THE CALLS CALL + RESPONSE 5 SEPTEMBER 11, 2015 E.M.P. COLLECTIVE Co-curated by Kira Wisniewski + Dillon Babington #callandresponse5 https://callandresponse5.splashthat.com/
ABOUT CALL + RESPONSE Call + Response is an annual art show that brings writers and visual artists together to create and showcase original, joint works. For the first four iterations of the show, the writers called, and the visual artists responded with a new twist each year. In 2015, the show will make its Baltimore debut at the E.M.P. Collective in downtown Baltimore. Call + Response V is adding a new element this year to literally spice things up with the addition of Baltimore’s Blacksauce Kitchen. THE CALL: Blacksauce Kitchen created three distinct bites that highlight the sweet, sour, and smoky flavors. All 18 of the writers and visual artists convened at EMP in early May 2015 and met their pairing for the first time. Together, they tasted their assigned flavor profile (three pairs had sweet bites, three pairs had sour bites, and three pairs had smoky bites). Participants used this bite as the foundation of their work. THE RESPONSE: The nine acclaimed, emerging and award-winning poets, fiction writers, journalists, and essayists largely based in Baltimore, then wrote short, reactive pieces all in a unique, original conversation with Blacksauce and their assigned flavor profile. AND THEN: Each written response then went to nine acclaimed, emerging and award-winning visual artists who entered the conversation not just in a dialogue with the written work, but also with the food pairing. We’re extremely proud of this year’s show and we thank you for your interest and support. We hope to continue our small role in bringing together creative communities. Giddy up, KW + DB
FLAVOR PROFILE: SMOKEY CALL: “On The Occasion of the Death of Freddie Lee” Rion Amilcar Scott RESPONSE: Juliet Ames Early one morning in the turgid, musty swamp, Freddie Lee collapsed amongst the rice and the brown water, a result of working his body like a machine—both John Henry, the steel driving man, and the locomotive at the same time. He so loved the work he battled himself to fill basket after endless basket with rice stalks and as a reward he fell face down into the crops before any of us woke. We all worked around his body as we were told to do. Freddie was now no longer a man, no longer our friend, but instead an offering to God, made to lie out there until Papa Troy gave word, and each night we burned the stalks we picked from around him. From the earth we came—specks of dirt—back to the earth we will go. There is nothing to life, nothing except work to honor God before crumbling to sand and again passing as grains between His divine fingers. But something kept getting to me out in the sun. Something beyond the stench. Something that rearranged my mind. Man, every time I drew near to the slumbering Freddie Lee and his decaying face— I remember when Mama Yona died and we gathered solemnly for six hours as they put her into earth and planted a tree over her resting place while Papa Troy spoke of his life with her and building this new world away from the world, away from cars, away from TVs, away from balloons and DVDs, away from it all, at this rice farm on a hill in the Wildlands. Freddie Lee believed in this life with the entirety of his—unbeknownst to him—dying heart. 5
Working the watery fields after my friend passed, I became deranged—I had obeyed dutifully just like Freddie Lee. I wondered if I’d share his fate, lying amongst the rice and the muck with a crumbling forever stare— And I could have probably taken it had I not seen that cow tearing at Freddie’s face, ripping, chewing his flesh like fresh grass. I waved my arms and yelled; charged the beast while screaming, but its tail swatted at flies and the rest of the animal paid me no mind. Me and Luke and Little Yoni went out that night to move the body out of the shallow waters, but Mama’s Thug Riders (that’s what they called themselves) rode in silently on their horses—at least I didn’t hear them—and whipped us until our backs and chests grew raw and we fled to our cabins as we were told. There we listened to the breeze whistle through the cracks and tended to each other’s wounds and I watched the great house with its light and its mirth. I’m sure there the drink flowed like the river water we diverted over the land to feed the rice stalks. Papa was having a party no one invited us to. There was always a party and we were the eternally uninvited unless someone wanted a piece of our souls. Papa says, everyone is equal, Luke said. Some people are m— Shh— Little Yoni said, kissing his lips. I watched them make love. They soon crumpled to the floor exhausted and sated as they were taught to be. Did you see Freddie Lee’s body? I asked. John Henry, the riceharvesting man? If he died harvesting rice for the love of us all then why—even before that cow got to him—was he all broken and bruised? 6
Shh— Little Yoni said, but she had no energy to sate me and before I could ask about The Expelled, whether our friend was close to them as the whisperers implied, we all fell into dazed and dizzying fever dreams. I’m not sure who was the first to speak of the flames in our sleep murmurs. Did we all share the same nightmares? Morning came, the sun burned big and hot rising over the damp fields and we were once again the docile children of Mama Yona and Papa Troy, picking rice around the dead body of our friend. Poor Freddie Lee—his face skeletal except for the swollen, staring eyes—he deserved more than the tepid love of cowards. It might have ended right there had Freddie Lee not risen from the dead to rip the cow into thousands of pieces he spread all around Mama and Papa’s farm. That morning Papa had planned to announce his next queen— could have been any of us—but we woke to bits of bloody cow meat everywhere: the trees and the leaves, smeared on the windows of the great house, clinging to the rice stalks. Papa postponed his announcement and called for us to give up any information we had on the whereabouts of Freddie Lee’s body and he circumstances of the cow’s death. For three hours he stood on the porch of the great house discussing betrayal and the life of his beloved cow, Lenire. Tears soaked into his beard; his voice as watery as the rice fields. Our hearts broke, but who were we to ramble madly about what we knew, what we saw—the dead man sauntering smoothly, coolly until he spotted the cow. He stopped then and threw back his head, wailing silently—the cow had long ripped his tongue from him. His skeletal face and his perfect eyes bathed in the light of the moon. 7
I stayed up many nights afterward to catch another glimpse of Freddie Lee, but I never saw him again. Every once in a while I’d ask Luke or Little Yoni if we saw what we really saw and they’d nod as if they’d forgotten how to say words; like they had become Freddie Lee, ghosts without tongues. Things became rougher for us. Mama’s Thug Riders passing through in their impossible quietude, raising their whips at the slightest provocation. We never spoke of Freddie Lee though, none of us. We all became ghosts without tongues. One evening when the passing of the months had given us no ease from the whippings, Little Yoni and I stood near the farthest edge of the farm. Did we really see what we saw? I asked. You know with Freddie— Shh, she said. Shh. She pointed to Luke walking toward us, a bundle of stalks in his arm. Behind him flames had begun dancing along the rice fields; fires even tap-danced upon the face of the waters below. The only world we knew was now shrouded in clouds of black smoke. I watched Luke’s rice and breathed in his fumes; he stank of gasoline. Little Yoni sighed. Luke cursed. Dumped his day’s haul to the wet ground. Little Yoni lit a match.
FLAVOR PROFILE: SMOKEY CALL: â€œ1911 Boy Scout Handbookâ€? Joe Callahan RESPONSE: Kelsey Petrie Part I. How to Make Fire by Rubbing Sticks "How do the Indians make a fire without matches?" Most of us have heard - rubbing-sticks. a fairy tale, or, so difficult as to be worth no second thought. scouts are greatly interested to learn that it is easy, to make a friction fire, if you know how. I have taught many boys and men to do it, some have grown so expert they make it quickly. When I first learned from Walter, it took me ten minutes to get a blazing fire. But later I got it down to a minute, then to thirty-one seconds from rubbing-sticks to having a fine blaze, the first spark being about six seconds. My early efforts were inspired by accounts of Indian methods, but, I have never yet seen an accurate enough guide in the art of firemaking. The surest and easiest method is by use of the bow-drill. Two sticks, two tools, some tinder. The two sticks are the drill and the fire-board, or fire-block. The books tell us that these must be different kinds of wood. This is a mistake. 9
I have gotten the best results with two of the same kind. Part II. What Kind of Wood a very important question, as woods that are too hard, too soft, too wet, too oily, too gummy, or too resinous will not produce fire. The wood should be soft enough to wear away, hard enough to wear slowly, and, of course, it should be highly inflammable. Those that I have had the best luck with always be dry, sound, brash, but not in the least punky. In each part of the country there seems to be a kind well suited for fire-making. It gives a fine big spark in about seven seconds. PART III. The rubbing-sticks for fire-making Preparing of the fire-board is one of the most important things. At the edge cut a notch half an inch wide and about three fourths of an inch deep; at the top of this notch make a shallow hole, and the board is ready. it is useless to try fire-making without it. While these are the essentials, it is well to get ready some tinder. I have tried a great many different kinds of lint and punk. But these are not really fair play. The true woodcrafter limits himself to the things that he can get in the woods, 10
and in all my recent fire-making I have contented myself with the tinder used for ages Now that he has the tools and material ready, it will be easy matter for the castaway to produce a fire. Pass the leather thong once around the drill--make the thong taut; put the lower point of the drill in the pit in the fire-board, hold the socket with the left hand on top of the drill. hold the bow by the handle end, Now draw the bow back and forth with steady, even strokes, its full length. This causes the drill to bore into the wood; At first it is brown; in two or three seconds it turns black, and then smokes; in five or six seconds it is giving off a cloud of smoke. A few more vigorous strokes, and now smoke still comes from the pile of black wood-dust. Fan this gently with the hand; the smoke increases, and you see a glowing coal. (There are never any visible flying sparks.) If you have the right wood and still cannot get the fire, because you do not hold the drill steady, or have not cut the side notch quite into the middle point of the little fire pit. The advantages of learning this method are threefold: 1. Fire-making by friction is an interesting experiment. 2. A boy is better equipped having learned it. 11
He can never afterward freeze to death if he has wood and an old shoe lace. 3. It tends to prevent the boys making unnecessary fires, and thus reduces the danger of their setting the woods ablaze or of smoking the forbidden cigarette. There is a fascination in making rubbing-stick fire one of my Western cooks gave up the use of matches for a time and lit his morning fire with the fire-drill, and, indeed, he did not find it much slower than the usual way. It is a wonder that the soldiers at West Point are not taught this simple trick, when it is so easily learned, and might some day be the one thing to save the lives of many of them.
FLAVOR PROFILE: SMOKEY CALL: “Stricken to be Carried” Terrell Kellam RESPONSE: Cita Sadeli CHELOVE The first strike hurts; the second will only ignite the fire. You will burn from rage and pain. Crying and screaming will do nothing, because you will only gasp for the air that is too hard to find. But the wind will find you, turn you around, and suck you closer.” You are careful not to get lost in the whirlwind of things. For now you are able to ride the current. But what happens when the wind picks up making things turbulent and just as fast as the wind became wild the wind can become less than a breeze and when the wind is gone the turbulence somehow remains. But the turbulence is not coming from the wind. It’s coming from gravity pulling you back to reality. While you were dreaming you drifted far away from it; now it is time to bury those dreams in the dirt that once fertilized them. But the ground is hard and it hurts. But the truth also hurts and the truth is, it is not the ground that hurts but it is the impact you hit it with. As you lay flat releasing the flood of the blood, tears, and memories that will nourish the trees of your growing pains, you pray that those trees will die and that those memories will fade as you wait for the blood to clot, harden, and leave a scar on your tampered heart. But you know the tears will eventually roll away. And as for those tears that once painted and stained your face, nothing will wash away the canals they have drawn there to stay and swell with the memories that will not go away. You would like to believe that you will make a steady recovery. And yes, lightning struck you twice, causing the fire that the wind blew out until the smoke dissipated. But then there came the fear of falling out of 13
the sky because the wind was the air beneath your wings and the only thing keeping your lungs from collapsing, this fear is not irrational as long as you remember this dream of life is your reality and losing hold of reality losing a part of your life.
FLAVOR PROFILE: SOUR CALL: â€œSourâ€? Julie Fisher RESPONSE: Andie Jensen First we eat. Breast or bottle. Sweetness tumbles down our throats. We're held and kissed and coddled. Our mouths teach us first. Tongues search like antennae collecting clues Sharp. Sweet. Squishy. Dirty. Cries summon cradling arms. Smiles echo smiles. We beckon with our babbles. Soon we amble, reach for clover splash the puddle chase the Monarch. Always under loving eyes. But not for all of us. Tang of woodsmoke draws us near. Steady hands stir pots that simmer. Stew is spooned, water poured. We slip to waiting laps. Then, fidgety, we listen. We gather crumbs while bread of stories are consumed. Around the fire we reveal dance and harvest and birth is good. 15
Hunger, flood and bloodshed isn't. Passing on a fragile scale of dark and light. We remind ourselves do this, not that and we'll reward you, we'll protect you, Us not Them. Around this time, we might just realize we have swallowed a crafted brew's lingering undertone an acid creeping. A sour dawning there are absent plates at Everyone's table.
FLAVOR PROFILE: SOUR CALL: “Peter Piper Speaks and Spells” Dora Malech RESPONSE: Mika Eubanks “Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.” —Gerard Manley Hopkins Sour bite — be it or us. Past participle’s potent, see: past particles urged cornichon-ward, jerked gherkin-ward as if this were bread-and-butter of a stupid joke. Seriously: can we un-this? In this means: forever altered. Tongue twists around a truth and tries it. Here. There. Is. No: impermanent pickled, vegetal reversal, acetic rewind. I know, I know. We must not say. (Show.) Laugh lashed to the mast or cast in the deep, still can’t mitigate, level molecular and steep away, simply mollify the matter back by sucking out the salt and vinegar like venom. Darling, this is not that kind of bite. So — so be it. Of course run its ingredients’ gradients, after a time’s immersion it emerges, therapized, prized out of jar and into senses rearranged across the tongue. Know the map’s a misconception. Silly schematic. Still, seek it between back-of-the-myth of bitter and tip-of-the-myth of sweet. Splash, pinch, bit to taste (blood), last laugh lathed lath (roof of the mouth), erase a wraith (ghost of palate pathed) — mythed me, 17
mythed me, now you — you know. A peck of what? Be it or us, sour bite, this tongue’s for peppered questions, pick of the letter, phonetic frippery and urgent mission, art, lick, ululate — articulate, and swallow back — need, want, test, taunt, pleasure. What it’s like: salivatic prophecene of just in kiss, experiment conducted in the brain and brine, the raw feels’ aftertaste of call it almost-all-right ever after learn to love the pucker, not “better” but lasting, something like cured.
FLAVOR PROFILE: SOUR CALL: “I Ate Right From the Ditch” Noah Siela RESPONSE: Victoria Milko The goddamn experts say that year three is the first safe year of cutting. Too much too soon and you’ll weaken the plants blah blah blah and with pocketknives we’d cut it right from the ditch that Pocahontas County had sprayed for weeds and rinse the epidermis of gravel dust from the spears and stems under a barnyard hydrant before dangling them from our sticky lips like the cigars we’d seen grandpa, a cattle buyer, puff on at the sale barn while saying grandma had his balls under boots for laughs. I ate right from the ditch and haven’t had the flu since The Challenger blew up but I don’t dream much and if I do I dream of discipline, the earth seeming harder most mornings, full of opinions so dumb and dangerous they scar silence, everyone’s personal vastness shrinking to get contained between thoughtful drafts of unpublishable think pieces while I connive with the ousted tribesman to make outrage less civilized, while I try to understand the sky by laying in the dirt to guess the speed of those snailing bellies of commercial jets. 19
FLAVOR PROFILE: SWEET CALL: “PROJECT / Longing” Lawrence-Minh Davis RESPONSE: Reed Bmore Gentle reader, the tone is whimsy. A stack of old menus and curiosity. A story inside the story. A city inside the city, world inside the world. This is the Project I have wandered down the half-lit hallways of summer into.
Saigon Palace, 1980. was an early, likely first ever (?), Vietnamese restaurant in Baltimore—only years after the Fall of Saigon and the advent of the mass, world-torquing exodus of refugees from over SE Asia. Mt. Vernon’s CoChin, c. 1990, claims first-ever viet restaurant in Bmore status, but looks like SP was there first, a decade earlier...(side side note: apparently a restaurant in Rockville, MD, not viet proper, was serving chả giò all the way back in ’72?!) though in 2015 it’s become shorthand for viet, phở wasn’t popularized yet anywhere in the world (save Hanoi) in 1980…but viets are stubborn (I would know, I am one )
Seriousness gathers. Week 3, and by day I’m eating out, by night parsing this absurdist research well past my bedtime. Collecting archival menus to reimagine this city by way of its eddying Body Politic by way of its dizzying Immigration Patterns by way of its Ever-Evolving Foodways. In a storefront window I see the Eritrean restaurant there 20 years ago, the Greek restaurant there 50 years ago, the Swiss confectioner’s shop there 80 years ago, the English-style chop house there 150 years ago. Shadow, outline, afterimage. This is a Secret Public History.
and why not
Coffee House, 1795. (not a menu but a “Bill of Fare.”) a tavern run by French Catholic refugees Rene and Claudette Boudreau. prior to fleeing the Revolution, the Boudreaus had owned and operated a patisserie in or near Paris, but of course CCH sold tavern fare, “gammon” and mutton wheaten bread, pickles and cabbage and oysters, maybe she-crab soup?—not pastries. why and not? that imaginary pastry selection! an untold story…but what sweet was is not what sweet is, what home was, some ruined arrondissement, some beloved family home in the mythical countryside, some country cottage lost now to memory…
Gentle reader, the mood is disquiet. Week 5, and what pattern has emerged? It is a sprawling, impossible Project that lives in every building and none—which is maybe the best kind of Project for a broken person. Clouds are for early summer. Now is narcotic heat and hazy asphalt. Every day, new old menus—more tarot cards for our Collective Condition. What does it mean that a Chinese Cuban restaurant was open for 6 short/long months in 1974 Highlandtown? A blondie with marcona almonds, some light smoke, and a touch of rosemary is just sweet enough—and could never have appeared 50 years ago. What does that say about Right Now? Week 6 I stumble across a story:
Sweet Potato, 2015. a food desert can be the distance between a grocery store and a home. when have no car? and can’t afford to buy fresh produce. you try to bring home frozen food on a bus route with 20 stops. so maybe sweet potatoes can be a symbol of food justice for a new Bmore. grow local, “buy local”—work with farmers to bring fresh produce affordably to under-resourced local communities. teach people to start up urban gardening, community growing. food justice is empowering communities, local communities, communities of color, to be selfsufficient…
Summer is waning. It is hotter than ever. This desire I am only slowly figuring out how to hold up to the light: a desire to find some unity, some way of collapsing together old and older and new, a hallway leading to a bright set of rooms in a building we can’t yet build. What was sweet then is not sweet now.
Comment [LD1]: my sons can’t eat phở, imagine that. food allergies. rice, fish and shellfish—trace of nuoc mam in the broth— Comment [LD2]: last weekend…last weekend…a trip to Brookside Gardens, chips and grapes as snacks, toads and turtles along the banks of the pond…mornings are chocolate chip gluten-free pancakes (wheat allergy) and cartoons on YouTube, I have no cable, no tv, evenings are bathtime and coconut-milk ice cream (milk, egg, and soy allergies) Comment [LD3]: yeah it’s hard sometimes, managing the food allergies, but we’ve gotten mostly used to it. we have to carry epipens. hard, yeah, but it’s the only life they know Comment [LD4]: there will be a trial Comment [LD5]: we take a trip to the Maryland Science Center and eat quinoa crackers with pea butter and raisins for lunch (wheat and peanut/tree nut allergies). as I scan menus for arcane ingredients and strange performances of culture, yes I am always aware my boys could eat none of this food. their mother and I will be divorced soon. I don’t get to see the boys very much. so many kids today could eat none of this food—food allergies are an epidemic. tomorrow will be a day at the pool maybe, watermelon and popsicles Comment [LD6]: water, towel, daddy, love: words my younger son has said for the first time this summer Comment [LD7]: that I wasn’t there to hear Comment [LD8]: go to the Aquarium, the Harbor, B&O Railroad Museum, pears and cherries and mung bean pasta with caramelized fennel. the Project is an escape, of course, the menus a solace of imagined stories. I hear parents complaining about parenting, parenting is hard, it is, I’d never shame anyone for saying that, but what I wouldn’t give to be there for one more ... Comment [LD9]: the trial Comment [LD10]: is over in an instant Comment [LD11]: emptied bedrooms / discarded cartoon projects / fruit snacks / half-finished / chips and grapes and cherries / uneaten / d(r)ying markers / folded-over ...
FLAVOR PROFILE: SWEET CALL: “The Shore” Khaliah Williams RESPONSE: Shaun Preston The summer after I graduate from high school a psychic tells me I will be married three times. The third time she says will be the one. My girlfriends are horrified. They tease me and call me a slut. None of them are going away to college because they don’t want to leave Philadelphia or the boyfriends they’ve carried over from high school. They didn’t even want to go far away for this trip, so we’re at the Jersey Shore and not Florida, where I would rather be. I feel good about this prediction. It means my life will never be dull. There is bound to be excitement. Before Amanda’s mother picked me up my mother gave me two hundred dollars and told me not to do anything stupid. That first night on the boardwalk I pay a large man covered in tattoos forty dollars to put a needle through my eyebrow. “Will it hurt?” I ask him. “I’m sticking a needle in your face,” he says. I’m already laying flat on my back. Amanda admires her new belly piercing (She didn’t eat lunch for a semester in preparation) and Kate keeps saying over and over again that I shouldn’t do it. She shrieks when he shows her the needle. I don’t see it. My eyes are already closed. “Your mother is going to die!” Kate says. The three of us laugh. “You can have a numbing spray,” the man says. He’s leaning over me and I can smell his breath, cigarettes and peppermint. “No, that’s okay. I don’t need it.” Where this bravery materializes from, I don’t know. And it does hurt, not as much as I thought it would, a little pressure, some pulling, a hard pinch and a stream of red down the side of my face. I taste the saltiness of tears that have 22
appeared involuntarily. The tattooed man wipes the blood away before it lands on the strap of my tank top and I open my eyes. “You have blood on your lip,” Amanda points. Without thinking I lick the offending liquid away. “Eww. Gross.” “Sorry,” I shrug. “Let’s go find Anthony and Lisette,” I say. Kate and Amanda nod and roll their eyes at the same time. We are not supposed to be in the company of boys. For the last three summers we have ridden our bikes with the brother and sister from South Philly. They rent the house next to Amanda’s great-grandmother’s house. I never really liked Anthony, but he looked different that year and I want him to see my new piercing though I can’t think of a reason why. We find them at the arcade because that’s the only place their mother lets them go at night after she caught us all on the beach two summers ago when Kate decided to practice French kissing on Anthony. “You put that thing in your eye? What for?” I liked the way he spoke. Even though I had lived in Philadelphia all my life, I didn’t have an accent like his and Lisette’s. We’d started mimicking his mother when we saw him by screaming “Ant’ny!” at the top of our lungs. “I don’t know, I just wanted it. I’m moving to New York in September. For college.” I say, as if it was a justification. He spits on the ground, “College girl, huh?” He looks at Lisette who was as enthralled by Amanda’s sparkly belly button ring as Amanda. “Liz, stay here,” he says, and makes his way through the crowd of people and out the door. I follow him and when I look back at my friends they giggle into their hands. The outside is as noisy as the arcade and the boardwalk just as crowded. Anthony keeps walking and only stops when he gets to the 23
wooden railing that stood between shops and the beach. He leans over the smoothed wood until he is balancing on his stomach. The skin between the end of his knee length shorts and his white athletic socks is covered in hair. I wonder what it would feel like if he rubbed his legs against mine. He puts his feet back on the ground and I move closer so that we are side by side. He is wearing too much cologne. “Let me see that thing in your face.” I turn so that we were face to face. He pretends to inspect the work. “It looks okay. Wouldn’t want no girl of mine having one in her face though.” I shrug and lean in some more so he can get a closer look. Then I let him put his mouth on mine. My first kiss lasts about ten seconds. All lip. No tongue. He moves his face away from mine and leans over the railing again. “I’m not going to college. I’m going to work for my Dad. He’s an electrician. He says I can make $60 an hour.” “That’s cool.” “I’ve never kissed a black girl before.” “I’ve never kissed a white guy.” “I’m Italian.” “I know.” He doesn’t look at me. Instead his eyes scan the empty, dark beach. My skin feels sticky with sweat and the air feels heavy. I climb down from off of the railing and rub my hands over my arms in a futile attempt to wipe away the perspiration that makes me feel like flypaper. I face the boardwalk and lean back against the railing, propping my elbows up, framing my body. I take a deep, breath and smile at the sweetness in the thick, summer air. 24
“Hey,” I say, “Do you smell that?” “Smell what?” “The air, it smells like hot oil, and sugar, and popcorn.” I don’t say it, but it also smells like him, musky and sweet with too much cologne. “I guess I smell it,” he says. I don’t believe him. “So, you never kissed an Italian before?” “No,” I say.
FLAVOR PROFILE: SWEET CALL: “Chosen” Lucia Graves RESPONSE: Bonnie Crawford Kotula At precisely 3:34 pm on a crisp Sunday in Baltimore, Maryland, in a sweltering oven set for 350 degrees, Blondie was born of a mass of butter, flour, eggs and sugar. At first her makers, a sinewy couple in their late 30s, declared it some trick of the pan that she’d come out this honey-colored hue. But it quickly became evident it was more than that. Blondie was part of a handmade, artisanal brownie batch – the sixth in an oven of tiny rectangular pans, and her makers insisted the ingredients were precisely the same in each one of them. And yet, there was no mistaking the scent of rosemary and cherry wood-smoked Marcona almonds. Her strangely savory, caramelized crust so distinct from the fluffy cocoa of her near relatives. Hers was an identity entirely its own, objectively no better or worse than that of a brownie. And yet, when the wife gently plied her sides up out of the tiny pan, setting her out on a pale blue plate for consumption, her countenance was met with abject horror. “Did you run out of chocolate?” shrieked the child. While nobody had the heart to tell Blondie or the flaxen-haired child what occurred in the moments leading up to her creation, running out of chocolate was exactly what had happened. The husband had been on his way to the store when he was invited to a neighbor’s leafy porch for a game of backgammon. There was little the husband loved better than a good game of backgammon and a good porch, and the list of ingredients was short; he figured he’d be able to get by shopping at the corner store. But the corner store had only dark brown sugar, almost molasses colored. It wasn’t ideal, but the husband prided himself on his ability to improvise. So he made his quick purchase and 26
strolled merrily out to enjoy his game night, the shop door clanging behind him. In the kitchen the next morning, the improvising wasn’t going so well. The dough looked sallow, and though the husband tried certain flourishes to compensate for its lack of richness—the sprinkling of chopped rosemary and Marcona almonds, for instance, the spattering of vanilla, the tiniest pinch of salt—he wasn’t fooling anyone. If only he could find the right ingredient to set off the brown sugar, he fretted, nobody would miss the chocolate. Maybe they would even prefer this new brownie-like creation! No one did, however. And the lived experience of Blondie’s many differences weighed more heavily on her each passing day. There was the way the flaxen-haired child avoided her, always nudging his father in the direction of the brownies as he hastily packed the boy’s lunch each morning. There was the way the other brownies in the big shiny red tin all the desserts were kept in would whisper about her behind her back. And there was the way casual visitors would sometimes pause upon lifting the lid of the tin and point. “What’s going on with that one?” they would ask, before selecting the smallest, most pristine looking brownie. Blondie endured days of humiliation like this, while the Chosen Ones traveled to exotic destinations like the picnic table in the backyard or the much-hyped living room. The luckiest were packed into two-toned lunchboxes, a vehicle to places as distant and glamorous as the school playground, or the wilds of the elementary school classroom, perhaps a patch of shade beneath the park’s cherry trees. On rare occasions, a small plate of Chosen Ones would return from these mystical lands, their numbers diminished. But they seldom spoke much of what they saw. Indeed some of them seemed strangely shaken. It must be hard to return to the confines 27
of a tin having been giving a taste of freedom, Blondie reasoned. None of the returning brownies ever gave her any reason to think otherwise. Then finally, one morning the husband Chose her. He was in a particular hurry to get out of the house that morning and the flaxen-haired child was too distracted by morning cartoons to direct him otherwise. The husband wrapped Blondie carefully in plastic wrap, setting her alongside a bag full of carrots and a tall somewhat friendly looking avocado and cheese sandwich. Not terrible companions, she thought. After several hours of bouncing in the dark, Blondie emerged to see a concrete courtyard with green benches, flowerboxes and dozens of school children eating lunch. She was sitting in the lap of the flaxen-haired child and across from several of his freckled friends. They were discussing with some excitement who in their class was worst at kickball before talk turned to whose parents packed the worst lunches and then, horrifyingly, to Blondie herself. “What’s that there in your lap?” asked the boy with the biggest freckles. “Is that supposed to be a brownie?” “I don’t know,” said the flaxen-haired boy. “But I’ll trade you it for a fruit-rollup if you want to find out.” The other boy shook his head, a vigorous no, and soon Blondie was making the rounds of the school courtyard, as the boy asked each student if they’d trade him anything for her. It was a demoralizing exercise (though Blondie was somewhat heartened to learn, when one girl offered him her celery in exchange, that the boy held her in higher regard than that particular vegetable). It wasn’t until they approached a redheaded girl wandering the outskirts of the courtyard picking up bits of trash, that things started to look up. She was searching for brightly colored detritus to turn into mobiles, the more otherworldly, the better, and she was immediately taken with Blondie. When the flaxen-haired boy 28
turned down her initial trade offer of a half-eaten apple, she sweetened the deal with a slightly battered pack of Skittles she’d been planning to save for a mobile, and small Snickers bar from her lunch. It was a deal. Blondie was ecstatic to finally have been Chosen, and particularly flattered to have been traded for something as illustrious as a Snickers. All she had ever wanted was to be admired and desired and fussed over. Now, her prayers had finally been answered. Everything was going her way. For once she knew what it was to be sought-after, to be cherished, to be … Blondie’s reverie was interrupted by the unwelcome vision of large, irregularly shaped teeth. She felt a searing pain up her sides as she was thrust into the girl’s foul-smelling mouth. Her sweet buttery body reduced to halves, then quarters, then eighths. She was slowly being ground down, reduced to mulch, compressed into what felt like a strangely familiar state. So this is what it means to be Chosen, Blondie thought as she slid down the girl’s alimentary canal. It was the last thing she ever thought.
CALL + RESPONSE 5 PARTICIPANTS Chefs: blacksauce kitchen WRITERS Rion Amilcar Scott Joe Callahan Julie Fisher Lucia Graves Terrell Kellam Dora Malech Lawrence-Minh B첫i Davis Noah Siela Khaliah Williams
VISUAL ARTISTS Juliet Ames Kelsey Petrie Andrea Jensen Bonnie Crawford Kotula Cita Sadeli CHELOVE Mika Eubanks Reed Bmore Victoria Milko Shaun Preston
Special thanks to Carly J. Bales of the EMP Collective
Damian Mosley of blacksauce kitchen
http://callandresponse5.splashthat.com/ Poster/Cover Image design by Amanda Shepherd Call + Response 5 is curated by Kira Wisniewski + Dillon Babington 31
More info: https://callandresponse5.splashthat.com