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Issue 3 Spring 2013

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Mount Hope is published bi-annually in Bristol, Rhode Island by the Roger Williams University Department of English and Creative Writing. Individual subscription rates are: $20 annually or $35 for two years. Mount Hope © 2013, All Rights Reserved. No portion of Mount Hope may be reproduced in any form or by electronic means, including all information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission of Mount Hope magazine or authors of individual creative works. Any resemblance of events, locations or persons, living or dead, in creative works contained herein is entirely coincidental. Mount Hope cannot be held responsible for any of the views expressed by its contributors.

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www.mounthopemagazine.com Individual Issue Price: $10.00 Inner cover art: “The Bridge,” Megan Murphy

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Editor Edward J. Delaney Writer-in-Residence

Adam Braver

Design Editor Lisa Daria Kennedy Massachusetts College of Art Poetry Editor

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Shelley Puhak Notre Dame of Maryland University ILLUSTRATIONS

Evan Viola

SENIOR EditorS

Leah Catania Chelsea Silva

EditorIAL ASSISTANTS

Chelsea Stanovich Caitlin Holton Alyssa Volpe Lindsey Yanow Amanda Newman

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Fiction

Susan V. Meyers / Failing the Trapeze 9 Joseph Mau / This is Our North Dakota 18 Joseph Scott Kierland / Under the Cicadas 77

CONTENTS

spring 2013 / issue 3 / mount hope

Nonfiction

Margot Livesey / Dickens on Rodeo Drive 33 Alison Stine / Blue 91


Becca Titus / Bad Owls 15 / Farm Hands 16 / Clean Fires 17 Gina Williams / Burial at Sea 90

Interviews

Poetry

Jaime Clarke / The Bookseller’s Art 51 Rosemary Mahoney / The Roads Written 71

Paul Hostovsky / Leveling the Playing Field 37 / Trombone Lesson 38 Kate Fox / Mallory Trinity 48 Cliff Lynn / virga 57 / woman with heart 58 Jesse Minkert / Outdoor Concert 69 / Harvest of Marrow 70 Sean Lause / The telescope’s infinite longing 86 / Gutting the trees 87 / The gift 89

Graphic Arts Jed Fielding / Street Photography, 1975-2010 21 Paul K. Tunis / Mothman 39 Charles Klein / War Protest 59


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Susan V. Meyers / Failing the Trapeze Late in the summer of the year I turned eight, my mother decided that we should all learn the trapeze. I don’t know where she found it, but one day she came home with a bar and cabling, and ordered two of my brothers to string it up in our back yard. The land out there was wide and flat and yellow from the sun. Dry grass and sometimes mud. There were horse pastures farther out, and rabbit cages, and a place for bees. Sometimes my mother raised chickens for extra money, though we didn’t really need it. And there were anywhere from a couple to a half dozen mongrel dogs that lived with us continuously, barking at our ankles as we climbed the sturdy oak tree and shimmied down to grab hold of the trapeze. All of my brothers were good at it. A bit muscular like my father, they swung easily from the bar, tossing themselves zealously into the pile of hay bales we’d set up a few feet out. “See? You’re natural performers,” my mother clapped her hands. She told us stories about the tricks she used to do on her father’s show—bird’s nest, double traps, two-legged Russian roll—all the things she promised to teach us how to do. “It’s so easy,” she claimed, “because you’ve got it in your blood.” But I proved my mother wrong: I wasn’t a natural. The bar was too big for my stubby fingers. I couldn’t lift myself; I couldn’t find any kind of momentum. “Come on, Theresa. It’s easy.” Mom stood behind me, grabbing my legs and swiveling me back and forth. “Like this. Can you feel it?” But all I felt was trapped: stuck there dangling in the air between the bar and my mother’s grip. My muscles ached; I wanted to be let down. She gave me one final shove, and I released the bar, grateful, plunging down onto the hard-packed dirt. “Theresa!” she screamed. “Why did you let go? Why didn’t you wait?” I looked dumbly up at her. What could I say? It never worked to tell my mother when things were impossible. When she wanted to, my mother could be generous. With strangers, she would brag about me, exaggerating my accomplishments until her stories sounded like another person entirely: someone strong and resolute, a girl I could never imagine becoming. But with my mother, these things seemed almost possible: my future career as an equestrienne, or a violinist, or an acrobat. I learned how to play along with her, smiling and flashing my eyes in quick confirmation: Oh, yes. So I grew up with two selves. There was my public self when my mother was with me: a beautiful

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girl who would grow up and do beautiful things. And a private self that was more cautious—that didn’t quite believe all the things she promised. And she did promise a lot—big, fabulous things that were difficult to ignore. Like her, she resolved, I would become a famous circus performer. “We’re going to get her the most amazing costume,” she once told a woman on the bus going into Berkeley. “I saw it in a magazine advertisement: a blue-sequined leotard with a matching headpiece. Very classic. And Theresa looks so nice in blue.” I hadn’t seen the picture—if there really was one—but already I knew just what it looked like: trim and bright and glittering. It would make me beautiful, I was sure. It would keep her loving me forever.

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After my failure with the trapeze, I felt ashamed, but I kept listening to my mother. There was still the promise of the blue-sequined leotard; there was still the chance of becoming beautiful. And Mom, for her part, decided that my brothers could have the trapeze; she would, instead, train me for high-wire performance. The training started out with a length of cable laid out against the ground. She told me to follow it over and over with my bare feet until it started to feel like a part of my own body. Then she got two little posts and strung the cord five inches in the air. Slack-wire style, she called it, so the cable slunk down in the middle, brushing against the ground. My mother left me out in the yard for hours, walking the wire, back and forth. I imagined myself as a real high-wire girl, sliding carefully along that fearsome cable, spinning my parasol for balance. How I would frighten and amaze my audiences; how untouchable I would become. But when the wire went up again, this time to ten inches, our hopes were dashed. I could follow the line with my toes. I could walk and walk until my feet felt only a thin line beneath them. But I couldn’t keep balance in air. We tried and tried. My mother showed me how it was done. She tried to be patient and encouraging. But I fell again and again. The insides of my shins grew bruised from the slashing wire. “I just don’t understand!” she finally wailed. “It’s like you aren’t even my daughter!” I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean, but it made me feel bad enough to die. I wasn’t ever going to be a circus performer. I wouldn’t get the lights and costumes and applause. I wasn’t going to be beautiful like my mother and grandmother. There was something wrong with me—some internal lack of balance. It beat against my own blood. After that, Mom stopped introducing me as her daughter. She would say instead: “This

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is Theresa, the girl in our family.” It was a subtle shift, but I noticed. Like always, Mom knew how to draw people to her; and she knew how to push them away. When she was angry with me, my mother would talk about me to other people while I was in the room: “Having a daughter has been such a disappointment.” As though my five older brothers had all been so easy. “I used to think having a girl would be nice. You know, after all those boys. But,” she would shake her head for emphasis, “it’s the girls that can really break your heart.” Usually, the problem was something I hadn’t done—or hadn’t been able to do. Most of the things that upset my mother were like this: little disappointments or casualties. Things her life had forgotten to give her. I wasn’t pretty enough, or sociable enough. Not at all like her. My mother was vibrant and engrossing; she knew how to seduce. But I was quiet and plain. And I don’t know if it hit her all at once, or if it was just a slow progression toward a truth she finally had to accept: I was not the daughter she’d planned on having. Once, she announced to a clerk at the grocery store: “My daughter doesn’t love me.” We’d been arguing; it had happened so quickly, the way it always did. In Produce, things had been fine. I chose round, red apples while she bagged up tomatoes and onions. Then she asked me how things were going at school. Good, I told her. We each got to choose a state to write about for a report the following week. I was planning to talk about California. “Oh!” She was genuinely horrified. “But all the kids will talk about California.” I didn’t understand what worried her; my mother was always so quick to identify life’s little dangers. I shrugged. I told her I liked California. “Oh, Theresa,” she tossed a package of ground beef into the cart. “You’ll never get through life like that.” We turned onto the aisle for condiments. Ketchup, and relish. And a long line of pickles. We would have hamburgers that night. I didn’t like hamburger night because it always made my mother moody. She hated slapping those little pink patties into shape. Usually, I did it for her. “You’ve got to be more creative,” she was saying. “How about Texas? You’ve got your roots in Texas.” My mother complained that her children didn’t care enough about their roots. But she cared. She told us stories about our history—which was really her history. That radically unstable childhood of hers on the circus: thrilling, but traumatic. We were expected to understand how

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our lives were connected to it all—that it made us who we were. But I didn’t want to believe it. “I’ve never been to Texas, Mom.” I stared at the wall of pickles—big and green and overwhelming. “I know, Baby, but I can tell you all about it.” She considered: sweet, or dill. “You always tell us things. Why can’t I just write something myself ?” “Well!” She grabbed a jar and dropped it into the cart, where it thudded against the meat, so little pink bubbles foamed out along the Styrofoam edges. “I didn’t know you were so ungrateful.” She grabbed the cart. “After all I’ve tried to teach you.” Then there was silence. Always, there was silence. That was my mother’s favorite way of letting you know how you’d disappointed her. So it wasn’t until we got to the check-out that I found out just what she was thinking: “Girls are so complicated.” The man at the register nodded. He looked down at me, and I could tell he figured I’d done something bad. I didn’t look at him. I crossed my arms and stood there without saying anything. As usual when something went wrong, I went inside my own head: I didn’t think I was complicated. I didn’t know what was so difficult about writing a school report on California instead of Texas. I looked at my mother: You’re the one who’s complicated, I thought. I got mean because there wasn’t much else left to do. Besides, it was easy: I’d been watching my mother for years. And, like hers, my meanness was subtle; it was based on things you couldn’t quite point out: a careless comment, a forgotten promise, disdain painted on like genuine concern. I was insidious; I was cold. I befriended on one day and rejected on the next. I knew how to look at someone just so, and snap my eyes away at the critical moment, so they were left wondering what on earth I had been thinking. I started out slowly, the way children do: testing the boundaries of things. How much could I get away with? How far could I press my own small guilt? “Amber Higgins doesn’t have real front teeth.” I told people’s secrets, pretending not to realize that they had been shared in confidence. Or I spoke openly about things that other people tried politely to cover up: “It’s too bad Samantha can’t go on to fourth grade with us. It’s only because she has that problem so she can’t read. It’s like a disease; she can’t get rid of it.” The children at Holy Spirit Elementary were serious and dutiful. They came from good families—the best. You could tell. So they were easy to pick on because they were quick to trust; they hadn’t yet learned how unforgiving the world can be. After each small ingression, they stared at me with wide, unclasped eyes—the tearful lining of disbelief building up at the corners like

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stale milk. Girls who liked me were my best targets. Because they trusted me, the reversal was that much worse: not just meanness, but betrayal. So I pretended kindness, but later on, I took it back—leaving people stunned in the blinding light of rejection, trying to figure out what it was that they had done. And the worst part was that I understood their helplessness: that, like me with my mother, their sad fate had nothing to do with them. There wasn’t anything I wanted, except to know that I could hurt people. And hurting people was wrong: I knew that. It made me sinful. At mass on Fridays, Father McDougal warned us about the devil getting into our hearts. He said sometimes it happened without a person even knowing. This made me feel better— because then it couldn’t really be my fault. So I thought about the devil being in my heart the day I withheld Mary Jane Price’s lunch from her until she could sing backwards the entirety of the National Anthem. Every time she missed a word, I threw some small piece of her lunch into the trash. She was in tears by the time she finished. I felt sorry for her: It was terrible, sometimes, the way things happened. I was eight, and I hated my mother. One day I told her, and she cried. When my father got home that evening, I knew he’d found out because he took me into his study—a place I never went. I knew this meant things were serious, but all I could think about were all those books lined up against the walls: neat and rigid and clean. Nothing else in our house looked like that. “Children don’t hate their parents,” he said. It wasn’t a scolding, it was a statement of fact. “It’s not natural.” My father was like this. He understood the world: what was possible, and what wasn’t. For him, life seemed to fit together very evenly. Except that other people were always failing him, forgetting how things worked. “Theresa,” he put a hand on me, trying to get me to look at him. “Why don’t you love your mother?” I shrugged, but he kept looking at me. His face was square and severe. I expected it to grow red like it did when we were in traffic: flushing out from the jaw in cottony clumps like fish scales. He breathed hard and shallow at moments like those: his eyes coming small and angry all at once. He was tragic, I thought. But in the quiet, sweep-it-under-the-rug kind of way. Not like my mother, whose upsets were always loud and painfully apparent. “You don’t hate her, Theresa.” It sounded like a plea—something he was asking me not to do. So I shook my head.

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Then he did something that surprised me: he put his arms around me and held me. I waited. He had never done that before. But suddenly it was so easy. I folded myself into his lap and stayed there, smelling the thick odor of pipe tobacco in his clothing, and another scent that I didn’t know yet: whiskey. He was a lonely man. His whole life, he’d been lonely, no matter what he was doing, or who he was with. I don’t know how long we stayed like that. It was a strange and lovely moment. Intimate but incomplete. Because there was something missing: an emptiness waiting to be filled up. My father needed something from me that I didn’t yet know how to give. “Oh, Theresa,” he breathed. “You’re worth so much more than you think you are.”

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Susan V. Meyers has lived in Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico. She teaches creative writing at Seattle University. Her work has appeared in journals such as CALYX, Dogwood, Rosebud, and The Minnesota Review, and she has been the recipient of several awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship.

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Becca Titus / Bad Owls He speaks in staccatos, jaws open apple-wide. Once, a Cree girl in Montana told him stuttering is laughable to owls so he hates them. In younger dreams, talons took off his tongue and the forest filled with giggling birds. He woke salt-caked, frantic, checked the windows for eyes. Raptors, he says. Evil. Haven’t you seen Jurassic Park? And sure, but I know the difference. It’s their calls, low and clear as cellos. A sound that echoes, lacks edges, shivers mice out of the brush.

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But he believes the death omen myth. How are they wise? He asks me. They swallow bones. In picture books, he sees the ego of killers and scoffs at their pellets. I touch the page, their lucid indifference, necks like the undead, faces like clocks.

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Becca Titus / Farm Hands i.

We rise with the mist. I snap a hen’s neck while my son squeaks the frozen hose. His hands wet with water, mine with slime. In four years, he’ll skin our supper.

ii.

Some soft thing screams in the forest and all pig snouts turn westward. I slop the trough full. The boy looks into the trees as if they are mirrors he cannot trust.

iii.

He’s singing to the barn cats. I hear him from the cellar. And the burlap’s light again, our sugar gone to the mare. This month, he drinks bitter tea or not at all.

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iv.

He naps on a hay bale while I stir broth. The sky is quartz-clear, means frost, firewood, early feeding. It’s quiet now but at dawn my morning boot heels startle all the cages.

v.

In a dream, my son holds a baby blue jay and lifts it like a gift from the rafters. He smiles but his ears don’t work and the doomed, peep-quivering thing cries mother, mother, mother

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Becca Titus / Clean Fires I don’t wish on falling stars but baby teeth and eyelashes. Anything that deserts its roots is human and I’ll trust it. In this galaxy of pathways and milk light, all cells are agents of want. Even toxins, cottons, foxes are born with a craving. When red giants get sick, we say they die as warped opals (roaring greens, tangerines, aubergines) but no. Theirs are clean fires. Whiter than eyes of enemy children, whiter than fawn blood, more remote than all of neon’s rivals.

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Rebecca Titus has received two Kratz Fellowships for Creative Writing, a Spencer Award for Fine Art, and the Eleanor Denoon Poetry prize. She writes and photographs in Austin, Texas.

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Joseph Mau / This is Our North Dakota Charlie lay in the backseat, smoking, examining the marks from his IVs in the dwindling light. He was still wearing his gown, having departed prematurely from the hospital. Corrine, abandoning her rationality, drove on toward Virginia, thinking that this would all be over soon anyway. Charlie would be gone. She washed the thought from her head. She did not want him to die; she just wanted—what did she want?—for him to be like he was before, for their life to be like it had been. She adjusted the rearview to look at him, lying there, appearing so much older than he was. Once again, she had helped him escape, had, as he said, “rescued” him from his hospital bed. Didn’t she owe him that? After all, he had rescued her; he had taught her; he had created her. There she is looking out her window at the scruffy landscaper her father hired. He’s playing air guitar and singing Bob Dylan. He’s smiling up at her with his Elvis eyes. He’s writing songs for her, calling her a muse, calling her a goddess. He’s touching her. [18]

“He’s touching me,” she sang, retrieving a cigarette. That was the first song she recorded, the first that got radio play, the one reporters from the weekly alternative papers asked her about. She could never have done it without him, without Charlie. They’re in a youth hostel in Las Vegas, working as dishwashers during the day, playing guitar at night; he’s playing, she’s learning. Then she’s playing. Then they’re writing songs. Then she’s writing songs. Open mic nights, street corners, and finally paying gigs. Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland. She’s writing more, developing her style. He’s so proud, so in love with his muse. She says, “No, you’re mine.” “Sing, ‘You’re My Muse’,” he croaked from the back seat. “God, I love that song.” She sang for him, and he closed his eyes and tried to sleep, though the pain made it nearly impossible. It was his song, and when he was gone she would not sing it again. She had stopped singing it before, when the drinking took over, when the jealousy took over, when the accusations and reproaches took over. She sells out clubs and bars, and he has a girlfriend who has the eyes of many men on her. She has a manager, and he has a foe to compete for her attention. She has a record, and he has a mention in the liner notes. She has a hit single, and he has a drink. And another. She writes a song titled “Cliché,” and he throws a glass onstage when she sings it. She tells him to get the fuck away from her, and he does. The exit for I-64 came more quickly than she expected. In her fantasy, he would drift

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off to sleep and pass away before they got to Lover’s Leap, before she had to refuse to jump with him, despite the pained-yet-comforting way he assured her that true lovers would fly back up, that the wind would carry them up, that if they held tight to one another’s hands, they would be Okay. So she had said “Okay” to assure him that she was his true lover, even though she knew it wasn’t so, she knew she would not jump, would not let him jump if it came to it. He was weak anyway. She could drag him back to the car, back to reality, back to a hospital. In reality, there he lies, gun in one hand, bottle of Mellow Corn in the other, Bible on the bedside table. It’s some motel off the interstate in a nameless cow town in Texas. He has called her, says he can’t live without her. Says he’ll do it, he’ll kill himself if she doesn’t show up. Says he knows she’s in Texas, knows she’s nearby. And there she is at the door. She’s not angry. She’s scared, genuinely scared. He cries when he sees her, hides the fake gun under the mattress. Tells her he’ll clean up his act. Tells her he bought two copies of her album, that he likes the title, that he too has fond memories of North Dakota; he wants to make new memories of North Dakota. He’s writing again. It’s really good stuff, he says, about being addicted, about living on the streets, about life without her. He asks her if she’ll listen to him, if she’ll talk to the record company, whoever it takes. She says, yes, she will. She’ll listen. And she does. She listens to misstrums, missed lines. She tells him it’s good, his music. She holds his shaking hands, this man who was once her savior, her lover. “I can’t be your mother, Charlie,” she tells him. “You know that’s not what I want,” is his reply. “I can’t be the other,” is hers. And that was that. He had listed her as his next of kin, and she wasn’t hard to find. When she showed up at the hospital, as she said she wouldn’t and knew she would, the nurse told her there wasn’t much left of his liver. He had a barrel chest when she first fell in love with him out of her bedroom window. Now he was small, shrunken, a living mummy in sanitized hospital wraps. When the nurse left, he told her his plan. All she had to do was get him out of there. She looked out the window and heard his voice. “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the west, and Juliet is the sun.” “The east,” she says. “The sun rises in the east.” “I prefer sunsets, darlin’,” he tells her. She is in love. She had driven all night and through the day, and he was awake and sitting up but quiet when she pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Lover’s Leap Overlook. She got out of the car first and opened his door. He tried to get out by himself, but he

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had to hold onto the car door and then her for support. Her arm around his waist, his around her shoulder, they looked like a strange wounded animal moving to throw itself over the cliff ’s edge. His gown blew open, and he said he wished he had clothes. She apologized, though she did not know to bring him any. They were at the edge, but there was still a railing separating them from the brink. “You’ll have to get me over the railing,” he said soberly. She climbed over and knocked loose earth off the edge with her foot. As she did, she considered what would happen next. “Give me your hand,” Corinne said. He did, and like a child into his mother’s arms, he made his way over the railing. There they stood at sunset, looking over the edge and then back at each other, the gravel unstable under their feet. “You don’t have to do this. I’m gonna die soon anyway.” “But we’re not going to die,” she heard herself say. “We’re going to be blown right back, and you’re going to get better, and we’re going to drive off in your old Mercury, and you’re going to teach me to play guitar, and we’re going to be the best god damn duo in th—” And she looked back at the car, and she looked at Charlie, and she was taken back to her bedroom window, and he is young and free and full of life. She tightened her grip on Charlie’s hand. “I prefer sunsets, darlin’,” she sang as she surrendered and stepped from the crumbling ground into the welcoming air.

Joseph Mau’s short fiction has appeared in Ferocious Quarterly and the anthologies HerStory and Flash. He teaches English literature in Kentucky.

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Jed Fielding Street Photography, 1975-2010

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“I work in the street, but unlike many street photographers, I’ve never just come upon anything and photographed it. Although I take pictures of strangers, people that I’ll never see again, I work with them, if only for a few seconds. This short collaboration begins the moment someone sees me approaching them with a camera. They have the option of walking away or of turning and saying ‘no,’ which some do. If not, I begin photographing. I use a wide-angle lens so I’m never more than about a foot away from the people I’m working with. Their reaction to my presence, the fact that I’m so physically close, makes my pictures look the way they do. These photographs could not have been made with a long lens from across the street.”

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Naples #113, 2001

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Lima #79, 1975

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Naples #33, 2003

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Naples #39, 2001

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Naples #2, 2001 M O UNT H O P E


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Mérida #202, 1986

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Almería #30, 1977

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Mérida #161, 1986

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Jed Fielding

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MĂŠrida #444, 1986

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Naples #116, 2010 M OUNT HOPE


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Jed Fielding was born in Boston in 1953. He received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied with Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, and his MFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. He has photographed extensively in Peru, Greece, Egypt, Spain, the United States, and Italy, and has been photographing in Mexico for more than thirty years. Fielding's photographs have been widely collected and exhibited, and are represented in private and public collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Art Institute of Chicago; International Center of Photography, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His monograph City of Secrets: Photographs of Naples by Jed Fielding was published by The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, and Takarajima Books in 1998, and in 2000, he was awarded an Illinois Artist's Fellowship. The photographs in his current monograph, Look at me, were made in Mexico City between the years 1998 and 2005. Mr. Fielding lives in Chicago.

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Picture a man, D—, and a woman, M—, walking down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles on a bright October day. They have seen each other only once in the almost twenty years that have passed since they met in Iowa City, and they are talking ardently about writing, which is what brought them together in the first place at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: he to study, she to teach. She still teaches, now in Boston; he still writes fiction but earns his living as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. M— has been talking about Dickens’s novel Great Expectations to a literary gathering and she cannot entirely stop talking about it to her former student. D— is working on a film about the death sentence in Texas. Neither of them is a stranger to ambition. I am the woman, of course, but there is something about being in Los Angeles that makes me feel I am hovering a little above my own life—perhaps because, in an earlier life, I lived in Venice on several occasions. My former home on Superba Avenue is now marked by two comically towering palm trees that I planted, when they were barely a foot high, too close to the house. By then I had already read Great Expectations at least once, and written one bad novel. With passion and painful ineptitude, I was writing another. I remember walking by the Pacific, watching the gray waves beat upon the shore and imagining the grunion running in Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon. I didn’t know how to get better as a writer, or how to be more usefully influenced by my reading. I was sure I was doomed never to accomplish anything of significance. In those days I never visited this wealthy part of the city, but now D— and I are walking up Rodeo Drive, where the tourists come to look at money instead of museums. We are talking about Dickens, who would surely have understood this place of great expectations. All his life he worked unbelievably hard to make sure that he would never again know the poverty that had driven him to work in a blacking factory at the age of twelve. D— writes all his scripts to tight deadlines but both of us are amazed at the novels that Dickens accomplished in the face of serialisation. How did he do it, we wonder. Talk of deadlines leads to another question of deep mutual interest: namely, how differently the genre writer and the literary writer tend to describe their respective tasks. I am not sure if Dickens thought of his work as literature, per se, but he certainly thought of it as deserving of a large readership. Writing to his friend and future biographer John Foster about David Copperfield, he proclaimed, “If I were to say half of what Copperfield makes me feel tonight how strangely, even to you, I should be turned inside out! I seem to be sending some part of myself into the Shadow World.” Nowadays, most literary writers take years to write a novel and tend to assume that novels written more briskly are sure to be inferior. What would it be like, D— speculates, if he treated his fiction like a commissioned screenplay?

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I tell him I don’t know but that I wonder if we literary writers haven’t become too pessimistic, too neurasthenic, about our work. Maybe we could learn from the optimism and ambition of Dickens, and Eliot, and James, each of whom produced superb novels under the pressure of time and money. Maybe some novels do need years and years to be fully realised, but maybe others can be written more nimbly. There is nothing shameful about imitating Trollope and aiming for a certain number of words, or hours, each day—especially if the result is He Knew He Was Right. Of course the world does not need more books; it needs better books, books with scenes as vivid and heartbreaking and morally complex as that dark and stormy night on which Pip learns that Magwitch, the convict, and not Miss Havisham, has been his benefactor. For the reader, this scene, which overturns every idea Pip has about his life, is surprising and deeply satisfying. Yes, we think, this makes perfect sense. Dickens put his deepest self into Great Expectations but he did not, like many modern writers, think of writing as self-expression. He aimed to entertain and educate. When he failed to do those things, he heard from his readers in unmistakable terms: they wrote him letters, they stopped buying his magazine Household Words. At the end of Rodeo Drive we come across the Beverly Hills Art Show—booths of paintings and ceramics and crafts set out beneath magnificent trees with beautiful smooth gray trunks and large glossy leaves. Rubber trees, D— guesses. The election is fast approaching and our talk turns to politics and writing. When did the term “political novel” become pejorative? Why do literary writers try to keep their politics out of their prose? Dickens was a prolific writer, so it’s only fair that the word “Dickensian” has several meanings: antic, far-fetched, old-fashioned. Perhaps most significantly we apply his name to novels that cry out for some wrong to be righted. Wouldn’t it be good, D— and I agree, if there were more such novels? I have yet to write one, so has he, so have many literary writers, but it’s easy to think of dozens of genre writers who boldly take on political issues. Is it possible that the patronage of universities has made it too easy for the literary writer to ignore social issues? Might our choices be different if, like Dickens and Eliot and James, we had to earn our living by our pens? Dickens himself visited America twice to go on hugely popular and lucrative reading tours. Overall, he was disappointed in the country and wrote to his friend William Macready “this is not the republic I came to see, this is not the republic of my imagination.” After the first tour he wrote American Notes, in which he deplored, among many other things, the chewing of tobacco and the practise of slavery. But on his second tour, after the Civil War, he found much to praise and added an approving appendix to both his travel book and to Martin Chuzzlewit, the

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hero of which visits the States. The end of Great Expectations finds Pip, who has been a gentlemanly wastrel for several years, entering at last that arena of work that Dickens knew so well. He gets a job and toils diligently. His life slowly becomes one in which his expectations match the reality; he is sadder, kinder, wiser and, seemingly, without sexual desire. Dickens himself continued to work compulsively until his early death at 58, in part because he had to support his wife, his children and the woman for whom he left his wife; in part because no amount of work or words or money could ever fill the huge void left in him by the rigours of his childhood. During his latter years he burned vast quantities of private papers and some parts of his story will never be known. Now in middle age I am not likely to turn into Dickens—nor is the considerably younger D— likely to, either—but walking back to my hotel, famed for its comfort and, I’m told, for the expensive prostitutes who visit the bar, we both admit our hopes to write more fiction, better fiction. In the lobby, surrounded by the dark-skinned valets and bellboys, we breathe in the exquisite scent of lilies, and say yes, yes, we’ll try to hold onto our great expectations. We’ll try to find the right way to include both the world and ourselves in our work. [36]

Margot Livesey grew up in a boys’ private school in the Scottish Highlands where her father taught, and her mother, Eva, was the school nurse. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in shops and restaurants and learning to write. She has published seven novles and a collection of short stories. Her most recent novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, was published by HarperCollins in January 2012. She is currently a distinguished writer-in-residence at Emerson College.

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Paul Hostovsky / Leveling the Playing Field Before they leveled the playing field one side was always running uphill, which was hard. And the other side was always running downhill, which was hard too—hard to stop the ball from rolling, hard to stop yourself from running when you’re running down a hill after a ball. Downhill had certain advantages though. It was true. But uphill had advantages too— you could belay; you could stick a strategic foot out, trip a careening downhill guy mid-stride. And anyway, we usually switched at halftime. So when the referees came up with the idea, we scratched our heads and tried to envision a playing field that was level. “You mean get rid of the hill?” we asked incredulously. They nodded vehemently and their excellent silver whistles hanging on lanyards round their necks bobbed in sympathy. The bulldozers and the backhoes arrived the next day, the tines of their buckets biting into our hill, eating it away before our eyes, and before we could say time out, or foul play, or off sides—which some of us did say, although by then it was too late—they’d gone and changed the game forever. Some of us quit outright, preferring to sit in judgment up in the stands—the closest thing to a hill that they had. And some of us kept on playing; adapting ourselves to the changing landscape, learning the new steps, and the new names, making new friends, many of whom were so young that they’d never played on a hill. They could only imagine, they said. They could only shake their heads and regard us in a squinting sort of way, as though the sun were going down behind a hill, behind us.

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Paul Hostovsky / Trombone Lesson The twenty minutes from half past nine to ten of ten is actually slightly longer than the twenty minutes from ten of ten to ten past ten, which is half downhill as anyone who’s ever stared at the hillocky face of a clock in the 5th grade will tell you. My trombone lesson with Mr. Leister was out the classroom door and down the tessellating hallway to the band room which was full of empty chairs and music stands from ten past ten to ten-forty, which is half an hour and was actually slightly shorter than the twenty minutes that came before or after, which as anyone who’s ever played trombone will tell you, had to do with the length of the slide and the smell of the brass, and also the mechanism of the spit-valve and the way that Mr. Leister accompanied me on his silver trumpet making the music sound so elegantly and eminently better than when I practiced it at home for hours and hours which were all much shorter than an hour actually, as anyone who’s ever practiced the art of deception with a musical instrument will tell you, if he’s honest and has any inkling of the spluttering, sliding, flaring, slippery nature of time, youth, and trombones.

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Paul Hostovsky is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Hurt Into Beauty (2012, FutureCycle Press). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net.

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Kate Fox / Mallory Trinity Cottie Sanders Recalls George Mallory at Pen y Pass, Easter 1911 Graham Irving seduced you that first summer with Byron, high altitude, and gin. But Strachey was no fluke. Or Young or Bussy or Grant. Or I, for that matter, ignorant as bliss when you wrote, “My experiences of friendship are with my own sex.” True, I see now, but not then, when you added that, if I were a man, you would know what to do. Not even when, under stars chipped and glittering as mica, I lay down to guide your weight [48]

into me, and you turned me half round, pulled me against your hips, settled in for the work of love. Then, as Mendelssohn drifted from the windows of the Pen y Pass Hotel, as I sank to my elbows in the dampened grass, as my hair began to loosen, I said “yes” and “yes” again to the absurdity of Shelley and Y Lliwedd,1* to the scent of wet wool and bay rum, to the call of the tawny owl over the cattails below.

1*

pronounced “e-CLEW-with”

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Kate Fox / Mallory Trinity George Mallory Writes to Geoffrey Winthrop Young of Walking Off the Map “What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.” —George Mallory, 1923 As I am sure you know, Paradise, always relative, again lies uncharted just beyond the hellish trek through the Rongbuk Glacier valley, wind rattling shale down pewter rock face, sterile as an asteroid, into narrower ravines where our hobnail boots skid on ice and talus, then falter on boulders that breach like leviathans, and finally, a labyrinth of pinnacles that dwarfs our team under mother-of-pearl steeples. Yet, east and parallel, linked by a stream that bubbles from a moraine crossed on our first

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expedition, crawls the East Rongbuk, our passage, God willing, to the North Col, but not before the gorge above Kharta opens like a love letter upon meadows of pink geranium, scarlet cinquefoil, amber kingcups, and the delicate Himalayan poppy that draws its hue from the body’s maritime routes, ventricle-shaped petals deepening to indigo, all indigenous, as we are not, to these heights.

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Kate Fox / Mallory Trinity After Everest 1924: Ruth Mallory’s Journal III The grieving widow, I can afford to be generous. The test of good breeding, as Shaw once wrote, is how one behaves in a quarrel. Homosexual misses the point. You simply enjoyed sex—innocent as sculling, rock climbing, rugby, cricket—and safe from the scandal of pregnancy. Yet there was Cottie Sanders, the one to whom you recited lines from Shelley, who compared every risk to symphony, every foothold to metaphor. Your one experiment after Grant, Benson, Strachey, the others, [50]

she gave our marriage what little chance it had. Then Irvine provided the finish, and ever reasonable, I accepted the terms. Now only letters scattered over the roof of the world bear witness. Let them fashion a love story. Let them save face.

Kate Fox’s poems have appeared in the Great River Review, New Virginia Review, Valparaiso Review, West Branch, and Green Mountains Review, among others. Her chapbook, The Lazarus Method, was published under the name of Kate Hancock by Kent State University Press as part of the Wick Poetry Chapbook Series.

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Jaime Clarke is the author of the novel We’re So Famous (Bloomsbury USA), editor of the anthologies Don’t You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes (Simon & Schuster), Conversations with Jonathan Lethem (Univ. Press of Mississippi), No Near Exit: Writers Select Their Favorite Work from Post Road (Dzanc), with Mary Cotton, and Boston Noir 2: The Classics (Akashic), with Dennis Lehane and Mary Cotton. He is a founding editor of the national literary magazine Post Road, now published at Boston College. Clarke is the co-owner, along with his wife, of Newtonville Books, an independent bookstore in the Boston area. He was interviewed by Mount Hope staff member Chelsea Silva. Chelsea Silva: How would you describe the overall atmosphere in bookselling at the moment?

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Jaime Clarke: There’s always apprehension in bookselling, I think, because it’s a cultural institution, one at the mercy of taste (however that is defined), which means the winds can shift at any one moment and erase everything you think you know about selling books. The collapse of Borders was probably the most Earth-shattering moment for bookselling in recent history. It changed the way publishers treat bookstores in that Borders owed publishers a lot of money when it folded and so now small independent bookstores are on short financial strings with publishers. You used to be able to order a book and pay the bill down the line. Now you have to pay quickly so you have to make a decision about keeping the book on the shelf or returning it for credit, which ultimately just hurts the author of the book in question. The one saving grace, always, is that most booksellers are optimists and so the boring business part of bookselling is easily shrugged off. It’s always been a struggle and will always be so. CS: What role do booksellers play in the distribution of books? How is this different from Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item…” section? JC: You could argue that booksellers are the chief handsellers of books to readers. That Amazon feature you mention exists because, well, Amazon is not a bookstore and so they don’t have booksellers to make personal recommendations to readers. Associative browsing on a website isn’t anything like talking about books and authors with booksellers. Those who have done both know what I’m talking about. CS: You’ve been running Newtonville Books since 2007, amidst a rising tide of ebooks and Amazon sales. How have these developments influenced your business over the last five years?

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JC: Truthfully, not at all. Amazon has been around since the mid-1990s, so their influence was established by the time we saved Newtonville Books from closing in 2007. Amazon’s stated ambitions have always been to become the Wal-mart of the internet; they began selling books only because books were already sitting in warehouses all across the country ready to ship. It could just as easily have been lawn furniture or lamps. My only beef with Amazon is their corporate sleaze in terms of dodging their responsibilities vis-à-vis collecting sales tax, bullying publishers into giving them exclusive, more favorable terms, which they need to be able to offer books at such a steep discount, hoping you’ll also buy a barbecue grill from them while you’re shopping. It’s hard to keep perspective, but it’s easy to remember that most people in the country don’t have an independent bookstore in their neighborhood. I grew up in Phoenix and the closest bookstore was a Borders that is now gone. To reach the wonderful Changing Hands in Tempe, I’d have to drive for a half an hour every time I wanted a book. So Amazon thrives for that reason. But recently Amazon has started to have a wandering eye: they regret spending so much money on a dedicated e-reader, it seems, and are now looking to be the world’s largest purveyor of data services, to compete not with Wal-mart, but with Apple et al. The quote-unquote rise in eBooks is of no concern to us. I know the headlines are startling, but if someone invented chocolate toothpaste today, the headlines tomorrow would indicate that sales of chocolate toothpaste are up 1000 percent, and so forth. I’m old enough to remember when audio books were going to be the end of books, and it settled at about 20 percent of the market, before being overtaken by new technology. eBooks look to be about the same percentage of the market as it begins to settle. My hope is that people who wouldn’t dream of holding a real book in their hands because it gets in the way of staring at a screen all day will become readers via eBooks. Then maybe one day they’ll want to see the real thing, much like seeing the Mona Lisa after glimpsing all those posters and t-shirts. CS: What do independently-owned bookstores offer that chains or online sales do not? Does the dissolution of chains like Borders leave more room for independent booksellers? JC: I guess I’d say just about everything except selling books as loss leaders in the hopes customers will buy some other kind of merchandise. We treat customers as readers and engage in conversation with them as such. Also, we feel an independent bookstore should be a literary meeting ground for the neighborhood so we host three bookclubs, a writing workshop, and two or three readings per week. Plus, as every true reader knows, the browsing experience can’t be replicated online. When Borders first went under, people expected us to be gleeful about it, but in truth the world needs more bookstores, not fewer. As alluded to earlier, the real effect has been how publishers treat independent bookstores in the wake of Borders’

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colossal failure, and that effect has mostly been negative. CS: What kind of physical space and character did you want to create for the bookstore when you moved? JC: We realized pretty quickly that we had the opportunity to design a store from scratch—the previous tenant was a real estate office—and so we hired an architect to help us with all we didn’t know about the hidden design involved in creating a comfortable retail space. We’d seen a picture of a front counter made out of books in Australia, and hired a carpenter to build one for us. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen books cut in half on a table saw; it was both painful and exhilarating. Mostly we wanted a clean and inviting place where the outside world could be forgotten for as long as readers want to spend inside. We’ve been told the place feels like a library, and that’s exactly what we were going for. CS: How has Newton, as a specific community, influenced your shop?

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JC: I would say the community inspires us more than anything. The enthusiasm is palpable and it translates into great encouragement, which is always welcome in an industry like bookselling, which is constantly under duress from all the other media in the world. CS: What do you sense (if anything) from writers, in terms of their relationship to publishers and the industry in general? JC: This is a painful question. Most of our events are with midlist, literary fiction writers and the landscape has definitely changed for the worse. It’s not a surprise that the big publishers, being owned by corporations, are under pressure to publish bestselling books, which means not taking a chance on little or more literary works. My wife and I both have MFAs, and come from the world of small publishing, so these kinds of literary works are close to our hearts and we do what we can to promote them. That said, there’s a sort of resignation on the part of writers who know that if their book doesn’t sell, they might be dropped by their publisher in favor of someone else who doesn’t yet have a sales track record, i.e., a fresh start for the publisher. It’s insidious and creates a level of anxiety for writers that isn’t conducive to working on the next book; but when you introduce a business element into the world of artmaking, well, the two are generally at odds. My only hope is that there will be more and more brave people out there who will start new publishing ventures to give a home to the wonderful work that corporate publishers can’t take a chance on. It’s encouraging to see presses like Two Dollar Radio, Atticus Books, Outpost 19, Roundabout Press, Featherproof Books, Hawthorne Books, Yellow Shoe Fiction, et al. get some recognition for their efforts and find readers for

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their authors. We’ll need another dozen or more like them in short order if we’re to continue to have interesting works available. CS: Is the struggle of community bookstores a result of consumer apathy or just consumer ignorance? JC: Every year the Pew Center conducts a survey of the population and the latest study shows that only 17 percent of Americans consider themselves readers. I don’t think it’s apathy or ignorance, it’s a much worse problem: we as a society don’t value reading as highly as we do almost everything else. The next time you type u instead of you in an email or a text message, you’ll be proving my point tenfold. CS: You have a history that involves teaching creative writing at Emerson; how has that background, or Post Road, informed your current work? What are the benefits or detriments to coming to bookselling from a literary background? JC: I see the bookstore as a natural extension of our background in creative writing. Teaching aside (which mostly confirmed that students are interested in becoming famous writers without actually doing any reading), running Post Road Magazine and editing anthologies both build a sense of community, which is what we’re trying to do with Newtonville Books. We enjoy the company of other writers and the absolute best part of owning a bookstore is getting to meet writers and constantly having a new book on the horizon that we’re dying to read. There aren’t really any detriments except maybe the boring business parts of running a bookstore, but even taking out the trash seems more interesting than when I used to take out the trash at Pete’s Fish and Chips, my first job in high school. CS: Running an independent bookstore is both a passion and a business for you. How do you reconcile the two? JC: Honestly, we try not to think of it as a business and concentrate on how much pleasure it provides us and our customers. We hire bookkeepers and accountants to worry about the unpleasant things. CS: A lot of people are concerned that the increase in online business going to “ruin” publishing—do you feel that same concern? Do you think the eBook is good for literature and writing? JC: My wish, as I said earlier, is that eBooks are somehow creating more readers. My two

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brothers are tech guys and not big readers, but all of a sudden they’re reading things in electronic formats that have expanded their curiosity so that they’ve reported reading a book or two recently. I’ll take that. There will always be books simply because whether we want to admit it or not, we value written records, which is what books are. CS: Does “the book” have a future?

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JC: Whether books are an endangered species or not will depend entirely upon whether or not publishing can make the necessary changes to make their production more logical. The idea of printing an expensive hardcover and then waiting nine to twelve months to bring out the paperback (unless the hardcover is on the best-seller list, in which case publishers understandably try to milk every last sale), is changing and must. In Europe, books are published in three formats—hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market—all at the same time. That seems right to me. There are still people who care about hardcovers, but most customers prefer paperback. The publisher makes less on a paperback, which is the problem, but Wal-mart was built on the concept of selling ten things for a little less profit than hoping to sell one or two for maximum profit. That’s an idea that translates. There are a million other problems related to the manufacture and distribution of books, but the book itself will prevail. How readers will find them is the bigger question mark. CS: What value does the physical artifact have, now that so much information and art is being preserved virtually? JC: This question might highlight what I’m alluding to above about eBooks creating new readers. People Who Love Books, love books. There’s no doubt about that. It’s the reason bookstores exist. As much as others are trying to do otherwise, there’s no way to replicate the experience of reading a physical book and what the presence of physical books in their home, office, backseat of their car, etc., means to readers. Stripping the information out of a book and making a digital file from it for viewing is something else entirely. It might come to pass that the Millennial Generation never develops an affinity for the physical book having read most things on a screen, but let’s wait to see if that happens before we all start to mourn the physical book.

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Cliff Lynn / virga rain or ice or snow that travels through the troposphere evaporating long before it touches tongue or terra firma weather of no consequence no one talks about the weather when the weather is virga it’s possible that a good lady named marina traveling from moscow to votkinsk in the shadow of the urals slides from the train at nizhniy novgorod to buy a gazeta and some flowers for her mother imagine the kiosk queue as painfully slow unforgiving as a deep itch marina’s transport leaves without her   had she arrived in votkinsk on schedule marina and I may have together taken coffee at a corner café she might have offered herself to me

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like breakfast like a triangle of pate’d toast heroically drunk I would have no doubt chosen wisely instead marina caught a later train marina and I remain each other’s virga our children and their children remain virga each soul regardless of station upon reading this is no longer my virga and should feel free to rain on me rain on me.

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Cliff Lynn / woman with heart folks from all over the valley knew isabel as a woman with heart. not all heart mind you. that is she wasn’t shaped like a heart and she retained certain human characteristics. for example she possessed the requisite pairs of eyes ears breasts elbows etc and presumably kidneys but who can really know for certain. hair scratched out a modest living from her hardscrabble scalp. but it was her heart set isabel apart. those not familiar with her particular brand of speech found it difficult to make out what she was saying because her heart was so large it spilled into her respiratory tract. she was thin as a dickens orphan not owing to [58]

some freakish supermodel metabolism but because her heart squashed her stomach disallowing her to eat much at all. isabel had heart literally coming out of her ears pumping out of her ears like some blood-filled purple-veined balloon and frankly it bothered some people. isabel and mary and I we’d just laugh though and mary would say “there you go isabel—you’ll never find you a fella ‘cause you just got way too much heart.”

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charles klein wa r

p ro t e s t

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“These photographs were taken about ten years ago, when there was a massive world response to the impending start of the Iraq War. Like most, I was appalled by the events of 9/11 yet felt a substantial disconnect with the government’s intention to spread the military reaction to a country that had no clear relationship with those horrible attacks a year and one half earlier. It had been nearly 40 years since I had protested in numerous anti Vietnam war events. Here I was again. These protestors seemed more diverse and more sophisticated than we were back then. I felt at home and thankful. And sad...”

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Charles Klein’s photographs have appeared in the cover design of more than eighty book covers worldwide, for authors including Paul Auster, Richard North Patterson, Ivan Klima, Sena Jeter Naslund, Charles Baxter, E.L. Doctorow, Andrew Solomon and others. He worked as an early childhood educator for forty years. He is also a published poet and songwriter. He is based in Berkeley, California.

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Jesse Minkert / Outdoor Concert Bennie finds his zipper stuck between the Bosporus and the Anasazi home have mercy in the clarinets have moisture on the reeds keys move up and down according to whim and wind Bennie pulls hard to close the distance what seems close is married to the map and can’t betray the inches that chatter up the ridgeline [69]

brass blows sassy from the high back row wait for word from Bennie what follows in the interval features closing over eons rocks in streaks twisted silt gags the Bosporus gone the Anasazi ladders, bowls, windows show families from Hokkaido whom they were the tympani the snares the high hats tremble teeth in the final outburst realigned compel Bennie to sing to badgers as to brothers.

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Jesse Minkert / Harvest of Marrow The old man, feet among the roots, should have learnt by now to carry his bones one atop the other. “These knots,” he says, “that harden on my bones don’t help me hear the saxophones. This ravaged hand stings from the salt. Blood on the strand purples the asphalt. “My mouth fills now with rain, and now with wind, with soil and coins, wasps’ wings, threads of socks, shouts, splinters, scraps of skin.” Bones sound, when they shatter, like celery sticks between the fingers of his daughter who has prepared the tray of ranch, bleu cheese, or hummus dips, but under the crush of teeth he can smell his skeleton moving between the millstones of the world’s mastication.

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Jesse Minkert lives in Seattle. Wood Works Press published his collection, Shortness of Breath & Other Symptoms, in 2008. His poetry appears or is upcoming in Paper Nautilus, Floating Bridge Review, Harpur Palate, and The Naugatuck River Review.

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Rosemary Mahoney has made a career of writing about far-flung places, and her experiences there, often as she travels alone. She is the author of The Early Arrival of Dreams; A Year in China, a New York Times Notable Book in 1990, Whoredom in Kimmage, The World of Irish Women, a New York Times Notable book and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 1994, A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman, The Singular Pilgrim; Travels on Sacred Ground, and Down the Nile; Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff. Mahoney splits her time between Rhode Island and Sifnos, Greece; while in Rhode Island she sat to talk with Mount Hope’s Chelsea Silva.

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Chelsea Silva: Many of your books—like Down the Nile and A Singular Pilgrim—are written in the form of a travel-memoir. What is it about travel that inspires your writing? Rosemary Mahoney: Well, you know, I think a lot of people think of me as a travel writer, but I don’t think of myself as a travel writer, because it’s not really the traveling that’s so important to me—it’s the people. I feel like I write about people, and they just happen to be in foreign countries. I like traveling for the adventure and to learn new things. I feel like I’m more alert when I’m in an unfamiliar atmosphere. Like, I live in Bristol, but I can’t really tell you the names of the streets here. But if I’m in London, if I’m there for a week, I will be able to tell you all the streets in a half-mile radius, because it’s all new to me. And it stays in my mind, and I find that I’m more curious when I’m in a foreign country. That’s really all it is. It’s not so much the travelling that interests me, it’s the difference of the place. CS: In Down the Nile, you write about the way that your preconceived ideas about a loca-

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tion are actually really different from the reality of that location once you get there. Do you find that readjustment process present in your own writing? RM: Yes, that does happen. I find that I don’t really know what I’m going to write until it’s already written. It’s something about the process of sitting down and really thinking about it and trying to reproduce it. It’s only then that I find out what I learned and, you know, what was important and interesting to me about it. Usually, I will sell an idea for a book to a publisher, so I get an advance before the book is even written. I just write a proposal, and I say “this is what I want to write about,” and the truth is, not one of the books that I’ve written is really what I proposed it would be about. It always ends up being about something different. It’s not a bad thing—it’s natural. CS: It’s like an evolution. How do you think that your life here, in New England, has influenced your writing? RM: That’s a good question. In the United States, the regions are really particular. It always makes me laugh—when I’m in Europe, Europeans love to try to define America. They say “Oh, you Americans, you all do this, you all do that…” They don’t have any idea what a big country it is, and how different people are from region to region. If I go to New Mexico, you know what they say to me? “What nationality are you?” They think I’m British or Dutch, because of the way that I talk. And I find it difficult to understand them. I do think that, having been born in the US, we’re really privileged. Our lives are really easy, compared to Egypt, Kenya, India… we don’t know how lucky we are. Have you ever been to a developing country? CS: I’m taking a trip to rural Jamaica this winter. RM: You don’t realize it until you go to a developing country and you see the poverty there. I remember I went to China in 1986; I was twenty-five, and China was really poor then, and I went there to teach in a university, and I remember being in the grocery store. There was nothing there. And a lot of the stuff that was there was really crappy. I can remember when I came home—and I’d been there for a year—I came home and went to Stop & Shop, and the sight of an entire aisle devoted to dog and cat food... they eat dogs and cats in China. They wouldn’t pay money to feed a dog or a cat; they couldn’t, at that time. I remember thinking, “Whoa, this is a real eye opener.” And then you go to the dairy section and there’s fifty different kinds of yogurt to choose from. You’ll see what I mean when you go to Jamaica. Even within the United States, we speak as though there’s no poverty here, but there is—you go to Appalachia, West Virginia, even Maine—parts of rural Maine are really poor. People living below the poverty level. There’s a lot of poverty in the US, but the environment isn’t the same.

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CS: Do you generally write while you’re traveling, or after? Does knowing that you’re writing about your surroundings change how you view them? RM: No, it doesn’t change how I view them. I take a lot of notes when I’m traveling. I mark down everything I see and if I have a conversation, I try to put as much of the conversation as I can in my notes. It’s impossible to remember, word-for-word, everything that everybody says. But with this kind of writing, you know, I think it’s okay if it isn’t verbatim—if I were writing for the New York Times, it would have to be word-for-word. This kind of writing is more impressionistic, it’s more subjective, it’s my opinion about things. But I think it’s important to get the mood of the conversation, and the emotion, and to convey exactly the attitude that the person was expressing. That you can’t fool with. You have to be as accurate as you can possibly be. But yes, I take a lot of notes and then I come home and I put them together and I organize them and I refine it. But I don’t usually really try to write when I’m in the place. CS: On a similar note, how much research generally goes into a project? In Down the Nile, just the first chapter, there was so much detail involved. [74]

RM: There is a lot of research that goes into these books. For the one I’m working on now, I had to read at least thirty books to get the information I needed. I’ll be honest, the research is not the part that I love. It makes me feel like I’m back in college. I don’t think I’m very good at taking what I learned from a book and synthesizing it. I do it, but it’s not my strong point. But in Down the Nile I had to read a lot to get that information, especially the historical stuff, about Napoleon. I really had to study that. And it’s good because I learn. But it’s not the most fun part of the work. CS: How does reading—fiction, nonfiction, your initial research—impact your writing? What kinds of books do you enjoy? RM: I read mostly nonfiction on a broad range of topics. I’m particularly drawn by personal narrative, memoir, and essay collections. Right now I’m reading a couple of books at once: Christopher Hitchens’s short book about Thomas Paine and “The Rights of Man,” Janet Malcolm’s Book The Silent Woman, about the biographers of Sylvia Plath and the vagaries and pitfalls of writing biography. I’m also reading Martin Amis’s book Koba the Dread, about Stalin. And of course for my recent book I did a lot of reading about blindness and the history of blind education. I rarely read fiction. CS: Do you have a “dream destination,” someplace you’d love to travel?

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RM: I just finished a book last week that I handed in that will be published next September, and I’m thinking of new ideas. Probably my favorite place in the world is Greece, and I would love to write something about it, but I don’t really know. A place I’ve never been that I’d like to go is Russia. I think it’s a fascinating country with a fascinating history. Maybe Argentina. In fact, I’m going to Argentina in January, and if I find it interesting, maybe I’ll write something about it. CS: Do you write something about every place you travel? RM: Well, yes—I keep a journal. So even if I’m just traveling for fun, I’ll take notes and write about it. But I do think that my next book will be about Greece. CS: This question’s a little selfish. What advice would you give to other travelers? RM: For myself, I like to travel alone—a lot of people don’t—especially if I’m going to be writing about the place I go to. The trouble with traveling with a friend is that you go to the place and you spend all your time talking to the friend. If you’re alone you’re kind of forced to talk to the local people. And if you’re alone, you pay much more attention to what’s around you. It’s fun to go with a friend, but you really do learn more when you’re alone. It’s not as easy, also, and it’s more expensive. But if you really want to get immersed in the culture, go alone. Even if you’re not a writer, keep notes, take a lot of photographs. One thing that I do, that is maybe a mistake, is that I never read before I go there; I don’t read the guidebooks. What I tend to do is read them when I come home. I actually think it helps to read in advance, because you know what you’re looking at and you know what to expect. It’s good to know the history of the place. I think you have a richer experience if you know something about the history and the culture. CS: What do you think people are looking for when they read your work? RM: I suppose my readers are interested in the same things I’m interested in: human nature, human character, relationships, cultural differences. My books differ quite a bit one from the next, but they all have one common theme--the general human desire to find meaning and purpose in life. Many readers seem to be interested in my characterizations of the people I meet, and in my descriptions of the physical world. Often they’ll say to me, “I felt as though I was actually living your experience.” CS: How did you first become interested in this particular genre?

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RM: My first book was about my experience teaching in a university in China. I just wrote down all the interesting things that had happened to me there, all the unaccustomed things I noticed, all the things I found surprising, and it became a book. And I realized that it was as much a book about me as it was about China. I’m generally known as a travel writer, but I’m always a figure in my own books, and a big part of the story is how my experiences with the unfamiliar transforms me and helps me to grow. CS: Once you’re back home, what does your writing process look like? RM: I always keep a journal when I’m traveling and make extensive notes. Once home, I begin writing the book by organizing the notes and enlarging upon them. Reading my own journals brings back the memories and the feelings that I had. I build on. With a subject like blindness, my most recent topic, I add to my own experiences with a lot of book research: memoirs by blind people, biographies of famous blind people, histories about blind education, and essays about the medical and neurological aspects of blindness. CS: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing for you? [76]

RM: For me the most challenging part of writing is synthesizing all the information I’ve collected into a coherent, seamless narrative. Also, deciding what to include and what to leave out. I think one of the greatest challenges of writing is accepting the fact that what we write is always subjective, even in nonfiction. My book about blindness is only my view of blindness. What I chose to focus on in that topic is an expression of who I am and how my mind works as much as anything else. A writer has to narrow down the information she’s collected and present it to the reader in a compelling way. Accepting the simple fact that I can’t include everything in one book might be the hardest thing for me. CS: What’s the best part of being an author? RM: Sharing my experiences with like-minded readers. Communicating what you think and feel to a receptive audience is very rewarding. When a reader writes to me and tells me that my book was inspiring or helpful or thought-provoking, I’m of course very pleased, because it means I managed to connect to that person somehow. It means that what I wrote was in some way useful. That is very satisfying. Another highly enjoyable thing about writing is that I learn a tremendous amount in the research process about all kinds of things I would otherwise have no reason to know. And it is a luxury to be able to rethink and relive my experiences in the writing process. It helps me clarify my experience for myself.

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Joseph Scott Kierland / Under the Cicadas Teddy finished cutting the weeds that had crept up the walk and into his old tomato patch behind the house. He hung the whacker in the shed, slipped out of his work gloves, and saw Cody coaxing the big bay through the far gate. The boy tied his horse to the end post, checked to make sure his fly was zipped, and lowered his new cowboy straw against the glare of the August sun. Teddy had told him to “stay away from the proceedings,” but he’d shown up anyway… in his cowboy boots. Cody’s father had been one of Teddy’s political backers through a tedious eight years in Congress. Teddy had always counted on Old Fritz for that extra bag of money he needed to win an election. Fritz had it, gave it, and expected things for it. Teddy made sure the open cattle range continued as the modern rancher’s credo, and that water remained at what Fritz referred to as “a fair price.” When the old man died everyone assumed that Teddy would retire, become Mayor, and adopt Cody. Teddy kept the little house and the land Fritz had given him along the southern edge of the Schumacher ranch, became the town’s mayor, but never adopted Cody. No one did. “Mr. Mayor,” Cody yelled across the yard. Teddy looked up in a faked surprise. “He here yet?” Teddy shook his head. “Think he’ll show?” “If you showed...I guess he will.” “I’m just surprised he’s not here...it’s getting late,” Cody said, ignoring the sarcasm. “Lawyers are always late, son. They don’t like looking hungry. It’s undignified.” A low cloud of dust rose along the outer road and Earl’s white 250 Ford truck rushed into view between the trees. The slow crescendo of clicking cicadas began to rise and their steady hum enveloped the yard. “Sure you want to hang around for this?” Teddy yelled over the cicadas’ clicking. “I’m just going to feel him out.” “Thought I might help you push the load.” “Nobody pushes Big Earl,” Teddy said, watching the white truck race up the dirt road while another wave from the cicadas rushed over them in the August heat. “We’re giving him an awesome deal no matter how you cut it,” Cody yelled back, and headed for the house. Teddy shook his head at the boy’s remark and waited for the white truck to pull into the driveway. Big Earl stepped out and sauntered across the yard. He walked with a slight stoop but Teddy still had to reach up to shake his hand. “Isn’t that Cody’s bay?” Earl asked.

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“Certainly is,” Teddy mumbled, as their boots thumped across the porch. “Can I get you some iced tea?” “That would do fine,” Earl said. Teddy opened the small fridge behind the screen. “I can stiffen it up, if you’d like.” “Just the tea,” Earl said, grasping the frosted glass before Teddy could pour any bourbon into it. “Hope you don’t think I’m trying to talk you into anything here, Counselor,” Teddy said, lacing his own tea with the bourbon and ice. “Hell no,” the big man said. “I figure you’ve got a lot on your mind these days and need some answers.” Teddy liked that about Big Earl. He got right to the point. In his way he saved more sweat, grime, and bullshit than anyone he’d ever known. He cut to the bone by just speaking his mind. Most people in town were God-fearing Christians that believed in those pretty Biblical words printed on thin paper. They had put up with Earl’s straight talk for years because if they got into trouble it was Earl they wanted to defend them and they paid plenty for the privilege. Big Earl never cared much about how the truth got to the table just as long as it managed to get there. Teddy respected that about the big guy and admitted that whenever the platter of truth showed up at his end he just passed it on to the person sitting next to him. “I figure you’re looking for some free advice from a good defense lawyer,” Earl said. Teddy gave out a big laugh and a short nod. “You’ve got me cold,” he said. “This whole thing’s really up to you,” Earl told him. Cody came into the room, glanced over at Teddy, and sat down. “What’re they saying down at the courthouse?” Teddy asked, ignoring the kid. “That the whole thing’s about a few people having a meeting and forgetting to get a permit,” Earl said. “It’s just their way of trying to brush it under the carpet to protect you. Trouble is, it keeps blowing back out at them.” Big Earl laughed at his own joke and looked over at the kid, and said, “The fact that the meeting was held at two in the morning on federal property with over a hundred people attending is why it keeps blowing back out from under that carpet.” “They can’t prove it,” Cody said, jumping up. “Were you there, son?” Earl asked. “Yeah, I was there,” the kid said, and seemed glad someone had finally asked him outside of the courthouse. “Did anyone see you there?”

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“Sure,” Cody admitted. “I invited a few people over to my ranch...private property. And I can prove it.” There was an uncomfortable silence, and Big Earl finally said, “Several noteworthy witnesses say otherwise, including two ministers and a police officer. They say it was not your property and that the number of people that were there couldn’t possibly fit into your living room. That means the prosecutor will be questioning your ability to count… and to know where you are at any given time of the day or night.” The kid looked sullen and sat down again. “Even if what you say is true,” Earl went on, “this thing could turn into a circus. It’s close to that now. Why don’t you just pay the fine and hope the damn thing fades into everlasting County paper work?” “If we do that then we admit we did it,” Cody said. “They might just take it as a beau geste.” The kid looked confused, and Teddy quickly asked, “You think they really might, Earl?” “Don’t know. Paying the fine will at least take the smell off it a bit.” The cicadas stopped their high clicking and the three men listened to the ice hitting the side of Earl’s glass as he took another slug of the cold tea. Earl leaned back and said, “There’s a firm down in Phoenix that specializes—” “We don’t want outsiders in this,” Cody said. “You ought to get the best, son,” Earl told him. “We decided to keep it in the family,” Teddy said, glancing over at Cody. “Less publicity the better. But we wanted your opinion before we went any further.” “I just gave you my opinion.” “You don’t think there’s a lawyer here that could—” “Call Phoenix and be done with it,” Earl insisted. “They have more experience with these things, and you’ll need that if Singleton is prosecuting.” Teddy poured some more tea into Earl’s glass, and said, “Singleton’s given the case over to his assistant.” “Singleton’s assistant isn’t ready for anything like this. He just got out of law school... barely passed the bar. He couldn’t argue a traffic ticket.” Teddy watched the change of expression come into Earl’s eyes when he figured out they’d played a political card to keep the regular prosecuting attorney off the case. “Could be a break for your side though,” Earl admitted. “But be careful. These things can backfire.” “How’s that?” Cody asked. “Sometimes young enthusiasm goes a long way. The kid may be inexperienced, but he’s

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[80]

not dumb. He might dig a lot deeper than his boss. And if he gets together with one of those hotshot reporters on The Courier, the whole thing could blow out of control. If that boy starts to dig he might find all kinds of things. Your relationship with Cody, how you got this house, and the ranch itself would be open for investigation.” “That’s none of their business,” Cody said. “Exactly,” Earl said. “There are lots of questions people don’t ask because they don’t want to hear the answers. But it’s situations like this that force them to ask those questions. It’s one thing to be thrown out of office, Teddy, but it’s something else if they throw the both of you in jail along with it. I think you should bring in the Phoenix boys,” Earl said again. “They’re straight and fast. They’ll do a quick plea bargain and it’ll be over.” The room got quiet and Cody headed for the door in a rush. “Be right back,” he yelled over his shoulder. “What’s that kid up to?” Big Earl asked. “You got me,” Teddy said with a shrug. “He does the craziest things. I can’t figure him out anymore.” “No one ever expected you to. He’s damaged goods and you know it.” Teddy looked up in surprise. It was unusual for Big Earl to reveal his hand like that. “Does he know how bad a situation he’s in?” Earl asked. “If he knowingly lied to a Grand Jury about where-” “I think he’s beginning to figure that out.” “Are you holding something back on me, Teddy?” Earl took in a deep breath. “Did you drag me out here to ask if I was up to taking your case?” “I just wanted your opinion before we did anything.” “I didn’t think anyone in this town gave a rat’s ass about my opinion…except in the courtroom.” “This town doesn’t like hearing the truth, Earl. I’m different. I just don’t like spreading it around. Truth can be toxic to a politician.” Earl finished his tea and listened to the cicadas. “How do you stand those bugs hanging over you like that?” he asked. “They’re so noisy I can’t hear myself think.” “They show up a few weeks in the dog-days, make a lot of clatter, then disappear for the rest of the year.” “They’re a goddamn menace,” Earl said. “The old man gave me this property and I figure I got a pretty good deal,” Teddy said. “Maybe. But an even better deal is to get the best lawyer you can and crawl out of this

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mess you’re in.” “Are you that lawyer, Earl?” Teddy asked. “In this town… probably,” the big man said, “but I still think you should make that call to Phoenix.” “That’s an honest answer.” “I happen to know the prosecution has pictures of the license plates of everyone attending that meeting. They know who was there because they were there. You broke the law and they caught you. It’s as simple as that.” “I couldn’t resist,” Teddy mumbled. “There were a lot of votes out there that night.” “Maybe, but the voters that weren’t out there are the ones that can vote you out of office for what you did.” “That’s already been suggested. Someone’s trying to make an example of me. But it wasn’t like that. I was worried about Cody so I went along. Those ranchers down Dewey way got him convinced the Latino’s are taking over the county...and that the world will end if they do.” “That crowd thinks terrorists and drug dealers are in their coffee beans.” “That’s not all. Somebody’s been sneaking on to the ranches at night and gunning their cows. They don’t steal them...just shoot ’em up and leave ’em to die. It’s got them spooked.” “Have they reported it?” Earl asked. “Hell, no. They’re fighting mad and determined to take care of it themselves...and in their own way.” “Hope there isn’t some stray fruit picker hanging around or their next meeting might turn into a lynching.” “Jesus, I never looked at it that way.” Big Earl saw a movement out the window. Cody was heading for the back door with a large white box. “What’s that kid up to?” Earl asked again. “Damned if I know,” Teddy muttered in a low moan. “He’s lied to a Grand Jury and been caught at it. Does he understand what that means?” “I tried explaining it to him but he’s got his own sense of justice. His world comes cut and dried.” “Like shooting cows?” “Jesus, you don’t think—“ “You better find a law firm...and fast, Teddy.” Cody burst into the room with the big white box under his arm. “Don’t want you

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[82]

thinking we dragged you out here just to pick your brain, sir,” he said to Earl as if he’d been rehearsing it in the back room. Big Earl glanced at Teddy, put down his ice tea, and opened the box. A rush of smooth black material slipped out over his arm. Teddy knew exactly what it was but hadn’t expected Cody to go that far. He reached out to catch the material before it hit the floor and shoved a business envelope into Earl’s hand. “Congratulations,” he muttered. “Should’ve given you this earlier.” Earl stared down at the envelope and the material on his arm. “Read it,” Teddy said. “It’s signed and delivered.” “The Governor’s office,” Earl muttered, opening the envelope and taking out the letter. “He’s appointed me the County’s new criminal-court judge.” “Said he knew you.” “Yeah, we suffered through law school together,” Big Earl said, refolding the letter and stuffing it back into the long envelope. “Too bad the Governor’s headed for jail. That’s what happens out here when you marry into money. You’re either thrown on a boring bank board and get caught fiddling with loan votes like he did, or you get elected and sent off to D.C. Either way... you lose,” he said, glancing at Teddy. “We were the ones that recommended you,” Cody said in a rush as if he hadn’t heard anything Earl had just said. “Try it on, try it on,” the kid insisted, lifting the rest of the black cloth out of the box and holding it up. “Thank you,” Earl mumbled, putting his arms through the large openings. “You’ll get used to it,” Cody said, smoothing the purple stripes that ran up the edge of the bloused sleeves. Teddy could see the suspicion creeping back into Earl’s eyes again. “I don’t know what to say,” the tall man mumbled, staring down at the robe that turned him into a judge. “Don’t say anything,” Teddy said. “You’ve got the job and no one can take it from you.” “That’s the system,” Cody said. “All legal like.” Earl looked uncomfortable, shifting in the robe until it finally fell into place across his shoulders. “I better call Bobbie and tell her,” he said. “Of course, use the phone in the bedroom,” Teddy said, pointing toward the back of the house. When the bedroom door closed, Cody whispered across the room, “Who the hell is Bobbie?” “His wife,” Teddy whispered. “You pushed too hard and too fast, kid. I told you I’d

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handle this but—” “I don’t hear anything in there,” Cody said, moving closer to the door to listen. “That’s ‘cause he’s not talking to anybody, so get away from that door. He’s in there trying to figure this thing out. Earl’s nobody’s fool. He picked up on that Singleton move like a hound dog, and you bringing in that goddamn robe just made things worse. I told you lawyers don’t like looking hungry. You can’t force something like this on a guy like Earl. Jesus, I had no idea he went to school with the Governor. He’s probably right about that bastard going to jail too. Harvard Law, my ass.” “We just did him a favor, for Christ’s sake.” “You don’t do favors for guys like Big Earl. You’ve got to make guys like that think they’re doing you the favor,” Teddy said, pouring more tea and hitting it with a large splash of bourbon. “Just leave me alone with him. Maybe I can salvage this thing.” “I can’t believe he’s not on the phone in there,” Cody said, listening at the bedroom door again. “No Harvard guy turns down being a judge. It’s unpatriotic.” “We’re sliding on black ice here, boy. And we been on it ever since you put that damn cross up at the meeting.” “Those people take that cross stuff serious, Teddy. That’s why they were in their white robes. They love crosses. Besides, you said it was all about votes!” “You didn’t have to set the goddamned thing on fire!” “The guys on the fire truck told me it was okay.” Cody heard something move in the bedroom and jumped away from the door, knocking over a small side table next to the stuffed chair. Magazines flew across the floor and Cody tried picking them up before Earl got to the door. The large man rushed back into the room with the opened robe swirling around him. “Think I’ll try some of that bourbon now,” he said, grabbing the bottle of Wild Turkey and pouring it into his iced tea. “Did you get Bobbie?” Teddy asked. “She didn’t quite believe it,” Earl said, gulping the tea. “She never liked the Governor and he knew it, so she can’t quite figure why he’d do something like this for me. She’s got this idea that they’ll assign me to this dumb Ku Klux Klan case that you’re tied up in. She thinks the whole thing’s going to be a fast trial. Open and shut.” Cody glanced at Teddy, but didn’t move. “What’s got her curiosity going is this first-time judge, first-time prosecutor thing. It puts the trial in an almost automatic appeal situation. Like the whole thing is being set up. Thrown to the appeals court down in Phoenix. That’s what the defense is counting on.” He gave out a sudden

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laugh, and said, “I forgot to mention the robe to her, Cody. Sorry about that. She would’ve gotten a kick out of it.” “That’s all right, sir,” Cody mumbled. “Of course, I could recuse myself and they’d have to appoint another judge,” Earl went on. “Or we could keep this little meeting of ours a secret...like it never happened.” “That’s the best idea you’ve had all day,” Teddy said, glancing over at Cody picking up the magazines. “I suppose we could work out some general terms right now and get that out of the way,” Earl said. “Bobbie’s been wanting to move out this way for a long time. I told her you had some ranch property up for sale at a great price, Cody. She jumped at it. Those six or seven acres of bottomland you’ve got tucked up against Teddy’s place ought to do fine. A thousand dollars an acre sounded pretty reasonable to her.” “Hell, that bottomland’s worth a lot more than—” “We’ll have to make the deal before the trial date’s set. She’ll pay cash, of course.” “It’s a great spot for a house,” Teddy said quickly, trying to cover Cody’s confusion. “She’ll love it out here. Maybe I can even pick up a few horses for you.” “That might make it messy. Everything’s got to be legal and at least look above board.” “Of course,” Teddy agreed. “I’ll have the lawyers get the sale papers out to you immediately,” he said, smiling over at Cody. Big Earl slipped out of the robe and folded it back into the white box. “Thank you, son. This was a beautiful thought...and kind of you,” he said, heading for the door. “I’ll go down and report to the courthouse with this letter while you get that land agreement postdated.” “No problem,” Teddy said, stepping out into the yard with Big Earl under a crescendo of cicadas. “I didn’t have anything to do with this robe business, Earl,” he yelled over the cicadas’ clicking. “I know,” Earl said, handing the white box back to him. “That kid will drag us all down if we let him. He’s crazy stupid. You think he bought that robe in the same place they make the Klan’s white ones?” Earl jumped into the truck before Teddy could answer. The low growl of the engine blended into the high clicking sounds over them. “Tell that kid I’ll buy my own uniform for the job. It comes with the territory.” Earl’s truck started for the road and Teddy turned back toward the house with the white box under his arm. Halfway across the yard he saw Cody coming at him with the double-barreled shotgun. Teddy looked back toward Earl’s truck but it had already made the turn on to the main

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road. He made a quick run for the shed but Cody cut him off and Teddy raised the white box with the judge’s robe in it for protection. Earl heard the explosion and thought he’d blown a tire, but the truck held the road. The clicking waves from the cicadas rose in a quick tremendous roar and he slowed the truck down to listen. When the shotgun’s second round came the clicking stopped in a deafening silence. Earl picked up speed, reached the main road, and made the turn for home to show Bobbie the Governor’s letter. After they discussed it he’d drive down to the courthouse to get his first assignment.

[85]

J.S. Kierland is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the Yale Drama School. He has been a resident playwright at The Lincoln Center, Brandeis University, the Los Angeles Actor’s Theatre and The Lab Theatre in New York. His stories have been published in Playboy, Colere, Bryant Review, International Short Story, Oracle, Front Range, Muse & Stone, and many others. He also wrote two major films, rewrote several others, but managed an escape from Hollywood and is now hiding somewhere in Arizona.

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Sean Lause / The telescope’s infinite longing The sky cools to crystal from the fisted rage of day. Planets appear; swell to ripening grapes. Alone, the scope’s widening eye unfolds the zodiac, gathers distant sheaves of light, eternity’s pins, throbbing with desire. Glittering snakes striate the sky, diamond eyes and ruby tongues, the night a budding tree of constellations. And now, tilted back in wonder, the world spins round the scope’s sure eye, secure in its tower of turning light. [86]

Will it discover the hidden dreams of orbits? Whole nebulae strung on the wings of doves? Its longing listens to the darkness breathing. The sundial prays to the moon. Time collapses, a magician’s cane, and death rises, a last, languid flower, floating to the shores of heaven.

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Sean Lause / Gutting the trees I have to gut the roots of two dying oaks to lay the parking lot, city job, summer work, shouldn’t be hard. The buzz saw bites deep and the limbs lop off and lie bleaching in the sun. But the roots— the roots will not let go of the earth, or each other. The roots flow and weave round and round each other like darkness hidden in the strength of light, two buried sentences embracing a will, a double helix of the underground.

[87]

When I pull them, I feel I am tugging on the veins of the earth. The houses are nothing next to this force, slight and pastel, they go up and down like Chinese kites. But these roots seem to vibrate with eternity. Nothing works. The shovel hits, shivers, splinters. The buzz saw smokes, snarls, gags, retreats, comes back for more, sputters out. Enraged, I chain them, leap into the truck, slam the gears until they give a death rattle and the back tires obliterate the grass. The chain shakes the roots like a pit bull worrying a rat,

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and still the roots will not let go, clinging like lovers to their fate. Cursing, I leap to the ground and embrace them myself, tugging, sweating, bleeding, clawing, until the dirt weeps through my fingers. I fall back, silently counting my breaths, motionless, except for my hands which still clench and unclench madly, tearing at the fire in things.

[88]

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Sean Lause / The gift The day my mother dropped a net of oranges on the kitchen table and the net broke and the oranges rolled and we snatched them, my brother and I, peeled back the skin and bit deep to make the juice explode with our laughter, and my father spun one orange in his palm and said quietly, “This was Christmas, 1938,” and he said it without bitterness or anger, just observing his life from far away, this tiny world cupped in one palm, I learned I had no way to comprehend an orange. [89]

Sean Lause teaches courses in Shakespeare, Composition and Medical Ethics at Rhodes State College in Lima, Ohio. His poems have appeared in The Minnesota Review, Another Chicago Magazine and The Beloit Poetry Journal.  He lives in Bluffton, Ohio with his son, Christopher and their cockatiel, Maria.

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Gina Williams / Burial at Sea A moody trout is a dead trout, her Grandpa would say, his lower lip stuffed with a wad of wintergreen chew. Mist flowed across the water as he pulled the oars gently. She watched every move, took in every word, from her seat atop the orange boat cushion, feet small and squirming in rubber boots chosen from a jumble in Grandpa’s shed. Years later, she recalled those sepia days, all golden alder, leaf spin and reel, fisher philosopher, cold blue sky, knit cap hug, and hot sweet thermos tea with a bittersweet backdrop of Bach’s cello suites, so achingly perfect, floating them along. Thing is, “A sullen fish just don’t last long,” he’d announce, then spit tar like a perturbed grasshopper over the bow. Good for us. Winter seeped in slowly, water beings languishing in the bracken backwater of the lily pads. Too depressed not to bite, too anemic to fight. Now, she knew, it wasn’t the fish’s fault. Her mother, bloated from the bottle in faded flannel forgot her name. Her father, alone and far away, too slow to run, lost to a sniper’s bullet. Winter does these things, to fish and men. A moody trout is a dead trout is a lost soul is a wandering fool is a sinking boat. Grandpa taught her to bait the hook, set the rod, dip the net, break the neck, slit the belly, peel the guts, turn the boat towards the cove and wait, wait in the shadows, wait it out.

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Gina Williams, a writer and a photographer, lives and creates in the Pacific Northwest.

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My dad did well at the county fair. Not as well as last year, but still, he collected nine ribbons: four firsts, one second, four thirds. The first-place ribbons are blue, of course; the second, red; and the third, stark white, pale as the pumpkin that came in second to my dad’s prizewinner. My dad also won ribbons for beets, squash, cooking onions, wax beans. It’s really a matter of timing at the fair—timing, good luck and guesswork. Entry forms and fees are due weeks before the vegetables are harvested. You have to anticipate what will be ready, what will not, what will be heavy or glossy or ripe enough to win. It’s a gamble, leaving vegetables in the field because the insects or animals might get to them first. Cut and on the counter, the food might spoil. The morning before the fair, vegetables are due in the Arts and Crafts Hall. There are strict rules as to their presentation: beets, for example, must have their stalks trimmed; onions are to be left untrimmed. The vegetables must be placed on a plain white paper plate. The plates are arranged by category on long tables covered with thin, white paper. Vegetables take up one whole side of the hall. On the other side, displayed in tiers on another long table, are jellies, jams and baked goods: cakes, pies and breads. As with the “Agriculture and Horticulture” category my dad entered, most of the entries in “Baked Goods” were submitted by women. Women brought in cardboard platters of cakes and vegetables and fruits by the box-load, husbands hurrying behind with stacks of white paper plates. Women shined jars on their shirttails (I swear I saw a woman spit-shining onions). Women positioned their pies on the table just so. Women volunteers staffed the fair, assigning tables, taking entry forms, fielding questions, handing out ribbons. But most of the judges were men. What’s at stake at the county fair? A few dollars (for most categories, first prize is less than five, and it descends from there)—and those ribbons. When I was a child visiting my grandparents, I slept in my uncles’ old room, and there was a corkboard on the wall tacked with ribbons my uncles had won as boys in 4-H. There were photographs too: my youngest uncle at eight or nine, pulling on a rope lead attached to a faceless, huge beast. There were pictures of some anonymous animals, long lost, long sold. The ribbons were pink. There were white ones and red. And there were blue. Blue. There is no blue like a blue ribbon: pure, dark, royal-blue satin, offset by gold lettering. Gold-braided ties hung down from the ribbons in my uncles’ room, small white cards stapled to the back on which to write the memory: Hog, 1982. Rabbit, Market Class ’86. At night before I fell asleep, always on the lower berth of the bunk bed, my little sister having scrambled up the ladder first, I would touch those ribbons, rub the blue between my

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thumb and first finger to feel their thinness, their sheen. I touched the ribbons so much that some of them begin to fray, to wear beneath my fingers. I was born in the country, in Phlox, Indiana, a tiny town named after a flower. Our nearest neighbor grew corn for Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn. My parents owned land, but did not farm it, letting it go to grass and seed. Soon enough my parents moved the family to Kokomo, Indiana—and on and on to suburbs of Indiana and Ohio, small cities of rent and rust. I was not a country girl. I was never a country girl. I would never raise an animal for anything other than companionship. I would never bake a pie from scratch. I would never can preserves. I would rarely rise at dawn. I touched the blue ribbons and knew: I would never win one. My dad only started a garden two years ago, though my parents have lived on a former dairy farm in Ohio, complete with a barn, two hundred year-old farmhouse and twenty-five acres, for half my life. Before his garden, the acres were mostly wooded. Before the garden, my dad started up the tractor only for mowing and for hauling garbage and recycling bins up and down the long gravel drive. Before the garden, the barn was used for storage. The yard behind the barn was just a yard. Both my parents grew up on working farms in Indiana, and one of my earliest memories is riding in a combine harvester, my maternal grandfather at the controls. I lean against the big windshield, my entire body pressed against the glass. I must be three or four. I am only three feet tall, and we are at least ten feet off the ground. The angled windshield makes it feel like flying. It’s fall, and the wheat—if it is wheat—flies beneath my feet, snapping and chuffing. I remember the smell, the sharp scent of ground dust, and the blur of the grain, a color that could only be called autumn, that could only be called amber: amber waves of grain. Amber is my middle name. I’m supposed to love this, I remember thinking. It’s in my name. My mom was the second oldest of six: three girls, three boys, right in a row. My grandfather said he had wanted a big family so the kids could help out, and help out they did. As a child, my uncle lost a toe to the combine. My aunt’s husband was gored by a bull. Two of my three uncles and their families still farm, and while my aunt is retired, she and her husband collect tractors and care for a stable-full of strawberry Belgian draft horses. All the children of my cousins raise pigs, ride horses, enter their county fairs—and win. My dad had only one younger brother, and neither of them went into farming. My mom’s family farm was about profit, selling Christmas trees for extra cash in winter, strawberries

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in summer—but my dad’s was about survival. They ate what they grew or raised or traded for. There were no processed foods, no junk food, no pesticides. Not because of health-consciousness or righteousness, because there was no money for those things. “I didn’t know we were eating so well when I was a kid,” he told me once. “I thought we were just poor.” He speaks about his mother’s green beans with a reverence most people assign to miracles. He doesn’t know the name of the beans. They were an old heirloom variety, the seeds saved in wax-paper envelopes, passed down for years. My grandfather would plant the seeds and grow them, and my grandmother can them, store them in the cellar. I ate them, ladled from a china tureen, though probably not too many of them and probably not without protest—the beans, dark and strange and fragrant in a broth of onions and simmered ham. My grandmother died when I was nine. No one thought to save seeds, to ask about varietals. She died in the winter, and I’m not sure there was a garden that year, if anything grew, if anything was planted. [94]

Decades ago, before my dad started his garden, we grew pumpkins, just to try it: homegrown jack o’ lanterns in time for Halloween. We ended up growing a beast, a pumpkin larger than my five-year old brother, a hundred pounds at least. The hard, curved ribs of the pumpkin expanded so much they turned white, like a belly stretched with child. We would have won the county fair, if we would have entered it. (But how to get the pumpkin there? Wheelbarrow? Forklift?) My grandfather quietly asked for the seeds. The thing about pumpkins is that they take over everything, the little green-curled vines snaking out, wrapping around any other plants in the garden in an ever-tightening noose, strangling the other plants, killing them. Their urge to survive is so strong, the will to grow and stretch and crowd out and live. And this is why tomatillos grow encased in inedible, crinkly skin; why the young persimmon tastes acerbic and bitter. And this is why the sunflowers, in autumn, turn their heads down, to hide their heavy faces from the birds, to keep their seeds safe, to save. The glaciers stopped shortly after reaching what is now Ohio. In their wake they left sheets of rocks, studding the soil just under the surface. A shovel, plunged in shallowly, brings them up on every turn. The earth here would be great for vineyards, the grapes doing best in difficult, clotted soil, soil in which they would have to struggle—but the growing season is too

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short: frost in October, snow still in April. My father plowed a space behind the barn, roughly the width of the barn. He paid my sister, who was fresh from school and unemployed at the time, a dollar for each rock she hoed out of the earth. In hindsight, it was an expensive arrangement. She pulled out rocks by the hundreds, dumping muddy barrel-loads into the weeds by the creek. The earth of my parents’ farm, though rocky, is also incredibly rich. For years, the property was a working dairy farm run by Swiss immigrants. They raised cows, sold milk, made cheese. In the back, two creeks join, almost directly behind the house. There was a millstone here for grinding neighbors’ grain. The soil contains decades of dried manure from those dairy cows—and the creek still holds a cracked gray millstone. It is severed, the stone, and drowning, the two pieces submerged at different bends in the creek, the halves of a water-logged heart. Along with the farmhouse, there were two white wooden barns on the property before the bigger one began to sag back into the earth, the sides slipping, rotting in the deflated, helpless way barns do, like a man forced to his knees. The paint flinching from the walls—soon even that milk white would fade. So many barns in the Rust Belt are the memory of barns, hobbled and splintered, a bone pile of boards, blending amid the weeds. Eventually, my parents paid some men to take the barn down, tearing out the beams, tossing the usable woods into trucks, pitching the rest as I stood in the woods and grieved. A few years ago a woman drove up the long, gravel driveway to the farmhouse. She was at least ninety, and while her granddaughter came with her, she drove herself. She had been married in this house, she said. My mom let her in, and she walked to the dining room; she knew the way. There—in the archway between the dining room and living room, the least-used rooms in my parents’ house, though the most lovely, with ten-foot ceilings, shining wood floors of thick, seven-inch maple planks, and the doors! The heavy, eight-foot tall arched doors that open out like the entrance of a cathedral, doors with black iron fixtures, doors that are the strangest, most ornate, most expensive features of an otherwise simple farmhouse; when my parents had found the doors, dusty and cobwebbed and watermarked but still usable, in one of the barns, they had wept—the woman had been married there, on the threshold between rooms, the doors thrown open. She left the house, satisfied. She had just wanted to see it again. My dad planted tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and peppers. He planted tomatillos (my

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contribution) and eggplant (my sister’s). He planted squash. He planted a somewhat obscure but delicious lettuce called Black-Seeded Simpson, never sold in grocery stores because the pale leaves are too delicate to ship. He did not plant green beans that first year of the garden. He did not plant peas; my mother always hated the smell of them cooking and refused to make them. (I ate peas for the first time at age twenty, on a study-abroad program in England.) He planted strawberries. He planted raspberries. He planted beets. He planted cabbage. Everything grew. Even things he didn’t plant grew, curved bumpy squash and striped, bottom-heavy gourds we were not sure were edible. My uncle—the one who had lost a toe to a combine—told me these kinds of vegetables, the ones you don’t plant, the ones that just show up once you’ve tilled, are called volunteers. Weeds grew of course, noxious and clotting: crabgrass and bluegrass and timothy, thistles and ground ivy. Pretty creeping things like aster and goldenrod. Queen’s Anne lace, which has many names: wild carrot, bee’s nest, bird’s nest, lace flower and—the worst and most wonderful name for a plant I have always thought ethereal, fleeting and harmless—devil’s plague.

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My dad fought with a groundhog that first year of the garden. The animal dug under the fence to gorge on tomatoes and tunnel into cantaloupes. The more “exotic” food the groundhog left alone, the eggplants so untouched and perfect my father won a blue ribbon. (The groundhog also ignored the tomatillos, green bulbs protected in their paper caps, but attempting to pass off a plate of these as “heirloom tomatoes” was less than successful at the fair.) His second year with the garden, my dad invested in a better fence, sturdy wire dug three feet into the ground, and about four and a half feet above. The underground fence stopped any tunneling, and above ground, orange and white strings were looped between the wooden posts. Deer are afraid of enclosed spaces, afraid of getting trapped, and the strings were supposed to stop them. But some deer jumped the fence, avoided getting tangled, and ate the entire crop of edamame (also my sister’s idea). As a child, my dad didn’t go to school at planting and harvesting time. No one did. It was expected; the kids, even the youngest elementary schoolers, were needed to help in the fields. As children, my mom and her sisters used to play in the pig houses of their neighbor’s hog farm, sweeping the little wooden enclosures out after the pigs had gone off in big, rattling trucks to another house, one referred to only as “the processor.” As a child, I was ashamed to have such knowledge: that pigs slept in houses, that

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strawberries were dusted with lime, that rabbits could die simply by getting wet. I spent most of my childhood in comfortable, middle-class, Middle America. Ohio, the heart of it all. There were fields of corn and wheat and alfalfa bordering our schools—you could see blazes of gold and green in the distance through the windows of our classrooms—but none of my friends’ families worked them. My classmates’ parents were teachers, chemists, assistants, businesspeople. They worked at bland, anonymous jobs. They wore suits, carried briefcases. They didn’t rise at daybreak. At the end of the day, they didn’t come home with dung on their boots. My own father was a businessman, my mother taught elementary school. For most of my life, I believed this meant they had gotten out, escaped the rural poverty of their parents and parents before them. My parents had accomplished something. They had run, found each other and fled. It is true my parents were both the first in their families to go college—my mother obtaining a Master’s degree—though some of my mother’s younger siblings graduated, and most of the children of cousins are expected to. It is true neither of my parents ever worked in agriculture. It is also true they came back. I am not sure how many times we drove past the dairy farm, set back from the road: the white farmhouse in a dip between hills. It wasn’t on our way to school or the mall or dance class, or anywhere my parents took me, but still, we seemed to find a reason to pass it all the time. We were living in a fine neighborhood, our square blue house on a dead-end. We had a small swimming pool and a trampoline. I had friends within biking distance. We were positioned right next to—but were not part of—the rich neighborhood, where the most popular kids in school lived. It was only a hedgerow away. On Halloween, my sister and I would sneak through a neighbor’s yard, tipping off a hysterical beagle, and slip through the hedge. A few pushes through brambles, and we were in Royal Oak Estates. Many of the houses there gave out full-sized candy bars on Trick or Treat night. Royal Oak. Even the name sounded wealthy. The streets were wide and smooth, the houses large and indistinguishable; the yards, trim mounds of chemical green. It was so big, so clean, so bland. I dreamed of living there. My parents dreamed of something else. This was long a source of shame for me: that at my grandfather’s house, there was a party line; if you picked up the black rotary phone, often another person down the road was talking and you had to hang up and wait. That the road was a dirt road. That the water at my other grandparents’ house tasted funny, from the well. That my uncles had a set of full-body Carhartts

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hanging on the door of the basement above the coal chute. That there was a coal chute. That my grandfather drank warm milk every morning from goats he had milked himself. That when we visited my grandparents, everyone woke up before my sister and me. Uncles, aunts, grandparents, parents, cousins—everyone was awake, had finished breakfast already, had finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes, by the time my sister and I rolled out of bed. The frame of my uncles’ old bunk bed would rustle, the springs of the mattresses squealing, if either of us stirred, so my sister and I often woke at the same time. Then it was a scramble as we pushed each other back. It was a race to see who could get out of the room faster. The prize was not being teased. Last one up in the morning would be greeted with hoots and ribbing: “We’d thought you never get up.” It was often only eight-thirty or nine. I understood that my own family was different, my parents, brother and sister. We were apart from our extended family. One generation had separated us, and miles and jobs and the expectations of jobs. We didn’t have to rise at dawn. We didn’t have to be outside. Our skin wasn’t tan. Our hands weren’t rough. We didn’t ride in a truck. We didn’t sell trees in December and strawberries in June. We didn’t know country music. We didn’t know the names of birds. The old white farmhouse house we used to drive by fell into disrepair, the owners too elderly to care for it. It came up for sale. My parents bought it. Still, it took years to really return to the country. My dad planted a strawberry patch by the old well, and attempted to make a pond in the back, the clay soil sucking up the water and turning into a swamp, thick with snapping turtles and a bug-haze. But that was it for a long time. No animals filled the barns. No seeds were planted in the old, hard earth. My dad mowed everything, the huge expanse of front and back yards, for years, before deciding to let most of it grow up into goldenrod and sedge. (His other idea, a herd of sheep or Longhorn steer to trim the grass, was vetoed by my mom.) My parents had lived on their farmhouse for more than a decade before they began to work the land. Before my dad turned up his first shovelful of dirt. Before he staked tomatoes. Before he entered the fair. Before he began canning, filling the kitchen in summer with steam and dozens of clattering, sterilized glasses; giant pots on the stove boiling with stewed tomatoes, pepper jelly or juice or applesauce. Everyone else left the house, left him to the hot, exhausting, precise work of boiling, measuring, filling, listening for the pop that meant the jars had sealed. The canning, even more so than the farming, was an overdue signal to me that my

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parents missed their childhood, that it had impressed them, haunted them, so much so that they longed for it. They wanted to recapture it, to give it to us. What had been waiting for them, anyway, in the cities to which my parents and others like them had fled—small cities like Kokomo, Muncie, Mansfield—except brownfields, boardedup stores, the ghosts of a manufacturing past? Mansfield, where my parents had settled us when I was nine, had been home to dozens of factories—Westinghouse, Tappan Stove, Ohio Brass, Mansfield Tire & Rubber, GM, Armco Steel—all of which would close by the time I left home. There was real wealth here. There was living, there was hope—but it was in the ground. Maybe my sister understood that when she pulled hundreds of rocks out of the earth for a garden. Maybe my brother did when my dad, a few days after my parents bought the farmhouse, came home with a puppy and handed it over. (“A boy needs a dog,” my dad said.) It became a source of pride: that I know how to choose corn, gut fish (a skill I used on my honeymoon); that I always, always know when it is going to rain. To this day, I prefer tomatoes the way my parents taught me to eat them: straight from the ground, bitten into like an apple, unwashed. I like my strawberries that way too, small and warm, a little gritty. My dad grew beans this year: green and yellow wax beans. They are not the beans of his youth. We tried them, and they are good but not the same. Whatever taste he remembers, whatever capsule of salt and earth and rain and time—it is not there, not yet. Next year, he might try again. The significance is not lost on me that, though my parents both grew up on farms, my dad is the one gardening, the one canning. My mom offers advice and assistance, but she’s content to stay out of it. Possibly this comes from being female. She doesn’t wish to repeat, for fun, the chores she was forced to do as a girl: the picking, the endless cooking and canning and cleanup in a stifling kitchen, all in a starched dress, petticoat and apron. My mom once told me she had never owned a pair of pants until college, and when I told this story to my partner’s family, my mother-in-law said, “Didn’t she wear pants, growing up on a farm?” “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think it was that kind of farm.” It wasn’t that kind of life, not for her. My grandfather and uncles worked in the fields and woods, took the hunting dogs off their chains for romps, shot turkeys and deer and rabbits, rode tractors, drove combines. My mother and her sisters and their mother worked in the garden, bending over plants, picking till

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their fingers bled; and in the hot, steamy kitchen, pouring over boiling pots, scrubbing dishes for eight, skinning and salting and cleaving the meat. Maybe that’s why my dad doesn’t know the name of the green beans; he was never taught it. Maybe that’s why he has come home from the fair these past few years delighted by his fistful of blue, and has plans already for next year: more beets, Brussel sprouts, maybe a few hives of bees. Maybe that’s why he has plunged himself into gardening, preserving and cooking, concocting exotic recipes of salsa and chutney, making ice cream with berries he’s grown himself. And maybe that’s what he wants to pass onto me, a girl child spared the drudgery of my mom’s childhood: He wants me to know a farm boy’s joy.

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His father would catch a black snake every winter, and throw it in the corncrib. The snake would live at the bottom of the mound of corn, and keep the structure free of mice, eating any that dared squeeze through the slatted walls for food or to escape the cold. My dad was afraid to go near the corncrib. He said the snake would always start out small—but by the end of the season, it would be huge, fleshy and slick. The hams were kept in a dry shed, hung in the rafters to cure. Club-shaped, the hams were as solid as bricks. Once he dashed through the shed so fast, he ran into a ham and it knocked him unconscious. Once he leapt from the roof wearing only a cape and landed in the arms of forsythia. Once he plunged his fist in a tin tub of lard. Often he was caught stealing baby ears of corn out of the fields and eating them raw: immature, pale yellow sweet corn, only a few inches long and soft as butter, plucked when the corn silks first appeared from the ears. His parents would scold him for ruining the crop, “Why do you do that?” “They’re delicious,” he said simply. And I know they are.

A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Alison Stine is the author of two books of poems: Wait, winner of the Brittingham Prize (University of North Texas Press, 2011), and Ohio Violence (University of North Texas Press, 2009). Her essays and poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Poetry, The Paris Review, Tin House, New England Review and others. 

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Profile for Mount Hope Magazine

Mount Hope Issue 3: Spring 2013  

Mount Hope is published at Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI

Mount Hope Issue 3: Spring 2013  

Mount Hope is published at Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI

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