cover torn off, a castaway from the piles in back that she'd bring home from her job at the bookstore. A castaway like she was from her own family. And I didn't mind being a good reader like she was, but I didn't want to cry like her. So, I didn’t until I had buried the bird that afternoon in the shoebox under the woodpile, the bland sticky of the sucker I had eaten earlier turning my tears some red color when they rolled into my mouth. Nick Bragg, curator of Reynolda House of Museum Art, lover of Flack, O'Keefe, landscape painting, corn on the cob, bow ties, black Lincoln Town cars, bourbon with one big ice cube in it, fresh mint leaves, babies held casually, pastels in his dress shirts, and potential protégés, drove deep into the south of Virginia where two screenwriters formerly of California had moved to start a life of living simply with their children, white blonde children, Coppertone brown part-in-the-center-of-their-hair-children, mud under the fingers children, and barefoot, and they greeted us at the door of their home, slight but with their important art on the smallish furniture and they had spent a lot of time on the kitchen and their composting bin, which in 1996 was ridiculous, but they promised it would come to something one day. Cheryl had wandered out back around the same time the wife, Wanda, poured mint juleps since it was about 4, "high tea" she called it. And Wanda was there in all her womanness, tall and stoic and completely committed to the view down a green and red mountain that faced the ocean and took her away from whatever had happened out west, whatever Nick said, “we were not to ask about. Stick to the husband.” About that time, Nick asked for one ice cube in his drink and wiped the sweat of the top of his lip with his handkerchief as he moved the sprig of mint in between his bottom gum and his teeth and his Arturo Fuente smell when he’d walk by, just my height. I know Nick must be long dead by now for it has been twenty years since that day, or if he’s not dead he is so old he no longer wipes his own chin, and I don’t want to think of him like that. Wanda, who we weren’t allowed to ask about, led me outside to join Cheryl while the men remained inside, talking about the things men talk about, and the wind was blowing the final blooms off the trees, lifting the branches into the wind while the dust circled Wanda’s bare 52
toes. Cheryl asked how the family came by the land. Wanda gave us the stock story: The Rolands’ orchard in the Blue Ridge Mountains was inherited from her husband’s Quaker grandparents whose specialty was cabbage and yams grown in Florida’s citrus heat. After eight children, Edward Roland decided to transition to Granny Smith apple farming, so he could “look up to God as he picked.” To test his picking for God, Edward planted one solitary foothigh apple tree in between stalks of the lower growing vegetables, and the plant grew so voluminously, and Wanda pronounced it vuhlomiousy with her stalky blonde hair and weasel waist and casual parenting and detached conversation, and “the tree just grew and grew,” she said, crossing the unvarnished porch to the steps that led to the first field of angled trees, and she said that first tree was hearty, “beanstalking its way up to God so the man moved his eight children with no complaint from his wife north to Virginia because they had lived next to a slaughterhouse in Florida and that place gave the babies nightmares.” And Cheryl sniffed then and I wondered if this unnamed wife would have worried about moving to a mountain in Virginia, a state of hill people like my own, and bathtub gin and shotguns but what mother of eight has time to think about those things when her hands are filled with babies and arms and bottles that must be boiled for the first three months and nipples chafed sore as hell from three different children still nursing and the lanolin salve taste and her belly’s insides feeling not quite the same as they did before the babies and her desperate silent desire to keep her husband’s body far away from hers as though pregnancy was catching and the sounds of animals dying in the next property over. “And who wouldn’t want to move states away from a two-story building slaughterhouse next to them in Florida,” Wanda said, adding later that it slaughtered chickens and hogs and the crying out at daybreak, which was nursing time “troubled of nerves,” and that the bags of beaks and feet would be lined up just outside their property for the dogs to snatch and drag home like some treasure. “I am too tired to let you touch me tonight, even for God,” or “I want the baby to stay with us for a few more weeks at least until his night terrors stop” and “can you make sure that whatever land we buy there isn’t a slaughterhouse nearby?” and perhaps that is why Grandma Roland acquiesced. We want to not have to stand up to a man who steers everything well even if he would make you pregnant over and over. We followed Wanda down the mountain, watching her put her hands on the trunks of the trees as she walked between them, like a line of lovers she had standing on the hill below her little log cabin overlooking a mountain of trees that made her think of her own regrets, the own past she avoided as she had thrown herself into her husband’s life, agonizing over the details of chicken feet in the hot Florida South. She wanted her babies, she said, as Cheryl and I gasped a bit, “one after the other,” she said smiling, and even then, she told us, she was pregnant with the 53
third, and as she turned, I could then see the firm otherworldly oval bumping beneath the midriff, the slight c-curve in her lumbar that would continue to curl forward under baby weight until, as Nick told us the next year, her pelvis had cracked in the final hour of childbirth and she had to stay in the bed under the window while the coccyx sinews mended together for a solid three months. A feral woman like that, confined to bed until March. And Wanda spoke on about the man she loved as she walked, weaving between the trees until we reached the cherry grove, her planks of blonde hair straight, bumping her shoulder, corn-yellow, a willow in a white country dress whose coarse feet stepped expertly over rocks, small droppings, and stinging twigs. She made it all sound so easy, the babies and the wide open sky and the husband’s steering, as though that is all there is to love, which I suppose made me think of my own great love, seven months over, left back in the tall grass of his small La Plata house, his very worn hammers and levels and lumber in the bed of the Chevy, who at the end of the day washed his hands that could never get all the way clean, hands I had held up to my face, to breathe in the smell of his day. But all that was too silently over, and I promised myself I didn’t want to think of another man ever again since now there was just the silence of the mountain and the letters he had not answered. We arrived at the shed, well built, and Cheryl asked Wanda how the farmer had managed to transport the family and all their possessions from Florida to Virginia with no car, and Wanda turned, pausing, saying, “they sold most everything except the seeds and then took the train.” And then moving closer, she asked, “do you want to know how he picked this spot?” her palms turned up in a holy gesture, the white dander of the mountain hovering above her head in an arching frame and Cheryl just trying not to disappear beside me. “Yes,” said Cheryl, beads of sweat over goosebumps on her skin, all elbows. “He had walked up the mountain, actually, all walking all the way from Asheville to Roanoke. He wore work boots that had wear in the bottom and said he could feel the soil was good to the touch of the base of his foot. He walked,” Wanda repeated, her consonants still sounding loose and Cheryl was staring at her face and I was watching the collarbone protrude from under the while tulle of her blouse, her body showing all angles under her baggy clothes. How much weight could a woman lose before her organs shut down, I worried. “Walked, up this mountain?” Cheryl asked. And I got it, because our drive up the steep final two miles had been a curving one-lane for both directions and there were animals and slow pockets for passing vehicles with the right of way, and Nick had taken the curves casually, his unlit cigar soaked wet an inch from his lips but aside from the Carolina sweat, he was cool as a driver of a Lincoln could be. But the long dead farmer who walked that hill, he would have been a different kind of man. He would be the type to plant rows of cherry trees between the 54
apples in order to please his wife in her white apron, he would be well fed on corn and the weekly chicken, he would need to be industrious to survive. He would know how to walk up a mountain. Wouldn’t most girls, even a starving girl, even whatever I was, even a pregnant Wanda running from her past in a skirt and barefoot, love the image of a man who walked between cities in search for soil for his seeds? “Yes,” Wanda said, “he walked. And he had settled on this hill because of the way the trees slanted against the mountain.” She lifted two wooden shed doors that creaked as her body reached inside and gave us each two red stained buckets. She smiled, sun in her teeth, Cheryl ducking. “June is the month of cherries.” Nick didn't join us on the mountain, so Cheryl and I walked between the planted rows of cherry trees picking the best fruit that hung in clusters that reminded me of small families so when you’d reach up for cherries or for God you’d get handfuls. Some were dented, most were perfect, some were bursting with moisture so that my fingers were as bloody with pulp like a murderer, and when Cheryl noticed, she laughed, and then I did too, and we licked our fingers, Cheryl and me, smiling our teeth red, smiling through her bellyache, the buckets heavy with twelve dollars of cherries that we’d eat for the next week. But at that moment I realized, trying not to look obvious about it, but Cheryl was eating, and she disappeared a little less in that moment in the late afternoon sun with a few field dogs ignoring us as they milled about, a few farm workers tidying up, occasionally reaching up for a handful of fruit, unthinking, unlike us, two girls who hadn’t ever eaten cherries straight from a tree who looked out of place, with color from the walk and the mountain and the red lips, red fingers, red teeth.
THE SHIPWRIGHT Gnarled palms sand burrs along the taffrail. Satisfied, he faces the prow and sniffs the air above deck, identifying distinct scents of timber--white oak, teak, cedar, pine-as he steps lightly over sawed lumber, reeming irons, pitch ladles, and caulking mallets to oversee the fill of fresh oakum and inspect watertight seams running from stem to stern while tar dries and lightens in the sun. He paces starboard to port and back listening carefully for creaks in the planking or framework groans from keel or ribs until certain of a solid hull under his footfalls, then rechecks every spar, joist, scantling, davit, hatchway, lath, hasp, grommet. Scrutinizing the rigging, he tautens every lanyard and halyard, securing scows. Officers will soon crowd the great cabin with nautical maps and instruments even as cargo holds are crammed with whisky barrels and baggage in anticipation of bollards loosing mooring lines; but this is his moment, time at a standstill, when a master craftsman, patient and thorough, first perceives seaworthy handiwork tenderly wrought by skilled hands.
Ruth Sabath Rosenthal
MONARCH AMONG CONCRETIONS farewell! The prewar parquet in my new digs up north won’t support your dense 60” girth and custom-made Lucite base, so I leave you to gaze upon the likes of those waters from whence you came. I know I’m far better having known you and what it took to make you: eons of an ocean forging you from its floor-full of pulverized limestone crystallizing and accumulating more and more each day. And while you rose ever so slowly out of the depths, sea-life getting trapped within your mass, petrifying, early birds were catching their still ocean-dwelling kin. And while the birds were pecking their way through still pulsating flesh, gobbling the morsels down like there was no tomorrow, inland, clans of gnawing Neanderthals and their cousins were straddling tree stumps, or boulders they’d hacked off mountainous rock and dragged round a rock-pile, placing the likes of you, in the raw, atop that — you — most surely a gem among the first tabletops ever. But, unlike those mere fractions of mountains, you got to be mined, transported, sliced, ground and polished to perfection, taking 3 muscle-bound men to haul up
5 floors to my condo kitchen with its million-dollar view of the Gulf of Mexico; and for 10 years, you’ve been the grandest of my possessions — the ultimate platform for the freshest flowers, the best food and drink, jig-saw puzzles, card games, board games, arts and crafts, arm wrestling, cat brushing, check writing, homework, bank statement reconciliation, income tax computation. Oh, rock of tabletop, I so hope you get to keep your view of sand and sea and, on you, the best of nature’s bounty continues to be enjoyed. But, if, in a natural (or unnatural) disaster, the sea should rise to engulf you, and through that force of nature, you’re pulverized into a great mound of mineral and fossil, I pray you’ll rise from the depths as you’d done before: A monarch among concretions destined to be, yet again, a gem of a tabletop especially delighting one particular being — that grateful soul, perhaps, not too far akin to me.
STEAMBOATS AND PORCELAIN A massive black whale with an oni for a tail breathing smoke from its blowhole The alien blue bugs scurry about its hide The tapestry of history does not depict the bystanders The witnesses. Quantum mechanics tell us That observing something, changes the observed. But in sharing Planckâ€™s enthusiasm, history forgets That the observer is changed in turn. At the whaleâ€™s side, A Mandala wheel grinds the waves into drops. many teats protrude, with yellow cones coming out of the nipple All empires want to get blitzed But heroin grinds the world to a halt Booze is a compromise But unless you want poison It must be bottled Why would you melt sand, when you can make Kaolinite art? It's called China for a reason. But as philosophers age, The desire to see beautiful teapots Is outweighed by desire to see. How could this ship charge upstream, without the help from a malevolent kami? The boat burns, but the beast keeps swimming.
China makes the best everything Silks, tools, paper, art, tea, and porcelain Everything but opium and glass And the English can't sell them glass And poppies grow like weeds The English in Japan entertained the daimyos for the privilege of trading. How do you survive a world where the clowns up and kill the only civilization in the world? The Jade, supported with porcelain shatters when hit with steam supported with glass. The last dynasty falls to the aliens because they don't have lens grinding. Edo doesnâ€™t have lens grinding What the hell is lens grinding? Why don't we get a lens grinding of our own! Why is he sad? The blue bugs too adventurous? The spiderâ€™s webs too itchy? He has seen the battle plan? He thinks of the tea cup? both belch steam, His reverse, Chinese with water inside You think he weeps, as he breaks every law he was meant to?
LAZARUS TAXON Lazarus taxon in paleontology, it’s an animal that disappears from the fossil record only to reappear later. It’s a species thought to be extinct, only to be later rediscovered. It comes from the Gospel of John in which Christ raises Lazarus from the dead. Single-handedly pushing death backwards. The coelacanth was a fish thought to be extinct 66 million years ago. In 1938, it was found happily swimming in the waters off the East Coast of Africa. The midwife toad was discovered in 1979 after we thought they were wiped from the planet. The toad, apparently, had different plans. My favorite, the mountain pygmy possum, which is objectively the cutest of all of Australia’s hibernating marsupials, was discovered in 1966, after what I’m sure was an extended mourning period for its supposed death and extinction. Pitt Island longhorn beetle. Lord Howe Stick insect. Bone skipper fly. Armoured frog. Painted frog. Northern Tinker frog.
Every single one was written into the history books as dead, before they raised their heads, let out a ribbit or chirp or whatever sound stick insect make, and showed the world that, gosh darnit, they were alive! And it only took some Safari Sam white scientist to tell the world about them. Lophura edwardsi is a Vietnamese bird thought to be extinct by everyone... except the Vietnamese people who saw it every day. Scientists refused to believe villagers stories about the bird, and continued to say there was no way it could still be alive, until they found it and subsequently named it after a French ornithologistâ€” Alphonse Milne-Edwards. The lesson here is that, regardless of what youâ€™ve found, or who saw it first, once you name it loud enough for the world to hear, you get to keep it. You can call it your own blood. Say it came from you, and single-handedly push death backwards.
The lesson here is that there are some things that we’ve been pretending are extinct. Our history books told us the brush-turkey was dead. The Bengai crow was no more. That Nazis were defeated. The KKK wasn’t notable anymore. The fire hoses got turned off, and the white people holding them moved past racism. Their children certainly didn’t grow up to be holding gavels or schoolbooks or handcuffs or pulpits. The white history books told everyone that, despite what people were saying about their experiences, racism is just something in the fossil record. But now it has apparently risen from the dead, sudden and surprising. The cultural Lazarus taxon. Great white explorer of cultures, where were you when this was being spoken of? Why did you think it was extinct if the bones were rattling the whole time? Or were you hoping it would die off before anyone could name it after you? Did you not learn the lesson from the great white scientists before you?
If you finally found it, have the courage to name it after yourself. Not protest or misguided. Not far right or a phase. The diversity wears your name over its face. It’s white supremacy. It comes home to nest in the chest of its owner. In the house they had been building for it. Don’t abandon what you’ve found now. Call it home. Call it you. You have found this. It’s not extinct, and now it’s yours to own.
S Gunslingers The wild west has arrived on campus now that the courts have agreed that students otherwise eligible can carry concealed weapons to class to stand their ground when the madman or woman breaches the gates of academe with murderous intent to protest a failing grade perhaps and so the faculty with equal rights may also lecture and test while armed to the stereotypical teeth to put the killers on a level playing field when it comes to equal opportunity mayhem before the ivory tower of study and research but it is Texas where belief is more important than science and myth takes precedence over sense.
DEAR EXTRATERRESTRIAL, Has the song “Hello” by Adele reached your galaxy yet? It’s only been traveling at the speed of sound for 2 years as I write. But if you like pop music, there’s a song called “Pop Musik" that was released in 1979. Maybe that’s playing where you are? There’s a lot you can learn about us from “Pop Musik,” both the song and the genre. The song is sung in English, a language spoken by about 1.5 billion Earthlings. For security reasons I’m not supposed to tell you what percentage of total Earthlings that is, but back to the song it’s what we call a one-hit wonder by an artist who went by the initial M. The song defines everybody as “New York, Paris, London, Munich,” a Western Civ myopia that we still teach to undergraduates. Anyway, if you triangulate between “Pop Musik" and “Hello” you’ll get a pretty good idea of what passes for signs of intelligent life here: “Pop Musik" being a kind of homage to our senseless teenage years and “Hello” being a tribute to middle age remorse. If you’ve heard any Leonard Cohen out there, you know pretty much know how it ends. Here’s the thing though—tell the truth. When you first heard the Adele song, didn’t you think it was about you and ex? I know I did. And I think it’s probably safe to tell you, because the likelihood of it getting back to him is something only NASA could calculate, but I miss him, or maybe us, or just the time we made love in the dunes (which is kind of like a lunar landscape if you have those). I recognize myself in M’s song too - pogoing my heart out at 19. Basically, what you need to know is that, we, as a species, mature slower than massive gravity around a black hole. We mature along a spectrum you could call oblivious-to-consequences (shooby-dooby-do-wah) to over-involved-with-the-past (hello from the other side). It’s not pretty, but it’s what we affectionately refer to as the human condition and it will not leave you lustrous or detangled. Some earthlings think we have hit our End of Empire epoch. Others feel we have entered the era called Anthropocene, meaning we, Anthro (not the Boho clothing chain whose stores you could use to map our major cities) but we, Homo Sapiens—we’ve made everything about us. Surely you can see where this is going. Maybe you could write us back sternly, as in—don’t make us come down there! Maybe you could write back at the speed of light. Because, hello, we’re sorry. It’s just that, shooby-dooby-do-wah, we’ve called like a thousand times.
CONTRIBUTORS Bradley Allf — bradleyallf.com, @bradleyallf Bradley is a poet, freelance science writer, and biologist based in North Carolina who was recently featured in the anthology “North Carolina’s Best Emerging Poets.”
Patricia Behrens Patricia is a writer and lawyer who has often grappled with how to communicate complex ideas in layman's language and so identifies with the mission of In Layman's Terms. Her poetry has appeared online and in print in journals such as American Arts Quarterly, Mom Egg Review, The Same and, most recently, in Nasty Women Poets: An Anthology of Subversive Verse.
Jim Conley Jim has struggled with mental illness and addiction with dire consequences. Through careful and honest introspection, he has been able to rebuild his relationships one step at a time. He wove apologies and lessons into stories, and talked about anything that might keep his son’s interest. In teaching his son, he began to remember who he was.
Devon Cozad Devon currently works in higher education as a composition instructor, inspiring her students to become compassionate individuals, critical thinkers, and lifelong readers. When not in the classroom or grading, she is in her garden. It's one of few places where she can truly reflect, where her thoughts can put themselves in order as she tries to (unsuccessfully) put nature in order. Gardens produce an abundance of drama, from the ant to the rosebush, and always remind her to keep perspective.
Allison Cundiff Allison is an adjunct Professor of English at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri and an English teacher at Parkway North High School in Creve Coeur, Missouri. She is a graduate of Truman State University (BA English Literature) and the University of Missouri (MA in English Literature, MEd in Secondary Education). Her publications include two books of poetry, Otherings (2016, Golden Antelope Press), and In Short, A Memory of the Other on a Good Day, co-authored with Steven Schreiner, (2014, Golden Antelope Press) articles in The Pragmatic Buddhist, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, Feminist Teacher, and poetry in The Chariton Review.
Brian Davis Brian is a student at Southern Oregon University, in their Masters of Interdisciplinary Studies Program. He has a BA in Emergent Media and a BFA in Creative Writing. He has always favored creative endeavors that are both entertaining and informative.
Carol Derby Carol is the granddaughter of bricklayers and lacemakers. Her father repaired mimeograph machines (the predecessor to the photocopier) for a living. It was his calls to the business office of Williams College that led to her enrollment there. She graduated with a BA in 1983 and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. She works in research and development for a textile design company. Her three poems in this issue represent her publishing debut.
A. R. Dugan A. R. has an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. His poetry can be seen or is forthcoming in a number of literary magazines and reviews, most recently Salamander. His poem “The Creation of a Man” was nominated for AWP’s Intro Journal Awards Project. He taught high school English in southeastern Massachusetts for nine years. A. R. has read poetry for Redivider and Ploughshares. He currently teaches literature and writing at Emerson College and Wheaton College
Emily Fernandez Emily studies creative writing at Hunter College in New York City, and is the poetry editor of their publication, The Olivetree Review. She likes a good espresso and classic rock.
Nels Hanson Nels grew up on a small farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. His poems received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review’s 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.
Jude Hoffman Jude (he/him) aims to write in a way that strips away the rules and expectations of what poetry should be. He is still working on how to find the appropriate intersection between being politically active, writing, and not taking up others' space. His hope is that his style of poetry will begin to provide whatever catharsis the reader is looking for. He is the author of the books “Am I Good Enough Now, Dad?” and “Poems I Wrote on My Honeymoon (I Am Not An Expert On Robots or Jesus)”
Clinton Inman Clinton is a retired school teacher, Renaissance painter, poet, and piano player, born in England, graduated from SDSU in 1977. 69
Eli Karren Eli is a newly minted resident of Austin, Texas where he splits his time as a Literary Interventionist and heat stroke combatant. In May 2017 he graduated from the University of Vermont, where he received the Benjamin C. Wainwright award for Excellence in Poetry, and had the opportunity to work with Major Jackson and Eve Alexandra. His poetry has appeared in three issues of Vantage Point, Pomeroy Poets' most recent anthology, and Paris, France's Wedgie Magazine.
Norman Klein Norman has an Iowa MFA in fiction and has published 12 stories and 15 poems in the last 12 months. He has also edited for Ploughshares and taught writing at UMass Boston, and later in Chicago. He is currently living and writing in the back woods of New Hampshire.
Ashley Lowe Ashley lives in Pueblo, Colorado, and is currently an associate editor of PULP, a Southern Colorado newsmagazine. She is studying English and Spanish, and intends to find a career in writing and teaching. She is also the founder of a college book club, Thoreauly Well Read. Some of her poems have been previously published in college literary magazines, and she enjoys writing poetry and creative nonfiction.
Brandon Marlon â€” brandonmarlon.com Brandon is a writer from Ottawa, Canada. He received his B.A. in Drama & English from the University of Toronto and his M.A. in English from the University of Victoria. His poetry was awarded the Harry Hoyt Lacey Prize in Poetry (Fall 2015), and his writing has been published in 200+ publications in 27 countries.
Catherine McGuire â€” cathymcguire.com Catherine is a writer/artist with a deep interest in Nature, both human and otherwise. She's had 3 decades of poetry in publications such as New Verse News, FutureCycle, Portland Lights, Fireweed, and on a bus for Poetry in Motion. She has four chapbooks out: Palimpsests (Uttered Chaos) and three self-published pieces, along with a full-length book of poetry, Elegy for the 21st Century (FutureCycle Press) and a deindustrial science fiction novel, Lifeline (Founders House Publishing).
Eric Odynocki Eric is an emerging writer of poetry and fiction from New York. He is a first generation American who grew up in a multicultural household: his mother is Mexican and his father was Ukrainian and Jewish. Eric holds a BA/MAT in Spanish Language and Literature from Stony Brook University and teaches Spanish in a New York public high school. Thus far, Eric's work has been published in Acentos Review and is forthcoming in the Westchester Review.
Diane Ray Diane is a native New Yorker who somehow opens her eyes each morning between cedar and birch on a hilltop overlooking a lake in Seattle. She has thrived here for twenty-five years along with the invading non-native plants. Smitten new grandma, psychologist, and poet, she has published in multiple issues of Drash, Cirque, and Voices Israel Anthology, and is also in Common Dreams, Veterans for Peace, and The Women's Studies Quarterly. She also won Honorable Mention in the 2017 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Contest. A baby boomer still jumping, you can find her leaping in intermediate-advanced ballet and calming down in tai chi.
Ruth Sabath Rosenthal — newyorkcitypoet.com, poetrybyruthsabathrosenthal.com Ruth is a New York City poet, well published in literary journals and poetry anthologies throughout the U.S. and also internationally. In October 2006, her poem "on yet another birthday" was nominated for a Pushcart prize. Ruth has authored 5 books of poetry; “Facing Home," “Facing Home and beyond,” “little, but by no means small,” “Food: Nature vs Nurture,” and "Gone, but Not Easily Forgotten."
Tamara Stoffers — tamarastoffers.com Tamara is a recently graduated visual artist from The Netherlands. Through the media of collage and painting, she expresses herself. The most inspiring subject to her is the USSR. All her works are connected by a sense of humor and a love for creating.
Rachel Voss Rachel is a high school English teacher living in Queens, New York. She graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Purchase College. Her work has previously appeared in The Ghazal Page, Hanging Loose Magazine, Unsplendid, 3Elements Review, Silver Birch Press, Bodega Magazine, and Alexandria Quarterly, among others, and is forthcoming in Jokes Review.
Howard Winn Howard’s work has been published in Dalhousie Review, The Long Story, Galway Review, Antigonish Review, Chaffin Review, Evansville Review, 3288 Review, Straylight Literary Magazine, and Blueline. He has a novel coming out soon from Propertius Press. His B.A. is from Vassar College. His M.A. from the Stanford University Creative Writing Program. His doctoral work was done at N.Y.U. He is Professor of English at SUNY.
If you want to learn more about the inspiration for some of these pieces, or would like to submit your own work, please visit our website at iltreview.com.
In Layman’s Terms is a literary journal dedicated to encouraging a new appreciation of science, technology, and the natural world for the av...
Published on Feb 4, 2018
In Layman’s Terms is a literary journal dedicated to encouraging a new appreciation of science, technology, and the natural world for the av...