Page 1

POICTESME A student anthology of literature and art

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 1

4/6/12 3:06 PM


Poictesme2012_Final.indd 2

4/6/12 3:06 PM


STA FF

Editor in Chief Amy Sailer Editorial Staff Emily Akiyama Alina Alam Edwina Barthelemy Alex Carrigan Christopher Sloce Production Managers Mark Jeffries Marleigh Culver Cover Artist Templeton Kelley Business Manager Lauren Katchuk Student Media Director Greg Weatherford

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 3

4/6/12 3:06 PM


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Poictesme would not have been possible without the support of Virginia Commonwealth University and its surrounding community. Thank you writers, poets, and artists for continually trusting us with your work. Published or not, you create the foundation from which we can mold an anthology of the best literature and art that you have to offer. Thank you Greg Weatherford for providing us with unwavering support and attention whenever we seem to need you the most. Thank you Mark Jeffries, for the creativity that brings life to this journal. Thank you Lauren Katchuk, for being there to help us with all of the issues we bring to you daily. Thank you Susann Cokal, for all of your help this year in spreading the message to the student body and community at large. Thank you to everyone who has attended our literary evenings and events. Thank you to everyone who has distributed our flyers and journals. And of course this wouldn’t have been possible without the aid of key people in the English, Mass Communications, and Art departments, along with countless others who helped with promotions through word of mouth. And finally, thank you Student Media for the support and encouragement that unleashed it all.

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 4

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESM E (pwa-'tem)

poictesme (pwä-‘tem) n. 1. a fictitious medieval French prince created by James Brand Cabell in his eighteen-volume series Biography of Manuel. It was made most famous in the Cabell’s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice after the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice denounced the book for obscenity. 2. a portmanteau of two city names, originally thought to be one of Cabell’s signature anagrams. 3. the arts and literary journal of VCU, which pledges to uphold the spirit of Richmond through the memory of James Branch Cabell

Poictesme is an annual literary publication funded by student fees that accepts submissions year round. The editors invite submissions of short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, drama, and artwork. Please send you submissions and/or questions to pwatem@gmail.com. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission of the VCU Student Media Commission and the editors of Poictesme. All materials copyright 2012 by Poictesme. All rights reserved.

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 5

4/6/12 3:06 PM


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Poetry Ariel Olson / Jouissance

9

Joseph Norris / I was a raucous running wild

10

Bailey Brunick / Solitude

11

Joseph Levine / Slow Blue Bossa

16

Brian Charlton / To Helen

21

Amy Sailer / Reactions after visiting the James Joyce Centre

32

Jordan Swenson / this pear

43

Elle Fisher / aRound and aRound

44

Jordan Chu / The Vajrayana Butcher

53

Thomas DeSanto / Fly, howling

54

Joseph Levine / Four

74

Ariel Olson / BĂŞte Noire

75

Jonathan Barton / She It Was Though

84

Thomas DeSanto / Happy Thanksgiving!

85

Joseph Norris / Sandwiches from the Deli/Bakery

88

David Osnoe / The Oldest Fear

89

Prose James Moffitt / To Reno

13

Christopher Sloce / Christopher Sloce Has a Cold

17

Thomas DeSanto / Island

35

Mari Pack / Dead Daddies

55

Jake Ziemba / The Fifth Season

58

Daniel Caporaletti / Maps and Atlases

76

Jonathan Hughes / What It Is Like To Be a Bat

87

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 6

4/6/12 3:06 PM


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Interviews Anna Journey / Writer’s Memo No. 1

22

Colleen Curran / Writer’s Memo No. 2

68

Art Cara Jennings

45

Zach Gibson

46

Zach Gibson

47

Zach Gibson

48

Templeton Kelley

49

Templeton Kelley

50

Daniel Rockburn

51

Rachel Schneider

52

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 7

4/6/12 3:06 PM


Poictesme2012_Final.indd 8

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Jouissance Ariel Olson

Every morning is enchanted and a child. (I mourn, often, those that I have missed.) Here I take my coffee: two sugars, and too, I’ll take the cream. Somehow it is always cold before it’s half gone. Each day, still, I drink the whole thing.

9

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 9

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME I was a raucous running wild Joseph Norris

all through the long hours of the night. Flailing arms & bruises standing out like water-stains on white ceilings, broken door frames, me-shaped holes in the wall, I disappeared just after sunrise. My car would implode and I’d turn to stone, posed  an expression of anxiety on my face, trying to get away. In the repeating sliver of lines breaking through the blinds of our apartment window, I sprang up and out of bed in my underwear PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE BELIEVE IN ALL YOUR WILD DREAMS! I stood on ledges in the dark, looking down on neighborhoods with a pushing breeze at my heels, and my God, if there wasn’t so much to say about it being the last time I’d ever do it, I could have felt that our life was beautiful, and the moment was beautiful, and to be young is beautiful, and I could be my father’s son again every night for the rest of my life. Once, on a flight at dusk, of 30,000 feet: out the window the size of loose leaf, there was a turning-twist of orange sun so big, I felt if I looked away, it would never be there again. As if the shapeless face of night would come too soon and our hands, yours and mine would come unbraided.

10

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 10

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Solitude Bailey Brunick

1. To make him love you: bathe in plantain root & blood orange peels on the eve of the full moon. Do not bathe for 6 days & every night try your hardest not to dream of him. 2. Flesh out a line between thought & body. Scrub your skin raw until clean has no smell. 3. If you dream of him: mix bone soup & clove. Let it sit for 12 hours. Meantime, drown (a stone, a tooth) for every man you ever loved. 4. Find the point where sound ends & nothing begins. Spread it out thin until you can touch the difference.

11

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 11

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME

5. To be loved: let go of yourself, sit in darkness until you can separate the seconds. 6. To confront the silence is to say leave the space, take the word. To confront it is to say that the self (even in those seconds) is never enough.

12

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 12

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

To Reno James Moffitt

“Mankind is unkind man.” “Heh.” It’s all I could muster in response. We’re standin’ in a dry heat over the stinking body of a dead dog, tire treads running over its burst belly. The philosopher next to me is a man I know only as Mike. We had sort of picked each other up at Dana's Deliteful Diner twenty miles back. No shit; they spelled it Delite. I love the South. We've been hitchin' since noon. Mike sticks out his thumb, and his faded orange pack shifts to his other shoulder as we press on through the treacherous heat. The road shimmers in front of us, and I swear to God I can almost feel it coming up through my boots. Might be ‘cause they have so many holes in them. A truck throws itself on the shoulder a hundred yards from us. Dust kicks up, and we hustle on towards it, both of our packs clanging with the pans and other things we carry. “You boys all right?” the driver asks as we clamber into the back. “Yup,” Mike and I reply simultaneously. I can tell he's a seasoned traveler. He's grungy, not poorly shaved, but rough faced. His hands are weathered, and his body is toned with the kind of practical muscle you can't find in any gym. This man's been around. We talk little on the ride, but it doesn't matter anyway ‘cause the bastard only takes us a bit up the road. I told Mike how I was trying to get to Reno to see my family. “Don't carry strangers after dark, y'all got to get off,” the man says, swinging the truck back over to the side. “Fuck,” we both mutter, grabbing our sacks as the truck bed disappears out from under them. We stand a minute in the dust. “Ain't no point walking. Let's set camp,” says Mike, already stepping into the thin tree line beside the road. They remind me of a comb-over, these trees, trying to compensate for the brutally cut gash across nature's forehead. They're spaced too far apart, and even in the dusk, I can see the swamp farther back under the cover of the trees. I know we have to get a fire going, so I follow Mike into the woods. We drop our packs in a clearing about twenty yards from the road. An hour later and we got a fire. “So how'd you get to traveling?” asks Mike, passing me another beer and 13

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 13

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME the rest of the bag of pretzels we’d stolen. The look that crossed between us in town, one of knowing, and instant recognition. With only a few words and a quick introduction, we both walked into the convenience store, each sliding into different aisles. I watched him slip food into his pockets and pack without so much as a sideways glance. I kept a lookout. The burnedout cashier hardly even looked up. With passing smiles I bought a pack of matches as Mike trekked out with the bulk of our take. “I don't know if I know anymore man...one thing led to another, and I just got so fed up, I set out one night. I just took off walking, wound up in Phoenix. Tough town, not much help there. I kept on moving. Couple of years later, here I am in Georgia. You?” Mike swills hard on his beer, and looks across the fire. “Same thing man. I came from a bullshit job in a bullshit town man, and I just had enough. Realized I wasn't afraid, so I took off. Came down from New York. Met some boys in Philadelphia, they showed me the ropes, took me out west for awhile. When we got back to the East Coast, they split off to the orange harvest in Florida. I met up with some other fellas, and they robbed me for everything I had, beat the shit outta me, and left me.” “Jesus. I didn't know guys like that were still running around,” I say back. I heard of people running round over the last couple of years, meeting up with guys, feeding them, maybe travelin' around with them for a couple days before roughing them up, took what they could and moved on. It didn't sit right with me, that kind of behavior, part of the reason I wound up where I've been at last couple of years. Got so tired and fed up of people stomping all over the place, all over one another, without any good reason. “Yeah. I can't stand that. So low down. You know a man's low when he's robbin' the bottom of the barrel, taking from his fellow travelers,” says Mike. “Yup.” The fire crackles at my feet, and I watch the steam swirling off of the toes of my boots. My back is cold from the sweat my pack caused sitting against it all day. Mike and I drink another couple apiece, talk about Reno, then move a little further away from the fire and pull out our bed rolls. We grunt a salutation to dreams as they come. 'Bout sunrise when I wake up. I see Mike. Goin' through my pack. “What the fuck,” I say groggily. “Goddammit, why'd you have to go and wake up.” Mike stuffs my cashroll into his pocket, then takes a lunging step, like a giant, over the fire. His 14

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 14

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

right leg sets down just as his left comes swinging up into my face. His boot catches me square, and lights flashes as my head rings. I start to get up, but that dog boots me again in my gut, and I spill up my stomach, all beer and bile. The bastard steps on my head, crunching down on my ear. I feel my cheekbone crack, but I'm already so deep back to sleep, its barely there. When I wake up, my pack is a burned pile of nylon and aluminum frame on the ground; the fire is out. 'Bout four in the afternoon now. He took me for everything, so I get up and head toward the road, I can hear a truck coming. “What in the hell happened to you?” says the driver as I get in the passenger side. I slump down against the door and tell him, “My traveling partner robbed me. Took all I had man.” “Let’s get you into town. I can't believe this kind of violence would ever come here,” the driver says, putting the truck into gear. I slide my buck knife, a gift from my father, out of my pocket, easing it open against the door where he can't see it. “Mankind is unkind man,” I say, smiling.

15

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 15

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME Slow Blue Bossa Joseph Levine

Have you ever blown a tune friends on background exactly how you'd planned how you'd heard inside you? I played an auction once strings filling the beats nice when the kit started slow we got through the form and flute hit his shit right as he'd always do clarinet trying to play what sounded like math sweet tenor kept it low I walked the horn up something simple something easy and solid I'd heard inside and walked it back neck tight the longest bars I'd ever have to fight through and I swear I almost made it

16

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 16

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Christopher Sloce Has a Cold Christopher Sloce

“The twelve year old Arabian boy to snaps only.” Christopher Sloce, a hulking brute that walks with a light stroll, sort of like a giant with pixie’s feet, is giving me openers for my piece. He drinks a milkshake with the furor of a suicidal man on death row. He’s enjoying himself. “We found him passed out in the Laundromat.” He’s got on a v-neck tennis sweater with a heart printed tie beneath. He cracks into a warmly inviting smile: his mouth stretches open, laugh lines appear. I ease up. Over the last few months, Christopher Sloce has become a prickly subject, when interviewed or otherwise. His detractors have called him pretentious (one person who asked not to be quoted called him “Stanley Kowalski in an ivory tower”), referring to the idiosyncratic dialogue in his plays and short stories. He doesn’t talk much differently from the way he writes: clipped sentences spaded so as not to become flowery, just pretty. His characters are a rogue’s gallery of drunks, good old boys, men who go too far with morals typically admirable, gamblers, troubled young men who get a lot done with the vices above. His newest novella Venus of Villenbury is a part of the lineage. It concerns a man who is obsessed with following around a female singer songwriter in the Neko Case/Emmylou Harris/Gillian Welch mode due to his belief that the two were meant to be together. The prose is blunt and clear and pretty, like being hit with a mace made of daisies. He never condescends to the characters: he follows them every step of the way. Nevertheless, the more personal elements have led some to label it as uncomfortable, an impossible read, which his supporters say has everything to do with the messiness of his personal life and nothing to do with the actual quality of the work. To catch people up, Christopher Sloce was at one point dating a very talented actress whose name we won’t print in the Richmond theatre scene. The breakup wasn’t messy but it did take a psychic toll on Christopher. He changed. He became more reserved, more avoidant. Interviews became pissing matches. He looks better now, and that calms me. I was terrified of a nuclear melt-down. So infamous is his moodiness that my editor handed 17

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 17

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME

me a paper sheet of topics to avoid: Miller Lite, trickledown economics, bad grammar, Drake, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lebron James, and his “lost weekend” of sorts, of which we are either at the midnight of that Sunday or still in the muck of Saturday. “Let’s talk turkey,” he says. “Okay.” “Don’t ask me any of that journalistic shit you people usually do. Ask me some High Fidelity shit.” “Ummm…” I say. “What’s your favorite A-side of all time?” “I didn’t want questions from the movie. I wanted questions in that style.” “Yeah. What’s your favorite B-side?” “Neil Young’s On the Beach.” “I wanted to ask you a few questions about your writing. That’s why I’m profiling you.” “Okay, sure. What about it?” “What’s the context of the publication of Venus?” “It was published.” ‘What led you to write it?” “I liked the story.” “Could you, um, call it a chasing of your fears at being viewed exclusively as a novelty item after your prior relationship?” He glares at me. “Let’s talk tomorrow.” He pays for the milkshake upfront. I sit in my chair, mouth agape. In Venus, there’s a scene when the main character breaks a mirror and cuts himself with the shards when he sees his object of desire retreat to a hotel room with her opening act. He didn’t do that so much as much break the mirror, apologize for the mess, then leave, promising to duct tape it tomorrow. He elects not to say much about himself. He was born in Wise, Virginia, a small town in Southwest Virginia. His mother worked two jobs at once trying to raise him, his father was a source of terror for him at a young age. He tried playing football and baseball. It didn’t stick, but the linebacker’s build stayed. His father married an alcoholic woman with a son. His opinion of her isn’t too high. He started writing in middle school. He’s struggled with depression and anxiety for most of his life. He’s been in five relationships, all of which he describes as having imploded. 18

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 18

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

We’re in his Oldsmobile. He admits to being the sort of omnivorous music dork that emerges as a product of the internet. The speakers thump with stark and angry rap. “Venus of Villenbury!” I shout over the music. “You say something?” I get the feeling he’s taunting me. “Can we talk about it?” We stop in front an ABC. We go inside and he heads straight to the bourbon shelves. He grabs a bottle of Wild Turkey. He agrees for us to talk. I pick up a ten dollar bill that fell out of his back pocket. He and the cashier are friendly, and he heads back to the car. His apartment is a bachelor’s, not dirty but messy, in his own words. There are clothes everywhere, empty soda bottles and socks strewn around, like two feet had a wild night they immediately regretted. He goes to the fridge and pulls out some kind of glass, soda, then sits down with his whiskey. He fixes a drink, a more judicious spill of the Coke than the Turkey. “Let’s talk turkey,” he says. Then he looks down at his glass. “Let’s talk, Turkey.” Then up at me. “Turkey, talk.” “Who are your biggest influences?” I say. My plan is to ease him into actually talking about himself. If I can wait out the bullshit he’s putting up, I’ll get into the more personal stuff. “What kind of question is that? You can do better.” He drinks. “I’ve answered this question to the point that there’s no sense in answering it again. I like Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and David Milch. There. Better question. I know you can do it. Or can you?” He grins. “What’s your favorite drink?” “Buffalo piss.” I look at him. I imagine a Mazda running him over. “Could you talk about whatever you want?” “Yeah. I’m sorry I’m so callous; I just don’t like getting asked the same fuckin’ question over and over. I’m sick of talking about Venus of Fuckin’ Willendorf, women, the whole thing. I just want to be away from everything.” “It’s Villenbury.” “I wrote the cocksucking thing, why are you telling me that?” “Because you said it wrong.” “Okay, what do you want to hear about?” “You.” “Oh, fantastic. I’m twenty-three. I’m Southern. I’m a depressive. I’m not 19

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 19

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME

comfortable around people. I take anti-anxiety meds before interviews. I fear ending up like my stepmom and dad. I was virgin till I could drink legally. I fancy myself Elliott Gould, pray I have that brute handsomeness of Marlon Brando or Jack Nicholson, but I’m probably more of a James Gandolfini or look like some sort of toad or something. I struggle with self-loathing. I’m not gonna be happy being Theodore Dreiser. I wanna be a cult author or a figurehead. I’m heartbroke.” “Could you talk about it? “I hate small dogs now. Before, I loved them. Anything else you need?” “Did it contribute to your writing at all?” “Maybe. I’d say.” He gets morose. “You familiar with that Karl—wait, Groucho, Marx quote about not wanting a part of any club that’ll hgave you as a member? It’s something like that. Relationships.” He draws on the table with his fingers. My left leg falls asleep. “Do you think that’s the theme of—” “Of Venus.” “Yeah.” “I don’t want to talk about theme. It’s all horseshit. Everybody gets something different from the story. What’s the point.” “It just seemed like a personal story.” He looks around. He gets up and goes into the other room. “I’m going to bed. You can take the couch.” I stretch out. I reach in my phone and pull out a piece of paper to call a number. I dial the number. A voice answers with a cheery consistency. “Yes, I’m a journalist speaking to Christopher Sloce—” The other person says, “No interest,” and hangs up. It was pretty to hear and I doubt that I’ll ever have a rejection that brutal and soft ever again. It was like falling in love. I wake up. Chris is in the kitchen, writing and drinking coffee. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been feeling up to this the last couple of days. Let’s scrap this and the next time we do this, I promise I’ll be more gregarious. I swear on my life.” “Something the matter?” “I have a cold,” he says. I decide there isn’t much to hear after that. We exchange thanks and I leave looking back once to see his guilt wracked face, knowing I have everything I need for the profile. 20

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 20

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

To Helen, {The amnesia in her kiss} Brian Charlton

When the rain comes the dogs all lose their way. The rain picks up all scents and reason for home. Confused on the side of the road. Waiting for the smells to pick up. A dog in the rain I am. But the rain has just cleared. Soaked up with worms. I travel to sit in the right spot. Brown paper bags. Dull cartoon shade beards. A stick and polka dot cloth. All the essentials on a bumpy street using my nose to find homes. I come to a curling tree, shading as I approach. It holds her kiss. Singing under the cardboard sun back perched on a tree’s thigh. Pissing with one leg up sitting in the shade barking the blue suede blues. A brilliant window niche opens to my naked chest. She was gone and I was drunk and bear trapping such thoughts. Where was she now? Next to me, I bet. Drunk. I bought her a gumball ring made of quarters. That’s all she needed. The bed sheets still sweat her name. Rain created the ocean and I bet she floats. Somewhere off a perfumed sea.

21

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 21

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME Writer’s Memo: An Interview with Anna Journey Emily Akiyama and Amy Sailer Anna Journey is the author of the collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Journey holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University, a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston, and she recently received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. Anna, I couldn’t help but visualize places from around Richmond while reading your collection If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting. For example, reading “Lucifer’s Panties at Lowe’s Garden Center,” I imagined the checkout counter in the Lowe’s on Broad Street only a few blocks away from my apartment. How much of the collection is steeped in Richmond? The collection is almost entirely steeped in Richmond—its ancient magnolias, its Southern Gothic cemetery, its witchy historical strata. I wrote the majority of the poems in If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting while I was a student in the M.F.A. program at VCU. During that time, I lived in a brick row house on Cherry Street, two blocks up from Hollywood Cemetery and just around the corner from the pleasingly punk rock 821 Café, which kept me alive with its veggie sausage-egg-and-cheese sandwiches and endless cups of coffee. I loved being able to take walks in the graveyard and gaze across the James River at Belle Isle in the distance. Sometimes I write poems out of revenge: against boredom, against complacency, against sterile or generic environments. “Lucifer’s Panties at Lowe’s Garden Center” is one of those poems. I worked as a cashier in the outdoor lawn and garden section of the Lowe’s on Broad Street for one month before I was laid off after the fourth of July rush. I experienced one of my best compliments at Lowe’s (that I look like I stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting!) and one of my worst summer jobs. Picture Richmond in late June, with its roiling humidity and trilling mosquitoes. Now picture standing on 22

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 22

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

a concrete slab for eight hours a day, ringing up bags of cedar mulch and sticking the tips of your pinky fingers inside the jaws of carnivorous plants, just to keep yourself sane. Lowe’s was one sweaty existential crisis after another. I did, however, pick up lots of interesting bits of language relating to plants and flowers, and there was something hypnotic—almost fantastical— about wandering around the steamy hanging gardens of red geraniums with a hose. Do you have a place where you like to write now? I write poems in the library of my house (an old school beach craftsman, built in 1912) in Venice, California. The room includes a teal velvet couch, a mounted papier-mâché giraffe’s head made from the pages of French storybooks, a wall of mahogany bookcases, and a desk facing a window that overlooks my front lawn and its gnarled olive tree. Because there’s an old three-foot tall yellow dollhouse that resides in the grass, people walking their dogs often stopped to point at it, and then turned to gape at me as I typed away on my laptop, framed in the window. Talk about distracting! I had to put up a swath of semi-sheer curtains to stop the dollhouse-peepers from making me feel like a baboon on display at the zoo. You attended VCU for your undergraduate degree in art and then for an M.F.A. in poetry writing, to afterwards go on and get your Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Houston. This seems like such a new trend for creative writing—how does a creative writing Ph.D. program differ from an M.F.A.? In my experience, the M.F.A. and the Ph.D. are entirely different animals. An M.F.A. is a studio-based program, emphasizing writing workshops, while a Ph.D. places a more sustained emphasis on literary scholarship and on training students to become academics. While M.F.A. degrees usually take two or three years to complete, Ph.D. programs can take up to five years, although it’s possible to graduate earlier. (I earned my doctorate in three and a half years.) For the Ph.D., in addition to submitting a creative dissertation (similar to an M.F.A. thesis), I had to take three comprehensive exams in my areas of specialization: Poetry, English Romanticism, and my self-designed exam in the Elegy. 23

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 23

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME If I were to give one piece of advice to a prospective Ph.D. student in creative writing, it would be the following admonition: if your primary goal in getting a doctoral degree is to have more time to write poems or stories, then you’re going to be in for a rude surprise. The Ph.D. is not “M.F.A., the Sequel”; it’s not a studio program; it’s closer to a Ph.D. in literature, with its coursework and exams. Getting a Ph.D. makes sense if you’d like to spend a few years reading broadly and intensively, you’re equally interested in creative writing and scholarship, and you intend to teach creative writing at the university level. I’ve seen quite a few writers drop out of doctoral programs—not for lack of talent, but because they found the academic demands of the Ph.D. incompatible with the lifestyle of a creative writer. Reading If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting, I felt like I was inside a contemporary fairytale. The Romantic lore is posed so beautifully and uniquely in an everyday landscape. Were there certain poets who influenced the book? Who are you reading now? Yes, there were certain poets who influenced my book. Beckian Fritz Goldberg is probably the collection’s main influence. Reading her books— particularly Never Be the Horse, Lie Awake Lake, and The Book of Accidents— helped me figure out how to create a voice in my poems that was closer to the kinds of voices I admired in other writers’ work. Some other touchstones for the book were Norman Dubie, Charles Wright, and Larry Levis. Sylvia Plath, too, was an early and lasting influence. I also read a lot of poets in translation, such as Celan, Rilke, Baudelaire, and Akhmatova. The most significant influences on my book, however, were my excellent teachers at VCU, Gregory Donovan and David Wojahn. I owe everything to those guys; and I’ll always be grateful for their peerless mentorship and support. Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading Catherine Pierce’s The Girls of Peculiar, Saeed Jones’s When the Only Light Is Fire, and Eduardo C. Corral’s Slow Lightning. What about musicians? Do you think that listening to music can inspire you the same way that reading a collection of poetry can? 24

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 24

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

I love listening to music. I wouldn’t say, though, that doing so inspires me in quite the same way that reading poetry informs and invigorates my work. Blasting The Grateful Dead or Nina Simone or The Flaming Lips while I drink my morning coffee is a great way to relax and wake up, but I usually need language on the page to help kick start my own writing. Chances are if I’m not writing well, I’m not reading widely or nearly enough. So I always try to keep my favorite books on hand as well as brand new collections. I also draw inspiration from the realms of science (weird facts about bioluminescent shrimp, “drunken forests” caused by melting polar ice caps), art (the way Francesca Woodman complicates the genre of self-portraiture in her gothic black-and-white photographs), fairytale (that campy French adaptation of Bluebeard on Netflix, the fabulous 1895 edition of children’s fairytales I scored on ebay), and personal history (that funky home video where my chain-smoking grandfather gives my father a monogrammed silver gumbo pot). I think most poets are eclectic. Music and other forms of art can often provide rich and dynamic sources of inspiration. Many of the poems in the book are elegiac, especially for your grandfather. What attracted you to elegy? The circumstance of our lives is fundamentally elegiac—we lose friends, family, places. We lose time. I find it impossible to write without reckoning, in some way, with the fact of impermanence, which isn’t to say that I’m interested in becoming some sort of poetic equivalent of the Grim Reaper, traipsing about with my scythe and black robe. I like poems with sass and spirit. I like poems that aren’t afraid to play. In fact, I think poetry is exactly the opposite of death: it’s concrete, it’s personal. And, you know, it’s going to stick around a hell of a lot longer than we are. Elegies—from the Greek “elegaia” for “lament”—are poets’ efforts to reckon with absence by turning to images of substitution—Milton’s plucked berries, Whitman’s snapped lilac, Plath’s toppled Colossus—however inadequate that language may be. Elegies don’t give us back what we’ve lost, but that’s not why we write them. That’s not why we read them. We return to elegy because it helps us abide, because language is a powerful magic.

25

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 25

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME What gets you started on a poem? Is it a rhythm? A particular subject? A particular subject usually triggers my writing, and it’s almost always in the form of an image I find striking or appealingly odd. I’ll pluck the image from a cluster of related images that I’ve recorded in my spiral notebook. Recently, for example, I was talking on the phone to my hypochondriac sister, who’s managed to convince herself that she’s reactivated a vanished twin embedded in one side of her jawbone through the hormones from birth control pills. After I hung up the phone I started doing my image-cloud thing. I also read a little about the science behind vanishing twin syndrome because I enjoy discovering new bits of language that resonate with my sensibility as a poet—phrases that have metaphorical or imagistic potential. I learned the term “fetus papyraceus” describes the condition in which a dead fetal twin is compressed by its growing twin into a flatted, parchment-like state. The dead twin becomes a piece of papyrus! I loved the image of the vanished twin as “parchment-like” and so that triggered a bunch of associations, including my sister’s vanished twin unrolling an ancient scroll—an old letter—in her jaw, trying to communicate with her. Also, I tend to search for “echo patterns” of potential associations, so my speaker’s sister trying to see an absorbed twin in her jaw triggered the image of my speaker raising her sister’s pointer finger, in childhood, to trace the face of the man in the moon, and that image led to their staring at the belt of Orion, etc….So I follow the initial image and let the ensuing metaphorical pairings form a kind of helix which twists and makes turns in the poem’s overarching dramatic circumstance. Do you prefer revising poems or beginning new ones? As a writer, I welcome those fortuitous it-just-came-to-me moments in which I sit down and compose a poem that’s almost immediately successful. I’ve found, however, that those kinds of “gift” poems are quite rare, and that facing a blank page can often be a source of anxiety. That’s why I favor the process of revision—of “re-seeing” all of the imaginative possibilities that may open up and reveal themselves in a poem. Revision is both comforting (No 26

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 26

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

more blank page!) and exciting (Whoa! I didn’t know I needed to chop off the ending and resurrect my speaker’s dead grandfather…). I like good poems. I like unexpected things to happen in poems. And poems aren’t usually good or surprising right away. Anyone can sit down and write a poem and then leave it alone. A “pro” knows that the art of revision demands nothing short of diligence and excellence. So after that bold and unabashedly messy first draft is out of the way, you pick up the poem, and you revise with risk and energy. Revision is what makes a poem good. Some of your poems, like “Elegy: I Pass by the Erotic Bakery,” are interrogative of organized religion without treading into polemics. How do you find a balance? Poetry is all about balance. We balance clarity and mystery, sound and sense, memory and imagination. I suppose I try to avoid treading into polemics by steering clear of pronouncements or explanations in poems. It’s not the fact that drives me to write a poem—it’s the mystery. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke advises, “try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.” “Living the questions,” then, requires an imaginative openness and adventurousness on the part of the poet, or, as John Keats would say, the capability “of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”—what he called “Negative Capability.” In the poem of mine you mention, my speaker strolls past an erotic bakery and stares at a display of “tits of lemon meringue,” simultaneously remembering her dead grandfather and wondering what would happen if the racy confections were to animate, like a resurrected corpse. At the end of the poem, she thinks, “I’m afraid // like Christ they’d turn / to flesh in my mouth.” The notion of transubstantiation, when taken quite literally, and when evoked in a secular (one might say profane) context, has a quality of magical realism that I find exciting and fraught with imaginative and psychological possibilities. The way I see it, answers shut a poem down, while mysteries open up multifarious avenues of exploration. 27

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 27

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME In 2006, you discovered a previously unknown sonnet by Sylvia Plath, written during her undergraduate career, which was then published for the first time in Blackbird. What was the experience like? The experience was incredibly exciting. And how encouraging to know that sometimes just doing your homework for a VCU literature course can land you in The New York Times! I discovered the poem’s unpublished status (quite accidentally, actually) during my first year as an M.F.A. student at VCU. At the time, I was taking a seminar course on Fitzgerald. For homework one weekend, I was instructed by my professor, the excellent Bryant Mangum, to peruse the University of South Carolina’s online Fitzgerald archive, where I came across Park Bucker’s fabulous transcription of Plath’s handwritten notes in the margins of her personal copy of The Great Gatsby. Next to the paragraph in which Daisy claims, “I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything,” Plath scrawled the phrase “L’Ennui.” I knew from the index of Plath’s Collected Poems that she’d titled an early poem “Ennui,” so I requested copies of the poem from Indiana University’s Lilly Library. From there, I wrote a seminar paper for the course discussing Fitzgerald’s influence on Plath. As I was compiling my works cited list, I wanted to specify the journal in which “Ennui” had originally appeared, but the librarians told me the piece had never been published. I confirmed that fact with the estate of Sylvia Plath. Since I was an editor at Blackbird at the time, I helped negotiate with the estate to gain first serial rights to the poem, which we published. I think Plath acts as an example for all us writers: she was a voracious reader, a wickedly funny and adventurous woman (she once recited Chaucer to a herd of cattle while vacationing in the country!), and a deeply serious and committed writer. Have you ever been one to work within poetic forms? I once had a passionate yearlong love affair with the sonnet. I wrote a Shakespearean sonnet—perfectly rhymed and in impeccable iambic pentameter—every day during Algebra II class while I was a senior in high school. It’s like I had a metronome jammed in my frontal lobe like a pinwheel. And anything to avoid math! I mean, I can handle the grand 28

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 28

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

mysterious of metaphysics—just don’t make me tussle with the quadratic equation. Although those youthful efforts didn’t make for great literature (the poems featured Tolkien-inspired elves and maidens who lived in bejeweled forests on the moon), the experience of writing in form gave me a solid feel for the integrity of the poetic line and fine-tuned my ear to the musical possibilities of language. I think it’s a good idea for all poets to write in forms so they’re better able to approach free verse from a position of confidence and authority. There are so many strong currents that run through the book— eroticism, lush plant imagery, the devil, your red hair. They say that one writes to know one’s self. Did you already know your thematic obsessions, or did some of them come as a surprise to you while writing the poems? I think I was conscious of certain obsessions: I’ve always been drawn to myth, the grotesque, and the musicality of language. But there were definitely some surprises that revealed themselves as I spread my poems across the bed in my cabin at the artists’ colony Yaddo and looked for connections. I was like, “Wow, there are a lot of foxes and devils and dead grandfathers roaming around in here!” So much of what draws us to poetry is often mysterious, so it’s helpful to recognize what images or phrases or motifs you repeat and to ask other writers you respect to take a look at your work. When and what can we expect from your next book, Whisper to the Hive? I’ve changed the title! In my second collection of poems, currently called Vulgar Remedies, you may expect the recurring character of a boy with an eyeball-sucking fetish, a girl who’d trade more than her teeth to the tooth fairy in exchange for Faustian magic, a speaker who wears a “gas mask bra” designed by a scientist from Ukraine in case those blipping lightning bugs she sees are actually the stars perishing and falling to earth. And, of course, you may also expect all sorts of offbeat myths and fabulations braiding with and refracting from my speakers’ multilayered and strange histories. You know, that kind of stuff. 29

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 29

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME As far as when the book will come out: I’m not sure exactly. The director of a certain university press down south recently solicited the manuscript, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she also thinks gas mask bras are cool and that she believes the tooth fairy is voodoo priestess. As an undergraduate at VCU, your poems “Bone in the Throat” and “Still Life in the City” were published in Millennium. And in less than ten years, you’ve published a successful book and are now teaching at a major university. Was Millennium your first publication? Do you have any advice for beginning poets who are submitting to Poictesme now? Yes, those two pieces in Millennium were indeed my first published poems. I remember being so excited to see my work in print. I even braved a reading for the magazine at an old pub (now the restaurant Cous Cous) in the first floor of an apartment building across from campus in which an incredibly vocal ice machine and I competed to be heard. I do have some advice for beginning poets who are currently submitting to Poictesme. First, read broadly. Read the mid-century poets, such as Lowell, Berryman, Bishop, Plath, Sexton, Rich, and Jarrell. Read farther back. Read the English Romantics: read Coleridge’s and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, because that’s where the revolution in poetic language happened; it’s where we poets writing in English all come from. Read all of Keats’s Odes and his stunning letters. Read Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Read Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Donne. Read books of poetry in translation: Rilke’s Duino Elegies, Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, Celan’s Poppy and Memory, Pasternak’s My Sister—Life, and Akhmatova’s Selected Poems. Go back to ancient Greece and read the fragments of Sappho’s lyric poems. Becoming well read is a lifelong project full of richness and reward—don’t ever stop. Second, read excellent online journals, many of which are free, such as VCU’s very own Blackbird, and subscribe to two to three literary journals per year, such as American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and FIELD. A subscription to a literary magazine only costs about as much as two cocktails at a bar, and your support helps keep alive our vital 30

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 30

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

contemporary arts culture. Many magazines, such as Poetry, offer generous student discounts. Show the literary community some love. Third, seek out new collections of poetry and review them for school magazines, local papers, or blogs. Ask your teachers to recommend a few exciting new authors. Look at small press catalogues online, such as the websites of Copper Canyon or Graywolf. Look at the books advertised in Poets & Writers. Make your young, smart voices heard. If you email a publisher and offer to review a certain book, the press will often happily mail you a “review copy” for free—just ask. Fourth, volunteer your time for journals based at your school. Does Poictesme need help reading submissions? Does Blackbird need help with data entry? Working for a literary journal gives you valuable experience in publishing and a desirable item to add to your résumé. Lastly, define for yourself what being in the world as a writer means to you. Would you like to publish collections of poetry or novels? Teach creative writing at the university level? Work in publishing? Join the brave ranks of our public school teachers? Write as hobby while you work in another field you find inspiring? Whatever your ultimate goals may be, consider giving yourself the gift of devoting three years to your writing by pursuing an M.F.A. I still think of my time in VCU’s program as the single most valuable experience of my life as a writer; that program molded me as a poet and gave me the confidence and skills necessary to write the kinds of poems I’m driven to write. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

31

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 31

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME Reactions after visiting the James Joyce Centre in Dublin, 2010 Amy Sailer

yes I said yes I will Yes. Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921 –James Joyce, Ulysses i. Tourists, we lust after fluency, grow an inch each time someone asks us for directions… ii. I reject shamrock, Celtic Cross, man in a plush emerald suit before the National Museum of Leprechauns, Warehouse (but not the Guinness), Blarney Stone and all the eloquence of the world— In the name of brick, driving up coast past yawls slicing along the sea to Cromwell’s severed head catacombed in Drogheda, brogue cloptrop, and a pint that I promise is my last. iii. In his December 16th letter to Nora, Joyce wrote Fuck me in your dressing gown with nothing on under it, opening it suddenly and showing me your belly and thighs and back and pulling me on top of you on the kitchen table. This jumble of rickets greying in the installation must be said table.

32

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 32

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

iv. Leaning over the Liffey— men in suits aerodynamic on bicycles, walking the crosswalks, from the window grime of a Luas or bus, barges close as a mile out, the smog, a little lilt to their smog as planes pass by overhead v. My brogues keep time in iambs, rhythm particular to cobblestone, to Luas track— a rhythm thoughts to traipse along vi. Coming out of a vegetarian café one afternoon, she stepped into a storm of commuters waiting to board the homebound Luas. The confusion was so great that her stomach and legs came unattached from her torso, and so there was barely pain when a stiletto thrust into the medial bone of her foot. The skin around bloomed dark and violet, of course, but it was only in the airport when she took off her shoes during the long layover that she felt an extraneous nub and realized the bone had been broken, so that from then on something would grate in a new dissonance, like a piano left so long off-key that it comes to sound, almost, right. vii. clop trop clop trop clop tropclop tropclop tropclop trop 33

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 33

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME

viii. seven years’ odyssey an enormous sentence ending Yes. at home ix. Left on Rathmines. Turn onto Harcourt. Continue. Continue past St. Stephen’s Green, past Grafton, across the Liffey, onto O’Connell through Trinity there, Post Office, Liberty’s breast punctured with bullet holes, gunsheen stone, ruddy, baked, crumble Georgian brick. x. In the morning coming through and going home in the afternoon— it’s the way of footsteps, of froth bottoming the glass.

34

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 34

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Island Thomas DeSanto

agoraphobia [ag-er-uh-foh-bee-uh] noun: the irrational fear of crowded or public areas, often coupled with the fear of leaving one's house. I stopped going out when I was seventeen. I’ve had panic attacks since I can remember, but they grew worse. Even as a child I became terrified easily. I’d fall to the dirty floor of the supermarket, kicking and screaming, and when I looked up at passing people, their eyes grew black and their skin wrinkled. This was before I could talk. Mother thought I was epileptic. She’d bring me orange juice and force it into my mouth. I still get that sour taste on my tongue every time she tugs at the locked doorknob. *** I’m six years older now, living with my mother. She makes things easier for me. Sometimes she brings me food from inside the city. My favorite is Kentucky Fried Chicken. I like to mix their mashed potatoes and macaroni & cheese together in my favorite bowl, which is green. *** There is a church across the street from my house. Sometimes I sit by my window, slicing at a block of cheese with a sharp knife. The people inside jump around and dance. It seems like they’re happy just to believe in something. Every once and a while they fall down on the ground and their bodies start shaking. Their tongues roll back in their mouth and flick against their teeth as they drool. *** My best friend died when I was twelve. I still see her sometimes when I close my eyes. She’s always smiling. I see her freckles and her white, white teeth. Danielle, flower child, I think you live in a forest now. Somewhere full of trees, dying and budding. I shut myself in the house for months after her funeral. Mother started homeschooling me at nights. I remember her lessons on Neptune and Jupiter. Jupiter, its giant red eye spinning and spinning, always. *** Today I stacked all of my books into a pyramid in the far corner of the basement. I had to make seven trips up and down the stairs. The light doesn’t 35

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 35

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME really work down there. It flickers on every three seconds and then cuts out. I brought a flashlight with me. The basement smelled like pickles. I found a toy from when I was younger. It was my old plastic tiger. I sat Indian style on the cement floor, shining my flashlight against his striped body. The light bent around his form and cast a life-sized shadow on the basement wall. *** I like to look out my blinds at people walking past on the street. I push one of the plastic slats up with my index finger, which is enough space for me to see out of. I like watching people move around so carelessly. They look so lost in their thoughts. I feel trapped in mine. I could never be like them. Sometimes they bump into each other and it makes my stomach feel so twisted and ill. *** When I was seven years old, Father got drunk and drove his car into an oak tree. He used to drink whiskey every night. When he yelled at me, spit flew from his mouth and landed on my face. It always smelled sour. The night he died, he got in a fight with my mom and hit her with a frying pan, then stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him. He drove a Thunderbird. He loved that car. I remember the twisted metal wrapped around that giant piece of wood. I remember the sound of his alarm echoing over and over again the same droning tune. *** I remember kissing Danielle two weeks before she died. I had never kissed a girl before. She was teaching me how. It was a Tuesday. We were in her basement. She had already kissed a lot of boys. We met the next day at the playground near her house and we kissed again, this time with our tongues. Her tongue felt like a wet slug in my mouth and I liked that. I didn’t see her the day after that. She had piano lessons. On Friday, we met at the playground again. I tried to stick my hand up her skirt and she pushed it away. Her face turned red and she ran home. I didn’t speak to her before she died. *** The happiest day of my life was my third grade clarinet recital. It was in my elementary school’s gymnasium. There were twelve of us playing. Everyone’s parents showed up. Mother and Sister were there. We performed a polka song. Our teacher, Mr. Walker, played the accordion. I had a solo in the middle of the song. I felt everyone’s eyes on me but for once I did not make a mistake. I remember looking out into the crowd and Mother was smiling. 36

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 36

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

*** I used to go to church on Sundays, but now I like to watch American football. My favorite team is the Washington Redskins. I like the color of their jerseys. They are burgundy and gold. They ave an Indian’s head on their helmets. I like watching the Redskins play their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. Sometimes I picture the two teams as cowboys and Indians, running over and over again into one another until they are bloody and bruised and stained with mud. My favorite player was Sean Taylor. He wore the number 21. He was shot in the leg by a burglar in his home. He bled to death on the floor, before his girlfriend got home and could take him to the hospital. He was only 24. *** Sister left home when she was only 19. She ran away to Las Vegas with her boyfriend Matt and they got married. She sent me a picture of their wedding. The pastor was dressed like Elvis. His jumpsuit was white and it had silver sequins running down his ribs. They were all smiling. My uncle was an Elvis impersonator. I only met him once. He lived in Pennsylvania. He was Father’s brother. I remember going to his house one time when I was five. He had a jukebox in his garage. The floor was made of black and white tiles. His daughter, who I’d never seen before, was beautiful. *** Today Mother brought me home a cheeseburger from Burger King and a large chocolate milkshake. It is nice to have these things sometimes. Mother knows how to make me happy. She is a very kind person for dealing with me on a daily basis. *** Back in pre-school, I only played with Sister during recess. She is two years older than me, so we were put in separate playgrounds, which were blocked off by a metal fence. We’d sit at the fence and talk to one another, instead of playing with the kids our age. Sister now lives in Montana. She lives with Matt. I think she must be pregnant. I haven’t seen her in six years. Sometimes she calls me or Mother on the telephone. I hear babies crying in the background. She sounds a little sad. It is hard to talk to her in this way. *** I wonder how I will die. I know that I will not drive a Thunderbird into a large oak tree. I will not be shot like uncle John. I will not drown in the ocean like Danielle. I sometimes see myself rotting to death in this house. At a very old age. And I am okay with that, I think. I do not want to drown. I 37

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 37

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME do not want to be shot. I am safe in this house. Far from the ocean and the giant oaks and the drug dealers that will kill you for thirty-five dollars. *** I just fed my rabbit. Her name is Yann. She usually eats hay and seed but today I chopped up a carrot in the kitchen and let her eat it out of my hand. Sometimes she bites my fingers when I let her eat this way but it is okay because it doesn’t hurt that bad. She has soft, soft fur. It’s grey. I like pinching her ears between my fingers. It makes her tail twitch. She loves bananas, but we didn’t have any. *** I love the band Os Mutantes. They are Brazilian. Sister showed me them ten years ago when she was dating Caetano who grew up in Brazil and drove a Ford Mustang. They sing in Portuguese, which is a beautiful language. I listen to them when I feel lonely. It makes me think of Sister and I hope she is okay living in Montana with Matt and her little babies which may or may not exist but I would not know because she has never told me or Mother. *** I tried drinking beer once. It was my first year in high school and I found a warm Samuel Adams in the garage. I didn’t know how to open it so I tried to twist it and it sliced my fingers. I found a pair of pliers in Father’s old toolbox and twisted the cap off that way. I put the pliers back exactly where they were, because when Father was alive he hated when his things were touched. I took a sip. It was hot and tasted like liquid bread. I don’t understand why people drink beer. It kind of burns and tastes awful. I don’t think I will ever drink beer again. Mother says that is a good thing and that I never should. *** I tried smoking cigarettes too. Sister started smoking in high school. I asked her if I could try one. She took me out into the woods behind our house. She smoked Marlboro Reds. She gave me one and I put it in-between my lips and lit it on fire. Her lighter had an American flag on it. She told me I wasn’t smoking it the right way. She told me to let the smoke enter my lungs and I tried that but it just kept falling out of my mouth. The smoke rose in the air and twirled around in thin, twisting coils. I didn’t feel anything after the first cigarette so she let me light another. I got a headache. We went back inside of our house and I chewed a piece of peppermint gum to get the taste out of my mouth. I went to my room and slept so that I would feel better. *** 38

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 38

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Mother bought me a keyboard for Christmas last year. It is silver and the edges are scratched. I very much like to play it when I feel alone or when I get bored sitting around the house. One of the G keys is cracked in half. I can turn it into other instruments just by pressing a few buttons. I like playing it on the marimba setting. It sounds like a wooden block getting smacked by a spoon. Sometimes I will open the blinds and play it on the synthesizer setting when I wake up in the morning. It is a nice way to start my day: pouring myself a glass of milk and singing. *** I peed in the bathroom earlier and looked down at my penis. It is such a weird part of my body. I don’t understand it. It is so ugly. I wonder if I will ever use it for anything other than peeing. Danielle told me once that she had touched a boy’s penis. I wonder if a girl will ever touch mine. *** When I was seven years old I walked down to the lake near my house. I had two pieces of wheat bread in the back pocket of my jeans. I wanted to feed the geese. I sat down at a bench near the water and crossed my legs. A few of the geese flew over to me and I tore the bread up into little pieces. I threw it in their direction. They all screamed and flapped their wings. One of the geese was black and walked up by my feet. I tried to pet his head and he bit my hand with his sharp beak. My palm started bleeding and I ran back to my house. *** The back left leg is the shortest leg of the blue chair. The green felt chair has a spring popping out of its seat. The leather chair is perfect. The sofa is stained with urine. The wooden chairs in the kitchen squeak. The toilets are cold porcelain. My favorite is the gold metal chair, with blue floral fabric hanging off of its back. *** Today I found a red and tan Chinese finger trap that Father won at the nickel slots in Ocean City, Maryland. It was stored away in an old Cuban cigar box, which smelled like sweet tobacco. The finger trap was tight and cut the tip of my index finger. Sometimes I remember Father smiling, eating pizza and drinking a beer on a patio at some restaurant. *** Sister wrote me a letter for my birthday the year after she ran away to Las Vegas. In it, she asked me how I was. She told me that she missed me and was planning on starting a farm in Montana where she would take care of goats 39

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 39

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME and sheep and llamas. She told me that she and Matt got a little white dog with short thick fur that was knotted. That it always had crust in its eyes. That the dog’s name was Fly. *** My favorite kind of cheese is goat cheese. I like how it is wet and tastes sour. I usually spread it on purple grapes. I also like to pretend that I am in Greece, eating outdoors, and there are beautiful marble statues of Athena and Zeus surrounding me, stretching up higher than the trees. *** The streetlights outside of my house are tall and their bulbs are made of thick glass. Their glow is yellow and thin like little halos. Sometimes when I squint my eyes it looks like there are two separate bulbs glowing bright and streaked in the lazy dark night. *** Mother bought me a pet iguana after Father died. I named him Jasper. His skin was green and flaking. His tail was thick and spiked. He used to whip his fleshy tail against his wire cage. I remember the rattling beat that it made. I tried to play with him one time and he bit the web of my right hand in between my thumb and index finger. Mother once tried to give him a bath and he scratched her kneecap. I watched as his fingernails ripped at her flesh. Then I took his cage out into my backyard and watched as he ran crookedly into the woods behind my house. *** Earlier tonight, after Mother fell asleep, I found a voodoo doll that was hidden in the back of my closet. It looks like a cannibal made of felt. Danielle bought it for me when her family went to Tanzania. I took a fork that was sitting on my end table and poked it in the neck. Then the hands. Then the feet. I imagined it was Matt. Matt, who took Sister to Montana so they could have babies I would never meet. *** Mother brought me home a sandwich today from Quiet Storm. It was on 12 inches of sourdough bread. It had five slices of turkey, two slices of provolone cheese, alfalfa sprouts, and tomatoes on it. She made sure it didn’t have mayonnaise. I also had a can of Dr. Pepper. It was 150 calories. It had 40 grams of sugar and 0 grams of protein. The ingredients are as follows: Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Phosphoric 40

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 40

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Caffeine. The drink was canned by independent bottlers under the authority of Dr. Pepper in Plano, Texas 75024. *** There is a homeless man asleep in the doorway of the church across the street. He has three blankets on top of his body and two pillows resting under his feet and head. A lot of people walk past and don't look at him. I don't understand how people can ignore someone who is so hungry and cold. *** Sister used to make hot chocolate for us in the winter time. She dropped peppermint Altoids into our mugs and we would sit and talk in her bedroom while Mother and Father fought in the kitchen. I remember Sister telling me one night that she loved Caetano. I watched the Altoid dissolve as she told me this. I don’t remember Sister ever telling me she loved Matt. I wonder why she ran away with him. I do not think she will ever come back to visit and I think this is my fault. *** Today I found an old polaroid of Danielle standing on top of a mountain in Utah. She gave it to me two months before she drowned. In it, she is smiling. She is wearing sunglasses and her teeth are very white. Her hands are in the air and there are trees all around her and she looks so happy. This is how I like to remember her: smiling, on top of mountains. The buildings look so small beneath her. It looks like she is floating. I miss her more than anyone in my life. *** One night when I was fourteen I found a thin blue pipe behind our microwave. It was made of glass and there was a little plastic bag of marijuana sitting next to it. I pinched some of the marijuana out of the bag and pushed it into the end of the pipe with my forefinger. I walked into my room and locked the door behind me. I turned off all of the lights and lit a candle. Mother was already asleep. I opened my window, then walked over to my dresser. I grabbed the white lighter that was in my sock drawer and lit the end of the pipe. The smoke hurt my lungs and I coughed. I sat the pipe down and I remember everything turning slowly strange. The walls began to breathe heavily. This is sometimes the feeling I still get when I try to go outside. The flame on the candle turned pure white and I sat for a while just watching the 41

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 41

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME trails of smoke fold and bend. I grabbed a hunting knife off of my floor and held it over the pure white flame. The end of the knife turned black and I carved an ampersand into my ankle. My skin blistered. I hid the knife under my bed when I was done. Pieces of flesh hung on its blade. The handle was stained with blood. I said a prayer that night for the first time in years, then went to bed. For the next few weeks, I had to wear tall socks to hide the scars. The skin on my ankle is still raised. *** My favorite animal is the goat. I like the horns that grow out of their head and the thin beard that dangles from their chin. I especially like white goats. They look like ghosts of animals. One time at a petting zoo, a white goat walked up to the wooden fence I stood at and stuck its head through the gap in the posts. It ate seed out of my hand. Its tongue was pink and felt like sandpaper and licked at my palm when there was no seed left.

42

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 42

4/6/12 3:06 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

this pear Jordan Swenson

this pear, here, is a woman. you know this slightly bitter skin gives way to whole, crisp indentions of morning— it is strong but good; bruised freckle of her perfume I eat whole— plump lip to mine. Hard water. Sugar wind, like snow, will fill me to my core.

43

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 43

4/6/12 3:06 PM


POICTESME aRound and aRound Elle Fisher

no hunger or unafraid valve-sounds can cure this: But I see a monarch-faced butterfly-man and think of applause as in, applause of two hands smacking at a hollow stage. Hear that? Candywater runs by the wrist, from my segmented claret fruit onto some basic place. I let it drip there. The man occupies himself with puddles licking his chipped brown teeth. Showing himself a smile against one mineral well. –Let’s sail over there, he whispers his ear squeezed against that surface. So I bite on another mere segment –puckered lips from its acid– When, next I see him dripping, –like a candle will drip around its wick– in an arabesque pose from his brow from his shoulders from his chest. I see him go. There, he sails away. And left behind, I’m staring in piles at the applauding sidewalk stones.

44

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 44

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Cara Jennings Rise and Shine

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 45

45

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME

46

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 46

Zach Gibson

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Zach Gibson

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 47

47

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME

48

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 48

(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Zach Gibson

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME

Templeton Kelley DYAO

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 49

(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

49

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME

50

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 50

Templeton Kelley Rob's House

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Daniel Rockburn

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 51

51

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME

52

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 52

Rachel Schneider She took her pills for two Tuesdays this week

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

The Vajrayana Butcher Jordan Chu

I watch my uncle yell at the young butcher who is assuring the glazed ducks shoulders. I watch the ducks, their eyes, looking dumbly like buttons. I watch the lobsters, who lie quiet, not unlike their tears and the pig’s hard orange skin, not unlike me— I can see the breath of their trap, their cages, I can see it rise. My cousin tells me chinese monks won’t eat garlic. He tells me the theravada say meat can only be eaten if the butcher doesn’t know you are coming to dinner. But I am hungry, and today I am not eating meat. My father says I look like emperor hirohito, and my family laughs. When they speak I cannot speak with them. I grow pale and watch the butcher— his hands encased in thick glass. I watch his hands, his blade, in wild splendid motion, his olive knuckles pulsing, covered in oil— they dance like hands under a young skirt. My uncle continues to bother the customers and my father is upset because they are not close anymore. I watch the butcher’s hands. The lobsters’ hands are tied with rubber bands— they have numbers and my aunt has numbers. Upset about coupons, she looks at the ground. She says it is dirty. She tells Elsa, the Salvadorian busgirl to clean the floor, and Elsa acts like she can’t hear her. Behind glass a hard bell rings.

53

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 53

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME Fly, howling Thomas DeSanto

I watched as a dead man was stabbed seventeen times in the hills of Colorado. He was lifeless, unbreathing: the Russians still decided to pock his skin with the screwdrivers they carried in their back pockets. I don't know how he died. I caught them in the act. I was on a stroll through the woods with my dog, whose fur was a blackened brown. His name was Fly. He howled when he smelled the blood. He panted heavier with each jutting stab, pulling me South, South-East, until eventually we stood directly in front of the Russians. They didn't speak a lick of English. They were howling too, in their foreign tongue. The dead man was suspended upside down from a tree. His body dangled (it swayed) in accordance with Newton's first law of motion: the force of a human arm (screwdriver in hand, or not) making contact with a body (dead, or otherwise still) will set that body in motion. So I watched physics unravel as the man spun slowly in circles from the rope tied around his ankles, bobbing clumsily back & forth, like the tilted wobble of a planet. His flesh sagged towards Earth. It looked like each wound had its own drooping mouth that spat blood. Their eyes turned to me. They were mad, lunatic. I watched as their warm breath turned to fog & particles of snow. I ran home, taking Fly up in my arms, as he howled into the crook of my neck, his fur now stained with blood.

54

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 54

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Dead Daddies Mari Pack

Seems like everybody’s got a dead daddy. And a dead daddy is twice as important as a live one because every daddy is a John Lennon. My daddy’s got a dead daddy. He used to smoke a pipe. Rebecca’s daddy died in a dessert a million miles away. Dema’s daddy lived inside a war for six year s in Korea, eating puppies for protein and tumbling tiger’s eye on the weekends. I don’t think he ever even killed anyone—well, except the puppies. Dema’s daddy died in a plane. Not a fighter jet with the sharp engines, but a big, massive Boeing that they fly across the pacific like a double-decker bus with wings. Fly it to Australia. Fly it to Hawai’i. Dying in transition. There can’t be anything worse. I pray every day to the Great Spirit, thanking him for making Dema look like his daddy. Dema’s daddy, who has only one shrine on the top floor of the house he lived in with Dema’s mama. In her room with too many trinkets. A quiet shrine, like all proper shrines. Just one word: Imagine encircled in a park across the street from Yoko’s house. Dema tries to make this last photograph of his daddy mean something to him, but it is not the daddy he knew: young and thin and wholly lacking, lacking in memories of his son, Dema. They used to let the cat’s come in the house with Dema’s mama was at work. Used to bring home puppies from the pound that nobody else wanted. Used to mix two or three kinds of chemicals just to see who got knocked unconscious. They kept each other’s secrets. What good is this picture, when he doesn’t know a single secret? But this photograph has a pointy chin on ‘em. When my daddy met Dema, he asked “where’d ya get that pointy chin ah yers?” I wanted to show him the shrine. Not just to show him Dema’s daddy and his pointy chin, but to promise him that if he died, we’d make him a shrine too. A proper shrine with a picture of him as a young man that my brother and I can resent. You have to have a picture of your daddy as a young man. Because when daddies go to heaven, God makes sure to rewind their ages. Daddies in heaven live for eternity in the bodies of themselves as young men, the exact ages of their son’s and daughter’s where when they died. It is a gift from God, and a curse. When Julian Lennon’s daddy died, Yoko gave him a white guitar with 55

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 55

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME no meaning that needed getting rid of anyway. Brand new and shinny and mocking, mocking him with no fingerprints and no soul. Julian wanted another guitar that he had seen his daddy sing songs on. Yoko told him he couldn’t have it. Then she told him to leave. Dema’s still got one more daddy, his granddaddy. Papa is a big man from the hills of Tennessee. He’s got most of his hair but none of his teeth. He drinks too much soda and eats too much meat. He’s got one leg and half a stump. He lives half a mile away in a house he built himself on land he paid for practically a hundred years ago with eight thousand dollars. He is part Native American, but that part his been graded down by the love of Jesus. Papa loves Jesus more than he loves working, and he loves working a lot. Dema’s daddy didn’t like work, he liked play. But when Dema’s first daddy died, he got to liking work real well so that his granddaddy would love him too. I don’t love Papa. Maybe it’s because I don’t got the love of Jesus in me that shows me how to love a great sonofabitch like him, who thinks that he knows twice as good as anyone else even though he only ever reads one book. But Dema loves his Papa and I love Dema. But when I got a big city job writing stories about little city folks, I called up Papa and asked him if we could talk about Jesus and Heaven. And how his loss of leg contributed to his love of Jesus. I told him I just wanted to hear the words. But I needed a tape recorder to follow Papa’s drawl through all its windy turns. Dema’s mama said she had one in the basement for me. The four of us, Dema, his sister Mary and their mama, Sherrie all trooped downstairs. Their basement is so dirty, full of old stuff, useless stuff that nobody will ever need again. But that’s not why Sherrie collects it. Nobody needs much of anything. When Dema’s daddy died, he was in an airplane. It was his second heart attack. You can’t tell from his picture, but he was a big, fat man who liked to eat two steaks for dinner. I think Dema got his skinny soul. Dema’s daddy ate so bad that his arteries started wrapping themselves too tight around his heart. I guess they just loved him too much. Mary found her daddy’s half-broken tape recorder under his old computer with no gigabytes and no RAM and no memories at all. Dema’s mama pressed ‘play’ just to hear it out. Crinkle, crinkle. The voice was so crinkly that almost none of us could make out the words. But then Dema’s mama said “Wait a minute, I think that’s him.” 56

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 56

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Mary looked at her mama with pity, like a mama to a child. “Mom, it’s not him.” Dema joined in. “It’s probably one if his professor’s, from when he took classes.” We were all staring at her. Urging her to make a decision. To let go of something. To take something out of that basement. She started to hand me the recorder, and her eyes said please don’t, please, please—I think it’s still him. He’s still in there somewhere, just waiting to be heard. But she kept her mouth shut and I took that half-broken recorder like the dirty sonofabitch I am. I snatched it right out of her hands. I wanted to erase Dema’s daddy to betray his granddaddy. I wanted it so bad. I wanted to write a story about how Jesus was stupid and how none of us went to heaven and how old silly farmers like Papa are so backwards and twisted that they can’t even see the light of truth. Do you know where daddies go when their hearts stop? They go into the dirt with all the other bodies and all the last John Lennon’s. I know the truth because I’ve seen Jesus’ face. Jesus was a son too. He got to go to heaven to be with his daddy. And that was the best damn story anybody ever wrote. Better than any of mine. Jesus was our daddy too, it says. That’s why them dirty Jews like me killed Jesus, because we knew that a dead daddy is twice as important as a live one. And all the best stories, the ones that people read more than once, have got at least one dead daddy.

57

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 57

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME The Fifth Season Jake Ziemba

The winter of 1708 arrived boldly, ahead of schedule, and unapologetic. By late September, having firmly established itself, it began to make demands. Our first loss was the harvest. The frosts destroyed nearly half of our crops. After that, it came for the light. As the season progressed, the margins of night expanded to overtake the day. For many weeks it appeared that the sun was unable to rise until ten, and it set shortly after two. During the day, the sky was perpetually gray and overcast. Now that cold, hunger, and darkness were the foundations of our existence, winter came at last for the intangible treasures, those elements which are impossible to see and just as difficult to recover. Our optimism, our faith in one another. Then the snow came, and that is when the real troubles began. In the absence of food, we subsisted on suspicion and blame. It was the product of witchcraft, this winter that swallowed the harvest and froze the fingers from our hands. The church established a panel, overseen by Father Caleb, tasked to identify those who had made themselves instruments of the Devil and nullify these witches’ power to do harm in His name. Trials were convened, and many faced judgment. We held our palms above the burning flesh of our neighbors, but still they pulsed with cold. The first to be judged were the loners, the eccentrics, those who lived on the outskirts of our settlement. Richmond was barely a town in those days. This segment of the population, so reviled by Caleb and his Panel, were my sister Sarah’s best friends. One night my father asked Sarah why she spent so much time among them. “They tell the best stories,” she replied. “Better than what’s in the Bible?” he challenged. “Better than Samson? Or Daniel and the Lion’s Den?” He was very devout, and had been close friends with Father Caleb since boyhood. “Those are excellent stories,” she answered with the soft tones of diplomacy. “But everybody knows them. Some stories matter more when not so many people know them. They only have so much meaning, and if everybody takes a piece, they don’t mean quite as much. There’s something special about a story only a few people know.” Father sent her to bed without supper that night. 58

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 58

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

While awaiting trial, and the execution that inevitably followed, prisoners were kept in a cell near the southern fields, an hour’s walk from our home. During the interval between arrest and execution, Sarah took to bed whenever possible. I had my own suspicions though, as to what she was doing, but had to wait until the Panel arrested a new suspect to test my theory. I didn’t have to wait long. Elisha was a very old woman. She had been old even before Richmond became a proper settlement. Some whispered she had been born old. She lived along the western frontier, and was on good terms with many of the Indian tribes, including those who still attempted to raid us, a fact that did little to make her popular. She had even been in trouble with Father Caleb before. Years ago, she claimed to have found a book in a cave beyond town. A Devil’s spellbook, Father Caleb called it, and he forced her to publically burn it. If anything, we were all surprised the Panel had waited this long to bring charges against her. That night, after the townsfolk saw her being led into the cell, I stayed awake long after sunset, biding my time, waiting for my suspicions to be confirmed. Several hours later, looking out the window, I saw a lantern bouncing across the backyard, flickering through the falling snow. The light moved away from our home. Walking as silently as I could, I snuck down the hallway to Sarah’s room. I gingerly opened the door, and found her bed empty. I knew she had gone to see Elisha, but I didn’t know what I would do about it. Immediately following Elisha’s death, a new phenomenon plagued the town. The morning after her execution, as if by magic, holes appeared all over town. These holes were never more than a foot wide, and two feet deep at the most. Every morning, there were more holes, and more rumors to accompany them. That the holes were the result of Elisha’s soul tunneling its way out of Hell to torment us further. The Panel conducted nightly searches, by torchlight, in the attempt to catch her spirit in the act. Or, if not her spirit, then to find the culprit aiding her damned soul in its quest to return to the earth. 59

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 59

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME These torchlight searches were always deadly. Usually the victims were respected members of the community who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes they were outsiders with whom the Panel did not want to waste time on a proper trial. On several occasions, it was members of the Panel who died, either as a result of mistaken identity. Or perhaps it was sinister plotting within the group, to weed out members whose behavior warranted suspicion. The Panel reported every death as a success, one less soldier in Satan’s army. I suspected the deaths were something else entirely, the inevitable result of frightened people mad with starvation, gone out with guns and knives to fight demons, but finding only each other. At the time, I still believed the Bible was the true Word of the Lord, but I had also begun to see how men could repurpose the Gospels as weapons to justify ungodly behavior. My faith began to falter, and this distressed me profoundly. Over the next several days, Sarah remained tired and irritable, even though nobody else had been properly arrested and the witch’s cell remained vacant. I stayed up again to watch for her. Sure enough, I saw the lantern go bouncing out into the dark once again. She didn’t head for the cell, however. She stopped in the backyard. I dressed and slipped out the back door. Her footprints were easy to track in the four inches of snow the sky had lowered upon us since that morning. It was still falling, an airborne latticework of white lace backlit by the full moon. I followed her tracks slowly, and as I came upon her, I saw that she was digging in the backyard. “Sarah,” I said. She paid me no mind. She dug relentlessly. All around her were holes, previously dug and abandoned. Already, the snowstorm had begun undoing her work, replacing the dirt my sister had removed with snow. Standing in the dark, the holes looked bottomless. As I watched the snowflakes drift into them and disappear, I felt that the blackness of the holes went on indefinitely, into fathomless depths Man was never intended to approach. “Sarah,” I said again. Once more, she did not respond. She was standing in a hole about one foot deep. I reached out and touched her shoulder. She whirled violently, nearly striking my face with the shovel’s blade. “It’s me! David!” Reassured, she took a deep breath, and drove the shovel’s blade hard into the earth. “What are you doing out here?” “You’re the one digging holes in a blizzard,” I replied. 60

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 60

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

“Yes,” she said quietly, “I am.” “You’re not worried about the Panel seeing you?” “I’ve bigger concerns than the Panel,” she said simply. “What are you talking about?” “Leave me to my work,” she said. “I’m going to get a shovel,” I told her, “And I’m going to help you fill in these holes. The snowstorm will cover them up, and nobody will see them until spring, when we’ll have more food, and everybody will be in better spirits.” “What makes you think there will be food in the spring?” Sarah asked defiantly. She was naturally a short girl, even shorter standing in her hole. “Food starts growing when winter ends and it warms again.” “What if winter never ends?” “You’ve been alive for fourteen winters, Sarah. All fourteen have ended.” “None have been this cold. None have started this early or lasted this long,” she answered. Although I did not admit it to her, she was right. “This is a winter like none other. Elisha understood that,” she sighed, with the voice of a woman much older than herself. “And that is why I dig.” Panic flashed through my mind. “It’s not true, is it? You’re not…digging to bring her back?” “Nothing can bring Elisha back,” she answered, and her orthodoxy soothed me. “I’m digging so that more won’t die along with her.” “I don’t believe I understand.” “Do you remember the book Caleb made her burn years ago? The one she found in the cave? Written in pictures, that she translated with the old Indian man?” “Witchcraft, Sarah. You ought not to speak of it.” “It wasn’t witchcraft. It was a book of the Bible that hadn’t been discovered yet. God put it in that cave for her to find and share. She told me all of this before she died.” “You’d been going to see her.” “Obviously,” she said sharply. “I’ve gone to see them all out of this world. To let them know someone will take up their stories when they’re gone.” “What did she tell you?” “You mustn’t tell anyone. Anyone,” she insisted, and I agreed. “She showed me the book. The real book. The one she burned when 61

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 61

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME Father Caleb threatened to have her hanged was a copy she and the Indian made. She kept the real one hidden, and brought it into the cell with her.” “What did it say?” “I couldn’t read it, because it was all in pictures, but she showed it to me, the new translation she was working on, better than the first one. She’d been working on it in secrecy for years. There was a calendar in it, and the calendar said there were five seasons. The four we get every year, but then another, one that only happens sometimes. She told me its name, but I could never say it right. This made her grieve, that the sound of the word would die with her. She and the old Indian man could never agree on how to translate it. The Indian read it as ‘Double-Winter,’ but she read it as ‘God’s Neglect.’” “Do witches cause it?” “God doesn’t care about witches,” she said dismissively. “It only happens when God when people aren’t thankful enough for the things they have. “When the fifth season comes, it kills everybody. It freezes all the people and all the food. Then God brings new food out of the earth, makes new people to eat it, and starts the world over again.” “I’m not saying that I believe this, but if this is the fifth season, and it’s going to kill everybody, then what does digging have to do with what you’ve told me?” The snow was falling more heavily now. A wide band of clouds stretched over the moon, and the light left us. All was darkness and cold. “You came alone?” Sarah asked me. “Yes.” “And you won’t tell any of this to anyone?” “I swear it.” Sarah was invisible in the darkness of the snowstorm. I saw a small, abrupt breeze blow to the left, then to the right, disrupting the fall of the snowflakes. That was her looking around to be certain it was only us in the backyard. “There’s a picture on the last page of Elisha’s book. Of God. He doesn’t look the way Father Caleb says he does.” “What does He look like?” “Like a man. At first. But the more you look at it, the more you see that’s not true. There’s something wrong about Him. He has very small eyes, but

62

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 62

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

when you look at them, you see there’s just space there. The longer you look, the bigger the space gets, and then things start to happen in it…I cried when she showed it to me. Ever since I saw that picture, I’ve been having dreams.” “What happens in these dreams?” “I’m flying. Above the town, and I’m shown places. Places where the food might be buried. And then I’m somewhere else. It took me a few nights to figure it out, but now I know where I am. I’m on the last page of Elisha’s book, with that picture. And God is there with me. “He says we haven’t appreciated what He’s done for us, and that…He says it will take a sacrifice to end it. Somebody who knows why they’re dying, what they’re dying for, and does so voluntarily. Burning the witches is simple murder. Because I’m the only one who understands, I’m the only one whose death can end it.” “Sarah—” “But I might not have to. I know there’s food in the ground. I know it, the food that feeds the reborn earth. It’s only when that food comes out of the earth that the fifth season is truly over. If I can only find the food, people will stop dying.” “Sarah, you’re cold and hungry. Your mind’s not working right. Nobody’s is these days. Letting an old woman’s heresy affect you like this will only hurt you.” “I have more digging to do,” she said. “Go inside and sleep.” I was prepared to begin the argument anew when I saw the torches on the horizon, their lambent tongues flickering across the void. “It’s the Panel!” I hissed, grabbing her by the arm. “We need to go!” She grabbed the lantern with her free hand as I pulled her away. I ran towards the house, or in its direction, as we ran through impenetrable layers of snow and blackness. When we finally reached the backdoor, it seemed to materialize instantly before us, and I nearly ran into it. I fumbled in my pocket for the key. The lights of the Panel’s torches were already drawing nearer. I had just slid the key into the lock when Sarah reached out and clutched my arm. “No!” she whispered. “Our footprints! In the snow! They’ll trace them from the holes to the house!” Sarah said. I was frozen fast with cold and terror, and had no idea of what to do. “We need another way,” she said aloud, more to herself than to me. She 63

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 63

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME released my arm and took off sprinting back the way we came, straight into the path of the Panel. “Help! Help!” she shrieked. “Witchcraft! Devilry! Help!” She was running directly into death’s arms. I ran after her. I couldn’t let her face the Panel alone. When she finally reached them, I was only a few steps behind. Sarah took a running leap and dove into Father Caleb, then wrapped her arms about him and buried her head in his breast. “Witchcraft! Of the highest caliber!” she wailed, tears streaming down her face. Father Caleb looked as if he were a man recently handed a dripping newborn calf. “What…what?” he stammered. “Slow down, I can’t—“ “It was horrible! Horrible!” Sarah wailed. “Scores upon scores of witches! A black mass, Father, a black mass on our property! I saw it through my window! A great goat’s head conjured out of the fire, with an evil eye, and three tongues, each befouling the Lord’s name in blasphemous harmony with the others! Oh bless me Father, bless me!” Sarah fell to her knees, weeping in anguish, as she clutched Father Caleb’s shins with all her might. The rest of the Panel’s search party had formed ranks about them. Caleb locked his eyes with mine as Sarah proceeded carrying-on. “You saw this?” “I…I heard her crying out,” I stuttered, trying to play along. “I went into her bedroom, to see what the matter was, and she came running out, wailing…When she ran out into the backyard, I followed her, and saw something, people, shadowy dark people fleeing into the woods…I followed her to the light of your torches. Thank the Lord you arrived to chase them off when you did. They must have sensed your righteousness and fled.” “Oh bless me, Father, bless me! In the name of Christ, bless me!” Sarah cried. “Do you swear it?” he asked. He produced an old book from under his coat. “On the Bible?” I placed my hand upon the front cover. It was leathery and coarse. “I do.” It was easier than I thought it would be. Caleb nodded somberly, then helped Sarah to her feet. He looked at her, then me, then her again. Would he have the heart to issue a death sentence to a hysterical fourteen-year-old girl, mewling for his blessing in the name of Christ? “You’re safe now. The Panel and I will see you safely to your door, and 64

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 64

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

continue on our way. You’ve nothing more to fear this night.” They led us to our front door, then headed off into the woods, where I told them I’d seen the witches flee. Sarah shook and sniveled and invoked the Lord’s protection the entire time. As soon as we were inside, with the door shut and locked, separating us from them, she took a deep breath, straightened her spine, and became herself once more. “Thank you,” she said, in her usual stable voice. “Your testimony very likely saved us both. I know it wasn’t easy. Thank you.” “If they can lie before God in order to take lives, I can lie before God in order to save them.” She hugged me and went to her bedroom. I lay awake all night, counting cracks in the ceiling. It was impossible to stop. It continued snowing for the next four days. During that time, four more people starved to death. The Panel set fire to the Tilden homestead, with Mr. Tilden’s widow and two young daughters inside. On the fifth day, Sarah was arrested. She had been digging in Father Caleb’s yard at dawn, only a few feet from his front door, as if waiting for him. When he accosted her, she told him that she had dug all the holes, so to be closer to the Devil. She was going to dig him out of Hell and let him loose upon the earth. The night of our encounter, she had bewitched me to bear false witness on her behalf. Sarah confessed without hesitation or coercion to every charge of witchcraft and blasphemy and heresy he levied against her. My parents and I tried our best, but there was nothing we could do. The sentence was death. Under normal conditions, she would have been burned at the stake, but sympathy for my father and a shortage of firewood provoked Caleb to modify her sentence. Sarah was to be hanged. When publically questioned on the gallows, Sarah reaffirmed her guilt in every matter she was charged with. It was snowing that day as well. Before he tied the noose, Caleb asked if she had any last words. She said “I know why I am dying, what I am dying for, and I do so voluntarily.” Then she said she loved us and walked off the platform. We now faced the problem of what to do with her body. Father Caleb said that under no circumstances was she to be buried in the church cemetery, with God’s children, where her evil could take root in consecrated soil. We could bury her at the southern end of the town, where the ground was already 65

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 65

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME barren, and nothing of substance had ever grown. In exchange for leaving her body intact, her funeral had to be public, so the people would be reassured she was securely entombed. When I carried her body from the gallows to her grave, I did so in a burlap robe and elbow-length gloves, both of which were to be interred with her. I still remember how light she felt in my arms. How slight and insubstantial starvation had made her, and how the snowflakes still clung to her eyelashes when I went to cut her down. I carried her past the southern limits of the town, the leader of a grim parade. Our parents were behind us, and the remainder of Richmond followed behind them. When we had passed the last of the trees, Father Caleb gave the command, and the gravediggers took up their shovels and began working. My family was forced to pay them double their normal wages for subjecting them to the sacrilege of burying a witch. They complained that the ground was too cold for digging. I wanted to take them to any of the holes that Sarah had dug, to show them what a fourteen-year-old girl had done out of desire to save them, to save the whole town, including the man who’d ordered her execution, but I didn’t. I held her and bit my tongue as they worked. They hadn’t dug more than a foot and a half when one of them cried out. “There’s something here!” he yelled. “It looks like…it’s vegetables!” The crowd of onlookers, who’d thus far kept their distance, came rushing up to see. “Potatoes!” somebody cried. “It’s potatoes!” The prospect of food turned their rushing into stampede. People tripped over one another, tore at each other’s clothes, fought to be the first ones to reach sustenance. I continued holding Sarah, and watched. As they ran streaming into the crowd to fight for the potatoes, countless people brushed against Sarah’s body. None of them would be ordered to cast off their clothing, to bury it in the ground. An hour ago, Sarah had been anathema, the apex of uncleanliness. Now, with food to be had, she was simply a dead girl, stiffening in my arms. With her eyes closed, and her head slumped over, she looked like she was sleeping. I wondered if that was how she had looked when she slept. How she looked when she dreamt of the food hidden in the earth, and negotiated the surrender of her life to bring it to us. When they pulled the first cluster of potatoes out of the earth, and hoisted it over their heads, the sky mended

66

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 66

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

its wounds, and the snow stopped falling. I don’t think anybody noticed but me. In the chaos which followed the discovery of the potatoes, I took Sarah away and buried her myself, near a hill beside the river. “Thank you,” I said as I laid her in the earth. “I know what you did. Even if nobody else does, I know. Thank you.” When the sun rose the next morning, it shone with a brilliance we had forgotten it was capable of. The snow began to melt. Winter was finally breaking. The potatoes they’d found were tiny, skinless, and grey, but they were edible, and plentiful enough to feed the entire town for the next two weeks. She was the last person to die that winter, of starvation or any other cause. I buried her in what they now call Shockoe. They built one of the tobacco warehouses right on top of her. I never told anybody else the location of her grave, save my mother and father, and they’re long dead as well. Sarah knew the power of secrets, that keeping things hidden made them more precious. The most I could do to repay her sacrifice was lay her to rest on the outskirts of town, where the most interesting stories dwell.

67

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 67

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME Writer’s Memo: An Interview with Colleen Curran Alex Carrigan and Amy Sailer Colleen Curran is the author of the novel Whores on the Hill (Vintage Publishers, 2005). Her short stories have appeared in journals like Glimmer Train, Jane, Mid-American Review and Meridian, and she has edited the anthology Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think About Contemporary Weddings. Curran holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. Currently, she is an editor and writer for Richmond.com’s Arts, Entertainment and Events section. She lives with her husband and two sons in Richmond, Virginia. -- was a particularly unique Colleen, reading Whores on the Hill experience for me – it was the first book that I ever read on my Kindle. I’d been so skeptical of Kindles, but it really was enjoyable once I tried it. Were you happy to see your novel in new media print? I just starting using a Kindle myself and I love it. I’m excited that you read Whores on the Hill on a Kindle! I’m surprised how a good book is still a good book anywhere, no matter where you read it – on your phone, a tablet or whatever. If there are great characters, a good plot and strong writing, I’m immediately sucked in to the story – whether I’m reading on my phone or my Kindle. Right now, I find the Kindle incredibly helpful to read my own work-inprogress. You can read a whole manuscript on it and take it with you. I strongly recommend it for writers. You can write notes to yourself in the margins and bookmark pages. It’s a great way to see your writing in a new way. And much more convenient than lugging around a 300-page manuscript in your purse. The novel is set in Milwaukee, but some of the places – I’m thinking particularly of Hollywood Cemetery – felt familiar to Richmond. Coincidence, or is the novel a hybrid of the two cities? That’s Richmond, for sure. I wrote the novel the year after I graduated from 68

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 68

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

VCU’s MFA program. I fell in love with Richmond immediately – it has so much character. And I really enjoyed using Richmond markers in the book. Byrd Theatre, Southside Speedway, they all make an appearance in Whores on the Hill. Do you have a particular place where you like to write? I write in my study. I’ve moved around a bit – from Fan apartment to Fan apartment, and now from a Church Hill house to a house in Bon Air. Always at my wide-topped, cherry wood Mission desk. I had dreamed about having a big, comfortable desk for years, and then finally, I got this hand-me-down from my father and I love it. I began writing Whores on the Hill in a single apartment on Grace Street. It had these beautiful bay windows that faced Grace Street. It was a beautiful – and slightly distracting place – to work. If I was writing late at night, I always ended up becoming much more fascinated watching the transvestites walk up and down the street. Then I wrote in a Museum District apartment I moved into with my boyfriend. I had a study at the back of the house and I really liked it, it faced the trees and I liked shuffling in the early morning from our bedroom at the top of the house all the way to the back to the study. It was close to the kitchen and perfect for making a cup of tea right before I sat down to right. Then we moved to Church Hill and I took the best room in the house for my study. It was the front parlor with three huge bay windows with stained glass panels. I was finishing up Whores on the Hill and completely obsessed with it. I didn’t want to unpack the boxes. I didn’t want to paint. I didn’t want to touch a thing. I didn’t want to do anything but sit down and wrestle with this thing that was giving me so much trouble. There is this fear sometimes, when you’re working on something, that you’ll just run out of gas or lose interest. And I desperately didn’t want to put it down, for fear that I wouldn’t be able to pick it back up again. I’ve had a “room of my own” ever since I starting writing seriously. Which has been very, very important. Even psychologically, just to know that there was a space I could call my own. Even if it was just the kitchen table. 69

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 69

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME

Although now, I must admit, I share a study with my husband and I don’t like it. I keep moving the desk around, trying to find a good spot, but this room – the study we share overlooking the neighbor’s garden – is the best writing spot in the house. That’s what having kids will do to you. I now have two kids – a four year old and a seventh month. They’ll take all your writing space – and your time! Much of Whores on the Hill is written in first-person-plural. I once read in an interview with Jeffrey Eugenides that writing The Virgin Suicides in first-person-plural helped him learn how to develop a novel. Did you find this was true for you? What attracted you to the choral voice? First-person plural came naturally for my narrator’s character. She didn’t have an identity of her own – that was the crux of the novel – until the very end. At the beginning, she doesn’t even have a voice. She is so shy and unsure of herself and her place in the world. But when she falls in with these new girls – she suddenly has a voice. A braver voice in the collective: “We go to clubs, we go to the mall, we smoke cigarettes…” etc. I think that’s reflective of a being a teenage girl too – finding strength and solidarity in a group. Finding yourself. Like your main characters, you also attended a Catholic high school. Was it anything like your portrayal of Sacred Heart Holy Angels in the book? I was similar to Thisbe in some ways. Before I transferred to the all-girls’ school, I was a total mess. My parents were getting divorced. The experience of co-ed school, for me, was incredibly traumatic. It was a very aggressive school with a bad reputation. It seemed like everybody was out to hurt someone in some way. I found the two first years of co-ed high school incredibly traumatic. I didn’t fit in, I was an outcast, I was very alone. But then, when I turned 16, my mother separated from my father. We moved to downtown. I transferred to the “’last all-girls’ high school in Milwaukee” 70

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 70

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

and everything became better. The whole tenor of the school was different. It was like the world opened up for me there. I think I got some of that in the book. But really, I used the “’all-girls’ school” as a metaphor for girlhood, for innocence. These girls are in a safe place, they’re in the world of girls. But they want to grow up. They want to grow up and go outside into the world. And leaving that world of innocence and childhood behind can be very painful and scary. Did you know what would happen in your novel before you began? No, I didn’t. And that was a problem. Endings are always a problem for me. I go around and around and around and around until I find the right one. And it feels like I waste a lot of time. I’d like to be more like Joyce Carol Oates who says you can’t write your first sentence until you know your last sentence. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. And if I could do that, I could shave a year or two off my projects. The protagonist’s name, Thisbe, is so unusual – it’s Classical, isn’t it? Was there a particular reason you chose the name? Unconsciously, I believe I was thinking of Pyramus and Thisbe – the Roman myth of ill-fated love. Because Thisbe has this thwarted love affair with a boy. And with her friends, Astrid and Juli, too. I also liked the writer Thisbe Nissen. I believe I was thinking of her as well, because her book was very popular at the time, The Good People of New York. And she ended up writing a very nice blurb for the back cover of Whores on the Hill. Were there particular authors who influenced Whores on the Hill? Who are you reading now? My teacher, Bill Tester, influenced me the most. He was an amazing teacher and had a huge impact on my writing and my style. I don’t think I would have 71

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 71

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME gotten my novel published if it wasn’t for him. He was a student of Gordon Lish’s and had a very particular teaching style. Which I loved. But mostly, he talked about how each sentence had to be important. “No walker sentences!” He talked about paying attention to the sounds of your sentences – assonance and dissonance. He talked about raising the stakes, constantly, higher and higher, blocking your characters’ desires. All of that, stays with me, always. And I love reading his fiction too. Especially his collection, Head, when I’m having trouble. It’s often instructural. I break down the mechanics, trying to figure out how this thing worked or that thing. But mostly, I just read it for the pleasure of it. And to remind myself – this is how it should be. This is how high the bar is. And can you reach it? Tom DeHaven was also a huge influence. I’m a big fan of his work as well – I especially loved his Superman novel. And he’s just a terrific teacher. He taught a screenwriting class when I attended VCU and that was something of a sea change for me as a writer. It was so important. I was having a lot of trouble with plot – figuring out how plot works and how it needs to be the engine of your story. I knew that, but I didn’t really understand how it worked. Until I took Tom’s screenwriting class and I finally had a breakthrough as a writer. Finally, finally – I understood how important plot was and how it worked. And I was able to write stories where things changed, where something happened. And that was huge. Absolutely huge for me. As for books, Nell Dunn’s Up the Junction was a big influence on Whores on the Hill. I found it in the used bookstore on Forest Hill just before I started working on the novel. It was exactly the right book at the right time. Up the Junction is about young twentysomethings growing up in Battersea, England. It’s about a rough group of working girls who have abortions and blue collar young men who drink too much. It was published in 1963. The chapters are very short – two or three pages long – it was originally serialized in the newspaper – and I loved how the short, vivid chapters gave it a real immediacy. And I tried to use that in Whores on the Hill. After the publication of Whores on the Hill, you edited the anthology Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think About Contemporary Weddings. Did taking on such a large editing project influence your own writing? 72

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 72

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

It was a much larger editing project than I knew. It took about a year and a half. Which was a surprise – I had never edited an anthology before and thought I could knock it out in six months. But it took much longer to secure the writers and edit the essays into a book. I really enjoyed working with the writers in Altared, writers like Dani Shapiro, Amy Bloom, Curtis Sittenfeld, just to name a few. Their essays made me laugh, they gave me greater insight into marriage and they really helped me come to grips with my own wedding. When I proposed the book, I had been engaged for something like four years with no wedding date in sight. I was terrified of actually doing it. But working on that book helped me face my fears, and by the time I sent the final manuscript to my publisher, I was ready to take the leap and I got married on my front lawn in Church Hill in front of a bunch of friends and family. Any advice for young fiction writers who are submitting to Poictesme? Read Poictesme first. Spend a few hours with the back issues. Get to know it. Ask yourself if Poictesme seems like a good fit for your work. Read the submission guidelines carefully. Make sure you follow them. That’s the first step in acting like a professional writer. Take yourself seriously. Make sure your story or poem or essay is the absolute best it can be. Have a trusted reader take a look first. Consider their feedback. Consider revising. Work at it until you know there is not one more thing you could do to it to make it better. Then, and only then, should you submit it. And then, if it doesn’t get accepted at Poictesme, try somewhere else! Keep trying, keep going with your work, keep writing. I sent out stories for two years before someone finally picked up one of my stories. And that first publication felt like a huge accomplishment. When you put in that kind of time and finally push through, there’s nothing else like it. Never give up.

73

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 73

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME Four Joseph Levine

I don't remember much about my growing up but the number four, for me, had significance. Up the stairs I'd start left foot right foot, left foot then right for a total of four three separate times to cover each of twelve creaking wooden steps which, for me, wouldn't creak having learned to walk their edges in just the right way to scale them in a quick silence. The mornings my father returned my mother would send me off to go upstairs, and I'd start left foot right foot, left then right for a total of four three separate times and then one more set on the beige-carpeted floor to be in my bedroom where behind me I would click shut the door.

74

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 74

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Bête Noire Ariel Olson

Every spider I smash against my windshield reminds me to never park under a tree— The improbable infuriation of a lone hair looped around two toes inside my sock inside my tied too tight shoes— If I ever found one in the car god forbid while driving— I imagine ten cars piled up and there’s mangled metal and maybe flames, interstate shut down for hours and when they finally pull me out, barely conscious and someone asks what happened all I can say for myself is “there was a spider.” And now there is only the burning wreckage of my once beautiful black car— Sometimes one hair stuck to the back of my shirt, just out of reach and just barely touching the nape of my neck and how the hell can I tell the difference when I’m merging at 62 miles per hour between a fine hair and a fine web or eight prickly legs.

75

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 75

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME Maps and Atlases Daniel Caporaletti The train station is no place for fiction. Brian had no novel to read. He had sat alone in enough places to know that he would not be able to concentrate on any author's imaginary universe, not with so many people shuffling through the narratives of their lives—of their real lives—all around him. He would rather watch them and think up his own stories. When he felt creative he would write them down. But that afternoon he did not feel creative—only anxious and reluctantly excited to see Jane, who he had not seen for nearly three years. He wore his Marine uniform and sat on a small bench outside of the train station, waiting for her to pull up in her olive green sedan, the one her parents had given her years ago, the one he had repaired so many times while they were in high school. The engine would overheat a few times every summer and he would have to meet her, usually on some deserted mountain highway, and check the car's cooling system. It was always the head gasket that leaked. He kept telling her father that he should buy a new one, but he never listened. He had purchased flowers from an old man on the platform. Jane would appreciate the gesture. Simple acts of kindness like that excited her. He listened to a train pass behind him. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sound, straining to hear the various tones in all their forceful density. It was not as easy for him to hear things as it used to be, not after three years in the desert, three years of listening to helicopters and IED's and the screaming voices of his superiors. He hated when people yelled and everyone yelled over there. You had to. You were trained to. No one really listened to all that yelling, and if they did listen they never really understood what it was they were listening to. The slow decrescendo of the passing train cars was a sound he could understand, and it brought a light smile to his face. Jane approached Brian from a parking lot at the foot of the hill across the street. She spotted him immediately in his fatigues, but he did not see her. She wore her blue dress, the one he liked, and started up the hill toward the station, waiting for him to notice her. She did not bother to wave. The sound of the train faded. Brian opened his eyes and started down the hill. She noticed the flowers in his hand. He held them at his side with the 76

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 76

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

petals pointing straight to the ground. “These are for you.” He held them out to her when they were close enough. She brought them to her face. They smelled sweet. “Thank you,” she said. “You look so handsome in that uniform.” She embraced him, careful not to lose herself and jump into his arms. She felt the cold metal of the badges on his chest against her body. “Are you hungry? Do you want to go somewhere to eat?” she said without letting go of him. “No, let's eat later. I want to go to my apartment first.” He pulled his body away from her and continued down the hill. He placed his hand on her back and admired the way her blue dress hugged her skin. She handed him her keys as they approached the car. Whenever they were together, she always made him drive. She did not like to drive when other people were in the car. Something about being so directly responsible for another's safety made her uncomfortable. Besides, she knew that he enjoyed driving her places. They got into the green sedan. It smelled musty, like old clothes and wet wood. Jane was never very good at keeping it tidy. He noticed that she had gotten a new keychain. It was silver with an “I Heart L.A.” logo on the front. “When did you get this?” He held it out to her. “Last summer. I drove cross country, all the way to the ocean. Didn't I tell you about it in one of my letters?” He did not remember. “By yourself?” he asked. “No...with Doug.” He remembered who Doug was. “I bet you got lost quite a bit, driving all the way out there. You used to get lost on the way back home from school for Thanksgiving sometimes.” He laughed. “Did you bring a GPS with you?” She smiled. “Nope.” She had never used a GPS. She did not need some automatic, impersonal robot telling her where to turn or how many miles she had to go before reaching her destination. When she drove she knew it was important to pay attention to the world passing by her windows. She needed to find her own 77

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 77

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME way. And if she ever did get lost, there was a wide array of maps and atlases lying beneath piles of old clothes on the floor of her back seat. They drove in silence. He stopped for a red light and cringed at the sedan's squeaking brakes. “I hate that sound,” he said coldly. “I know.” She patted his thigh. “I'm sorry.” She was not that sorry. The sound did not bother her. She searched for some sort of conversation starter. “When was the last time you were at your apartment?” she asked. “Six months, I think.” “Must be nice to finally be home.” He could not call it his home. He had bought it just before he enlisted and had only been there a few times in the last three years, when he was on leave. Still, it was nice to be driving back in his hometown. He knew the area so well. He had it all mapped out in his head. He loved that, knowing exactly where everything was, knowing the street names and all the short cuts. He could not take the uncertain geography of life in the desert. Everybody over there was too complacent with the unknown. There was no right or wrong; no way to be sure you were headed in the right direction. In fact, he usually felt that his actions made it harder and harder for anyone to feel safe. He wondered if one day people over there might know all the street names of their town and be able to navigate effortlessly about their neighborhoods. He wondered if they would know all the short cuts. Maybe they already did know them. He parked her car and they entered his apartment. He had forgotten how bare and lonesome the place was: the walls were white and plain; there was no artwork, no television or computer, no food or drinks in the fridge; just an old stereo, some books, a few dusty lamps, and a California king size bed on the floor of his bedroom. Jane felt the emptiness of his home and immediately tried to make it more cozy. She took a large glass from the cupboard, filled it with water, and placed her flowers in it. They stood next to each other in the kitchen. He watched her admire their pink hue. “Aren't you going to take those with you?” “I can't.” She did not take her eyes off of the flowers. “How would I explain it to Doug? He would want to know where they came from.” 78

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 78

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

“Where did you tell him you were going? Did you tell him you were coming to see me?” “I told him I was going to see my father.” Brian flipped through a pile of old mail on the counter. He had left it there six months ago. “Why did you stop writing me letters?” Jane asked. He did not answer. He kept his eyes on the stack of mail. “Did you get the letter I sent to you?” She moved closer to him. He nodded. “Yes. I got it. You are going to marry him then, right? In the fall?” “Yes. In October.” She did not know what else to say. “I wish you had written back to me. I loved getting all those letters from you.” “I didn't want to send you something and then...” He paused and pushed the mail stack across the counter. “What?” “They were letters for you. I didn't want them to sit on the kitchen counter for some guy to pick up and wonder what they were. I want no one but you to know that they exist.” At this she jumped on to him. He had resolved not to be the one to initiate any kind of intimacy, but he had expected this. She had expected it too. She wanted it, wanted to make him feel good after being gone for so long. They pushed and pulled onto each other into the bedroom and onto the bed on the floor. She took off his clothes. He grabbed her hips and lifted her dress. He pulled her closer to himself, hard. She barely touched him. She did not roll her hands across his chest like she used to. Before too long it ended. It started to rain outside just after he finished. They heard it against the window as they caught their breath. He ran his hands through her hair and listened to what sounded like muted applause, like a quiet congratulation to the both of them for their brief, forced union. There was no sound he loved more than rain. As he held her, he did the best he could to hide his satisfaction. She felt cold. The rain grew louder outside, evolving into a full-fledged, summer storm. She remembered back to before he had left, their final summer together when they were both still in school. Whenever it stormed like this he would rush to her house, excited, wet. It got to the point where he would not call; he would just show up at her front door, soaking wet, and 79

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 79

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME he would take her upstairs to her bedroom. He would not say a word. Her memories of those afternoons were so clouded, so surreal. Once, he had said that a thunderstorm was nature's orgasm. Every time it stormed she thought of that. Now they were done before the storm had even started. They watched the wind blow the trees outside his bedroom window and lay quietly beside each other, careful not to get too close. The storm ended; it lasted twenty minutes. They decided to go out to dinner. He drove her to Rotier's, the place his family had always taken him as a child, and the place where he had taken her on their first date. It was nothing too fancy, but he knew that she enjoyed going there. They sat in a small booth by the kitchen. He ordered two beers. She felt strange being back in her hometown; Rotier's felt much smaller than it used to. “Nobody lives here anymore. I feel like everyone has left.” She glanced around the restaurant. Brian shrugged. He did not like sitting by the kitchen and hearing all the clanging plates and cutlery. It sounded like some confused marching band, like a bunch of obnoxious children banging on percussion instruments just to see if anyone would tell them to quiet down. “So...” She started to ask him something and then sighed, staring at her bottle of beer. “What?” She hesitated. “Well I want to ask you about your time over there. But I know you probably don't want to talk about it...” “No, it's okay. There just isn't a lot to say. It's hot. And sunny. It hardly ever rains.” He searched for something to talk about that might interest her. “The worst part, Jane, is all the noise. You can’t ever hear yourself think. I hated that more than anything.” The waitress arrived and took their orders. He drank another beer and then asked her about Doug. All he knew is what she had told him in her letters, that she had met him at school and that he was from somewhere east, North Carolina—Raleigh maybe. “Well, he's going to med school. He wants to be an optometrist, an eye doctor—” “I know what an optometrist is,” he interrupted. She started again. “I really like him Brian. You would like him too if you 80

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 80

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

got to know him.” “I'm sure he's charming.” “You know, Doug is the only person I have ever felt safe with. Everyone else—even you—I've always felt like I was not on solid ground; like the whole world might fall to pieces at any moment.” At this he rolled his eyes. “What?” she sat up in her seat. “Oh, you think that's funny or something? You think I'm being sentimental?” His face turned serious. “I just know what delicate ground is Jane. That's all it is over there. Literally. You never know when the whole world might explode beneath your feet.” He was embarrassed at how somber a tone he had taken. He tried to smile. “I'm sorry,” she said quietly. She thought for a moment and then realized she was not sorry. She looked him straight in the eye, letting herself get angry. “Why do you do that? Why do you always do that? You make me feel so fucking stupid. Are you trying to guilt me or something? Are you trying to make me feel worse than I already feel? You left me, Brian. Remember? You told me that we were finished.” “I didn't want anyone waiting for me,” he said softly. “I didn't want—” “I would have waited. You know I would have waited.” Their food arrived. They avoided looking at each other and started to eat. Brian chewed as quietly as he could. He knew she hated the sound of his chewing. “Well, what about now?” he blurted without thinking. “Now?” “Yes, now that I’m back.” She furrowed her brow. “Brian...I can’t do that. You know I can’t.” “Because of Doug?” “Yes, but...No. Not just just because of Doug.” “Then why did you come to see me?” She blinked and took a deep breath. “Why did you lie to Doug?” “Because I wanted to see you. I...I wanted to make you happy. You know that.” “Stop telling me what I know,” he said sternly. “It’s been three years. How could you possibly know what I’m thinking?” 81

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 81

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME She sighed and shook her head. He could tell that his statement had hurt her, and secretly he was proud of himself. She retreated back to her meal silently, and resolved not to give him another chance to twist her words. He waited for her to rekindle the exchange, for some kind of explanation. None came. The waitress refilled their water glasses. Jane pushed her food around her plate with a fork. “What are you going to do with yourself?” She kept her eyes on her plate. He smirked and imitated her father. “Well I guess I'll feed the pigeons in the park for a while.” She laughed. It was one of the many sayings her father had repeated all her life, over and over to anyone who would listen. He had always asked Brian what he wanted to do with his life, and warned him to make something of himself or else he would be like one of the old men in the park throwing bread at the pigeons. She spoke through her laughter. “Yes, but seriously.” “I don't know. I'll figure it out. Just going to be on my own for a while.” They finished eating and left. It was dark outside. He did not know if she was planning on staying the night with him. They walked toward the car. He reached out, waiting for her to hand him the keys. She began to fumble through her purse. She stopped. “I want to drive.” He was surprised. “Really? Why?” “I just do, okay?” She opened the driver side door. He stood still in the parking lot. She began to cry. She brought the palms of her hands to her face and got into the car. He closed his eyes and listened to her muffled sobs. He was embarrassed, unsure of how to react, incapable of consoling her. He opened his eyes and got into the passenger seat, careful not to look at her. He let out forced exhalations of sadness to let her know that he was upset too. But he did not feel sad, only frustrated and confused. The sound of her quiet sniffles annoyed him. The more she cried the more he hated her for making herself so shamelessly vulnerable. Eventually she stopped and rubbed her eyes. She started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

82

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 82

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

After a while, he chanced a glance toward her. She did not look at him. She was driving well over the speed limit. He wondered if she thought she had made a mistake by coming to see him. He wanted to ask, but he could tell by her focus on the road that she was no longer in any mood for conversation. Her determination scared him. He thought seriously for the first time about whether he would attend her wedding in October. She turned onto his street and parked outside of his apartment building. “Are you going to come inside?” he asked, almost automatically. “I'd like it if you stayed the night.” “No. I'm going to drive back to Raleigh.” “Raleigh? You'll be driving all night.” “I don't want to sleep next to you, Brian. I'm sorry. I really am. I just can't. I can't sleep in your bed. I will just cry and I won't fall asleep.” She patted his knee. “And I know you. You won't fall asleep unless I do. You always have to be the last person to fall asleep, like you’re afraid you’ll miss something.” He got out of the car and poked his head through the passenger side window. She leaned across her seat and gave him a light, forgettable kiss. “You're going to be fine,” she said. “I'm sure of it. Keep in touch, okay?” She put the car in reverse. “You know how to get out of here?” He pointed back to the highway. “Yeah.” She pulled away and left him standing on the curb. The car disappeared around the corner. He lingered, listening to the fading sound of her accelerating engine. When he couldn't hear it any longer he closed his eyes and listened to the silence. He could hear everything. A train whistled in the distance, crossing the highway on its way out of town. He knew that Jane could hear it too. He went back to his apartment and found Jane's most recent letter. He read the first few lines and then folded it and put it away. He walked to the living room and dug through an unpacked box, looking for a novel to read.

83

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 83

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME She It Was Though (In Memory of N.B.) Jonathan Barton The dead send no letters like one, for instance, I keep someplace in a box in the basement, blue pages lined and imprinted, postage comically low, and anyway the currency’s since withdrawn. I remember the way she stood behind the reception counter, gripping the phone with her cheek, stapling the folds of her dress where buttons were missing as I stepped in from the street. How concentrated I was on the beach that day— mild sandpaper of my tongue on the Braille of her freckled skin, the cheap chardonnay. Afterwards walking the water’s loud edge I couldn’t hear the lyrics to the song she yeah yeah yeahed, lifting her arms in copy of the pelicans in their aerial current. She it was I thought of tonight, as my cigar’s smoke funneled into the air of the beach. Autumn’s coming. Cicadas in the dark bushes holding the dunes. Above, only a fragment of Cassiopeia remains, jagged at the edge of the chair she was tied to and held upside down when the heat lightning flashes. The last I saw her, she wore a glossy black wig, her brown hair gone. 84

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 84

4/6/12 3:07 PM


Happy Thanksgiving! (You fucking cancer. Rot in your restless grave for ruining your mother's life.)

(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

Thomas DeSanto

It's Thanksgiving. My mother is slicing pumpkin pie in the kitchen & I'm looking around at the tacky turkey decorations lining my grandmother's walls. Eddie is sleeping in my dead grandfather's recliner. I look down at the watch on his wrist, which used to be his father's who is now in jail. It's seven. This idiot is passed out again. Eddie starts choking on his drool. My sister runs over & flips him onto his stomach as my grandmother walks into the living room, telling us she can't find her Oxycontin. His mouth is foaming. Fuck. He's vomiting. No. No. No. II Eddie Price is my deadbeat cousin. He's already bald at 26. A few of his brown teeth fell out into the streets of Baltimore last year when two thugs beat his face in with a brick. He was buying heroin. I wonder if time stopped on his way to the ground, if he noticed his blood & the rain mixing with the yellow glow of the streetlights. I bet he just saw the horse that fucker slid back into his baggy pockets.

85

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 85

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME

III A few seconds after that needle plucks your skin you feel exactly like a cat, fat & floating through stars & geysers. It feels like you're fucking everything in sight. Your blood gets thick & vibrates in your veins. Everything turns gold. The wet sidewalk is full of worms. You hear violins & pianos. The shadow of your body shakes under your heavy legs. You feel like a church. You are a church. You are a church. You are a church. IV Goddammit, Eddie. Were you even thinking? You let it kill you. & worse, when we got back the food was cold.

86

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 86

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME What It Is Like To Be a Bat Jonathan Hughes Stew DeLatt is perched on the 26th story of the Bank-Bank building: The Skyline’s Pride of Heartwell, IL. It is just after sunset. Stew is dilapidated. His ribs are showing. He is tiny—just a hair under five feet tall. He adjusts his body to hang from a small ledge jutting out from the architecture. He is completely nude save for a black blindfold and the black, loose, space-aged fabric that he has sutured to his lats and down the length of his arms. Stew has stitched the webbing clean through his skin by hand. It’s one of the many modifications he’s put himself through as part of his Preparation (Stew personally calls it his “Kampf,” which is obviously not something he repeats out loud). His feet grasp the building’s ledge like twisted monkey paws. His ears are cut into elfin points. His teeth have been shaved down to fangs—cosmetic dentistry courtesy (but definitely not pro bono) of a Mr. Nguyen, a man who doesn’t bother with the pretense of Dr. in any shape or form. Stew is thin; his tiny frame has to be as light as possible. He can’t afford any extra weight. He has donated marrow under different names to achieve hollowed bird bones. He has reduced himself down to a diet of mashed fruit and water at varying levels of fermentation. His heart is racing. His nostrils are facing forward, held in place by a strip of scotch tape that stretches to his forehead. His eyes are shut tight, despite the blindfold. His ears scan the air spasmodically, his face twitching and contorting. He listens closely. He hears the disjointed homeless’ arguments raging in the parks and alleys below. He hears a businessman masturbating in his office, safe behind the privacy of the closed window blinds. He hears the wet hacking cough of a vendor who sells pretzels and bottled water. He focuses closely and hears the same atonal drone that he’s heard every moment of every day of his life but rarely paid attention to. The sound is a sacred universal Ah Uh Mm. It’s the analog hiss of fluorescent lighting. It’s the blood in his brain circulating round in choral chants. Stew takes a deep breath and releases the grip of his feet. He plunges in altitude for a good scare before the wild flapping of his arms takes effect. His plan has worked. All the years of preparation have paid off. The point-toothed grin on Stew Delatt’s face stretches a mile wide. Stew DeLatt knows what it is like to be a bat, finally. The Kampf is over. Stew DeLatt is free. 87

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 87

4/6/12 3:07 PM


POICTESME Sandwiches from the Deli/Bakery Joseph Norris

My mother is a baker. 28 years. Her hands have carefully constructed an empire of icing; that's her specialty. Home alone, I call her work. Heidi in the deli/bakery. Her voice the savior from the smooth light jazz: the suited & sunglass-ed man in the pale yellow, cone-shaped spotlight, fluid with oceanic waves of cigarette smoke surrounded by the deep gray silhouettes of heads, hats, shoulders & cherries that blip like the ends of airplane wings at night, or radio towers: antennas to channel the signal as the bass from his saxophone solo is lost in translation from the telephone receiver to my ear drum. The treble to make his message shallow and transparent. Could you bring some sandwiches home? The kind with the thick, sesame seed buns - the kind that made the other kids jealous. The kind with meat & cheese stacked over and over until it looks like bins overstuffed with oriental rugs & runners rolled up in a warehouse with shelves to the ceiling. The kind that made me kiss her cheek. I want two, please.

88

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 88

4/6/12 3:07 PM


(pwa-'tem) ¨ ˘

The Oldest Fear David Osnoe

I have learned that minds cannot be made to bend-not for folk so fragile as us. We who live stubborn, clinging to cliffs, riding the whirling sea-This is man's perilous flight and it stretches back from the ancient into the new, from blistered animal skin stretched taut over drums to the cold thumps and groans of digitized symphonies. Inside each human lives a great fear of change: we hold ourselves too tight-we are too afraid to say that it is allowable: to be made back into clay.

89

Poictesme2012_Final.indd 89

4/6/12 3:07 PM


2012 Interior  

Interior for First Friday

Advertisement
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you