The Oklahoma Review Volume 18: Issue 1, Summer 2017
Published by: Cameron University Department of English and Foreign Languages iii
Staff Editor in Chief GEORGE McCORMICK Managing Editor GARY REDDIN Faculty Editors GEORGE McCORMICK, DR. JENNY YANG CROPP, DR. JOHN HODGSON & DR. JOHN G. MORRIS Web Design ELIA MEREL & HAILEY HARRIS Mission Statement The Oklahoma Review is an electronic literary magazine published through the Department of English at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. The editorial board consists of English and Professional Writing undergraduates, as well as faculty advisors from the Departments of English and Foreign Languages & Journalism. The goal of our publication is to provide a forum for exceptional fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction in a dynamic, appealing, and accessible environment. The magazine’s only agenda is to promote the pleasures and edification derived from high-quality literature. The Staff The views expressed in The Oklahoma Review do not necessarily correspond to those of Cameron University, and the university’s support of this magazine should not be seen as any endorsement of any philosophy other than faith in – and support of – free expression. The content of this publication may not be reproduced without the written consent of The Oklahoma Review or the authors.
Call for Submissions
The Oklahoma Review is a continuous, online publication. We publish two issues each year: Spring (May) and Fall (December). The Oklahoma Review only accepts manuscripts during two open reading periods. •Reading dates for the Fall issue will now be from August 1 to October 15 •Reading dates for the Spring issue will be January 1 to March 15. Work sent outside of these two periods will be returned unread. Guidelines: Submissions are welcome from any serious writer working in English. Email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Writers may submit the following: •Prose fiction pieces of 30 pages or less. •As many as five (5) poems of any length. •Nonfiction prose pieces of 30 pages or less. •As many as five (5) pieces of visual art—photography, paintings, prints, etc. •All files should be sent as e-mail attachments in either .doc or .rtf format for text, and .jpeg for art submissions. We will neither consider nor return submissions sent in hard copy, even if return postage is included. •When sending multiple submissions (e.g. five poems), please include all the work in a single file rather than five separate files. •Authors should also provide a cover paragraph with a short biography in the body of their e-mail. •Simultaneous submissions are acceptable. Please indicate in your cover letter if your work is under consideration elsewhere. •Please direct all submissions and inquiries to email@example.com.
Table of Contents Poetry 07 Larry Thomas, “Even on Good Days” 08 Larry Thomas, “Far West Texas”
Excerpts 10 Mike Cooper, Excerpt from “Uncity, Unlean” 22 Phil Estes, Excerpt from “Souther” 28 Gary Worth Moody, Excerpt from “The Burnings”
Photographs 42 Ron Renspie, “Postcard: Vernal Falls Railing” 43 Ron Renspie, “Postcard: Nevada Falls Footbridge”
Interview 45 Gary Reddin, “Interview with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish”
Contributors 52 Contributor’s Page
Larry Thomas Even on Good Days as I stand before the mirror, I see the scaly feet of crows darkening at the corners of my eyes. On the rickety bridges spanning the chasms between minutes, I swing, step by cruel, pendulous step, on crutches of raw courage, my armpits oozing with sores. Though a lucky man, retired and reasonably successful, I know that love, in an instant with but the substitution of two vicious letters, can turn to loss. And though Iâ€™m adequately handsome and in decent health, I know Iâ€™m just a creature washed in shadow, creeping through the scenes of Fellini.
Larry Thomas Far West Texas Bare, desolate, windswept, raw, depressing, dreary, and pale are the seven interlocking pieces of its picture puzzle of bleakness. Its wind’s a phantom, tireless whetter grinding its denizens against the whetstone of the desert to dust. Its plant and animal lives, what few are fully lived, are caught in a susurrous sonata of three movements: “Youth;” “Doomed Love;” “Dotage.”
Mike Cooper An Excerpt from Uncity, Unlean
welcome to our grey shag carpet our screams of hallway our overflow
Midnight Firetruck 1.
Just poke a finger through to breathe again. I live for my first 5 years rolling with my younger cousin inside a firestone tire. Uncle hand-loads shells with rock-salt. Hide and Seek only hurts when papa isn’t too drunk to outrun us, the muzzle of his weapon flashing green-white.
We hide in the unfinished houses of the suburban tracts as unfinished people. We share a pickup truck’s back seat with his gun-rack and his new wife Mary’s bruised face. Mary will never replace my aunt: but we all “fall down the stairs” just the same way as she did in these bored wood frameworks. She is like all of us who wait for the drywall and running water to install itself within us. The surrounding poems were meant to escape this somehow.
I still can feel the long grey hair cat—watch the memories of myself torture her in the too hot shower or swung by her arms—I hear her crying now, and I feel it inside myself, an endless sorry.
This mythos made of youth that
abuse goes nowhere.
It is only too easy to lose myself as an academic, to sit and watch as “hegemony” shifts— and as power redistributes: so does powerlessness
and the downward thrill-spill of
aggression: just watch.
Or poke a finger into his new wife’s raw face.
Mary will find the harpoon for you if she feels you weak enough, and despite any compassion you may lend her. “You will always be
here: I’ll show you how pain is easily and unequally
redistributed.” It is easier to lose myself in the urban-scape. This is the reason I know all of the breaks in chain-link and razor-wire fences on the 10 freeway overpasses, from Banning to East Los.
Cousin and I canâ€™t un-leap this overpass. Veracity matters: it makes it so much easier for me to shelter behind indecipherable images. Stare down the shadow of traffic, follow this storm to its pile of bones. Each of us a cage, feet covered in off-white flecked excrement.
We are made hungry, but first, inhale the ivory fungus that claws the split top of the butterloaf bread, before cousin closes the bag and we turn away in disgust. Run upstairs to become the roof-top-scare-crow burn among un-startled pidgins. Each of us cage.
This decimal is.
The midnight fire-truck stalls outside the 99 cent discount. Every convergent hour, like cross-eyed Mary. What Apricot? Relentless thrum of the mute and handicap, the red bull spins.
We run away and to live in a discotheque kept so cold the subwoofers bleed. Saran-wrap over his mouth, he surrenders. Fire, this impenetrable. The nervous chaperone makes eye contact with us, pantomimes slitting our throat, â€œgo home go home,â€? we are home
where The Black Widow stumbles under her burden across the webbed marble shower, grooms the talk of the day through her threads, guards her still moving orbs.
Our Sunday Football discipline of linemen in the crush grow homicidally ridiculous. Spit pit, un-mouthed the savorer. Horn Architecture, this gift of mating rams. We plastic wrap the toy fire truck, plunge it to fathom the tub.
The fish all drown upstairs, the peopleâ€™s gills empty. So I set the last pidgin free. The languages of cage and the infant. Poke a finger through the plastic wrap to breathe again.
How many times did my uncle die in my imagination: choking on the apricot pit, his head in saran-wrap staring like leftovers, gutted on the antlers of his captured and mounted prey: how he taught me this.
How he un-leapt that overpass; he pushes from a place between his own legs.
How the hand-loaded shotgun turns into the cold-sawn-barrel piping my lips.
How my inside out body spreads denial of a bruise, and the denial of these bruises I have given.
I am all of these threshing bodies, salmon left to drown unmated in our unfilled bathtubâ€”nowhere to fly but the bathroom floor.
I welcome you to feel our shag carpet, our screams of hallway: overflow of ashtray lungs. Fist-for-hello, go, sing the midnight firetruck of the good-life among 99 cent stores.
Every Love Song I Sing to myself
Slips backwards into the child I was there listening my shoes unfilled but I knew the tune of lonely prey cannot feel each cry of the eaten alive. What possible mechanism relieves the pain of papa the loitering Night Watchmen from the apparition of his son himself an abandoned son the love of brothers falling through the bomb bay secrets of the cloistered sisters at the loom every love song slips back into the child I was listen to the modemâ€™s heart beat for some comfort.
Art Lesson I
Unwrap the crayons one by one to lose the color of their names. Cut-crush them with a box-cutter blade, then heat small amounts on a spoon. Do this without adult super vision. Drip them down on the unaccustomed eyes of these page-bound images.
Dream of an Angler Fish lost among salmonâ€™s leap, the threehorned Rhino-sauri charging, the Storm-Troopers on their over-watch and endlessly waiting to
pump slugs into an un-moving enemy. Lost in my haiku about snow and deer, which I never left the city to see. The widowdream of motherâ€™s long blue-black hair, spiraling up vertically into the vortex of my first defensive horn.
History Lesson I
Never forget that my breath starts at my feet and out through my mouth piece and the air outside me and inside me collapses to a single always moving
medium I use to speak with the dead columns of soldiers, heroes slumping back from the Russian steppes and no leader among them. The rags around their feet are our stomachs and the flags they wave are we children.
I am incapable of feeling pain. There is no me to feel the cold, the black bloody feet unwrapping themselves into their own desperate unguentâ€”there is no me to contain this. There must be some other way to be.
The steel mill died, and then the speedway, and then the airbase, and then the vineyard unwrapped her coiled hair into the picketed tract homes whom poured asphalt into her mouth, and in every remaining crack weeds waited for when they would decide it was our time to go.
History Lesson II
These teeth in my hip pocket, whose are they. When I endure the cold-jacket-less-morning do I look to winter or the desert as mother. Why do adults require such loyalties from us. What was this first nest I lived in, but this thorned night made up of loyalties, the absence of
security: the threat of falling is what keeps the successful warbler fledglings flying. Becauseâ€”no one to greet my fall: the leaves turn to face the sun, everything but us remembers.
Phil Estes An Excerpt from Souther
Bobby tries to forget the nineties. He has had a number of early Gen-X friends, all good ones—again it could be a banging funeral if he doesn’t do anything stupid. Listening to this shit, sometimes, from older friends. “We felt like it was the sixties,” was a mantra he heard either directly or paraphrased—the gist—when he’d go out with some of them. They had long hair and John Lennon glasses. Now they wear polos tucked in khakis and embrace the personal story; what’s your story? “I persevered after I got the allowance cut off.” “I want to have an abortion so I can see how it truly feels.” “The perfect partnership of the public and the private, that’s the future.” “Narrative is back, man.” “How do you think you’ll read tenure-track when you’re so ideological? We’re past that.” Where their memories of the Clintonian are faded polaroids of house parties at Wesleyan or Rice, Bobby’s was something vaguely foreboding. He was born in the shadow of Reagan, sort of in between. That doesn’t make him a unique critic of any generation, just out of place. What he remembers fondly are the late eighties up until 1991, which sit with him like watching old videotapes from that period—you know, the image that is somehow cloudy but sharp, thanks to the inability of beta and VHS to pick up more than four shades of shadow, that cloudiness making blues and reds brighter and dominating, faces pixelated and not analog on a tight zoom. When Bobby worked through his doctorate, he read Caldwell’s take on the televisual image of this period. With the technology so low yet electronic, a maker instead opted for flooding the image with as much as possible in a 4:3 frame, a sort of simple trick to hide depth. But depth, mind you, comes from the flood. Layered in Amiga graphics and a slow moving camera jarred with quick cuts, it all stacks on each other and you have to look at all of it. Sort of abstract expressionism. So when he plays old Cleveland Browns games uploaded to Youtube while he cleans the apartment or sits around, profoundly bullshitting, it’s because of this. To take him back. Bobby has other siblings younger than him, but that doesn’t matter much. During this late eighties to 1991 blur, or whatever, his dad sent him to his grandparents, Joneses, in Farmland every break. Only him there, watching ESPN on an old smoke damaged, but always clean, couch covered by an orange and brown afghan. Grandmother Jones was named after Carmen, the opera. Him and Blanche finally saw a production of it in Bereaveville. A co-worked had season tickets and couldn’t go. That Carmen couldn’t get high enough on any of the notes—even he could see that—and the older donors knew too, but they’d still stand up and clap and bravo in that hollow way that seems distinctly Southern. Carmen Jones never really cared for that one; he listened to the Mikado with her on an old record and she laughed at all the jokes while Bobby tried to laugh to, not being sure of what was funny or not. “You don’t have to laugh if you don’t get it,” she told him. 22
“But I want to get it,” Bobby said. “Who fucking cares?” she said. She let him watch SNL. She loved Garth Algar. In spring and summer the routines always involved rummage sales and flea markets: they’d all drive over to Muncie, Winchester, Portland, Fremont, etc., looking through people’s stuff displayed on blankets in front yards or stacked across long picnic tables in assembly halls. Frank one time asked Bobby how he knew so much about the material culture of Frank, early gen-Xer but not an annoying one like from above, and Bobby tried to express these experiences, walking out of front yards or emerging into the sunlight from churches with cream sickle Tampa Bay Buccaneers t-shirts or CEDs of wrestling highlights or a veteran Mazinger Z, the silver paint starting to rub off the legs, revealing the coral plastic underneath. “I don’t mean to be accusatory, just curious. I don’t know any of that shit,” replied Frank. His favorite thing was watching his grandmother watch something on American Movie Classics; she’d sort of weep or say “oh, no” or nothing at all. She noticed him observing her once while she watched Humoresque. John Garfield playing the violin. “Is he actually doing that?” “No, but I wish.” “What’s he doing now?” “He’s dead.” “Oh, no.” “Super dead.” So they sort of made a game out of it—Bobby would ask if the actor/actress was dead, Carmen would confirm or deny. Bringing Up Baby was kind of good for this; he wasn’t really paying attention. “Is she dead?” about Katherine Hepburn. “No.” “What about him?” that friend of Susan’s aunt. “Mmm-hmm.” “What about the leopard?” “Yup.” “What about him.” Carey Grant. “Recently, I think.” “Why are all the men dead but the women still alive?’ “Our only revenge.” “Oh.” “Jury’s still out on whether that’s really worth it, though. Feels more like a curse sometimes.” When Bettie Davis died, he was over there. That moment must’ve come earlier, because Bobby, messing with that Mazinger Z doll—it might’ve been half a Voltron, actually—on their shag carpet was brought back to the world when she said, “See, we do finally give up.” 23
This all should be reflected on warmly. One time, Bobby had an old Continental Basketball Association game on while he swept the floor. He chose a Tulsa Fast Breakers-Muncie Super Shockers playoff game from 1990. Most of these uploads were 2-3 hours, time based on whether the user had a game copy sans commercials or not, but this one only timed out to 1:05:40. The game jumped around a lot, going from the second quarter straight to the fourth. Muncie had one play to go, but then the recording warped into that flash of colors and EKG lines only gen-Xers know, when the tape degrades or fucks up, and gave way to an AMC promo for Samson and Delilah, starring Rita Hayworth and Tyrone Power, before returning to the game and a last second shot by Fast Breaker, and future Knick, Anthony Mason. He didn’t see it go in, though, the upload ending at 1:05:40, but it brought Bobby back to his Grandma Carmen, and her laugh and her confirmation that, in fact, Victor Mature was still alive. What Bobby didn’t remember, after that: “I carried Vic when I saw Samson take down the pillars and kill the philistines.” So Proust was right, sort of. The most vivid memories involved Uncle Vic—so you see, he haunts him. He had a pretty good job at a die-cast shop, where he was union prez. They had that above ground pool, a rearprojection television, Commodore 64. The middle-child, Uncle Vic established progeny first: his kids a decade older than Bobby and more or less out of the house or on their way. Vic would come over a lot and take Bobby to Muncie—the biggest place, the one closest to cosmopolitan— to Super Shocker games. The name didn’t make much sense, but Bobby liked that Garfield, created by Muncie local Jim Davis, was sort of the mascot. The team consisted mostly of ex-Ball State standouts; the arena actually a converted Vaudeville hall, The Egyptian: all the fans crammed into the south side, the court put where the old orchestra pit used to be. The stage and red curtains along the north. When the team was announced in the early eighties, Uncle Vic tried to convince his youngest brother, Dizzy—Grandpa Jones got to name him and loved the gashouse gang—to try out for the team. Uncle Dizzy went to one practice but couldn’t keep up, what with the smoking. He died from something else, in a trailer Vic bought and put on the edge of the family homestead. Bobby was already in Tulsa, missed the funeral. Uncle Vic would smuggle his Red Man pouch, always seemed to clinch it, and buy Bobby the biggest Coke and the biggest popcorn. Bobby would only get about halfway through the popcorn before passing it off to Uncle Vic, who would then spit: the pieces in there doing a good job of soaking the juice, and eventually the wad, up. Bobby didn’t mind. Uncle Vic bought those for him every time for two reasons: that he had a place for his chaw, but also out of love for his blood. They brought Garfield and Odie mascots out in the team’s jerseys for half-time. The giant Garfield kicked the giant Odie off the stage. “I don’t get it,” Uncle Vic said, “but I like how Jim Davis decided to stay here.” “Grandma said that after Hoagy Charmichael got big he came back to Bloomington and bought the richest family’s house.” “Can’t escape the Hoosier State.” “He died the year I was born.” 24
The Super Shockers wore blue and green uniforms. Their home jerseys white, their shorts blue with seafoam piping, Muncie in a sort of cursive font but also electrified. You’d think it’d be blue and gold, but whatever, they were kind of cool in a gaudy way. The owner, this short fat bald man named Augustine, walked through the stands in the same robin’s egg three piece suit, shaking everyone’s hands between quarters. Loved Muncie because he would say a “fellow Muncian,” to Vic, even though it wasn’t true—Vic would correct him every time. “Farmlander.” Who fucking cares, right? Augustine let the players wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys. Bobby’s favorite went by Showtime. Showtime ran point for that Ball State team in 1989 or 1990 only people from Muncie remember, that team that beat Gary Payton and Oregon State and got to the Sweet 16, came closest to stopping Larry Johnson and Greg Anthony and UNLV—the only one to lose by single digits. Uncle Vic still had a copy of that game, would sometimes watch it. “Better than Duke that year.” Small victories in small places are actually triumphs. Because of his thin frame probably, Showtime didn’t make it to the NBA and instead was a Super Shocker, dominating in that way smaller players always do. Bobby mostly liked him because his nickname was Showtime and he jacked threes every possession and he’d smoke cigarettes on the bench. He’d learn later that Showtime would have a long career in Italy and that his Wikipedia page is only in Italian. His career seemed to end acrimoniously—Bobby pieced together—when he came out in support of the Red Army Faction. Showtime played into the first decade of the new century, though, bouncing between teams in South Korea, Belgium, and Switzerland. Bobby put together his stats sheets one day, in the midst of exams, and figured out he was the highest scoring player in all of professional basketball history—38,388 points, one better than Kareem. Bobby doesn’t know Italian, though, so the real story was less fun than the one he carries still. Showtime, in fact, critiqued his team’s fan club, which called themselves, ironically, the Red Army Faction, as actual communists. “Why can’t they find Jesus?” he told the media once after a Euro Cup final loss to CSKA Moscow in 1995. “We’re capitalists, get over it.” They cut Showtime after that. Uncle Vic knew the real story, that’s why he never brings him up. *** You don’t need to know how Grandma Carmen died. The Patriarch moved out of the house, into a retirement village. Aunt Mabel sent Uncle Vic over to Dayton, occasionally, to crash on their couch—“it isn’t that we’re fighting or that he’s an asshole or anything, Hal. You can’t fight everything,” she told Bobby’s dad on the phone. It became frequent, this wandering over, and Bobby would come downstairs to their sofa bed always laid out, and the stale tobacco juice smell of Uncle Vic there, sprawled in his one good set of pajamas, gagging in sleep through that cavern of a mouth, sort of looking like a dead volcano surrounded by a dead forest of black and gray beard hair. Bobby started to take on the annoyance with him that his dad always held. It should be noted that if Blanche saw this scene, she could’ve swore it was Bobby—he sprawls, has the same snore, which starts slow and ends on a high lilt, higher than his voice.
Dad took a profession, librarian, dad sacrificed, even though he was made for New York City. He told this story so many times that it annoyed Bobby and now, when it came to him, he’d sometimes blurt “man, fuck my dad,” out loud in his office. Frank heard that once from, Bobby’s voice always carries, and did the slow clap. Anywho, Bobby’s dad never drank, which made eighteen or thirty packs of Stroh’s in the fridge an aberration at first and then a sign Uncle Vic had arrived. One time, Uncle Vic picked Bobby up in his Toyota Starlet from after-school Video Club and they drove at slow speeds while he drank a can, winding around the ranch and split-level homes and green lawns; Bobby didn’t like the smell at the time—still in that teenage boy garbage-food-yummy-phase, where he needed everything to be sweet—but he dug the look of the dark blue can and the golden lion, claws up, against a red field. It looked like whatever classy was supposed to look like. This was around the time of Vic’s bottoming out, at the end of the century. He offered Bobby one but Bobby was too timid. Bobby more boring then than now. “I love your aunt, but I wanted to be Peckinpah.” “Doesn’t everybody?” Vic drove by the biggest split-level, made his hand into a gun at the clean-cut dad standing out in his lawn. Both men in aviators. “Clearly fucking not.” “Dad said you were a coward.” Uncle Vic took a beat. “Yeah, that sounds like him.” The French have a sort of a term for this literary trope when discussing female characters: the woman of red, the woman of white. Scarlet: close to earth and also fire, the thick of it. The true color of Death: more or less clouds, above horizons, pure and ideal. At least that’s what Bobby could gather when his film professor discussed Jules et Jim; this sort of trope appearing throughout it. But fuck Jules et Jim, it is kind of unwatchable, now. Think of Uncle Vic and Bobby’s dad in these terms: red and white. For example, the Unapooper, or, Vic’s last sojourn. *** Back in the late nineties, at the Dayton Public Library, somebody was defecating in the LGBTQ-friendly books in the Children’s section—Heather has Two Mommies. The culprit would take them into the bathrooms down on the first floor, Adult Services, and defecate in them and leave them next to the toilets, always in the men’s room. The Pinkertons suspected the homeless; they’d hang out in the little study desks out in the corners, you know to sleep, and the guards would get violent with them, throwing them out every time one of the desecrations got reported or found. Broke the arm of Larry, an ex-railroad guy and pensioner. Wasn’t even homeless, just wore a dirty Triple Fat Goose year round. The Library Director at the time, the Technocrat, would make so many public statements about it, in that shabby nineties tone: “we respect all ideas and we respect the right to protest, but what happened to decency?” As a compromise, he stopped ordering new copies of Heather has Two Mommies and destroyed the other reps of the genre: Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, 26
Asha’s Mums, One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads. Had the shelvers cut the binding off with straight blades, dump the matter into a box marked Incinerator. That didn’t stop the Unapooper, what people started calling him. He kept going, his choices stranger and broader: Hollywood Babylon, Bloom County, the collected poems of Thomas Merton. So the Technocrat started banning everything “offensive” for a while there, a couple months. Vic came to crash—this last time, somewhere between Helen and Paris—and he’d get bored and ride in with Bobby’s dad and use the public internet, read the newspapers from other states, and smoke out back with Tony, who ran the bookmobile. Vic didn’t like Merton, but he didn’t like seeing books get gutted. Though one time, while out there with Tony, he slipped an in-circulation copy of God and Man at Yale into the Incinerator box. Sliced up Anthem on his own. Vic figured out who was doing it pretty quick. When he went into the first floor bathroom to take a piss he saw the freshly vandalized Tyndale Bible on the floor and a footprint in the feces: the tread of a Roos, the kangaroo perfectly framed brown. He knew it was the owner of St. Mary’s Catholic Supply—John maybe, or Daniel. The son of a bitch would scowl at Vic and Tony and Jamal from across the street, and Vic always thought those red white and blue kicks were such a the waste on the feet of a little Vendean, who’d spend all morning taping up pictures of dismantled fetuses in his storefront. Vic didn’t get it, crouched there, in the bathroom—wasn’t the best part of Catholicism its theology? So he went down to St. Mary’s Catholic Supply Store and grabbed John or Daniel or something and demand that he come clean. John or Daniel or something smirked that Hannity smirk—you know. “I’m in the Lord’s Army.” “Uh huh,” said Vic, before he threw the Unapooper through the window out into the street. When the cop’s came for both of them, Vic showed the sole, still brown. Bobby’s dad bailed him out. There in the car. “They can’t hold him. Because of what you did.” “He’ll never get that glass out of his arms.” “We need to let the authorities do their job.” “Who cares.” “Why can’t you keep your head down?” “Always wanting to pick at the little shards too deep in his cheeks.” “Why is decorum wavering? It finally won,” asked Bobby’s dad. Uncle Vic stared into the sun. “Christ, dream bigger.”
Gary Worth Moody An Excerpt from The Burnings, or From Fevered Ground THEY WORE BIRDS as ornaments on the tongue they engaged with animals they housed magpies and grackles in the ribcage of an enemy they were sentient to the choiring of lake water beneath clouds they named each otherâ€™s eyes few escaped and remained at the edge of the known trees to harvest feathers and talons until each fist contained sufficient shapes to spill onto amatl sheets as if the birds might return to the unburned nests like lightning seduced back into the veined rind of the sky to shelter eyes from the inevitable conflagration of macaws
Before the burning of the Aztec aviaries by Hernán Cortés the last bird-keeper witnesses the feast of the Flayed God Xipe Totec ON WHAT WAS ONCE WATER ABOVE AIR WE ARE STANDING at lake’s edge. Red-winged black birds rearrange wind and light, only they are not black, rather caped with iridescence, a gold that craves shadow, craves blood spilled from stone onto stone, the feast of the flayed god. They have stolen the most beautiful one and fucked him drunk, pearled agave salve upon his barely own skin, broken bowls from their houses to shard his feet on the thousand step climb. He is wearing orchids. They are wearing birds. To warm ourselves in the days’ lengthening each of us has stolen the victim’s skin still wet with dying sex. Look, the honed obsidian flake lifting the priests hand and new fire and the underneath red sheer enough to let through morning. Between their beaks’ shells the smallest bird’s tongues corona with hymns. Outside of the earth light lengthens into unseasonable cold, almost ice, abrupt, the other’s wash against our tongues, guava, the seeds pearl. Within the breathing wicker cage, birds pulse into daylight. All kinds. Ravenous without nectar or kernel or carrion, frenzied against reed and willow slatted light, aguila, buteo, accipiter, and falcon care for nothing except prey.
Wings beating and nests with myriad mouths opening, the sky is.
THE BIRDKEEPER’S DAUGHTER REFUSES TO TRANSLATE THE SPANIARDS’ REQUEST TO BUILD AN ALTAR TO CHRIST WITHIN THE TEMPLE OF XIPE TOTEC THE FLAYED GOD When they asked I was unable. How could I explain the first noise? A remembered thing? Almost imperceptible, like seed husk unsheathing from sprouting maize? Infant wail unsheathed from its mother? My own breath? The way their ears were unable to capture gradation of silences? Their tongues’ thrashing against their teeth? Their scratches like heron toes in mud on something they called vellum? Their eyes’ inability to measure the tactile emptiness our lips and teeth leave on our loved one’s skin to mark not just word, but location in space and time? The uncountable distance from the volcano? The rationed kernels of maize between then and now? 30
How then could I explain that each taken heart and flayed skin required unspeakable words not unlike the variant sound of wind through feathers?
THE LAST KEEPER OF BIRDS LAMENTS Because you have never seen the moon shaved thin as a hawk’s talon, drive sun beneath the blood desert’s horizon, because to see this you need to climb out of this valley to volcano’s rim, and make prayers or rain enough to wash away smoke between you and earth’s still burning edge, because if you choose to return to the city you will need to pick through poxxed corpses strewn along the limed aqueduct, despite the number of taken hearts, raw in air chastened with ravens, with the remaining skin’s shadow unfolding wind like gone breath, gone wings, the wash of eaten things, because sent to the water place to find hummingbirds among the palmettos I was, came back to this place of latticed ash, because deep as two spent moons we would find them singed and fallen, worried by maggots or voiceless. It was the silence of knee deep ash, across mosaic of jasper, turquoise, trade coral, the sift of burning unsonged feathers, that drove me up toward the mountain’s burning mouth’s unmelting snow, until high enough to fall, spinning, like a solitary molted feather, I stepped out into charred air beneath wheeling caracara into the molten throat, into the blood-desert’s untaken heart.
TO SEE AND BE ASTONISHED BY WHATEVER WILL OCCUR Before the black water withdraws to scale the lake’s shore with brine like skin incandescent after love before the black room’s green night-heron’s eye becomes the mirror revealing myriad criminal stars, thinned relentlessly into foreign constellations unremembered tarnished by the shrunken unkindled arbor of vacant memory and men riding antlered deer under the horizon into the valley plaqued with burn before the burning whirlwind or boiling pool no matter how shrunken the gyri or jigging fibered tangles before the white one’s leave their floating wooden mountains no matter how many still thrumming hearts we lift from opened breasts of those pinned to an altar for burning we will all be only variant syllables joined and spun through the aqueduct’s opened mouth into the river’s sacrificial throat like cries against wind in dream
If I was purchased or given, the first time, an object of trade or wager, I do not know. The number of times, I cannot recall. I remember I am of water. Along earth’s wet edge, snake-ish through dying waves, his animal’s iron-shod hooves crushed briny shells. Abandoned crab. Round white discs like tiny calendar stone housing pale doves. Fluted blood-red empty scallops. Oyster-shell, luminous with rainbow. He led me, uncollared, sun falling. I might have mistaken him and his maned beast to be one animal, until he unstraddled the leather bench on his creature’s back. Dismounted. Came to me without armour. Almost naked. I can still sense on his chest and thighs, his cactus-spine hair. Chafe of his hands across me In the pulque-d night
During the orchid trecena, in the making of flaming houses, I was
the wind sheaved straw he gathered, kindled and hurled through almost solsticed dark Into brittle lattice that housed the wildness of earth and air. Jaguar, monkey, coyote, foz and fawn. Hummingbird, horned owl, ibis, gull. Mallard kestrel, heron, quetzal and crane. Even to this day, I am unable to sleep beside fire without dreaming acrid howls from singed fur, keening of feathered char. Between us, the burning night. We were the whole embered world.
Notes: Malintzin (Malinalli + (tâ€™zin, a suffix of endearment) is the Nahuatl given name of the young Nahuatl slave who became Cortesâ€™s interpreter. Malinalli means bundle of straw and is an Aztec calendrical unit. Her taken Christian name was Marina. Her name, after Cortesâ€™s defeat of the Aztec, became La Malinche. She is often considered the mother of the Mestizos. Trecena is an Aztec calendrical unit. Pulque is a drink made from the Maguey (Century Plant). The plant is sacrificed. the single flower stalk severed and the milky, sugary sap gathered in the bole of the plant and fermented into a frothy intoxicating pus. It was the drink allowed victims of human sacrifice.
ORPHAN EYES End of May, Greenwood and Tulsa, 1921
Fireflies, there were none above the hot sandlot patch of ruined prairie you cut through that Saturday night too early to call the dusk summer yet too late for red buds except for a few tattered gum-pink blossoms withered on grey scrawny branches though night blooming chocolate daisies cluttered the unbuilt ground as you breathless raced toward the Dreamland theater urgent to buy a ticket to watch WITHIN OUR GATES the faithless preacher hopping in the pulpit akin to a peckerwood lawyer or soul-snatching hoo-doo to draw any girl to you the way a hummingbird seeks hibiscus nectar as you flew by The Hole’s racket its trombone and cornet swelter sucking air away and Mamie Smith moaning I need somebody please to cure me of this love disease and who in the Sunday morning congregation after listening to Blind Lemon beg, see that my grave’s kept clean could guess you’d end up on Tuesday in the white man’s jail and hear outside the mob come for you and the struggle between the Greenwood World War One black veteran with his oiled and cleaned .30-30 desperate to keep the hangman’s rope from around your throat and the klan apprentice without robe or mask and the inevitable shot when his white finger slipped into the rifle’s trigger-guard then you in the cell suddenly forgotten as the pale mob funneled its rage toward any skin darker than its own and the two day’s odor of Black Wall Street burning from the roofs down after the planes dropped flaming canisters and jars of turpentine and prohibition liquor soaked lint onto the theaters, jazz clubs, restaurants, banks, and the flying machine guns shattering windows as white men in white robes broke down the doors and torched laced curtains, walls, and ceilings of every home until only ashes and three hundred char clenched corpses and you remained in your cell with unwarranted and unearned guilt 36
for simply failing to lift your boot enough to clear the elevator’s threshold as you stepped from the uppermost floor of the Drexel building with it’s colored only toilet into the lift’s cage then falling with the only living thing to clutch onto being the elevator girl’s unsunned thin arm sleeveless against Decoration Day’s Tulsa heat causing your fingers stained with boot-black gripped too tightly her wrist as you caught for a moment something in her scent like night blooming jasmine as her lips opened gathering breath to loosen her kindling scream into the ears of your innocence a sudden and accidental closeness beneath orphan eyes.
PLOW, ROPE and FLAME: THE LYNCHINGS IN KIRVIN, TEXAS, MAY 4 to 6, 1922, AFTER THE MURDER OF EULA AUSLEY I. EULA AUSLEY:
Riding home after school’s last full day cedar and cypress pollen heavy amber, stains my frock and black gelding’s hide. I cut through and under almost invisible blossoms of wild grape to cross my grandfather’s creek muddy almost in flood pause under a low hackberry branch to fondle a soon to burst beak-faced butterfly chrysalis when I hear the suck of boots behind me startle my mount and I am still falling when their cedar club’s first blow finds my skull.
My fingers unable to find purchase in reins or air. There is only my blood beneath me. Mine. Next spring will someone find in my gone shadow, anemones, lilies, or violets run wild? or simply the same sun’s burn
II. SNAP CURRY: Even though I could still recognize her hair’s muddied sheen, when they showed what was left, she was nothing but meat leaking red into wet orange black clay under a torn black riding dress something like an animal’s hide When those white Prowells handed me 15 silver dollars to take the leavings away I had no conjure for protection nothing to wash clean any stain but knew a place off trail where hired men stacked shinnery and thistle for burning to clear woods for cotton fields or grazing for her granddaddy King’s heifers, tried to hide her under slash but that dusk something waiting for the moon’s swelling heat must have dragged her back across the muddy trail for finding, maybe some wild dog, red wolf or angel hoodoo willing her to be found. And then my spoiled used-to-be gone on lying about blood on my shirt. It was true what I said about a rabbit run down and killed. Fur, nailed to the Osage orange out back.
III. MOSES JONES: I mostly fished with him, sometimes hunted, flushing some thing up out of the hedgerowâ€™s edge, or from under cypress, making it run across plowed fallow fields sheened slick by iron, seeds opened by sun, gorged toward flower, until the cotton hulls burst white enough to tear our hands the way the wet rope rips the lighter skin on our palms as the mob pulls each of us through the blaze toward the plow the way the white menâ€™s blades sever our sex leaving our husks like ginned lint to burn the whole night long
IV. JOHNNY CORNISH: It was a chill forged riding plow they chained me to for the burning, cast iron made more conducive to plowing at the foundry where water was placed near the receiving cavity into which molten iron was poured, causing the outer surface to cool more quickly than the inside. They said it helped the plow gain land polish, to cut the tight black loam. The blades were coming for me. Near me, there was no water. I chose to breathe the flames.
V. SHERRIF HORACE MAYO: Four scents you remember: Fecal scent of male shit when your revolver murders a rumored practitioner of incest in his own pest house sheets.
Coppered scent of blood when you snatch a pistol away from a manâ€™s hand after he has been firing it at an almost dead boy swinging by his neck from a rope, then place a bullet from the borrowed gun through the lynched childâ€™s head to place him beyond known misery. Scent of charred flesh bred from coal-oil married with flame to black flesh when three men are dragged through fire without judge or jury other than the mob. Finally, after all this, the lynchings, the inability to staunch the mob, the indefatigable burnings upon a misused plow, the irrefutable memories, through alcoholâ€™s stupor, the briefest cordite scent blended with your drunken breath as your finger triggers the shot that penetrates your skull cauterizing the punctured temple, instantaneously igniting the inevitable unlonely dark.
Ron Renspie - Postcard: Vernal Falls Railing
Ron Renspie - Postcard: Nevada Falls Footbridge
Gary Reddin An interview with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish For this issue, Oklahoma’s newest state poet laureate, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, lent us some words of wisdom about writing, living, and the need to bring poetry back to the people. Oklahoma Review: As the newest state poet laureate, what are your visions for the future of poetry and literature in Oklahoma? Mish: Perhaps the most compelling vision I have for Oklahoma writers and writing is that our general populace will someday recognize how much great writing we’re doing. For instance, in Ain’t Nobody That Can Sing Like Me, the Oklahoma writing anthology I put together a few years back, there were 79 contributors—and I limited that anthology to writers who were living in Oklahoma at the time. There are many active Oklahoma-identified writers who live outside the state. I have a spreadsheet entitled “Oklahomies” to help me keep track of writers who have “allegiances” (after the William Stafford poem) to Oklahoma—by birth, by raising, by family, by residence, by choice. Right now, that spreadsheet includes 110 living, active, mostly professional writers who were not in the anthology, and the list is added to every few months when I discover another writer who maintains ties—physical, emotional, mental, or aesthetic—to Oklahoma. Oklahoma Review: We have seen a lot of push back against the arts recently, in the state, and the country as a whole. Do you feel like this push back comes from a place of disdain or distrust, or is there something else at play? And if so, how can we, as representatives of the humanities, counter this? Mish: Disdain, distrust, and good old-fashioned American anti-intellectualism—artists are almost always viewed as “intellectuals” although we prefer the terms artist, writer, sculptor, musician, dancer, composer. I think it also has a lot to do with our educational system: while some great schools have “the arts” in the curriculum, overall, arts teaching is pressed upon our overworked, underpaid teachers who do their best to teach areas in which they haven’t been trained, like the reading and writing of poetry. Therefore, the arts, their depth, breadth, and importance to humanity, are unknown to students or viewed as just another checkbox on the test-prep schedule or not understood as something that could—[and perhaps] should—be a part of everyone’s lives. Moreover, there is the lack of what’s called “cultural capital” in Oklahoma (and other states’) school districts outside of big cities. 45
Opportunities to be “exposed” to the arts—to go to a play, to hear a symphony, to attend an art show or literary reading—are simply not available, and on those rare times when the opportunity arises, arts activities are last on the list—if they’re on the list at all—for students and their families. Going to a play instead of a basketball game just doesn’t compute—because lack of cultural capital is generational and often class-inflected. Although I received a good—and with some teachers, excellent—education in Wewoka public schools, I didn’t have those opportunities either, and my lack of cultural capital showed up in many places: questions on the SAT that I had no context for, a weak college application package—those “extracurriculars” simply weren’t there. Later on, when I moved to Albany, New York, the inability to follow conversations about the arts, because, again, I had no context. It seems to me there is a similar problem in poor and working-class neighborhoods in big cities, too. Finally, the arts, in America, at least, are seen as something rich people do, and for good reason. Movies tell us that; the astronomical sums spent on fine art tell us that; the kind of clothes one should wear to arts events tell us that. Once upon a time, poetry was everywhere: in the schools—to write and to read and to memorize—in the local newspaper, in funeral programs, at civic events. Literary historians describe a dual-removal of poetry from general society: poetry became “entrenched” in academia; it withdrew from its public presence. And, on the other hand, the polis felt that poetry was laughing at them—that it was intentionally obtuse and no longer spoke the language of the common person. That it was something out of reach. What can we do? Make poetry—the arts—less scary. Make it get out of the university and the black-tie venues and take a walk on mainstreet. Find ways to make it matter to the common person, again. One Oklahoman who does a great job of making poetry less frightening is Shaun Perkins, who established the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry in Locust Grove (population 1,404). For instance, at the recent Wonder City Wordfest (presented in the mainstreet coffeeshop she and her family owns), Shaun held a pastry-baking contest during the festival. It drew many excellent cooks from the community who might not otherwise have attended a literary festival. Then, after everyone happily sampled all the pastries and voted for their favorites, attendees were asked to write a poem about their favorite pastry—with the promise of prizes for the best poems. So, the attendees wrote and the winners read and everyone had a fine time.
Oklahoma Review: Having read your work, you seem to have a real connection to Oklahoma that makes itself known in your poetry. What is it about this state that you think feeds into your creative energy?
Mish: Primarily because it’s “home,” a place/concept/theme with which writers have had a vexed yet productive relationship throughout history. Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again is about a man who writes a novel about his hometown (the homies hated it). Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who finally does go home again after she realizes its worth (no flying monkeys, for one thing). Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. Joan Didion’s essay, “On Going Home.” Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. You get the idea. I left Oklahoma two weeks after my high school graduation, and between the time I was 18 and 42, I lived in Oklahoma only 3 years, broken into 8 or 9 month periods, separated by absence. I was almost physically homesick for the land and the sky by the time I came back in 2003. The vexed part of my relationship with Oklahoma, longtime home-place to all my family lines— some of them before statehood—is, of course culture and politics. I swore I wouldn’t write another book about family and Oklahoma after Work Is Love Made Visible, but I did. I still had (have?) some things to work through. Most of my writing-in-exile centered on the Oklahoma in my head and heart. I do have five pieces about going home: two essays, “This Oklahoma We Call Home” and “Remembering Number 9” (highway 9) and four poems, “road bums,” “Storyteller,” “suite: home oklahoma” (all in Work Is Love Made Visible) and “Driving West,” which was published in San Pedro River Review (2016). Oklahoma Review: Is there anywhere in Oklahoma that is particularly special to you? Anywhere that you draw a great deal of inspiration from? Mish: This is like asking a mother who her favorite child is! Oklahoma places have such varied histories and landscapes and cultural flavors—they all have their beauties. But, like many people, the place most special to me is “home,” which I map as Thunderbird Lake east of Norman all the way to Eufaula along the highway 9 corridor, and south to the Pauls Valley-AdaWilburton line. Where I drove country back roads with the windows down and The Outlaws blasting from the tape deck. Where I don’t need a map to know where I am or where I'm going. The one exception to this circumscribed homeland is Tahlequah. Tahlequah is special—it’s been a writers’ town since since Elias Boudinot founded the Cherokee Phoenix in 1828. From John Rollin Ridge and Lynn Riggs to Robert Conley, writers have arisen from or been drawn to the town. Tahlequah is close enough to my slice of Oklahoma that I recognize the fauna and most of the flora and therefore feel “at home,” but there’s something about it—it has this . . . buzz. This unnameable hum that makes me write. The longest poem I’ve ever written is about Tahlequah; it and several others in What I Learned at the War were written in Tahlequah and the surrounding area.
Oklahoma Review: What is your advice to young writers coming up in Oklahoma that feel like they have no support system to pursue their passion? Mish: I was lucky—my mother loved poetry and read it to me from the time I was a child. She also wrote poetry that I wasn’t allowed to read until after she passed. Rudolph N. Hill, a former Oklahoma Poet Laureate from Wewoka (yes, I’m the second!), sat one pew up from our family at church. My teachers encouraged me. But my advice to young writers is: 1. Find each other and create a writers’ group. 2. Go to literary readings whenever you can—Oklahoma has literary festivals in Ada, Seminole, Locust Grove, Tonkawa, Sayre, and Oklahoma City. There are community readings in Shawnee and Tulsa and Norman and OKC and Lawton. It’s not impossible! Be sure to check the calendars at your local libraries, colleges, community colleges, and, perhaps, coffee shops—writers gather in those places. Check Oklahoma Poetry Events on Facebook: www.facebook.com/OklahomaPoetryEvents. Start your own literary reading series/poetry slam/multi-art happening. 3. See if there is an interested teacher who can help guide your reading. 4. Read. Read. Read. Read all kinds of books. Read old books (“classics”). Read books published last week. Don’t limit yourself to a particular genre. Read fiction and poetry and history and biographies and creative nonfiction. Read books about science and art. Books are the most reliable support system for writers. 5. Reach out to Oklahoma writers you’ve heard about—we’d like to know you’re out there— we’ve been out there, too. If you’ll attend (public and often free) readings and workshops, you’ll find your local writing community there. Introduce yourself. Volunteer to help set up for the next reading. Make yourself a part of the writing community or start one if there isn’t one. You’re never the only writer, even in a small town.
What follows is a list of writing events in Oklahoma curated by Jenetta Calhoun Mish, and edited by Gary Reddin:
Poetic Justice Oklahoma: Tulsa—Offers writing classes that humanize and empower those at-risk of incarceration, currently incarcerated, or previously incarcerated | http://poeticjustice.org Booksmart Tulsa: Tulsa—Hosts regular literary events | http://www.booksmarttulsa.com Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Forum: Seminole—fully accessible celebration of Oklahoma creative expression, in all of its diverse forms. Students of all ages welcome | http://yawpers.kellimcbride.com Chikaskia Literary Festival: Tonkawa—yearly literary festival, usually in October | https://www.facebook.com/Chikaskia-Literary-Festival-at-Northern-Oklahoma-College269710259897834/ Smokewood Institute for Young Writers: Oklahoma City—a residential summer program | https://www.facebook.com/SmokewoodInstitute/ Woody Guthrie Poets: Oklahoma City, Okemah, Tulsa, Shawnee—give readings during the week of the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival | https://www.facebook.com/woodypoets Reading Down the Plains: Duncan—a https://www.facebook.com/Readingdowntheplains/
New Plains Review: Edmond—a literary journal and host of literary events | https://www.facebook.com/NewPlainsReview/ OU Write Club: Norman—for https://www.facebook.com/ouwriteclub/
Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry: Locust Grove—museum and literary events | https://www.facebook.com/rompoetry/ Short Order Poems: Oklahoma City and surrounding areas—poems on demand | http://shortorderpoems.tumblr.com OKC LitFest: Oklahoma City—yearly literary festival with workshops and readings | http://www.okc-litfest.org
Lawton Open Mics: Lawton Unitarian Universalist Church— contact John Morris | firstname.lastname@example.org Not Yo Mama's Alternative Art Slam Poetry: Lawton—poetry slam events at The Percolator coffee shop | https://www.facebook.com/notyomamalawton/ Returning the Gift Indigenous Literary Festival: Norman—Native American literary festival with public events | https://www.facebook.com/RTGLitFest/ Sayre Fall Literary Festival: Southwestern Oklahoma State University—usually held in October, contact Terry Ford | email@example.com or by phone at 580-928-5533 Scissortail Creative Writing Festival: Ada—includes writing contests for high school students and undergrads | http://ecuscissortail.blogspot.com Cameron University Visiting Writers Series: Lawton—a regular reading series hosted by The Cameron University Department of English and Foreign Languages, contact George McCormick | firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Cooper’s Uncity, Unlean is forthcoming in 2018 through Alternating Current Press. Phil Estes is the author of Highlife (Horse Less Press, 2016). Gary Worth Moody’s most recent book is Hazards of Grace (Red Mountain Press, 2012). Gary Reddin has creative non/fiction forthcoming in Stoneboat. For years’ photographer Ron Renspie lived in Yosemite Valley. An overview of Larry Thomas’s extraordinary body of work can be found in As If Light Actually Matters: New & Selected Poems (Texas Review Press, 2015).