Noctua Review Volume 9 â€¢ 2016
STAFF Editor-in-Chief David Capps Fiction Editors Danielle Lee Davis Ben Hostetter Molly Miller Poetry Editors Shelby Lanaro Katherine Sullivan Art Editor & Journal Design Danielle Lee Davis Cover Art Bodie Ghost Town Shop Window by Lance Nizami
Phoenix Press 15 James St, New Haven, CT 06513 Noctua Review is made possible by SCSU’s Graduate Student Activities Committee.
The moment has arrived! This year for Noctua’s 9th volume and 4th incarnation as an international journal of poetry and fiction, we’ve called for writers to set pen to paper in experimental ways hardly suggestive of the antiquated “setting pen to paper.” The contributors in this issue answered our call (by and large—there are always exceptions, and submission “bombers”—you know who you are) by dropping any strong pretense of a lyrical “I” and its shadowy ties to personal narrative, in favor of experiments in language. Herein you’ll find poems as word art: “clouds” of words derived from facebook users’ responses to pictures of clouds, poems that cannot and should not be read aloud, various “found” poems and other devilish guises of appropriation, “cross-language erasure poetry” (we’ll let you puzzle through it!), and more. We also asked our fiction writers to push the boundaries, and, for the time being, forsake the contemporary paradigm of fiction as a narrative where some trivial change in character is the essence of its oomph (that is a technical term). Wait—before you turn the page, we would like to thank a few parts of the universe for making the present issue possible. First, all of the contributors—for without the contributors’ contributions we’d have to fabricate the issue whole cloth, which would sit well with no one’s conscience. We’d also like to thank our gracious staff and readers in the MFA program at SCSU—although it was like pulling hens’ teeth to get readers to read—last-minute recruits Ben and Molly really stepped up to the plate, and burned the midnight oil on that plate. Finally, we should thank the graduate student activities committee (GSAC). Considering the ideas for funding we brainstormed: bake sale, impromptu reading in the student union, panhandling, etc. we’re fortunate that none of that came to pass. Dr. David Capps, PhD Chief Editor, Noctua Review
CONTENTS FOLDDEROL! 1 Ron Singer Do Not Move – Museum Viewer David Sheskin
His Early Paintings Looked Like Things David Updegraff Hanami in Tokyo Melanie King
Op. Graupunkt, No. λ: Chaos Theory Rex Ybañez
Verstehen 22 Rex Ybañez Wires over Tracks, Kyoto Melanie King
Going In Circles Dominic Viti
All night Karen George
Their Wedding was in Two Weeks Caroline Simpson
Yelp Does the Fairmont Kathy Douglas
Before the Game Matthew Dulany
equine equanimity Zach Trebino
Horse Eye Virginia Mallon
There are Advantages Dustin Pearson
Todd Jackman Rachel Heng
Torii Gates, Kyoto Melanie King
Destruction in a Breath Robert Annis
Half-a-Poem 57 Joel Allegretti Bargain 59 Ranjani Neriya Waiting for You on Cloud Nine Winston Plowes
Energy Ball in Need of Sustention Matt Rowan
A Sense Of Chelsea Jones Power Lines over Kyoto Melanie King
Power 70 Matthew Grolemund iv
Gift Card Chris Dungey
Sonnet Zero1 Trish Hopkinson
The Death of Prince Henry Alice-Catherine Jennings
The Birth of Elizabeth Alice-Catherine Jennings
A Dangerous Poem James Nicola
Contributors 113 Editors 121
Crawlspace 85 Z.Z. Boone Patience and Passion Allen Forrest
over there Kelly Nelson
[book 8, page 3, sentence 4] Matt Trease
Dâ€™artanion 99 Allen Forrest Gallery Crawl Christopher Bell
Calligraphy David Sheskin
Application of C. McCarthy to the Iowa Writersâ€™ Workshop Joshua Bernstein
Art, art, art! A multitude of sins are covered by that word, from string quartet to musical fart, to the chirping of the bird. --anon
/FOTOGRAPHIE, ORPHISM, LAMPOON, DANSE, DRAMA, EKPHRASIS, RUNES OF LOVE/ THE FIRST ANNUAL PRESENTATION OF THE WORLD’S LEADING AVANT-DERRIERE1 FESTIVAL OFFICIAL PROGRAM/HANDBOOK/GUIDE/ BROCHURE Dec 20-Sept 9 2014
FOLDEROL n. [folduhrol] 1. trivial or nonsensical fuss. 2. (dated) a showy but useless item. (plural noun: folderols; plural noun: falderals) sponsored by LinkedinYourFace tm
NEW YORK CITY (venues TBA)
“The future is not a tense in the same sense that the present and past are tenses. One might even say without pretense that the future has no objective reality.” --Karl Andreovich Benedetto Sidley-Botham (1893-1914), enculer les mouches: essais psycholinguistiques (1912).
Howdy! Bonjour! and Guten Tag!
1. Vintage FOTOGRAPHIE by Marmaduke Zook-Nasby2 (fl. Sept, 1897; featured at the Dumpton-on-Rye Dia-
Consider this your guide to the most bodacious display of avant-derrierisme since the heyday of Dada. As they say in Louisiana, “It will make you want to hit your mama!”
Hundreds of vintage fotos by the noted fin-de-siecle AustroHungarian proto-crypto modernist and members of his tiny circle of iconoclastic acolytes, Les Cyanotypistes.
Inside, you’ll find a festival in seven parts:
(fourteen-day pass: $100; seniors and students: $90)
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mond Jubilee Celebration of 1897). And school.
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2. To Hell and Back: A Presentation of ORPHISM.*
3. Watch Your A**: A Marathon of LAMPOON.
A multi-media extravaganza featuring re-enactment of rituals attributed to the mythological chanteur, accompanied by a slide presentation of paintings, drawings and manuscripts by Guillaume Apollinaire, Charles Henry, Eugene Chevreul, Frantisek Kupka, and the Delaunays. Original score by the post-punk hard/soft rock group, Radio Mayonnaise.
A veritable feast of stand-up by a stellar troupe of eminent comedians/ comediennes, featuring Fringe and East Village headliners Fulgencia Flatulencia, Maxim Trouser, and Willemina Pen-Syl. No target too big (or small)! No cow too sacred (or profane)! You will split your sides, soak your shorts, lose your toupee, possibly even die of laughter. In 2004, this show ran for three consecutive days and nights at the Lead Balloon, the leading comedy club of Big Stones, Colorado.
(six hours, $100; seniors and students, $90) *World Premiere (optional) pre-performance lecture by Professor Otto Figgs, Orphogenistic Institute of Basel. (three hours, $5; seniors and students, $4.70)
(twenty-four hours, $48; children under five, free; no seniors. Members of the audience will be expected to remain in their seats between performances.)
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4. Mitsy Beluga’s La DANSE Moshienne / ”Me.”*
5. Inaudible Mann: a free DRAMAtic adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel, by Elliot I. Mann. A Mann/ Overboard Production.
The Savannah-based choreographer is internationally renowned for her vigorously “clumsy” style, which combines the delicacy of ballet with popular modes, such as moshing and Lindy Hop. Ms. Beluga and Co. will perform on a completely darkened stage, while the audience is bathed in the glare of spotlights. With music by John Cage and Jovannes Bling-Yi, the experience of dance will be conveyed solely through auditory means.
On a stool at the exact center of a brightly lit lucite cube, the celebrated playwright/actor sits with his head between his legs. Other than the side facing the audience, all five surfaces of the cube are plastered with platinum records. Mr. Mann, who wears gigantic earphones, is completely silent for 59 minutes of every hour of the performance.
Expect a sublime mélange of chamber sounds that evoke the filigreed delicacy of ballet with the stomping and crashing of unseen feet and nude bodies, all punctuated by the grunts and shrieks of Ms. Beluga’s talented corps of twenty-two. Topping off this extraordinary multi-media experience will be a voice-over of Ms. Beluga reading a pastiche of intertwined excerpts from two icons of literary modernism, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape. (fifteen minutes, $30; seniors, $27.50; no children.) *World Premiere
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At the start of the 60th minute, he stands up, discards his earphones, and moves to stage-right-rear, where he mounts a stationary bicycle that has been in shadow. When he begins to pedal, the bicycle becomes illuminated, like the rest of the cube. The silence of the cube is now shattered by a cacophony of platinum-record hits, alternating with Mr. Mann’s soft, plaintive rendering of “Bicycle Built for Two,” which will evoke the iconic robotic rendition of that song by HAL, in Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001, A Space Odyssey. After precisely 60 seconds, Mr. Mann abruptly stops singing, and the cacophony of hits also falls silent. Dismounting the bicycle, which is once again lost in shadow, he puts the earphones back on and returns to his original position on the stool. The entire process repeats itself seventy-one times. cont’d. 8
6. Read/View, An EKPHRASTIC Epiphany: Renaldo Akorin.*
(seventy-two hours, twelve intermissions, $72 for adults and seniors, children free. Please note: Audience participation will be neither encouraged nor discouraged. Noisemakers may or may not be ejected at the discretion of management. All noises, including protests over ejection, will be considered part of the performance.)
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The Viz: Art Installation with Video: Monumental Construction with Paintings3. By combining painting, sculpture, and video, this installation by the globetrotting thirteen year-old polymath cocks a snook at traditional genre boundaries and other fossilized artistic paradigms. To wit: a two-by-four has been propped athwart a low red brick wall at the far end of a blacktopped roof. The backdrop is a large painting: a view from the south of a cross-section of an also red brick, but faded, post-war apartment building. On a plane halfway back on the roof, to either side of the construction, are two other, somewhat smaller paintings, the contents of which are a water tower, a heating and air conditioning unit, and two white buildings, one old, one new. From the evidence of the light, all three paintings would seem to have been created on a sunny morning in late December. As the viewer contemplates the installation, nine videos are projected in succession, one every hour, onto a transparent screen in front. These videos capture the ever-changing light of the December day. By #5, everything glows. By #9, parts of the paintings are in shadow, and the construction itself is menaced by shadows creeping across the roof. contâ€™d. 10
7. Runes O Gariad (RUNES OF LOVE): An Original Composition. Cadwalader ApCadwallader.*
Word Up: Enhancing the visual complexity is a succession of live readings by Mr. Akorin, comprising the exact words of the above description. Every hour, however, as a new video is projected, the ekphrastic component is re-shuffled by means of the I-Ching. Art Installation is a staggering melange of the static (itself combining two-and-three dimensional visual art), the visuo-temporal (the slides of ever-changing light), and the verbal (the readings). Expect to be stunned!
Universally esteemed for his 1972 rock-epic performance of Beowulf, Mr. ApCadwallader (b.1901) emerges from forty-one years of total seclusion atop Pen y Fan, in the Brecon Beaton mountain range of his native Wales. The bard has been highly secretive about this long interlude in his storied career. All he will say now is that we can expect a set of Welsh runes of love, just as Beowulf was an Anglo-Saxon rune of war. In Mr. ApCadwallader’s own words, “Mae’r rhain yn ganeuon i wneud eich calon yn canu.” (“These are songs to make your heart sing.”) The songs will be accompanied on the crwth, a Welsh stringed instrument of which Mr. ApCadwallader was once the world’s foremost exponent. Expect to be amazed!
(nine hours, $90 for all ages, no intermissions, coffee to be served.) * A FOLDERROL Debut.
(24 hours, two intermissions, US $40.80, UK 24 pounds, adults and seniors; free for children under 21; ten percent discount for payment in pound coins, which have been minted since 1980 in Liantrisant, south Wales.) *World Premiere
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FOR TICKETS AND SCHEDULE OF PERFORMANCES, TURN THE PAGE (FORWARD) AND READ ON. sponsored by LinkedinYourFace tm
NOTES: 1. The term “avant-derriere” is taken from Charles Ludlum’s play, Le Bourgeois Avant-Garde, 1983. 2. Marmaduke Zook-Nasby figures in Ron Singer’s “By the Same Author,” The Brooklyn Rail, July-August 2014. 3. “Art Installation with Video: Monumental Construction with Paintings” is taken from Singer’s piece by the same name, Sleet Magazine, Fall 2011. “Akorin” is the Yoruba word for “singer.”
Do Not Move – Museum Viewer
HIS EARLY PAINTINGS LOOKED LIKE THINGS She drove to the gallery early so she could see her son’s paintings before the crowds arrived on opening night. She knew he wouldn’t be there yet, that he would wait until later in the night to pop out and mingle, that he would get there an hour or two after the doors were opened and then watch from upstairs, take in the reactions before he came down, separating out those who showed up for free wine and something cultural in a city they’re not from but claim as their own; separating those out from the people who might be his payers of rent, his payers of groceries, the easers of a mother’s mind—this mother, his mother—who is now standing before the first painting in this row, the first mass she’ll try to absorb, studying its shapes, its strokes, its colors and its lack of colors. “Look for absence,” he’d once told her. But he was always changing his mind about things. And maybe now he’d tell her something else to look for. She moves toward the placard. No title. She steps back to the center, pulls out a notecard, cupping it in her hand. She reads other sentences, phrases, words he has told 15
her in quick conversations during their Sunday afternoon phone calls, and none of them help her understand him or his painting. Look for this. Consider that. She looks. She considers. She mouths his advice. Her eyes strain. And other people are arriving to look and to consider, and she shoves the notecard back into her purse and engages with the canvas on her own, side-seeing the faces engaged with the same material but armed differently than she is. His early paintings looked like things: still lifes with fruit and bowls, pitchers and cups. Oh! and the portraits. Such precision. “A God-given talent,” she’d tell her son. Oh how she longs to see those gifts being used. Even to see what he had called his Lucian-Freud phase, the portraits that showed too many brush strokes for her taste, the portraits that seemed to be too aware of their paint, too aware of being collections of strokes, of movements, and not the things themselves. But she’d gladly take those portraits now, the figures that seemed abstractions to her then. She’d hang more of those in her home, gladly, taking down each early canvas if he asked her to, each painting of a thing as a thing, the likenesses of things hung on her living room walls, covering peels in floral paper. She’d take down her dearest paintings in the kitchen even, the ones going back to when he was in grade school, if it would mean appendages today, all things at least discernible, if not familiar. Some viewers around her shuffle toward his next one. And she will too in a moment, making the rounds to each canvas, making her way, eventually, to the gallery owner so that she can write him a check for this first one, and he can place a little round sticker on the placard, indicating its sale, indicating its worth, spurring on the late comers, she hopes, to assist with the needs a mother cannot
carry on her own. But for now she stands a moment longer. Then she inches toward the placard again. A price but still no title. “Titles help,” she whispers. She slips a hand into her purse, pincering her card of phrases jotted from his phone calls, from his excited voice explaining what he’s creating, but she doesn’t pull the card out again, not till later down the line, just runs her fingers over the pen’s indentations. She’ll let this one hang above her couch, pick it up once his one-month long show is over, get coached on what to say before her friends sip tea in Christmas mugs, get armed with explanations gifted to her, his payment for her patronage, his easing the mind of one who hates not knowing, of one now readying herself to view the next in line, the next of what is there and what is not there and known not to be there intentionally for one reason or another. But for now she’s standing still, this sweet mother, and then her lips move again with his words, his breath, which was once from her but now is his own, which was once from her but now is straining to sustain her poised and viewing self.
Hanami in Tokyo
OP. GRAUPUNKT, NO. Λ: CHAOS THEORY I Trajectory ——————> tells everything whil e true— no one has a clue to unpredictability : Deleuze & his rhythm of sensation/ static geometry provides dynamic movement IF the eyes truly feel … [i.e. spatial relations d e f i e d among the miracle of ( ποιέω )]/ II Chaotisch/Kosmisch • nothing-being or being-nothing demonstrates implausibility [et cetera, et cet, etc., …] x 3 = in-commensurable. ; FOR possessed in outliers 19
remains nothing to be said about chaos, etc.,
III /outside what’s imagined & concrete/ abstractions ab|ducate from paradigm over & ov - - - - - - - er *STOP* ; however , the spontaneity of irregular events happens whether we like it or not IV the power of Ra, the drama of Wittgenstein, Pleiades fleeing Orion tectonic shifts in crusts arrangement or solitary planets aggrandizement of luminary stars all yield to a S-P-L-A-T! / if the trajectory fables an undergoing, undertaking the great reckoning that is known infamously as the “white space” [insert intermission] V 20
Lambda down, the albatross swoons low on wimpling wing, singing what swans sing on their way out. … … … … … perhaps the grey point, like the master, knows the universe is out of control/ Everything requires nothing even our skill to formulate patterns from the chaotic range & colors/notes/tones:/ yes— artificial transmutation is incongruous with the poetry that etherizes theory & experience/ whatever you let it be do heard as a prelude before a prelude: what happens = past & start here—
VERSTEHEN —after Vincent van Gogh’s “A Pair of Shoes,” 1886
It’s like being a pair of worn-out Parisian work shoes—a matter of Dasein, or “being there.” So what can be said about something so ordinary? John Cage had said if one was bored after two minutes, try four, then eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four— persistence eliminates the boring perception of boredom. Now, here we are, inspecting: it has trudged and trod, prodded on by survival, the darkness of damp behavior wrung dank. How many wintry fields have such shoes rebelled against and spurned? Wanting to a point of wordless joy, anxiety only becomes influence— these shoes exist with resistance, taking stance as props for a still life, though let’s question what’s alive: the empty air filling the volume or the potential, whether men have trembled to childbirth or have been marked 22
by the menace of death? With nothing to lean on, they stand as if one were placed in them, sidling and shifting in place. A matter of truth—perhaps they are just a portrait of shoes with no help from a fleeting imagination, and maybe that’s not the point, either. As secondary agents projecting life experiences after the mind has been the colander of such, we’re detached. Entering art necessitates we leave the mind for a moment to understand qua. So here we are, once again with désœuvrement: divisionment, form of disillusion, applying the prick of a needle to sew what has been hewn. Imagine how the laces weave through the eyelets— do we really know where each string leads once they’ve entered through—aha! we’ve encountered a metaxy: Hors d’œuvre of the œuvre, eye candy of what is shown and not said: separate, yet equal. Then again, this is just a painting. You would’ve had to be there, knowing if the artist’s feet or the universe tried on the wear.
Wires over Tracks, Kyoto
GOING IN CIRCLES Jaden, in their first lap around the block, made Bill worried. They had been at Leopold’s Ice Cream when Jaden ran out of the restroom with his crayon drawings of a man, close to Bill’s size, drowned upside down in a toilet. “Look, Dad. See how he is dead in his pee-pee?” “What every father dreams of.” The man was the cashier. Jaden showed Bill all ten pictures on the second lap, each drawn from a different angle, the last from the perspective of the toilet. The whole thing was the color red. Jaden said, “I call this one ‘Bloody Man Who Killed Himself in Poop Water.’” “Right to the point.” Bill feared for his son, a 10-year-old who, when he met a stranger, imagined the guy would off himself. Jaden was a good boy who enjoyed making art; the trouble was that his mother was quite literally out of the picture. Weeks after the divorce, Bill threw Jaden a birthday party with magicians and waterslides and clowns nose-honking around. Jaden’s smile held on until the magician made a woman disappear. Since then, he had gone to a psychiatrist, who said the boy had “PTSD touched with anxiety and depression.” Jaden enjoyed the simple pleasures of not being an adult, but he was turning into one of those children of divorce you knew wouldn’t turn out right, as Bill explained, before 25
leaving the house. And here’s what Nicole said: “Just buy the kid an ice cream or something.” Third lap. “Dad, Mom says I should draw inside the lines.” “Mom has crossed the line many times.” They drove around Forsyth Park. Nicole said she wanted to jog there for the fresh air. Bill knew better. Barry, her first husband, lived in this neighborhood—that large brick home with the white BMW and turnaround driveway pebbled in cream. Barry was a doctor, and handsome, and a whore, which left a bad ring of truth to what they might be up to in there. Fourth lap. “Dad, Grandpa says you’re a stand-up guy, but you’re sitting.” Bill yawned. “I wish I was laying down.” He had always suspected Nicole of sleeping around behind his back. She would come home late, no longer in her work clothes, wedding ring missing. The little sex they had dropped from few positions to one: missionary without enthusiasm. Nicole would text “her friend” in secret. Bill confronted her, only to learn that Nicole was taking piano lessons to play at their anniversary. She took off her ring because it hurt her finger. She stopped having sex because she was tired. Before they fell asleep, Nicole got under the covers, saying she loved him. Bill said he loved her too and turned off the light, thinking of everything she kept in the dark. Fifth lap. “Dad, do you want to be a racecar driver?” “No.” “But you keep going in circles.” Weeks after buying their first home, Nicole was folding laundry when Bill looked down and saw a pair of boxers too small to be his own. Bill threw the underwear in the trash, her clothes out the window, and Nicole out of the house. A month later they divorced. Jaden began to draw a picture. “Dad, are we going to see 26
“I hope not.” “Who are we looking for?” “Mom.” “We’re looking for Mom but we don’t want to see her?” “Yes.” “I’m confused,” Bill had told Nicole, right when she came back to collect her things and told Bill she never cheated. Maybe his boxers shrunk in the dryer, she said. Maybe he gained weight. The scale told Bill that it was the latter. The stick told Nicole that she was pregnant. A month later they remarried. Sixth lap. Bill was between jobs in the early stages of their second marriage. Boredom turned him into the neighborhood watch. Bill wanted so much to see the woman next door, a maid, that he stayed on his roof to the point of burning, waiting for her to load her cleaning van or answer the door for all those men to-ing and fro-ing. Never saw her once. “The woman is obviously a drug dealer,” Nicole said. “How else could she afford to live in our neighborhood?” That day somebody tried to break into the maid’s home, a man wearing a green shirt that blended into the yard. He rapped on the door a few times. When nobody answered, he took a credit card from his pocket and slid it between the door and jamb. Bill crouched by the satellite dish. Deep down, he wanted to see someone get hurt—a wicked thought he wouldn’t share even with his suicide-drawing son. Seventh lap. “Dad, could you ever kill someone?” Bill looked at Barry’s place in the rearview. “I’m considering it.” “If you ever saw a bad person do a crime, would you tell somebody?” The credit card snapped and the guy left in a hurry. Bill was an eyewitness, and as an unemployed member of society, buzzed on wine, he had an obligation: to write a note on the back 27
of his son’s finger painting. “I’m your neighbor at 5804. I saw a man try to break into your home. Call me.” Bill put his name and cell number, and walked next door. He felt a heat headache coming on by the time he reached her porch. Eighth lap. “What did you do, Dad?” “What anyone else in my situation would do, bud.” Bill’s plan was to slip the note under her door and run. Once he’d reached the porch, the wine came up with a new idea. He knocked. Nobody answered. He knocked again, a little harder, and the front door opened, just a crack. Behind the chain blinked an eye so blue it looked frozen. The maid had a terrible bruise—a half moon that curved from brow to cheekbone, a deep galaxy of black and purple. The bruise made Bill’s face hurt. “Yes?” she said in low voice. She caught him off guard. Bill was a little drunk and a lot not sure of what to say. “I wrote you something,” he said, holding it in front of her face. “Want me to leave it here for you? I’ll just leave it here for you.” “Is something wrong?” she said. “I have a headache. Do you mind if I have some water?” She opened the door and there he was—inside. This woman was not your typical drug dealer. She could be somebody’s mother. Given the framed pictures of children on her mantle, she probably was. They walked to the kitchen. “So,” she said, pouring him water from the tap. “What are you doing here?” Ninth lap. “What are we doing here?” Jaden said. “Driving around, looking for Mom.” “Still?” “Yes.” Jaden sighed. “Dad, is Mom doing naughty things with Barry?” “I don’t know,” Bill told the maid, placing his glass 28
on the table. “Well, I live next door. 5804.” She pulled up two chairs. On the table were twenties and some rolling papers, like she had done some business there. “I know you,” she said. “You’re out there standing on your roof like the wind’s going to blow it off.” “I’m sorry to disturb you. See, there was a man outside your door.” Bill tried to rub away the pain at his temples. “He had a credit card. He was trying to get in your house.” “Some can’t get enough,” she said. “Want something for that migraine?” Bill needed to think. He’d never bought drugs before, except one time, in high school, some stale pot his friends snuck in the woods. Stems poked through the joint, and they all plugged the holes with their fingers and took turns pretending to get high. This was different. They were adults. Neighbors. “I’m Lucy, by the way.” “Bill. Lucy, I’ll take what you got.” She walked to the sink and ran the tap. She gave him a pill from the drawer. She watched him wash it down. “What was that?” Bill said. “Pain reliever.” “How much will it cost?” “What?” “I’m not really familiar with this kind of thing. I have twenty dollars in my pocket. Is that enough?” “What are you talking about? Do you think I’m some kind of drug dealer?” Bill said nothing, and Lucy bellied over. “That was Tylenol. I gave you Tylenol.” “You did?” “Yeah, I’m not a pusher,” Lucy said. “I’m a prostitute. Everyone around here knows that.” Bill didn’t know if he should apologize. What was worse: drug dealer or hooker? “Have you thought about quitting?” he said. “The money’s too good to stop.” 29
“Money isn’t everything.” “Yeah,” Lucy said, knocking the twenties together to even them up. “But no money isn’t anything.” She grabbed her keys. “My weed guy is waiting for me. I’ve got to hit the road.” Tenth lap, eleventh, twelfth. Lucky number thirteen. “Dad, where are we going?” “Home.” “I’m going to draw Mom.” “Call it ‘Bloody Woman Who Killed Herself in Poop Water.’” He drove past Leopold’s as he did the night before. Nicole had been in one of her moods. She sent him on an ice cream run with Jaden for alone time to clear her head. Fortyfive minutes later, Bill came home to find his wife curled on the couch, giggling in her slumber, and hugging a bag of potato chips. He woke her with questions. “Let me sleep,” Nicole said. “You’re easier to tolerate when I’m unconscious.” Jaden was coloring in the blood as they parked. Bill cut the engine. He heard a trauma of voices coming from next door. Lights were on in the high window, and silhouettes were wrestling behind the curtains. “What’s going on, Dad?” “Stay in the car, bud.” Bill grabbed a tire iron from the trunk. He moved slowly for a man quickly losing it. He crossed the yard and rapped on the door. When nobody answered, he took a credit card from his pocket and slid it between the door and jamb. He pushed his way inside. Passing cars lit the faces on the mantle. Their eyes watched him walk upstairs, and the trauma came louder. Bill knew the voice. He opened the bedroom door as if it were his own, and there, on the mattress, naked, facedown, bare bottom stripped red, turning and looking back at Bill, was Barry, wearing nothing but a stethoscope. Standing above him was a nurse costume so convincing Bill didn’t notice right off that Lucy was in it. She unhinged a 30
noise, half word half gasp, and behind her, behind the other door, came a different noise. A throat clearing. A toilet flushing. A sink running. The door opened. And here’s what Nicole said.
ALL NIGHT I shiver stare into a deep creek (cutting into pain and its split mirror—joy) as it smoothes stones and its own wrinkled bed.
Found poem composed from Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Minnows” 31
When he slammed on the breaks to let a woman walk the Presbyterian Crossing, my sister started to cry. She wanted us to pass a fire. Mom found it, put it in her mouth but she whimpered the rest of the way home. My mother hadnâ€™t noticed that the fire was out.
THEIR WEDDING WAS IN TWO WEEKS It was the Fourth of July. We sat on the front porch, my soon-to-be stepfather drinking cold dark Geniuses as I colored my picture with crowns. Later that night the whole city would let off chiropractors and we would join all the human beans to watch them crack and pop in the sky. Mom asked, Did I want to be the Ring Bear? but I refused to be the family pet. She begged, said sheâ€™d take me to the Ornament Park in Miami where I could ride the swinging pirate ship. I raised my eyebrows and answered, Your ami? Suddenly my stepfather exclaimed, Everyone climb in the fuck! We have Erins to run! Mom picked up the baby and I stood, put my crowns away for later. I had sat too long and my leg was all beans and noodles. We drove to the fish market to order souls for dinner, then stopped at Macys for Mom to buy a zucchini to wear on their honeymoon. I stared out the window as my stepfather lectured about guacamole, the leading cause of blindness. I never believed his old wise tales. 33
At least walking up the hills of SF, the shampoo smells— a weird mix of Hugh Hefner’s cologne and sex panther. Let me know if he’s changed his ways. Ladies: bring your own!!! For the price ($500+) rooms should smell and feel super manly & musky,
YELP DOES THE FAIRMONT I’m writing this review because I walked up 3 mountains to attend a wedding— a HUGE arrangement full of dead greens
like there is a place to sit in the morning reading the paper that didn’t arrive.
and a few dead lilies. You might want to take the stairs. If you run into a waiter with a last name composed of two letters, observe him. He rolled his eyes at us so often, I am disappointed with humanity 3 MOUNTAINS! Look a little closer when you walk into the lobby— Monstrous marble columns and enormously high ceilings actually smell like urine. How about some real peoplesized robes?! 35
Source: Words and phrases selected and remixed from Yelp reviews of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. 36
BEFORE THE GAME The store is just across the street. There’s a kid in there standing against the potato chip rack and he’s all messed up. His shirt is torn and there’s some blood. He has blood on his face. There are some other people standing around and they’re talking about calling the cops. The owner is saying he already called them. The kid doesn’t look too bad. There is blood, sure, but he’s standing up all right. I go back outside, looking for Larry. He’s down on the corner. He’s waving, pointing up the side street. By the time I make it to the corner he’s already gone. I watch the shapes moving through the shadows under the leaves. The kids are faster. They run through the light at the top of the block, across the avenue, gone. A man comes out of the store carrying a box of Bud. He’s wearing a Yankees cap. “My friend chased them,” I tell him, and he stops. “Chased who?” “I don’t know.” “He shouldn’t.” “They called the cops.” “I’m a cop.” “What should we do?” 37
The cop doesn’t say anything. He’s watching Larry jogging back around the corner. “I couldn’t catch them,” Larry says, panting. “You shouldn’t get involved,” the cop says. “They could be carrying weapons.” “He’s a cop,” I say. Larry asks if he is going to do anything. “What can I do? They’re gone,” the cop says. “A car’ll be here soon.” We all stand there looking up the side street. There is nothing to see. The cop looks at his watch. “They’re going to win it tonight,” he says, walking away with his Buds. The kid is still by the potato chips inside the store. He’s going, “Look at this shit, fucking uniform’s all ripped and shit, just look at it, will you? What am I supposed to tell my boss?” I tell him don’t worry about that. Just relax. Sit down. “But what am I going to tell my boss? Huh? What am I going to tell him?” “Don’t worry. Just sit down and relax.” The kid sits on a milk crate. Right away he gets up. “My first fucking day, too. I can’t believe this shit.” His eyes are inflamed. A woman by the freezer says, “Look at all that blood.” I shake my head at her. “I think maybe they stabbed him.” “What?” The kid raises his arms. “What? Where?” “I’m telling you. Just look at all that blood.” “That’s a cut. That’s just a cut. Nobody stabbed me.” “Please, he needs to relax,” I say. “The police will be here soon.” I turn to the guy behind the counter. “You talked to them, right? Why don’t you call them again?” He shrugs and takes up his phone and starts pressing the buttons. I guess I could call them myself. I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to get them here any quicker. Outside, Larry is watching the on-coming traffic. He 38
steps off the curb, raises a hand to shield his eyes from the headlights. He glances at me and makes a face and goes on watching the traffic, waiting. That’s not going to hurry them up either. “Where are they? What the hell?” He’s never liked coming out here, Larry. He’s always got something to say about it. Always. As soon as I open the door for him, he starts telling me how uncomfortable he was walking from the train. He comments on the chaos in the street and the grime inside my building. He always finds something to pick on—always—and always, without fail, he calls attention to the big dent in my door, the mark of a police battering ram. The old lady across the hall told me that the previous occupant was evicted quite early one morning—quite suddenly too—removed to a place where he now lives rent-free. A place with a lot of locks on it. I asked the management company to replace the door, but it didn’t happen. I’m in the apartment over two years now, and I hardly even notice it anymore. About the only time I do is when Larry calls attention to it. But he doesn’t come out here much. Usually we hang out in his neighborhood. There are places to go over there. Here, all we do is sit in my apartment. We get beer at the store and watch a game on TV and Larry cracks wise on the neighborhood. He tells me I’m nuts to be living out here. Tonight, after the game, he’ll call a car to take him home. He tells me I’m nuts taking the train out here late at night. He tells me that every time we’re hanging out in his neighborhood and I’m getting set to go. It doesn’t matter that I always take the train home late from the restaurant, doesn’t matter that I don’t feel uncomfortable. That’s why I’m nuts, he says. Because I’m not uncomfortable. I tell him that if I took a car home from work, it would cost me half of what I earned that shift. He sees through this, of course. He is an accountant, after all. So maybe it wouldn’t cost me half, but it would cost enough to make it not worth bothering to go in to work in the first place. He tells me that whenever he works late, his company gets a car to take him home. He tells me I should insist upon the same 39
treatment. It’s not realistic and he knows it. If my boss got a car for me, he’d have to get one for everybody, and then he’d go out of business. But then, Larry’s not trying to be realistic. It’s just another way of telling me I’m nuts. I’m nuts for choosing to live the way I do. I’m white. I’ve got a college degree. What the hell’s the matter with me? That’s what he’s saying all along. We used to be peers, and we still are, sure, but we won’t be someday if I keep this up. One of his roommates will be moving out soon, and he wants me to take the guy’s place. I told him I can’t afford it. So what, he says. So make more money, he says. Simple as that. Work harder. It’s just money, man, there’s no reason to be afraid of it. That’s what he tells me. But then, he tells me other things too. He tells me that he hates his job. And he tells me that he’s bored when he’s not there. He tells me he hates his roommates. He tells me the girls he sees bore him and he’s sure he bores them. They have money and so does he and what’s the difference? So what if he makes good money? He just pisses it away anyway. Anyway, he always got girls, even when he had like fifty bucks to his name. Even if he lived like I live, he tells me, even then he’d be getting girls, so what’s the difference? Maybe he should try living like me. He said that. It was late and we were in that bar around the corner from his place. He said maybe he should quit and drop out and work some any-old job and live out in some any-old place and do whatever the hell he wants to do. But he wouldn’t be happy. I know it. I know him, and I know he wouldn’t be happy. Not that I tell him so. Instead I tell him that where I’m living a weekend never goes by without the sound of gunshots. I tell him that I’m walking by this kid on the street one day and a knife falls out of the kid’s pocket and the kid just grins and picks it up like he dropped a book or something, like it’s nothing. It’s all true, so why shouldn’t I tell Larry about it? He grew up in the suburbs, safe and bored, and he likes hearing about this kind of stuff. He wants to hear about it. So I accommodate him. After all, what are friends for? I tell him about the hoods following me from the train—We’re going get you now whiteboy oh shit you’re in trouble now—and how 40
I just had to make it to the store to be safe and I made it. But why should I think I’m safe in the store? A kid got stabbed in there just last week. I saw them wheel him out on the gurney. Sometimes when the high school lets out it’s like a riot. I saw two cops pointing their guns at this one kid. Right at his head. Don’t move, kid, I whispered from across the street. Another time I watched the guy who runs the store let some guy really have it. The guy must have stolen something, or tried to anyway. He was trying to get away, but the owner was holding on to his arm and wailing on him with a pipe or something. The cops took them both away. The guy in an ambulance, the storekeeper in a police car. The storekeeper came back, the guy did not. Not yet. “That was brave of you, going after them like that.” Larry doesn’t answer. He’s just watching the cars coming down the street. “But what were going to do if you caught them? There were three or four of them.” “Only three.” “Only three, huh? What were you going to do?” “I don’t know. Where the fuck are they already?” “I don’t know. That was very brave. Stupid though.” “Thank you.” “I wouldn’t have done it.” “You didn’t.” “I envy your courage.” “Will they bring an ambulance with them?” “I don’t know. I hope so.” “You think I should call 911?” “The guy in the store did. I think he’s calling them again right now. There’s a woman in there working that kid up. More than he already is, you know. Keeps telling him he’s stabbed.” “Is he?” “I don’t know. There’s blood.” Another kid comes along and goes into the store. Larry takes out his phone and says he’s calling 911. I go inside. The two kids are face-to-face. 41
“What? I can’t walk that way?” “You know.” “I know what? I’m walking home from work.” “You know you shouldn’t say things.” “Say what? What did I say? What do you know? You The other kid is smiling. “You did it.” “Hey, I wasn’t there.” “Your boys.” I’m getting closer to them. “Just calm down,” I’m
“They’re your boys!” The wounded kid is shrieking. “Please, sit down, please, you need to relax, please.” Now I’m getting between the two of them. “The police’ll be here any second. They’re just around the corner. They’ll take care of you.” The other kid starts for the door. “Be careful.” “I think they stabbed him,” the woman says. “You should sit down,” I say. “Your boys!” “Now you know,” the other kid says. “What do I know? Tell me what I know!” “You should be more careful.” The other kid walks out. The wounded one is trembling. “Just sit down. Please. You’ll feel better.” He sits again on the milk crate. This time he stays sitting. The other kid is long gone by the time the cops show up. They come in in their uniforms and all their stuff and take charge. I take a six-pack of Ballantine out of the cooler and put the money on the counter and head back outside. Larry and I go back across the street, back up to my place. I don’t know what time it is, but the game should be starting real soon. 42
equine equanimity the saint – painted a harsh blue – swallows a horse. the great muscles coarse through his blue alimentary tract until a ribbon of blood seeps from the saint’s anus. a “bad” artist dips his brush in the blood-ribbon and paints the figures of townspeople with equine heads.
THERE ARE ADVANTAGES having eggs affixed to the body at all the joints, an egg sits stiff atop a neck on broad shoulders that support it. You could put it down to rest from the thoughts that spin and swish and make you nauseous. You could stick your head in the freezer till the thoughts swell frozen against the shell, then take your head out, watch the thoughts thaw, watch them leak through the crack formed in swelling onto the ground, on the sofa, on the best date of your life.
it doesn’t make sense. The anger, lust, yearn for destruction and displacement, not enough to be the urge of the day, and if you’ve lost control and find yourself entertaining the episode in front of spectators, it won’t be enough for them, either. Still, the slowly trailing mixture of your entrails off the wall has its own meaning. You could make your way out into the summer street, lie down, transform yourself on the concrete from the beast, the one that lets you do all the things other people do with mostly invisible sensibilities. An omelette, then. I believe even ordinary people would recognize an omelette and be comfortable with the trajectory of its cooking. Those of the people walking along would see you and spit, add other toppings they carry in their hands and other places. Lucky you to be authentic.
It may occur to you in this condition to run wall to wall around your apartment, wherever, banging yourself and your limbs against them, watch both become broken and splatter with shell, blood and yolk. It’s just that it would bother you not knowing why you were doing it, or just to know 45
Todd Jackman was dead. At four hundred and sixty-four years old, it was an early end by anyone’s standards. His parents sent out the party invitations with impressive efficiency: cards made of heavy red paper, the color of last season’s lipstick. They arrived in the mail the day after it happened. On each invitation, a footnote in elegant, sloping script informed recipients that Todd had designed the cards himself. He had designed the cards himself. Just to make sure we all knew: not only was he dead, he was also talented. And me, what was I? I guess I was still alive. I didn’t really want to go. This would be the third party in six months, and to be quite frank I wasn’t sure if I could face it all again. The expensive champagne, the sweaty joviality, all that food and small talk – Oh how perfectly fortunate for Todd! So happy for him, can’t imagine a better way to go! And of course, the constant reminder that while Todd was blissfully nonexistent, the rest of us were all still stuck here, eating, breathing, wishing, wanting. But then I found one of Todd’s towels in my bathroom cabinet. I didn’t recall a single time when he’d been in my house in the last hundred years, yet there it was, unmistakably monogramed with the same confident “T.J.” found on all his 47
Egyptian cotton gym towels. At first I closed the cabinet door and went to feed my cat, Mr. Snuffles. Mr. Snuffles, however, wasn’t in the mood for food or humans, which he made clear by disappearing into the plant pot high up on a dusty shelf. A plant had once lived in that pot, a fat sort of cactus, but I was not very good with plants. Finally I decided that I couldn’t throw the towel out. After all, custom dictated that belongings were returned to the parents, to be catalogued and inventoried, the record of a life well borne. Besides, it wasn’t as if I couldn’t spare the time. The party was held at Todd’s house, its facade strung with so many streamers that it looked as if a giant confetti-filled cracker had exploded nearby. Great silk banners hung from roof, twitching lethargically in the summer breeze, the same shade of red as the invitation card I had received in the mail. Something about that red was obscene, and I found myself pausing at the gate as party guests elbowed past. It was the color of what a person might look like on the inside if cut wide open, deep and primal. A color that shouldn’t be seen in public. An eruption of music came from within, as if someone had accidentally leaned on the volume button and couldn’t figure out how to turn it back down. It was jazz: buttery, silky smooth notes tumbling one after another like lazy acrobats. The melody was strangely, painfully familiar, but I couldn’t place it. It left me with an unfinished feeling. The front door was obstructed by a young couple flirting. Attractive in the conventional way - smooth forehead, smoky eyes, trim figure - the woman looked more or less like all women did by the time they hit a hundred, when almost all their parts would have been replaced. I felt the usual tug of desire: a painful, boring tug. “Excuse me,” I said, politely positioning myself next to the blocked doorway. I was always polite. They shuffled closer together without looking at me, 48
and I eased past to enter Todd’s home for the second time that millennium. The party was already in full swing when I entered the house. People were squeezed into every available square inch, sweating fluids, releasing gases, vocalizing. Everyone was trussed up in their best and brightest, a violent bouquet of primary colors and shimmering silks. The roar of conversation sounded like they were all disagreeing loudly with one another. But looking at them gave a different impression – everywhere there seemed to be someone beckoning, simpering, acquiescing. The room was humid with the breath of all those bodies marinating in the summer heat, like tightly packed racks of ribs smoking over dull coals. Breathing was difficult. The thought of myself as a rack of ribs gave a mild feeling of claustrophobia, but also strange comfort. Perhaps it would not be so bad to be leisurely barbecued. I had, surprisingly, not run into anyone I knew at that point; it seemed I existed on a more obscure tangent of Todd’s social circle than I’d thought. Or maybe I was the only one left. Melodramatic thoughts like these were very embarrassing. I was thankful that, despite all the breakthroughs, the one thing we never quite figured out was how to read another person’s mind. Not for lack of trying, of course. Who knew how many billions of dollars and years and white mice had been sunk into that effort. Still the advertising companies pressed on, sure that one day, it would prove to be a most profitable venture. I didn’t think they would ever figure it out. Mr. and Mrs. Jackman were in the center of the room, next to the large glass box that contained Todd. They stood back to back, holding court to separate circles of tittering guests. From time to time they would turn to each other, exchanging subtle, private looks that were undoubtedly meant to be public – a furrowed eyebrow, an incredulous squint, the hint of a pucker. This was their day, their moment to shine, and they were putting on a fine 49
“Mrs. Jackman,” I said, stretching out my hand. She blinked at me, and for a split second I worried about having to go through the awkward process of introducing myself, a necessary faux pas. But then she exclaimed cheerfully and accurately: “Jerry!” She placed her wine glass on the clear coffin behind her, glass on glass kissing prettily. Dink. “Todd would have been so pleased that you could make it. He used to talk about you all the time.” I wondered how many people she’d said that to already. But I replied politely: “So happy for Todd, and yourselves, of course. It’s more than one dares to hope for, isn’t it? To witness the death of your own child.” “Yes, a blessing, truly, truly, indeed. But darling,” Mrs. Jackman said, placing one smooth hand on my elbow, “You don’t even have a drink! Let me get you something tasty.” She raised a tanned arm in the direction of a passing waiter. “I was actually just about to—” As soon as I said it, I knew I’d slipped. Better to have left it vague and slunk off quietly. “Leave?” She lowered her chin, staring at me from beneath flirtatious eyebrows in mock offense. “Don’t tell me you won’t stay for the cremation?” Of course I hadn’t been planning to, but the pandering coward that I was, I now had no other choice. Reassuring her that I wouldn’t dream of missing it, I picked up a glass of wine from an obliging waiter and was soon drawn into conversation with one of the peripheral acquaintances orbiting the Jackmans. I realized absently that I was still holding the towel I’d planned on returning. The acquaintance was a distant relative of the family. He began telling me about his job as an architect, career number six for him. Between my second job as journalist and third as a nurse, I’d spent a few years dabbling in construction, so we 50
passed a desultory ten minutes exchanging words on building materials and project management. Eventually we realized that we had a mutual work acquaintance, one of my former superiors, a stern lady of Austrian origin called Gertrude. “How’s she doing these days?” I asked, genuinely quite interested. I hadn’t known Gertrude all that well, let alone stayed in contact, but I remembered her as a good boss. “Gertrude? Oh, didn’t you hear?” the man dropped his voice furtively. At the turn of his voice I regretted having asked. It seemed like all we did, all one could ever do, was talk about people. Even when we talked about books or movies, it was always people, endless people and their endless lives. “She’s gone,” he said, still in an undertone, “Went to that clinic in Switzerland. It happened a while ago.” He went on: “I know, right? Who knows what these Europeans think? But can I be honest with you Jerry? I don’t really know you, but can I be honest with you?” It felt appropriate to nod politely. I wanted to keep talking to him about Gertrude, but it was hard to think of something to say. While he spilled what he thought were scandalous views on the life debate, I noticed that the jazz which had been playing earlier had now been usurped by a melancholy country strain. The lyrics were just audible over the roar of conversation, but no one seemed to be listening. When the song ended, the music stopped altogether. Everyone came to a hush as if suddenly aware of being heard, looking left and right like startled animals. The overripe silence swelled with unsaid replies and interrupted thoughts, hanging in the air like plump fruit. I imagined plucking them one by one and then consuming them slowly, deliberately, till the sticky juices ran down my chin and stained my tongue. Again I felt mildly nauseous at the thought of all the bodies. The drops of sweat gathering at the backs of knees, 51
the itching bumps of ingrown pubic hairs, the waxy pungent substances behind all those ears. There had to be at least fifty unclean ears in that room between us. And an equal or greater number of hopes, dreams, fears and all that other stuff. Mrs. Jackman stepped up onto the low step next to the box in which Todd lay. In her left hand she held a glass of red wine. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes shining. They were a dark brown that was almost black, fluid and glittering, like unrefined crude oil. She was a very attractive woman. “Hello everyone,” she said brightly, “and thank you for being here today to celebrate this special occasion.” She paused to take a sip of wine and to toss her hair back. I wondered how many times she had rehearsed this. “You are all here today because you meant something to Todd. You have, in some way or another, touched his life. And what a life it was! As you all know, his fortunate end arrived at the ripe age of four hundred and sixty four, a time when the rest of us would just about be starting on our ninth careers and our fifth or sixth families.” Here she made a face, before going on: “In his brief and beautiful time alive, my dear son suffered only one divorce, three redundancies and fought in one war. He went to prison a mere one time, yes, only once, for a straightforward white-collar indiscretion involving nothing more than a few numbers on a screen. Never succumbed to any of the violent crimes that many of us who have been around longer unfortunately have. His disposition was mostly cheerful; he maintained a sense of humor well past his three hundredth year, and as the turnout today shows clearly, he was a valued and loyal friend.” She went on in this vein for another ten minutes or so. For no reason at all, I found myself thinking of my second wife, a petite brunette who had been the least memorable of all the seven. I hadn’t thought of her in years. Now, as Mrs. Jackson extolled dead Todd’s many virtues and I stood surrounded by the pungent, sweaty bodies of strangers, all I could think of was the brunette’s firm, white thighs and her deep, rich voice, a sound 52
that sometimes almost seemed more like a chorus than the voice of a single person. I thought about the brief twenty-five years that we had been married, and the even briefer ten that we had been happy, living in that tiny apartment next to the filthy river before they cleaned it all up. But had it been twenty-five, or fifty? I struggled to remember, but try as I might, I could recall nothing except her thighs and voice. But were they even hers? “... And so, we bid him goodbye and celebrate his fine, fortunate end.” Applause and some mild foot stomping ensued. Mrs. Jackman raised her glass. “To Todd,” she said. I raised my glass along with the rest of the room. I still couldn’t remember her name. A valve opened, and a clear mixture of the usual chemicals began filling the glass box, until Todd’s body was completely submerged. When this was complete, Mrs. Jackman took a long, slow sip of her wine. She tilted the glass ever so slightly, sending a stream of deep red liquid cascading over the edge and into the box. The mixture turned a soft hue of pink and began fizzing silently. As the guests cheered and downed their drinks, the music came back on. Again it was that same strain of jazz that had greeted me on arrival. This time it came rushing in like water through an open dam, dislodging a memory that tumbled into my consciousness as brightly and clearly formed as a smooth, round pebble at the bottom of a river bed. I still could not remember her name, or how long I had been married to her. But what I did remember was one calm evening in October. I sat at my desk, probably working. The fading day felt too tranquil and too delicious to disturb with something as mundane as getting up to flick a light switch, so I sat there in the half light, facing the white glare of my computer screen. The street next to our apartment was a fierce wind tunnel which made whining, inhuman noises that whipped across our double-glazed windows, but the air inside the room was still, 53
completely still. As I sat there in the dark, I heard a peel of laughter cutting across the sound of the wind, and then my wife’s voice shouting to her friend as they crossed the street below our window: “Tornado! Tornado!” Something about her laughter and those words, Tornado! Tornado!, together with the bruised colors of the setting sun slipping below the horizon, filled me with a deep sense of something I did not often feel. It filled me now, a quiet hum, every nerve in my body trembling, in tune. Todd was almost all gone. The corrosive liquid evaporated into a faint red gas that floated gently through the room, eventually disappearing like the rays of a bleeding sun.
DESTRUCTION IN A BREATH Breathe in deep, breathe in every mushroom spore and speck of pollen. Feel your lungs press into your ribcage; keep inhaling. Pay no mind to the crack of bone, splitting of skin. Take in everything: felled oak leaves, loose bricks, spare tires, swallow lakes and their shorelines, donâ€™t let one atom escape. Vacuum everything, everyone. Know each bit as it is; know the dreams of abandoned lots, the regrets of mountain peaks.
Torii Gates, Kyoto
HALF-A-POEM: THE OTHER HALF
After Yoko Onoâ€™s Half-A-Room
WAITING FOR YOU ON CLOUD NINE
you keep the river give me the boat you can chase me like a body wanting a soul.
ENERGY BALL IN NEED OF SUSTENTION The terrible news was the Energy Ball was coming—heading right for us, in fact. It was said it had already bowled through several other states and their counties, the towns therein, and the neighborhoods that comprised each. The Energy Ball was lightning quick, we were warned. It made a constant ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sound, like buzzing electricity. That’s all anyone heard before and after it struck. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Then you were struck and obliterated, of course. Total destruction seemed only to make it stronger. It fed on this destruction, and as a result, was getting increasingly powerful all the time. Naturally, we lived in a certain state of fear because of this. Sure, this was only rumor. We had no actual knowledge of whether the Energy Ball existed and what it would ultimately do if it did, how it would sound and all of that. For one thing, it was gone so quickly. It had defied being photographed. For another thing, we couldn’t trust the media to be honest because they were always lying, steady streams of lies about things besides the Energy Ball we were supposed to know and share con61
cern for. None of those things turned out to be true in our lives, so why should we believe the Energy Ball would be? That’s what everyone agreed when we talked about it in town, at the cafe downtown, Downtown Cafe. But I was the only one who honestly wasn’t worried about it. I was the only one who believed my words when I said, “None of those things turned out to be true in our lives, so why should we believe the Energy Ball would be?” Everyone else was either less certain or outright certain they ought to be terrified, despite the media’s general mendacity. And so I found myself just trying to live my day-to-day life without thinking much about any of it, which was hard when everyone couldn’t seem to stop talking about “the Energy Ball coming right for us, coming to kill us all.” That’s how they all sounded when the subject was raised. It was sad. They wanted to be sad. I wanted to be the very opposite. Archibald, who lived down the way from me and my family, which is to say my girlfriend and son, was loading his RV with supplies every time I spied him out in his front yard, no doubt preparing to get himself and his own family out of town. I never could figure why he bothered. I wasn’t convinced there was any escaping it. If the Energy Ball did exist, then there was no place to run, which meant there was no point in worrying about it. Sooner or later it would come for you and yours. That’s not to say I was living without worry. I found I was more concerned about other things. I can understand that might surprise people. Other things had a more immediate feel to them, though. They were important where the Energy Ball, and all its uncertainty, was not. I was more concerned about, for instance, Archibald’s poor parenting. He had a few boys of his own—no wife or girlfriend, though—sadly but not surprisingly given what a push62
over I’ve observed the man to be. Who could respect him? Who would want to be near him? Live in close quarters with him? Obviously not his children’s mother (though apparently she’d been dead since shortly after the birth of their third child), but that’s getting away from the problem at hand. Our kids often played together. My son, Denny, said that he was made to eat dirt by one of Archibald’s boys Everyone had been on edge because of the Energy Ball supposedly coming right toward us. I’ll admit it: even I was a bit edgy, despite not being concerned with the Energy Ball per se. It was in the ether, this edginess. And I suppose that’s why I made the promise I made to Denny. I’m not proud of it now, but I promised him that I’d make sure Archibald’s boy felt pain for what he’d done to him, to Denny. No vile deed goes unpunished. Denny said to me, that night, after I’d made my promise, “You can’t lie, Daddy, not to me. It’s a bad thing to do.” I told him I wasn’t lying. I didn’t have it in me to lie. I wish that I did sometimes. It would serve me well in certain situations, most definitely. I could never tell him something that I wasn’t one hundred percent committed to following through with, which is why I regret promising him what I did. But I don’t lie. I always keep my promises. So I began to lose sleep over the whole thing. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, after a horrific dream in which I’d just completed clobbering the boy who made him eat dirt. Not just a little violence. Wholesale carnage. My dream reflected what I knew I had to do. A promise is a commitment to yourself and your loved ones that you will never let them down, or deny them the justice they deserve. I’d been let down a lot in my life by loved ones who didn’t know the meaning of the word. I would not be like them. I would never be like them. In lieu of sleep, I tried to get Sophie to have sex with me. I’d rouse her from her own dreams with my usual line, 63
“Babe, it’s time for your nightly raunch injection. It’s your daily dose.” That’s how I referred to my penis. She was never really excited about it, but I loved the way she humored me, let me inject her with my raunch. To keep myself at a nice even rhythm during intercourse, I’d hum that song everyone was playing on all the radio stations, inspired by the Energy Ball. It invaded my consciousness with the same sense of longing you feel while watching a terrible television program someone’s coercing you to watch. In my head, the chorus repeated: Energy ball in need of sustention you’ve got to make sure it gets what it needs! Energy ball, that’s the energy ball Energy ball, that’s the energy ball I felt like the Energy Ball. I was the Energy Ball a-tumbling over and through the counties. So strong, so fast. Powered by inhuman forces, magical forces. Untamed, free, energized by destruction. I came, and then cleaned up my girlfriend, who fell asleep right before or shortly after I’d finished. Cleaning up was disgusting, but I still felt like the Energy Ball. I was disgusted with myself, but that was not a foreign feeling to me. What did I have to be disgusted with myself about, exactly? I could only think I was disgusted by the mere prospect of failing to keep a promise to my boy. I wondered if the Energy Ball knew true human disgust. I supposed it didn’t and I envied it more in that moment than I ever had previously. That same hit song was playing in our kitchen while Sophie was making breakfast the next morning: Energy ball in need of sustention you’ve got to make sure it gets what it needs! 64
Energy ball, that’s the energy ball Energy ball, that’s the energy ball It was a different experience hearing it play from somewhere other than in my head. Most songs are like that, I suppose. The chorus was the only part of the song I knew the words to. It was really catchy and the ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sound trilling over its lyrics and instrumentals added to the song’s bubblegum-saccharine appeal. The Energy Ball had successfully captured the imagination of the entire country, one still-existing county at a time. Sophie watched me with wonder and bemusement. She must have been imagining what was going on in my head that morning. I hadn’t uttered a word, only hummed the tune of the single line, “Energy Ball, that’s the Energy Ball,” while I ate my toast. “What do you think about all these ‘Energy Ball heading right for us’ stories, Garin? Do you think it’s going to be as bad as they all say?” she asked me, clearly trying to get me to open up to her. “I always keep my promises. You know that. Tell me you do, Sophie. You do know that?” I said. I needed some assurance. I’d been sweating so much lately. “Garin, you’re sweating beads. Are you feeling all right?” she said, sympathetic but avoiding my question. “I’m fine. I have something I’ve gotta go do. Where’s Denny?” I said. “He’s out playing with Archibald’s boys,” she said. “Why?” I didn’t answer. “Good.” I stood and left the kitchen. I left her with no indication of what I intended to do. I took my remaining toast with me, wishing later I’d also taken a napkin because it was hard to be sure I’d cleaned my face of residual jelly after I finished it. I was pretty sure my face was clean, though, and there was no 65
more time to waste. I had to keep my promise as soon as possible, otherwise my boy might lose faith in me as a father. In fact, I imagined my failure to fulfill my promise as a metaphorical hour glass. Each second meant the falling of another grain of sand. I dared not think of what would happen when the final second ticked away. I was for action. My son would know that. I found the boys playing in a dirt pile. “Which one was it?” I shouted at Denny. “Hey, Daddy! We were playin Energy Ball. You want to, too?” he said, perhaps not hearing me. “No, forget your games, Denny. Which of these boys made you eat dirt?” I glanced from boy to boy, one of them soon to experience violent retribution at my hands. Archibald must have heard me shouting, because he appeared from out of his garage. “Garin, everything all right? I heard yelling. The boys aren’t up to anything they ought not be, I hope.” He gave his boys a disapproving glare. His hands were greasy from working on his RV. He was holding a thermos. Coffee, no doubt. He’d probably been awake since sun up preparing that RV for someplace, anywhere, that wasn’t in the immediate path of the Energy Ball. He continued believing anywhere else was better, all while nowhere was certain to be in the Energy Ball’s path. He didn’t realize how useless his plans were. “This doesn’t concern you, Archibald. This only concerns my boy, one of your boys and the promise I made to my boy. Who did it, Denny, who force-fed you dirt?” I said. Archibald was momentarily stunned, too stunned to reply. Denny spoke up: “Nobody made me eat dirt, Daddy. Not even from this pile.” He stamped on the pile. “One of them told me to but he didn’t make me.” “Oh, it’s just a misunderstanding,” Archibald said, 66
relieved. He looked like he believed the whole issue had been resolved. “Who said that, Denny? I made you a promise. You remember? I can’t go back on my promise. I can’t do that to you.” “Daddy, you don’t have to—” he said. “Who said it?!” I shouted again. “It was Jackson,” he said, seconds from tears. I faced Jackson and punched him as hard as I could, right in his tiny face. That was the last thing I can remember doing; Archibald shouting, shoving me, hitting me as hard as he could came after. But I didn’t feel a thing. I could hear only the sound of Sophie’s voice in my head, a sobbing, choked and distraught voice saying: I never cared about anything the way I cared about what I wanted and what I thought was good; my “promises” were only promises I’d made to myself. She shouted that she hated me, and that I was a bad person who deserved only bad things. She was right, I knew. It struck me suddenly. And then her voice went away. I heard only a gentle buzzing after that. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.
A SENSE OF a percolated sense of happening the skys have turned I aim for impermanence, a walking sycophantry, a nevermind, a glance back. we eat hay and scream “hallelujah”, our voices succumb to the neverending, I feel a pull in the direction of dilate, dilate and explode but I want nothing more than still waters still waters and contemplation maybe we should all ask for some sort of story, a timeline they only accept poems about historys about moments frozen--I hate them a big piece of hangover, a malnourished bird that flys and flys until there is nothing left.
POWER The little blue light on the laptop, the one that said the power was on, was off, and yet the screen glowed. The pad sent the little arrow where it needed to go, and all the pretty girl’s friends were there, still connected. She had been poking and sucking at the dried-out lasts of a slushy when she noticed Her boyfriend’s latest confession—that he couldn’t stand the 3D animation in the new movie everyone loved—waited on her screen, the cursor blinking in her answer box as she stared at the dead bulb. She checked the battery, the plug and the control panel, realized she didn’t understand how power actually worked. It always just had. Just like her waist had always been thin, her boyfriend always her boyfriend. She tossed the slushy in the trash and went to grab her phone from the charger. The light, the pretty girl told herself, must have burned out before the others, though she knew this didn’t seem likely, one disappearing and the others just fine.
Power Lines over Kyoto
The boy, smartest in their class, noticed his own blue light starting to blink just before the pretty girl responded with the now-typical NERD!!!. He understood a thing or two about how power worked, but could not explain what had changed. A glitch? A warning, a prank maybe? He messaged another boy about it, the self-proclaimed King of Pranks, who said he didn’t 70
know, followed by three dots, like maybe he did know. The King of Pranks often took credit for anything and everything prank-like. He once claimed responsibility for a snow day. But the smart boy knew this was out of both of their leagues, so he messaged the pretty girl something about electromagnetic fields, something he thought sounded smart, and suggested they go try a movie everyone hated for once, or sneak into one they weren’t supposed to see, something X-rated, something no NERD!!! would be caught dead watching in front of a pretty girl. The King of Pranks could not stand easy on the wrong side of a prank. His own light now turned from blue to bright red, so he messaged a boy who had once been his friend, who now hung with the druggies, had become somewhat of a joke all his own. When the druggie replied that his own light had turned rainbow, the King of Pranks knew he’d become the butt of some elaborate hoax, and that everyone else was in on it, waiting to see if he would admit defeat. Finally tiring of the burden of the crown, he messaged them all asking would the new King of Pranks please fix all these lights so that everything could go back to how it was before, knowing most of the class would never take him seriously again.
mixing her paints, looking for something new. Now, across the room, the light of her cell flashed for the first time in ages, grew brighter and fuller and more brilliant than any blue she knew, reflected off her palette and canvas and the sheets nailed over her windows. And now she went back to mixing, mixed for days, until she found a shade of blue that glowed. Then she went out and bought more paint and mixed a whole bucket of blue light. The next day, when she was ready, she carried it calmly through the hallways, dabbing it on the doorways, the lockers, the foreheads of students who recognized what was happening and those so often left in the dark.
The druggie started to wonder if his mind was on the fritz, maybe from whatever he had pocketed from his aunt’s bathroom the night before and swallowed early that evening, maybe all of it over the past year catching up with him. He took a hit from his brother’s pipe, but the light on the computer tower just grew brighter and took on more colors. Then he remembered the painter girl from years back, the one who didn’t talk to any of them anymore. He sent her a picture and waited an hour, but since she’d given up talking to people, the druggie gave up soon after, went and smoked a cigarette out on the dark stoop of his trailer, hoping someone would walk by and see the lit tip. The painter girl had been painting. Before that, she had been 71
GIFT CARD The snow was finally gone in time for Easter. Daylight Savings Time put the blinding sun right in Hector Fritch’s eyes at rush hour. Damn it, he’d left his sunglasses at home. The only shades he could find in the console between the front bucket-seats were pretty goofy—a women’s pair his sister-in-law must have left when he took her to her alcohol group. Grey plastic frames with some kind of chrome trim. Well, who knew. It had been such a bleak miserable winter it seemed unconscionable to deny the light. It felt like he’d driven into Flint every day that week. He took crazy Meryl to her smoky AA thing. (Hector went in once, the first time, but now stayed in the car.) When Cheryl retired, that would be her burden. Then he went to see his orthopedist to get some cortisone shot into his right ankle. Arthritis had worn away most of the cartilage until he’d had to have it fused. Now, one more trip for his book club at the U. of Michigan branch. It was a good club—only the occasional Oprah selection. Seven or eight other alums of a certain age who scoured the review columns looking for literature. Preparing intelligent criticisms about difficult reads— Roberto Bolano and David Foster Wallace—might keep his vocabulary from shrinking as he got even older. What vocabulary he had left after 31 years on the assembly-line for GM. But, before the meeting, he needed to run out to the Barnes and Noble by the 73
Genesee Mall. Cheryl was putting together Easter baskets for their grandkids and Fritch insisted they put some reading material in there along with the sugar jolt. Or, gift cards that might turn into books. He moved into the center lane of I-69 as cars shot up the access ramps from the main streets. When he eased back into the slower right lane before the Miller Rd. exit, he tromped the gas to stay ahead of more merging vehicles. That ramp could be tricky because it was used for the I-75 north-bound as well. He nipped in ahead of a foreign SUV, then zagged into the left turn lane. The queue of vehicles wanting onto Miller Rd. was a long one. Up by the light, he could already see the homeless guy pan-handling unlucky motorists caught at the red. The man had been working that corner for as long as Fritch could remember: same brown and camo Carhartt and other surplus rags in all weathers. He wore a hat with a bill and ear-flaps. In summer, the flaps were turned up. The guy was so filthy that Fritch once suspected, until he caught a whiff, that the man had been tricked out by a make-up artist. His placard of woes was scrawled on brown, stained cardboard, an old pizza box opened up maybe, with the Sharpie etchings fading. Its message, finely written and since water-stained to near illegibility, listed his infirmities, the ills of society, perhaps even a veteran’s beef—Agent Orange in the fine print. Hector never had time to read all the way to the bottom,just got the window down and thrust a dollar out before the light changed. Green, finally, and after a maddening wait for cars up ahead to wake up and move through the turn, Hector eased the clutch and rolled forward—six, seven car lengths up the hill toward the red again already. If they’d pay attention up there, more could get through. And now there were kids behind him in a pick-up truck, fat off-road tires sitting on a lift kit, fog lights on the roof and chrome push-bars guarding the grill. Three guys, maybe high-school seniors or college age, beginning their carefree weekend. Wasn’t it time for spring break? They edged up so close to the rear of Hector’s ten-year 74
old hatch-back that he could no longer see their faces in the windshield. Only those push-bars; a decal above the grill—the mischievous Bad Boy urinating on the Jeff Gordon #24. So, Dale Jr. fans? Red-neck disdain for California, silver-spoon pretty boys? Real nice. They didn’t get that ride working on a fast-food crew, Fritch would bet. Then he remembered that he’d decided, after Christmas, not to give out actual money to street people any more,in Flint or wherever the impulse found him. One of the women in the book club had hinted, in a conversation about Christmas giving, that such charity might even be irresponsible. Well, of course he knew his money was going, most probably, toward drugs or alcohol. But, so what? he’d countered. Look at the guy! What else did he have? Why shouldn’t he get to put a smile on his soul for a few hours? Hector understood his Christian mandate to consist only in forking it over. What the recipients did with the money was on them. The lady had a point, though, and it chafed him that facts always seemed to get in the way of his good intentions. The amateur sociologist had convinced Fritch to buy a few McDonalds cards to hand out instead. He still had a couple left in the glove compartment. He’d just seen them somewhere. In neutral, he popped it open. Sure. They were there under his pistol—a Taurus .45 called a Judge, with the elongated chambers that could also hold .410 shotgun rounds. He kept it loaded for trips into Flint. Well, there was that reputation for violent crime. It wasn’t a myth, and he had to go back through downtown to the campus. Nothing was ever going to happen, everyone told him. Until it did happen, he countered. He kept the hammer locked anyway—a set screw preventing accidental cocking of the piece. The little Allen key was in his front pocket. Any assailant or carjacker would have to give him a few seconds. That was time to think about it, too, he supposed. For a random drive-by, someone pulling up next to him, he’d have no recourse. He found the gift card just as the line moved again. Only five spaces this time, and the kids behind him were 75
growing impatient, losing their smiles. They continued to crowd his bumper. Fritch heard the engine rev. The brief wait so far had made their turn increasingly critical. The driver laid on the horn because someone up the line had started it. All they could see of him was the wrinkled neck and beater ride. Some geezer of no consequence. There were a few more honks from back farther. Fritch touched the window control with his pinky. Both of them should get through next time, or at least close. The homeless guy was up on the curb, accepting a contribution and poised for more. Fritch understood that he shouldn’t be resentful. It was the mind-set of an old crank. Not the kids’ fault he’d never gone on a spring break. GM had paid for his tuition or he never would have gotten his degree, and who was going to turn their back on fifteen years seniority to teach eighth grade English if he was lucky enough to find a job in the area? The shop-rats were still earning terrific money back then. Anyone could go to Florida— he’d been down there with both wives. No wet t-shirt contests or beer-bongs, but they’d had fun. He was ready when the green showed, but once again, the lead vehicle made a balky start. The beggar made eye-contact as Fritch rolled closer. Did the man remember him? It seemed like an expression of recognition, yet somehow predatory. The car ahead turned through the yellow caution and Fritch, too, could have made it. But, he decided he’d have to either stop or hand the gift card off at some speed. Now the horn behind him was continuous. “Bon appetit,” he called. “There’s five bucks on there.” The homeless guy examined the gift card as if Fritch had coughed phlegm onto it, just as the push-bars of the truck made contact with Fritch’ s bumper. It was a soft nudge, and with his foot on the brake, the rear of the hatchback lifted slightly from its frame. It might have just been an accident, but they backed off and did it again. The unrelenting horn and a derisive snort from the grubby fellow outside his window converged in Fritch’s thought process instead of the satisfaction he’d hoped to feel. He put the car in neutral and yanked up the emergency brake. He unlatched the door and pushed it open with his foot while 76
leaning over to grab the pistol. The man jumped back, dropping his sign and nearly tripping on it as he whirled to flee. Fritch stood on the curb long enough for the Judge to be seen, then made a show of opening his jacket to tuck the weapon under his belt. His right hand remained on the grip. Waving it around for effect was called brandishing and he’d lose his concealed pistol permit at the very least. The homeless man scrambled down the hill, stumbling through the winter trash. He slipped once on the brown, matted grass, bounded over an abandoned tire, then disappeared under the Miller Rd overpass to I-75. The blare of the truck’s horn had stopped. Fritch glanced at the bumpers, no more than an inch apart. There was a scuff in the grime but the black plastic was undamaged. As he strolled toward the driver’s door, he heard their locks snap down. He would either get his ass kicked or make some impression in the name of civility. He slapped the door glass with his palm. “Hey! Hey!” Fritch shouted. The concealed pistol training had included the advice to make a loud noise when introducing the weapon. Get the subject’s attention, because adrenaline could impair the auditory nerves of all participants. Something like that. The driver ducked his head, no qualms about burying it in his friends lap. The guy on the passenger side was fumbling with a cell phone. Fritch heard him curse. Awww. Bad signal? Notoriously slow responses by the Flint police should give Fritch enough time to make his point. They’d have to work their way through the traffic anyway, then turn into a one-way gridlock. The din of horns was swelling, with traffic backing up all the way to the I-69 exit. It wasn’t his intent to inconvenience anyone. The motorists behind were trying get off each other’s tails in order to move to the outside lane. The ones who may have seen the pistol abruptly accelerated around the two idling vehicles. He slapped the door-glass again. Then, channeling George Costanza, he bellowed: “Hey, asshole! We’re trying to have a society here!” He turned then, realizing that it was time to beat feet and that he really ought to find some different reruns 77
to lighten the supper hour. Maybe a little less Vince Gilligan, too, before bedtime. It was a bad place for the kids too, if they really wanted to deal with the cops. All they could really say was that he possessed a gun. He hadn’t pointed it or threatened its use. The homeless dude had witnessed Fritch’s car get deliberately bumped. He wouldn’t be hard to find. In the angle of the curb, beneath the open door of his car, Fritch spotted the red and yellow McDonalds card. He stooped to pick it up out of the road grit and salt residues. “I don’t think you even were hungry!” he yelled down the hill. Fritch buckled up and put the shifter in gear, just in time to get through the intersection. In his rearview, the truck was creeping forward to sit out one more red light, not waiting around. There were no flashers ahead or in the mirror. No sirens. He didn’t usually eat fast food, but now he’d worked up an appetite. There were some golden arches just up the road. Maybe they still had that jalapeno burger they’d rolled out for a while. Or was that at Rally’s? He wiped the card off on the sleeve of his jacket.
SONNET ZERO1 We asked big questions: Who is God? What is resurrection? Why does Mary keep showing up in unexpected places? What is contagious from generation to generation? Is Karma recalibrating its moral compass?
THE DEATH OF PRINCE HENRY
frost-shorn pool, lost among rows of phlox, offshoots of thorns-moonwort hooks on protons dolor
Eclipsed—the moon’s vibrant red during the total phase. Lunar eclipses happen, this ‘bloody moon’ happens. Are prophets infallible? How and why do people pray? And what does the Bible say? Is suicide a sin? Best done in winter or early spring before buds swell. Grief is a process that can last a long time, forces a new appreciation for Heaven? Hell? The day with a lunar eclipse to bleed in the sky— best to perform the scratch test. Make a small deep cut. A great rule of thumb is three: dead, diseased, and dumb.
Found in line segments from The Salt Lake Tribune, April 12, 2014.
THE BIRTH OF ELIZABETH
joy oh joy, flock of loon, hoot of owl, show off fowl bonobo fool who howls coocoo. oh joy… 80
A DANGEROUS POEM
For Those Who Don’t Like Poetry Not To Read (not to be read aloud) There’s been some discussion of poetry being a waste of time And I hear that it has gotten round to you. I want you to know right now that I won’t take up any of your time with this poem, not a second. Well, not a second more. I will take up room on the page, but you don’t have to read it. I don’t want you to occupy yourself with something you don’t like. So from this line on, stop reading: _________. If you’re reading this, you don’t know how to do what you’re told. But maybe that’s a good thing. It’s what gave us the United States of America, for instance, and the Free World. I thank the people who were bold And didn’t do what they were told. That’s rhyme. I know you don’t like rhyme. So I won’t do it again. 81
Maybe. Of course if you are under eighteen, you have to wait to not do what you’re told, ’cause your Mom and Dad will get in trouble if you raise hell all over the place. So do what I tell you, as practice for when your Mom and Dad tell you to do something or not to do something. And what I’m telling you to do is this: Stop reading this poem right… now! You’re still reading. Go back to the top of this poem and stay there. Now. All right then, you clearly have the makings of a revolutionary. So I have some more things for you to do and not do, just because I tell you to. Since I know you will not do what I say, do exactly what I say: Never read poetry, because remember you don’t like it and have decided that you will never change. Never think. Above all, never think for yourself. Just do what everybody else does. And buy what everybody else buys. And let yourself be programmed to be just like everybody else And if you feel you have to assert your individuality, do it in conformist ways like with accessories. ’Cause the world’s not a big enough place for another United States Or one in which everybody actually asserts their freedom. That would be dangerous, Right? Well, either way, then, the choices are up to you, free soul that you are. Wimp, you said? Giving up? Oh, no, it’s just a question of confidence, and priorities, because I know I can make you do what I say in at least one way. I just don’t have to prove 82
it. Can so. You don’t believe me. I can even make you do two things I tell you to. Or three. You don’t think I can? You dare me? OK, then here goes. The first is: don’t be as good as you can be. I mean for your whole life, as a person. (Years from now, before you die, think back and you’ll agree that I will have won this one.) The second: don’t read this poem again. For any reason. For example, do not look back up at the top of the poem to see the typographical error in the first line that you missed when you were up there earlier oh so briefly. If there is one. Which there might not be. Ha ha. But maybe there is. You won’t know for sure until you look. But don’t. And you’re back here now anyway. But when you close this book or get up tomorrow for work or school or whatever, remember that you will finally be doing what I say, because even though you may read this poem again once or twice or three times, tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, you won’t be reading it again, a fourth time, the day after that. Or the next day. Think of this during tomorrow’s lunch period, then. Or the next day’s. It’ll be a way of keeping me with you, won’t it, as the person who finally made you do what he wanted you to. Otherwise you’ll have to keep reading this poem forever. 83
No, it doesn’t mean you’re a wimp. Relax. Because I don’t really mind if you do the opposite of what I say, especially for the parts of this poem where I was being ironic. Knowing that you don’t like poetry, but you do like irony, even if you don’t quite know what it is. And there’s a third thing I can get you to do, whether you want to or not. You don’t think I can? Please we’ve already been through this of course I can. If you don’t want to know what this third thing is, you may as well stop reading this poem—this time, that is—stop reading it now. No? All right, then… now! You’re still reading, so here goes, then: I can make you stop reading this poem, this time, at least for a little while, right… Now.
CRAWLSPACE Calgani weeps in the car all the way home, the entire hour-anda-half from Bradley Airport to Redding, Connecticut. His wife is tempted to join him, but Sunday morning traffic on I-84 is heavy and driving requires her full attention. Erin, their only child and a soon-to-be freshman at USC Santa Barbara, is somewhere in the air between here and her connecting flight in Cincinnati. Thirty-five minutes ago they were standing on either side of her as she worked her way up the line toward the TSA agent, then she was gone and they turned toward the glass doors and their now uncertain lives. They hardly share a word, not just out of mutual sadness, but because this is the day that’s been on their minds for the past year. Last summer, they had agreed that their marriage was over—Calgani had found a woman he thought he loved more, and Marci had started hating him for his initial deception—but they were also in agreement that they should remain in the house together, silently suffering if that’s what it took, until Erin was gone. When he gets out of the car in their driveway, Calgani says, “Maybe I should grab a few things. Think of heading out.” Two weeks ago, he rented the top floor of a single family 85
house, a converted efficiency apartment close to the college. He’s dropped off some newly purchased sheets and towels, a few cleaning supplies, but he has yet to stay there. “Why don’t you come in first?” Marci says. “I’ll make us some lunch.” She pan fries Swiss cheese between buttered slices of rye bread, brings out a jar of pickles and a bag of Utz Ripple Chips. Calgani gets a couple of Diet Cokes from the fridge, snags some napkins. “You have everything set with Mrs. What’s-her-name? Your landlady?” Marci asks as they sit at the kitchen table. “Mrs. Hirsh. Yeah.” “Good,” she says. “You think she’ll be alright?” “Erin? No worries. If she was here right now, she’d tell you to ‘chillax.’” They finish lunch quickly, and Marci clears the table and takes the dishes to the sink. “Why don’t you make us some coffee?” she says. Marci goes upstairs into the girl’s room while Calgani measures out the water, grinds the beans, puts in a fresh paper filter. The woman who came between them is named Rachel O’Keefe, and she was an assistant professor of chemistry at WestConn where they both taught. She’s married to a man who owns a spray-foam insulation business—“a bore-and-a-half,” she’d assured Calgani the first time they shared a bed at a teachers’ conference in Philadelphia—but something happened during the winter and Rachel O’Keefe decided that her tiresome husband wasn’t that bad after all, so bye-bye-it’s-been-nice. In June they moved to Pierre, South Dakota, a city where the spray-foam industry is apparently booming. Upstairs he hears movement, furniture being pushed around, closet doors being opened and shut. When he brings up a couple of steamy mugs, Marci asks if he’d mind giving her a 86
quick hand. He sees a cardboard box on Erin’s carelessly made bed. Marci has already placed several items inside: the birdcage lamp, the framed photo of Erin’s field hockey team, the girl’s almost empty jewelry box, some left behind make-up, an English to Spanish dictionary, the plastic coin bank in the shape of a filled glass of Guinness Stout, a tie-dyed teddy bear, a survival flashlight with crank. “Maybe find a couple more boxes,” Marci says. “I’ll fill them, you put them in the attic.” “Why are you doing this now?” “Because if I don’t do it now, I’m going to be reminded of her every time I walk by.” They’ve talked about things. In bed late at night, in the car on their way to friends, at the dinner table with Erin away at some tournament or sleepover. The plan was this: Marci would stay at the house. Everything they owned split down the middle, no quibbles. They’d both break the news to Erin on her first trip back, sit her down in the living room and start by saying, “This has nothing to do with you.” “Maybe I could put some fresh paint on the walls,” Marci says. “What do you think?” “What happens when she comes home?” Calgani says. “She won’t recognize the place.” Marci smiles. “She’ll think she’s at a bed-and-breakfast. I can charge her big bucks.” The “attic,” as Marci refers to it, is actually a crawlspace. No one of normal adult height would be capable of standing upright, not even at the peak. It’s accessed from the upstairs hallway, reached by pulling a cord that hangs from the ceiling which lowers a spring-loaded hatch and a folding wooden ladder. When Calgani climbs up, he finds the space packed out. Twenty-three years of accumulation that hasn’t been touched. The last time he was up here was just after Christmas, when he’d had to push aside taped boxes and tied plastic bags in search of the spot 87
for the artificial tree and the boxes of ornaments. Half-an-hour later, Marci walks into their bedroom to find that he’s cleared their six-by-eight foot rug and started three piles. He explains that one is to be thrown away, one kept, the third awaiting Marci’s perusal. “I’ll rent a dumpster in the morning,” he says. “I thought you were in a hurry to get going,” she says. “Get everything ready for the start of classes.” “I have almost a week,” he says. “Besides, it’s a mess up there. A fire hazard. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.” The truth is that over the past few months, after the drama subsided, they’ve become almost like friends again. Not best friends, but supportive buddies. She’d call him from work when her car battery was dead, he’d count on her to pick him up at the hospital after his colonoscopy. They shared their daughter’s successes: her varsity letters in both field hockey and track, her volunteer work with Literacy Volunteers, her high SAT scores. “Wouldn’t it be easier to hire some teenager to do this?” Marci says. “Bad idea,” Calgani says. “His foot goes through the ceiling and his old man sues us. Besides, a kid wouldn’t know what’s good and what isn’t.” Marci sees this as a win-win. A cleared out attic and a project to keep their minds off Erin. She almost suggests sharing a bottle of wine while they work, but she fears the gesture might be interpreted as flirtatious and that’s the last thing she wants. They begin apart, Marci concentrating on Erin’s room while Calgani carries things down. The holiday stuff, now closest to the hatch, comes out first and joins Erin’s box in the “keep” pile on the left. Old computers and printers and telephones are on the right. The “go” pile. In the middle are boxes of books, old magazines, attempts at poetry, letters. When Marci comes in with another box full of Erin’s things, she notices a fourth pile started next to the bathroom door. Calgani identifies the new mound 88
as items that need to be shredded: plastic milk cases filled with old IRS forms, cancelled checks, invoices. “An identity thief’s toolkit,” Calgani calls it. The pile to be discarded swells: old board games with missing pieces; a garbage bag filled with discolored T-shirts; a colorfully-painted birdhouse probably meant to be re-gifted; suitcases with broken handles and frozen zippers. By two-thirty, Marci has done all she can in Erin’s room, and now she and Calgani work as a team. He hands down, she categorizes. At one point he finds her standing over an open plastic tub. “Remember this?” she asks, holding up one of Erin’s old finger paintings. He doesn’t, but pretends he does. “A regular Matisse,” he says. When Marci asks about keeping the artwork, Calgani tells her it’s her call. He’s relieved when she slides it over to the left. “Why did we keep some of this junk?” Calgani asks his wife as they wrestle down an old wooden futon frame. She shrugs. “I guess it wasn’t junk then.” They have had sex only once in the past year. It was back in February, a not-otherwise distinct Thursday morning around 2 a.m. Calgani remembers his wife waking up, breathing hard as if she’d just been chased, coming over on top of him. A moment later his boxers were off, her nightgown was lifted, her panties were around one ankle. The sex was fast and passionate and—with Erin sleeping not far off—as silent as they could keep it. She had never initiated like this before, and it filled him with hope. He tried to bring it up the next morning, almost as soon as Erin was out the door on her way to school, and Marci—perhaps trying to be especially hurtful—said, “I’m sorry. I was picturing someone else.” Finally Marci brings up a bottle of chilled Cabernet Sauvignon—mixed messages be damned—and a couple of glasses. They toast one another and Marci says, “Well, we did it. Took 89
us eighteen years, but we got her in and out and no animals were harmed in the process.” The wine is cool and clears his dusty throat. He would not mind ending the day like this, the two of them sitting on the edge of their queen-sized bed, making jokes, surrounded by the things they once cherished. Back in the crawlspace, on his knees now, Calgani wades through the accumulated artifacts that marked their lives together. Erin’s wooden rocking horse, bought second-hand and sanded smooth. Old children’s CDs, including one by Peter, Paul and Mary that his daughter listened to in bed every night for almost a year. A pillowcase packed with Beanie Babies; black dolls, white dolls, and Asian dolls (all naked); a shoebox filled with dead Tamagotchis. A highchair, then a stroller, then a playpen, then a crib. “So what do we do with Erin’s baby furniture?” Calgani asks when they’ve finally hauled it all down. “Goodwill?” Marci says. Calgani nods, and they start a fifth pile. It’s well after six when Calgani takes down the last of it, mostly old clothes, their college textbooks and a cardboard box filled with loose photographs. “Look at us,” Marci says as she stands flipping through the pictures. “We were so young.” “And thin.” “And hairy.” What Calgani wants now is for Marci to say This is so stupid. Look at what we’ve been through together. We can’t just scrap it all. But she doesn’t. Instead she says, “Should we get something to eat? Maybe call for Chinese?” Calgani grabs both sides of her face, pulls her toward him, begins to kiss her lips ferociously. He pushes Marci back toward the bed but she resists, and Calgani is surprised by her strength, her resolve. He tries to force his tongue into her mouth, 90
but she turns her face away and says, “Cal, no.” “Why not?” She pulls free of him. “Because I don’t want to.” “You have another boyfriend?” he says, half-kidding. “Yes,” she says, but then she quickly adds. “Not a boyfriend, not really.” “Who?” She hesitates. “Rick down at the store.” The “store” is the small boutique wine shop Marci opened three years ago. Under Twenty-Five. “A great variety of vino,” her print ads read, “that doesn’t require a co-signer.” Rick is her manager. Calgani has met him several times, likes him, has always suspected the guy is gay. Rick’s at least a dozen years younger than either one of them. “So tell me,” he says. “I confided a few things in him, that’s all.” “That’s all?!” “He’s invited me out a couple of times.” “But you told him he’d have to wait.” “Yes.” “Until now.” Marci begins to walk around and straighten up the room that is beyond straightening up. “So how about this?” Calgani says. “How about we have sex and you just pretend I’m someone else.” Marci turns and glares at him with a look he’s not seen before. Not hatred exactly, or maybe it is. “That isn’t funny,” she says “So this is really it for us?” he says. “There is no ‘us,’ Cal,” she says. “‘Us’ ended when you did what you did.” “And there’s no way for me to fix that?” “No.” For a moment, he thinks about going dynamic, grabbing 91
clothing from drawers and jamming a suitcase full. Picking up the empty wine bottle and throwing it against the mirror. But he’s tired, defeated. He just wants to be someplace else. “I should go.” “Cal?” “What?” “I don’t think you should drive. You’ve been drinking and you’re upset. I’ll make up Erin’s room.” He smiles, shakes his head. “Don’t go to any trouble,” he says. He leaves the bedroom and starts for the stairs. As he passes Erin’s room, he looks inside—as if he’ll see her in there, busy at her laptop, a pair of earphones hugging her scalp—but instead he notices that the room is now stripped clean as if it’s for rent. Outside in the car he looks toward the house. Any sign she would give him—the porch light being turned on even though it’s not dark yet—would work. But there’s nothing, not even a wave goodbye from an upstairs window. He starts the car and backs out. He’ll stop somewhere for a drink, maybe a bite to eat, and he’ll call Mrs. Hirsh to say he’s on his way. Like his daughter, he’ll spend tonight in a foreign bed, sleepless. Then, tomorrow morning, he’ll go into his office, call to arrange for a dumpster, and prepare for the upcoming semester. He’ll think about Marci, also at work, and Rick. He’ll envision their conversation. Daughter off, husband finally gone. Rick will ask Marci out to dinner, but she’ll tell him it’ll be easier if he comes over to the house later in the week. She’ll promise to cook for him. Something light like chicken, or salmon. If it’s hot, they can grill out. And afterward they’ll sit on the living room sofa with coffee and Sambuca and he’ll kiss her for the first time and she’ll react. They won’t sleep together. Not Marci’s style. But in a few weeks, Rick will be back. This time, he’ll do the cooking and Marci will be impressed, and that night on the living room 92
sofa things will heat up and her blouse is likely to come off. They will almost have sex. But they won’t. Before anything like that happens, Marci will say, “I can’t. I’m still married. I can’t just give up on that yet.” This is Calgani’s vision of the future, a hopeful vision but—as he knows but refuses to admit—an unrealistic one. He sees a place as he gets closer to the campus. A diner with a liquor license and a roof-mounted likeness of Edgar Allan Poe in neon. The Raven. Reportedly, they make a great chili cheeseburger. During school, the place is so packed with students that it’s difficult to get seated. But tonight there are only a couple of cars parked outside—parents, perhaps, who’ve dropped their kids off earlier in the day. He almost drives past, but suddenly hunger hits him like a slap and even though there’s nobody behind him or in front, he puts on his turn signal, waits several seconds, and pulls in.
Patience and Passion 93
Allen Forrest 94
glitch, there is thirst no native angel comes
over there there is no
guarantee there is glitch, there is thirst no native angel comes
To fight aloud is very brave But gallanter, I know, Who charge within the bosom, The cavalry Who win, and nations do not see, Who fall, and none observe, Whose dying eyes no Regards with patriot love. We trust, in plumed procession, For such the angels Rank after rank, with even feet
Erasure (Spanish from English) with translation of â€œTo fight aloud is very braveâ€? by Emily Dickinson
[BOOK 8, PAGE 3, SENTENCE 4] Peacefully as a baby unaware that their reputation had brought wolves lived in the big woods and bears and in this novel she found the spot where the great father painted like Cézanne and understood I have never seen anyone die for the ontological meters began to register and the mechanism hummed you’re in freaking North Dakota for all we know zebras too and unicycle riders and camels and while the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew there was a time when “fortunate” was not as accurate as a blood test, there wasn’t anything else he could do it was time relieved that the home labor had passed but she also had zoo problems of her own silent protest against the stultifying sameness
Note on the text: In 2009, I posted a job to Amazon.com’s micro tech work site, Mechanical Turk, asking freelance micro tech workers to find lines of text in their own personal libraries. As the titles of these poems suggest, each poem represents a similar point acrois akll the worker’s libraries. Because of the nature of the site, the worker’s identities remained anonymous, yet these are collaborations, part of them owe their existence to the reading habits and curiosity of workers: 3ICTZEPK4YUG, A1GPV12YKE0R9M, A3O02RVJXPNKLS, AWFOG7VQH39H9, A1GV0PBEWEEGIL, A10QE5AIXKDAQ7, A2P5IBPN9P22K4, A1R47K468MT0R1, A3TGU1TA8MXJBJ, A1YLT70VEBOOIV, A3UQ6KGLM6IX2H, A1S82TZ9N8PEH0, AIR4UQNPIMFCJ, AICJZDX2OTLR0, and A13H576JN2IY7H,
Almost eight and I’m already blitzed. No discretion with what was remains in the fridge. Rob wanted to save some of the imports but our forty-eight hour grace period has ended. He’s always stuffing his face when I bring home mom’s leftovers. There are no good hiding places left in this world. It’s all out in the open, wind nearly chapping my elbows on the walk. Spring doesn’t feel like it should yet. Too many fluctuations. I can’t talk about the weather with anyone tonight, not my job either, or their waning optimism; not old times or the way shit piles up on the sidewalks without warning. It’s already a storm of bodies on Chancellor, breaking stride, screaming over the passing cars. Like what they have to say means much. Maybe I’ll get through the night without a word. Later people will forget that I was even here. He took in the art so much that he became a part of it, that drifting intellectual on the cusp of random luck and sketchy terrain. Every city has one, an enriched misanthrope stranded with a bare minimum of remaining good will, left bewildered by the realities of human nature. Walking steady, but uninhibited, on the border of snapping into place, joining another scene with vindictive intentions. They’ll all assume so much at first and then slowly watch as the 100
impact lines form around us. I desperately want to be the leading man, steady-cam front and center, sound guys trailing behind. Like me, they’d be here to capture some familiar perspective: what remains of his twenties. It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten this fucked up to go out. Usually there’s a sound support system, some residual group dynamic keeping us drowned in misery. Most of that’s dispersed at this point; too many interlopers showing up for those first few bong rips then returning like vapor into the night. Stepping past blended e-cigarette clouds of cherry and jasmine, I get a little uneasy inside The Caucasian; over-saturated photographs framed on the walls. I sniff out the merlot and subtly smile at the French-braided server too quirky for her own good. She knows I’m not here to support some dribbling friend with a camera. It’s just that there’s nothing else to do. Start at one end, stop, pause, reflect, move on to the next, sip, try and feel something else, more than the warmth of libations and ultraviolet. Chuck and Gloria home right in between walls. They reek of other installations; all the smoke breaks in-between. We observe together, fueling criticisms and baron inadequacies nearly forgotten. He shows off his newest tat, an extension off two others, colorful clichés amplified under bland white incandescence. She’s nearly out of cartilage for metal hoops and studs. Both live like their parents are out of town for the weekend, taking in strays, letting every wrapper and bottle gather on the remaining surfaces. At least tonight allows them the convenience of bringing it somewhere else for a while. It’s an easy separation. Catch up with you later, enjoy each other’s company. The endorphins rush in. Relieved and out of wine, I’m paces from the exit when Lyle glides in, almost happy to see me. We hug like it means something. I try not to stare at his stache. A shredded discourse of thrift-store charisma and twice-dubbed, unnaturally-inherited nose thumbing fol101
lows. He doesn’t shut-up about Reed, Roeg, Cox, Pasoloni, and many more names we pretend like we know how to pronounce. Says he’s working on something new; art school dropout turned cabin-boy, train hopper dumpster diving for legitimate ideas. I’ll wait for Netflix on this one. The stomp of pavement is a welcome shift, as I rejoin the unearthed bedroom dwellers, passing each other with little inflection. It’s a block of safety in ignorance and tragic familiarity, distortion rising from Merry Weather. The flier proudly sports: No Cover. “Hey Carter,” Mable moseys to the sidewalk, a real sight. Girls this cute shouldn’t be allowed to startle on nights like this. I’m a mess of casual greetings, asking about the noise. She humors my mumbling until Todd joins her. Mable re-introduces us for what must be the sixth time. He plays the near silent gentleman, shaking my hand before stating his business. Heading over to Blind Billy’s to meet the guys. She’s sweet in her departure, paying me enough of a second glance to stir emotional imbalances for the next week or so. How does the feminist end up with the frat boy? It’s like we’re all settling for what becomes the rest of our lives. Shaking riffs help me ignore as I pass tiny scribbles hung all in a row meant to attract wandering eyes. Cracked P-Blue pounder from the unattended bucket next to the table where somebody who used to care once stood. It’s dark enough to zone out, homing in on the bobbing mood. While aggressive, the setting limits movement for all participants. Not that there’s much to pull from rigorous beast moans muffled through scratchy PA speakers over power chords. Maybe he’s a sensitive soul; perhaps they fashion themselves true entertainers. My beer’s nearly gone when the lights flick on. I’ve got about five seconds before the hunters realize whose grazing just a few bushes away. Fucking Jesse’s just looking for an opinion to smother, happily plodding past cellphones, zeroing in on my 102
final sips. Ten minutes go by in nods and manufactured compliments. He loves what I do, we need to collaborate soon, except Jesse’s been super busy, writing songs, acting like things matter or that there’s a difference to be made, selling white-on-black, yellow-on-blue, pink-on-purple patches and prints before the record even comes to fruition. Talking shit, of course, posting for validation and the sake of whatever it is that makes this particular brand of asshole tick, rambling on like every watch battery is powered by ego alone. I’m almost relieved when Vanessa interrupts. She’s never been fond of me, cordial, but with a stare that maintains a certain stagnant allure. We saw right through each other from the beginning. Her and Rob had a thing that fizzled, before I entertained possibilities a few months later, getting sloppy and unsettled in her presence. Vanessa latches right onto Jesse, says he should keep her in the loop. Somebody will blog about his masterpiece when it’s done; necessary nudges already printed in ink. This is how people discover the same things in different packaging. It’s also how reality gets buried in interactions for the sake of saving face. “I gotta go pee,” I say when there’s enough air. Neither minds nor flinches. It’s some skinny flannel nerd in line, then me, splotches of yellow remaining around the rim. Focusing is easy enough. Close enough to the point of oblivious intoxication, the subtle sobering that follows is a bit much. These five red splotches just above my knee itch more when my blood thins. Should’ve changed the sheets last week after Lindsay’s cousin harbored bed bugs across state lines. Somewhere around second drinks, I realized how easy it would be and didn’t back off. These bites are karmic, but will dissolve with the rest of me soon. The fresh air helps just enough, down two blocks to 1808, eyes fixated on the cracks below. A few advertisement collages on one side improperly complimented by meticulous black 103
sketches on the other. I take an extra moment with the individual lines, then switch over to white, the available supply near depletion. Too many outsiders tonight, stepping in only to head back out again. No one’s interested in buying; there isn’t enough wall space. What some consider reasonable hurts my head. “That one would look good,” a high pitched drone strikes me square as I turn to find an old contemporary. Shannon hasn’t matured since we workshopped together some seven years ago, the same doughy eyes staring up from a world of mangled inexperience with hopes of impacting the masses. I humor questions, before good fortune shoots out like confetti. Her e-book of Tumblr fodder is gaining steam amongst housewives with short attention spans. I want to call her out, but a husband interrupts. Neal, the tax attorney, supports his much younger wife’s dreams at least until the kid arrives in November. They’re easy to ditch; shades of jealousy surfacing for only a moment back outside. Then it’s Anton, equally morose, traveling in an opposite direction. Stopping me, he starts in on all the bullshit. Here’s a guy that feels the need to talk about his pain, how he’s this tortured soul trapped in a linebacker’s body with no remaining choices. Anton’s always respectful, although a bit backhanded. He doesn’t lump us into the same category, but like Shannon, considers us peers. This guy gets laid too often for me to support his art. Perhaps there’s something more to it. He’s looking for just about anybody, while I require that little something extra. Someone I don’t run into at events like this. Out of the blue never felt so exhausting. Dry mouthed, I escape across the street. Now Below is a posh excuse to stick around these parts, showcasing diminished motivations in the form of an electronic duo blipping their way through iTunes menus. The hung work is of little consequence, barely helping those on the verge of meditating. Indifference locks most in place like a rollercoaster harness. I’m almost safe when Rob and Lindsay drift to the back and stake their place 104
next to me. There isn’t much to say in the two hours since we’ve last crossed paths. They ate a fancy dinner and held hands from one rock to another. I’d prefer not to comment on my indulgences, keeping most aspects of this night under wraps. There’s only one question worth asking. What’s happening after this? They’re uncertain, ready to crawl into bed for a few half-drunken grunts and perhaps take-out if the mood strikes. I can’t be around them, exiting without remorse. The sidewalks are starting to clear. Only a few designated hotspots remain, seats filling up fast. I could reconvene with pretty much anyone I reluctantly accommodated, or go home and see what’s left in the fridge. The decision to continually put in appearances would be far more taxing if I had any legitimate excuse; someone patiently awaiting my return, anxious to make reservations. The overwhelming nature of another evening torn to shreds by restlessness has me stifled just outside the door, staring blankly forward, contemplating where and when the ride ends. “Hi,” she chimes in sweetly, as if all the time between was of little consequence. “Eve…” Maybe I need a new prescription. “Yeah, it’s me,” she says. “When did you get back into town?” “About a week ago.” “For how long this time?” “I’m not sure. Probably awhile.” “I’m surprised no one said anything about seeing you tonight.” “No one said anything about seeing you either, Carter.” “You know what I mean. It’s different with you.” “And why’s that?” She kind of grins. “I don’t know. It just is now.” “Okay,” her sigh lifts us up a moment. “So are we cool?” “You mean since last time?” 105
“Yeah, I mean, we kind of parted on heavy terms.” “I’m over it if that’s what you’re wondering.” “I guess. I didn’t wanna bring it up out of fear of it being a sore subject.” “And yet you just did.” “Sorry.” “We’re cool. Back to old friends or whatever you wanna call it.” “Alright, sweet. I’m a bit relieved.” “I bet.” “I just don’t know who the hell I’m going to hang out with, and I felt weird about calling you.” “Had I known you were back around, I would’ve probably locked my phone up and thrown away the key.” “Right…” Eve nods. “See now I’m not sure if you’re joking or being serious.” “I guess serious.” It’s then I know I should shut-up, but I don’t. “I mean, after you get so far with somebody and they cause you a certain amount of pain, you wonder if you wanna go back and relive it, whether life’s boring enough to watch the same disaster happen all over again.” “So you don’t wanna be friends then?” “I didn’t say that. I mean, we are friends. It’s well-established throughout these streets that you and I know each other.” “You’re really confusing the hell of me right now.” “Yeah, I guess I am. Sorry about that, but it’s like how I came out tonight, even though I knew I’d run into same fucking people, and end up feeling like shit after all these five minute conversations.” “Still a bit lost Carter…” “I came out because it seemed like the thing to do, kind of like us hanging out together again would be. At first it’d feel really natural and great, but then one of us would fuck somebody 106
else and the other would find out about it before we’re back to where we were.” “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. I wanna feel like things are different now even though I’m back after a while, that we’re both just different enough, ya know?” “Yeah, you’re right, maybe we are,” I say. “And we don’t have to get into all of this shit again right now, do we?” “No, we don’t.” “Because I’m just so happy to be out tonight after a week of resituating.” “Understandable.” “So what’s up? Where you are off to next?” “I think I’m gonna head home for a while.” “To do what? Get high or something?” “Just kind of unwind from the last few hours.” “Can I come?” “Um… Well I was gonna meet somebody in a little bit, actually a few people. You don’t really know them, so it may be a bit weird.” “No totally. That’s cool. I think I’ll float around here for a bit longer, see what I find.” “Yeah, a lot of sweet things to check out, but I was just leaving, so I’ll see ya around then, okay?” “Alright, yeah… I’ll be around.” “Me too.” I feel better for the next block, like there’s still some strength left in me. It’s gone by the time I unlock the door and settle into the sofa. I have maybe a half hour before Rob and Lindsay return, attempt to watch something and then go to bed. There are people to call and meet, some of them still not far away. Not one of them will understand any shred of what it feels like I’m going through. They’ll have stories of their own, of course, but mine’s more important, if only because I’ve spent so much time listening to theirs. 107
See the writer. He’s eighty-two. He’s tall and frail and wears a plain denim shirt. He crouches by the trailer fire. He holds a Guggenheim. He has a wife in New Mexico whom he will not see again. Twenty months later, he’s driving a Ford F-150 to
APPLICATION OF C. MCCARTHY TO THE IOWA WRITERS’ WORKSHOP NAME: What is a name but a spell under which a man lives, a dying emblem of his crumpled mortality, a slate… BIRTHDATE: Leonids, ‘33 CURRENT OCCUPATION: Drifter, mason, home-distiller WRITING INTERESTS: The apocalypse, crime
Chicago. The fields long and spiderlike, rumpled, tilled with new corn. He recounts this description to Oprah. She does not hear. She asks him why he rarely grants interviews and he tells her that he is not so inclined. She asks him about God. What is God, he replies, and the crowd stirs uneasily. He returns to his trailer, a nomadic figure on that pastoral land. Now come the days of reckoning, repentance and greed. He sells a screenplay to Paramount. He dines with Josh Brolin,
CURRENT WRITING PROJECT: NEW COUNTRY FOR HOLED MEN (a cotemporary zombie novel set in the urban southwest); BLONDE MERIDIANS, OR THE EVENING WETNESS IN THE EAST (an adult thriller set in Tampa); THE GOADS (a riveting portrait of bestiality); ALL THE PRETTY WARLOCKS (a supernatural bildungsroman)
the Coen Brothers. He talks to Time. He feels himself vindicated,
EXTRACURICULAR ACTIVITIES: Once built a barn
alone and yada yadda yadda. He finds it’s time to write in more
ACHIEVEMENTS: MacArthur Grant, marriages
accessible prose, to create a heartwarming bestseller. He applies
and mankind, as well, though he knows in the cold glowing orb of his heart that another project is brewing and one unencumbered by time, one divested of any fate and callous as chance all
to Iowa, where he believes he can hone his craft. He seeks out Marilynne Robinson. A woman. He has never before written for a woman, or heard one speak much at
money, here he comes, yes. He finds himself conflicted, and he believes Iowa would be the best place to sort this stuff out. He knows he’ll never die.
length. He finds himself curious. He also likes Ethan Canin, though he finds his work frivolous and devoid of any soul, as it does not dwell on death much. In workshops, he finds his work badgered and mocked. He considers hanging himself briefly, alas, he finds David Foster Wallace overrated and a martyr’s death trite. He abides Iowa. He likes the cool sun. He finds himself mimicking Hemingway, yet Hemingway sold. He wonders if he can meet Charles Baxter, though Baxter has not sold a film. He finds himself inching towards commas, abbreviations, identifying speaker tags. He begins to employ real quotes. Soon he’s conjuring up zombies, vampires, young teenage love, and in the year two thousand and nineteen, diploma in-hand, he moves to Brooklyn to lead a bohemian life. He’s overly ambitious, he knows, but he cannot stop selling himself on the thought of giving readings at the KGB bar, of dating a bassist for The Shins, of sipping cappuccino with Auster and discussing the state of French poetry, and yet he wants a contract and cash and the big 111
CONTRIBUTORS Joel Allegretti is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently The Body in Equipoise (Full Court Press, 2015), a chapbook on the theme of architecture and design. His second collection, Father Silicon (The Poet’s Press, 2006), was selected by The Kansas City Star as one of 100 Noteworthy Books of 2006. He is the editor of Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (NYQ Books, 2015), the first anthology of poetry about the mass medium. His poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Barrow Street, Smartish Pace, PANK, and many other national journals, as well as in journals published in Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and India. Robert Annis received his MFA from the University of South Florida, where he works as an advisor at the Office of National Scholarships. He was nominated for the 2013 and 2014 AWP Intro Journals Project, won the Bettye Newman Poetry Award in 2014, and the Estelle J. Zbar Poetry Prize in 2015. His poetry has appeared in Exit 7, Atlas Poetica, Sweet: A Literary Confection, American Tanka, Foothill and is forthcoming in Oracle Fine Arts Review. Christopher Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org) . Christopher’s work has recently been published in the Madison Review, Red Rock Review, Quail Bell Magazine, Commonline Journal, Mobius, Gesture, Crack the 113
Spine, Foliate Oak, and Eclectica among others. He was also a contributor to Impression of Sound. J. A. Bernstein’s novel, RACHEL’S TOMB, won the Hackney Prize and the Knut House Novel Prize. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Tampa Review, Kenyon Review Online, and other journals. He is an assistant professor of English at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Z.Z. Boone is the author of Off Somewhere, a 2015 finalist for the INDIFAB Award for Short Stories. His fiction has appeared in New Ohio Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, The MacGuffin, and other terrific places. Z.Z. Boone lives in Connecticut where he teaches writing at Western Connecticut State University. Kathy Douglas holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Bennington College and is a career services professional at Yale University. She is also a Found Poetry Review PoMoSco Laureatte, having completed all poems for the 2015 National Poetry Month project. Matthew Dulany has previously contributed to Noctua Review. Recent work appears in The Northern Virginia Review, San Pedro River Review, South Carolina Review, and The Worcester Review. His first novel, The Quitter, is forthcoming from Hard Nock Press. Chris Dungey is a retired auto worker living in Lapeer, MI. He rides mountain bike, feeds two wood-stoves, camps at sportscar races, sings tenor in a Presbyterian choir, watches hours of English football, and spends too many hours in Starbucks. More than 55 of his stories have found publication in print and online. His first collection, The Pace-Lap Blues and Other Tales from 114
the Seventies is available from Amazon and Kindle. Graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas. Karen George, author of Into the Heartland (2011), Inner Passage (2014), Swim Your Way Back (2014), The Seed of Me (2015), and The Fire Circle (2016), has work published in Naugatuck River Review, Adirondack Review, Louisville Review, Memoir, Permafrost, and Blue Lyra Review. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, and has received grants from Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council. She reviews poetry at http://readwritepoetry. blogspot.com/, and is co-founder and fiction editor of the journal, Waypoints: http://www.waypointsmag.com/. Visit her website at: http://karenlgeorge.snack.ws/.
currently lives and works in London. Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. She has two chapbooks Emissions and Pieced Into Treetops and has been published in several anthologies and literary magazines, including The Found Poetry Review, Chagrin River Review, and The Fem. Trish is co-founder of a local poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets. She is a project manager by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow her poetry adventures at http://trishhopkinson. com/. Alice-Catherine Jennings holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University. Her poetry has been published worldwide in various literary journals including Hawai’i Review, Boyne Berries, GTK Creative, The Poets’ Republic, First Literary Review East and The Louisville Review. She is the author of Katherine of Aragon: A Collection of Poems forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2016 Jennings divides her time between Oaxaca, Mexico and Texas.
Matthew Grolemund’s fiction and poetry has appeared in The Ampersand Review, Permafrost, Jelly Bucket, Compose, and elsewhere. A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, and founding editor of Wichita State University’s online literary journal mojo, he currently writes and teaches in South Korea.
Chelsea Jones is a musician and artist living in Kingsburg, California. She is a recent graduate of University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in french horn performance and electronic music. She has been previously published in Wicked Banshee Press, Abridged Magazine, Red Wheelbarrow Magazine, Chinquapin Magazine, Peel Magazine, and Gaia Magazine. More of her work can be found at chelseaejones.tumblr.com.
Rachel Heng’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, The Minnesota Review, The Emerson Review and Lunch Ticket. Originally from Singapore, Rachel 115
Melanie King is a graduate student at the University of South Florida currently pursuing her Master’s in College Student Affairs. She also serves as the graduate assistant for the Holcombe 116
Scholarship program in the USF Honors College. In her senior year of undergrad she was awarded 2 international scholarships, both the Gilman and Freeman Asia, which allowed her to spend a spring semester abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. In her spare time, she likes hanging out with her two cats, dabbling in graphic design, and taking photos. Virginia Mallon is a painter, photographer, and blogger with a focus on both human and environmental subjects including urban landscapes, nautical spaces, and personal histories. Her goal is to reflect and comment on the current state of the world and the psychological undercurrents of contemporary society. Kelly Nelson is the author of the chapbooks Rivers I Don’t Live By and Who Was I to Say I Was Alive. Her cross-language erasures have appeared or soon will in RHINO, Quarter After Eight, Hinchas de Poesia, RiverSedge, Jet Fuel Review and the 2015 Best American Experimental Writing anthology. She hasn’t owned a car since 1999 and teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University. Ranjani Neriya has published two collections of poetry. His poems have appeared in several journals. James B. Nicola has had work appear previously in Noctua Review, and recently in the Southwest and Atlanta Reviews, Rattle, and Poetry East. His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. His first full-length poetry collection, Manhattan Plaza, is currently available; his second, Stage to Page: Poems from the Theater, will be out in 2016. A Yale graduate, James has been giving both theater and poetry workshops at libraries, literary festivals, schools, and community centers all over the country. More at sites.google.com/site/jamesbnicola. 117
Lance Nizami has no formal training in the Arts. He started taking pictures in 2011 with a fixed-lens 28mm-equivalent Leica X1 (no filters, no tripod), and has since had pictures (non-manipulated) printed (not online) in Existere (two covers), Kestrel (cover and interior), and Toad Suck Review, amongst others. Dustin Pearson is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University. He was awarded the 2015 Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Born in Charleston, he is from Summerville, South Carolina. In the summer, Winston Plowe is a hare chasing bicycles and winning by miles. In winter he categorises found jigsaw pieces and tunes his cutlery. Each night he waits with his cat under starlight for his found poems to return to roost from the pages of journals published worldwide to his floating home in Calderdale, UK. www.winstonplowes.co.uk Matt Rowan lives in Chicago. He co-edits Untoward Magazine and serves as fiction editor of ACM: Another Chicago Magazine. He’s author of the story collections, Big Venerable (CCLaP, 2015) and Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013). His work has appeared in mojo journal, Timber, MAP Literary Journal, Gigantic Worlds Anthology, Jelly Bucket, Necessary Fiction and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. David Sheskin is a writer and artist whose work has appeared in numerous publications over the years. He refers to his most recent work as Artxt – which is the creative integration of art and text. His Artxt images utilize the format of a Scrabble board or crossword puzzle to provide a unique perspective on a variety of topical and fictional subjects, or alternatively, one of more viewers at a museum viewing one of his Artxt commentaries. 118
Caroline Simpson is a writer, teacher, and global adventurer. She has a BFA in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College. She currently teaches ESL at Edmonds Community College north of Seattle,WA, after teaching English Literature for five years in high schools in Turkey and Spain. Ron Singer’s (www.ronsinger.net) short stories have appeared in, e.g. The Brooklyn Rail, diagram, Evergreen Review, The Journal of Microliterature, Mad Hatters’ Review, and Word Riot. (Two Pushcart nominations.) On February 1st, 2015, his eighth book was published: Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with African Pro-Democracy Leaders (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press). This book is now available in about a hundred college and university libraries. Matt Trease is an artist, IT Administrator, and astrology junkie living in Seattle, WA. His poems have appeared in Burdock, Requited, The Cordite Poetry Review, filling Station, Otoliths, small po(r)tions and other publications. He is the author of the chapbook Later Heaven: Production Cycles (busylittle1way designs). His idea of romance is an Exquisite Corpse. He is Temperance crossed with The Hierophant. He also makes good tacos. Zach Trebino populates the world with absurdly grotesque performances, plays, and texts. His work has been published in journals including LIGHTHOLE, The Clockwise Cat, MUSES, POPPED, and Black Box Literary Magazine. His performances have been seen in cities throughout the United States. His plays have been produced by Anam Cara Theatre, Homunculus, Muhlenberg College, and others. He is the runoff from the apogee of nothingness, the outcome of a surrealist’s wet dream, a coded message sent to you 119
from your pre-conscious brain telling you to “WAKE UP!” Zach lives and works in Baltimore, MD. www.zachtrebino.com Derek Updegraff’s fiction has appeared in Bayou Magazine, Chiron Review, Palooka, Sierra Nevada Review, and other places. His first collection of short stories, The Butcher’s Tale and Other Stories, is forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin State University Press. He is also the author of three chapbooks of poetry and is a contributing writer for Wiley-Blackwell’sEncyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain. He holds PhD and MA degrees from the University of Missouri and MFA and BA degrees from Cal State Long Beach. Currently he is an Assistant Professor at California Baptist University. Dominic Viti has contributed to USA Today, Beloit Fiction Journal, and Chorus (Simon & Schuster). He lives in New York City. Rex Ybanez is a former librarian grant writer and science curriculum copy editor who now works as an accountant for Preferred Family Healthcare in Missouri. A former Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has been selected and published by ARDOR Literary Magazine, DANSE MACABRE, HARK Magazine, Peculiar Mormyrid, Potluck Mag, Young Adult Review Network, and Prism Review among others. He plans to pursue a master in library science and become a librarian poet like Jorge Luis Borges, Archibald MacLeish, and Philip Larkin.
EDITORS David Capps is an MFA poetry student at Southern Connecticut State University. He has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Connecticut. He lives in New Haven with a fluffy cat named Purrbasket. Danielle Lee Davis is currently pursuing her MFA at Southern Connecticut State University, though she originally hails from swampy South Florida. When not writing, she can be found in the Office of International Education, where she advises students embarking on their own adventures abroad.
cut State University. She has received several Purdue literary awards, and has been published in Sisyphus Quarterly. Katherine Sullivan, is pursuing an MFA in Poetry to develop a collection of Maternal Poetry which stems from her experience as a childbirth educator and doula since 2008. She was also the Poetry editor for Folio in 1999. She received her undergrad from SCSU in Liberal Studies with a focus in English, Creative Writing, and Psychology. She has been published in Noctua and Folio.
Ben Hostetter earned his BA in English at VCU, in Richmond VA. He is currently enrolled in the MFA program at SCSU, in Hamden CT, and is presently working on his first novel. He’d rather not list where and when he’s had stories, essays, etc. published, not because he wishes to be “mysterious,” or anything like that, but because he’d rather take this opportunity to say, yes, he too enjoys cozying up with a beer or some coffee and a good book. Shelby Lanaro is in her third semester of Southern Connecticut State University’s MFA program for poetry. She got her BA in English Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing from Southern in 2014. Editing for Noctua was Shelby’s first time editing poetry for a journal.” Molly Miller, an Indiana native, has a degree in English Education from Purdue University. She recently relocated to the East Coast to pursue an MFA in fiction from Southern Connecti121
SCSU's graduate literary journal, Noctua Review, presents its ninth annual volume of prose, poetry and visual art.