Page 1

Propeller JANUARY 2011

Talking Tiger Fur

books music art film life

Amy Cutler and Aimee Bender chat about art, the woods, and collaboration Kevin Clark on poetry and hitting lefty Eric Gold tracks Sholem Ugajnik Greenlight Had the Punk Book And pairings of literature and music that, consumed together, delight discriminating aesthetic palates! FICTION BY EVAN P. SCHNEIDER | POEMS BY MAUREEN THORSON & JAY THOMPSON


Propellercontents 18 | Kevin Clark Hits Lefty

“Up to the moment we begin to write, our lives are the gestation period. Our minds alter our memories and our poems alter them again.” A Q&A between Lucas Bernhardt and Kevin Clark

34 | Amy Cutler and Aimee Bender Talk Tiger Fur

“For me the woods are a place that you return to no matter which forest you step into.” A Q&A between Alex Behr, Amy Cutler, and Aimee Bender

60 | Sholem Ugajnik Knew When to Leave

34

“Imagine: The year is 1895, you are six years old. Your name is Sholem Ugajnik. You live in the town of Wasilkow, in the northeast of Poland. Wasilkow is burning.” By Eric Gold

18

60


10 | Greenlight Bookstore

“The perfect place for perusing shelves in search of inspiration.”


Propellercontents 52 | Poems Maureen Thorson

“The WONDERS of my ENCHANTED GARDEN,” “Clarity,” and “You Versus the Wonders of Blue.”

98 | Poems Jay Thompson

“Paradise,” “Daphnes,” and “Summer Letters.”

86 | Fiction “The Debaclist” By Evan P. Schneider


Pairs | sriaP

Writers on aesthetic collisions that (mostly) work out. 8 | Horse Songs and Love Medicine By Alex Behr 16 | Black Hole and “Let the Mystery Be� By Wendy Bourgeois 32 | Dogs and Dragon Speech By Lucas Bernhardt 50 | Ezra Jack Keats and The Rolling Stones By Alan Limnis 84 | Symphony No. 3 and Camera Lucida By Sarah Kruse 108 | Sung Tongs and Naive. Super By Benjamin Craig


“Put the picture in Albino Press and if someone puts a sticker on it they’ve bought it—do it for three thousand dollars. Someone can mix their money together and then they’d have three thousand. Actually one thousand. Actually ten thousand. Actually ten thousand eight hundred and seventy-six cents.” —Eli, age 6


Propeller Volume 3, Issue 1 January 2011 Editor Dan DeWeese Managing Editors Lucas Bernhardt Benjamin Craig Contributing Editors Alex Behr Shea’la Finch Matthew Hein Evan P. Schneider Lisa Sibbett Design Context Information News www.propellermag.com Archives Store Letters letters@propellermag.com Submissions submissions@propellermag.com Publication January April July October


propellerpairs

I

don’t listen to music when I read for pleasure. I block out sounds. I prefer, if possible, to read in bed, under the quilt I made, with the paper as close to my near-sighted, biologically unfit eyes as possible. And I can’t talk or read while practicing piano or bass. So assuming the fantasy of a music/book pairing, I would stitch the Dirty Three’s Horse Stories into something equally romantic, like the linked stories in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. Poked and shredded by literary criticism, the book still affects me. I can’t write

+

as openly or fragrantly as Erdrich. And I can’t play music with such lulling repetition and falling-down drunk/tongue-down-the-throat nausea/romance as the Dirty Three. I’ve seen this Australian band in concert, the violinist with his back on the ground after dedicating a song to a woman who died in a car crash; maybe it’s an affectation, but who cares. I focus on the drummer, who plays random, inventive patterns with virtuosic calm. He loops me around, makes me weepy. We can’t ululate in this culture, so we


+

slip into the minor key, as in this phrase from Love Medicine (“Crown of Thorns”): “A month after June died Gordie took his first drink and then the need was on him like a hook in his jaw, tipping his wrist, sending him out with needles piercing his hairline, his aching hands.” It’s very Dirty Three—spinning out with simple phrases. The band consists of distorted guitar, violin, and drums, building until the mood is dreadful and piercing. You stay. But after a while, you’d have to choose: music or the book. You can’t divide

your attention. Maybe you want them both to shut up when they reach their climaxes, as in the slightly hysterical violin in “Sue’s Last Ride” or the coda to “Crown of Thorns”—“they heard him crying like a drowned person, howling in the open fields.” You mix a gin and tonic with Devo. Then drink with a stiff John Cheever. —Alex Behr


propellershop


NONLINEAR

GREENLIGHT FORT GREENE

• COZY • TUCKED AWAY • FEWER THAN EIGHTEEN MILES OF BOOKS “THE PERFECT PLACE FOR PERUSING SHELVES IN SEARCH OF INSPIRATION.”


propellershop

W

hen book shopping in New York, it can be difficult to see past the eighteen miles of books at the literary behemoth known as Strand. Tucked away on a street corner in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, Greenlight Bookstore can easily be missed. The space is small and cozy, but crammed with a variety of titles including some rarities (my brother-in-law found me a rare edition of Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain here that Strand did not carry). The nonlinear layout of the store makes it the perfect place for perusing shelves in search of inspiration instead of arriving with a purchase objective. A small section of calendars and journals reside at the front of the store, but for the most part Greenlight refuses the kitsch knickknacks and toys and sticks to business with books, books, books. A darling children’s nook in the back filled with modern and classic children’s titles also makes it a perfect place to inspire the young ones to pick up a hardback. And after shopping, be sure to hit up the even smaller (and equally cozy) Pequeña Mexican eatery for a delectable black bean and plantain quesadilla. —Devan Cook


propellershop

Greenlight Bookstore 686 Fulton Street New York, NY 11217 (718) 246-0200 greenlightbookstore.com


propellerpairs

C

harles Burns’ graphic novel Black Hole is riveting, strange, beautiful. And depressing. Not sad, not “hurts so good” teen angsty, but the real deal, numbing and lonely without even some pleasurable longing thrown in to lighten the mood. Drawn in stark black and white reminiscent of medieval wood cuts, the book tells the story of some 70s-era Seattle

+ teenagers having too much sex and doing too many drugs, and a mutation-inducing STD that turns them into monsters, both physically and psychologically. Think Metamorphosis on a grand scale, with pictures. It’s fantastic; I read it in one sitting, but it ruined my mood for fortyeight hours. It took me a while to realize what my problem was, because it offers no catharsis


+ really, and the loose ends feel just like the worst parts of real life. Cue Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” Dement sings mostly minor key country songs in a melancholy voice that is also sturdy and sweet enough for a good cry in the car. This song, though, about putting aside the big existential questions in favor of just, you know, living, al-

ways scrubs out my psyche and leaves it fresh and lemon-scented. So by all means read Black Hole (don’t say I didn’t warn you), but don’t wait forty-eight hours for the cure. —Wendy Bourgeois


propellercraft


KEVIN CLARK

FREE IN THE ATMOSPHERE INCLUDING THOUGHTS ON • ASHBERY AND RICH • THE HIPPY TRIP • HITTING LEFTY

“UP TO THE MOMENT WE BEGIN TO WRITE, OUR LIVES ARE THE GESTATION PERIOD. OUR MINDS ALTER OUR MEMORIES AND OUR POEMS ALTER THEM AGAIN.”


propellercraft

Q/A

PROPELLER: Expressions such as “gut-check” and “finger-viced,” which may have an anti-poetic ring for many readers, appear regularly in your poems. Do you feel this is characteristic of contemporary poetry? Historically, how would you describe the role of anti-poetry in relation to poetry?

novel, in which three people take turns speaking and each has a personal dialect, some of which can be “anti-poetic,” a term that usually connotes non-traditional verse sounds and cadences. It’s a happy challenge for me… On the other hand, because American poetry has had a habit of welcoming all kinds of speech, I’m not sure the term “anti-poetry” applies. It’s all poKEVIN CLARK: Whitman liked toying with etry. It’s all our yawp. the speech of the street and Frost like the talk of the American rustic… Then Williams helped us PROPELLER: Your poem “Class Politics” dehear the music in our urban neighborhoods… scribes some curious experiences with stubut you’re right in a way, there was a period dents. Are you surprised more poets don’t write when academic sounding verse came into about their experiences as teachers given that vogue… Thankfully, the Beats soon caught the so many of them teach? Can you think of other melody of the street and damn near any type of poets who do an exemplary job bringing the expression was legit… So I think American po- classroom into their poems? Does teaching etry opens up to all kinds of rhetoric: high, low, make it harder or easier for you to write poems? street, regional, ethnic, expletival, and more… Such expansion includes the ever-elastic glos- KEVIN CLARK: Poets—and I include myself saries and figures of speech not only of succeed- in this generalization—usually are wary of writing generations but of certain endeavors, such ing about writing and writing about associated as cooking, farming, baseball, dance, war, reli- subjects such as teaching. I think we fear that gion, etc… writing about the subject is like talking in code. I’m working on a new book, a kind of verse Or that it’s innately boring stuff. But of course


propellercraft

one can write about anything…and I mean ANY thing… So I’m not surprised that we don’t see a lot of teaching poems, but I can tell you the best poems about the subject are being written by a remarkable poet in San Antonio, Texas named Wendy Barker. She has a number of books but her new poems are focusing on teaching and by god they are stunning…They hit the mark… Because of course they are not in the end about teaching but about the blood and guts of the lovely crisis we call living. Here’s a link to one of her teaching poems and a brief commentary on it by Fleda Brown: http://www.fledabrown. com/wBarker.html PROPELLER: If you were to write an allegory to your own mental powers, how would Reason relate to Sensuality? And if James Dickey played a role in said allegory, after which faculty would you name him? KEVIN CLARK: When you write you have to be set free in the atmosphere of your imagination…The endeavor requires slipping into sensation…The process requires sensuality more than reason, though reason clearly has a place… Now I’ll take the bait on the allegory, but I’ll make it more of a metaphor: I still play fast pitch baseball and I hit lefty. Reason is that part of my mind I sometimes

“When you write you have to be set free in the atmosphere of your imagination... The endeavor requires slipping into sensation.” overuse when I’m facing a left-handed pitcher who is probably planning to throw me a curve, which, let’s be frank, has never been easy for me to hit… Trouble is, I don’t know when the curve is coming…The first pitch? Probably not, too obvious. But then maybe—I just don’t know… You see? Too much thinking… So I have to relax into my sensate self and just feel the whole thing as the pitch is on its way… Then—quick, no thinking—react… In a way, the best of sensuality is when I make contact and the ball is heading into the right center alley for a sure double… The sensual includes the erotic, of course, and the great slugger


propellercraft

James Dickey and Burt Reynolds on the set of Deliverance, 1971.


Reggie Jackson said that that sensation–the line drive into the gap–is better than sex… I beg to disagree but not too loudly… Frankly, the sensuality I’m describing occurs when I’m writing very well–or, check that, when I believe I am… In baseball, reason tells me what to do and then it tells me to stop thinking…In writing, reason returns during revisions when I come back to read what I’ve written and I find the grand glory of my original effort was brute ugly all along… James Dickey is the crazed smiling spitting screaming manager who is yelling in his Georgia slur from the dugout, demanding I run the bases faster because some juiced-up satanic beast is on my tail… And believe me, he’s right, the beast is always on my tail… PROPELLER: In a recent essay, Richard Rodriguez wrote, “The traditional task of the writer in California has been to write about what it means to be human in a place advertised as paradise.” Agree, disagree, or re-contextualize. KEVIN CLARK: Okay, so this is a huge question… First off, Rodriguez’s quote is just a bit snide, right? The term “advertised” suggests

that in fact California is not paradisal but disappointing. No doubt he’s right about certain regions of the state…Bigotry still exists in places. Pollution still poisons pockets of water and air. Our system of state government is busted. But I’ve lived in the Bay Area, the Sacramento Valley, and the Central Coast, and the idea of this state being an exceptionally good place to “be human” still adheres for me. It’s all a matter of context, right? I was born in New York City and when I was five or so my folks moved us out to uppermost north Jersey (not Springsteen’s Jersey, not the Sopranos’ Jersey). As they say, “north of Route 4.” I’m talking the 1950s and north Jersey was an untrammeled, homogenous, middle class place in which to grow up, but, with the exception of truly magnificent pizza, it was also culturally deprived because New York City was nearby… You don’t need museums, or art theaters, or symphonies, or coffee shops, or poetry bookstores, or fine little ethnic restaurants, or professional sports for that matter, when they’re all just across the river… But then it’s very pricey to get across that river and park and attend to that diverse, rich culture… Family and TV and popular novels


propellercraft

and local sports were the things most local suburbanites had to be satisfied with…All good, of course, but to be human in north Jersey was to be in a pleasant place cut off from the world of art. In 1973 I took what we used to call “the hippy trip,” which was a circuit around the USA and I couldn’t believe how much the Bay Area felt like a more realized home to me… Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Marin, even Santa Cruz… It was as close to a paradise as I’d experienced. The landscape was dramatic. The pace was a little slower. The politics were more in line with my own. Not only was there much more accessible culture, but the people were interested in art and ideas in a way that couldn’t exist in Jersey. For instance, everybody I knew, and I mean everybody, talked about serious movies. Also a lotta talk about music and books. There were lots of cool movie houses. And think of the bookstores back then: Mo’s, Cody’s, Shakespeare’s, Black Oak, the little first edition poetry-only store, what was it called, Serendipity? Anyway, such talk is a form of rapture. Two years after my trip, I left Jersey and moved to California. Up to recently I’ve written about both Jersey and California, because both are “homes” for me. My kids live in Manhattan and most of my extended family is in Jersey. I love going back. But I live in what very well may be the most liv-

able place in the country, San Luis Obispo. A college town with the ocean about eight miles off… Modest mountains, sun-friendly temperate weather, a good art theatre, very little traffic, bike trails, an ecological consciousness, college athletics. The megalopolises of southern and northern California with their urban riches are not too far off…Yes, it’s too expensive to live here; I don’t like having a nuclear power plant south of us; and the citizenry is not diverse enough, but it’s a good place to be a writer and raise a family. To be human here is to be in a place that enhances art and soul. PROPELLER: What music would you select as the soundtrack to Self-Portrait with Expletives? KEVIN CLARK: Cool question. For the first two sections of the volume, Springsteen’s first version of “No Retreat No Surrender,” but only the music, no lyrics… For the third section, real low, like background music in a dream: The Jaynetts’ song “Sally Go Round the Roses.” For the last section, it has to be Dexter Gordon’s heart-bleeding sax piece “I’m a Fool to Want You”… PROPELLER: Many of the experiences you write about in your poems are remembered experiences. What is happening to these experi-


propellercraft


“Verisimilitude can be a kind of strangling. If the circumstances don’t serve the tension of the poem, I change the circumstances.”

ences during the period of gestation between their occurrence and their representation? Or, what is the poem’s relationship to the experience that prompted it? Or vice versa? KEVIN CLARK: You’re right. Up to now most of my published poetry is founded on an event I experienced directly. But I certainly haven’t let the details of the event limit me. I believe in Frost’s dictum: “Lie to get at the truth.” Verisimilitude can be a kind of strangling. If the circumstances don’t serve the tension of the poem, I change the circumstances. That said, let’s face it: Memory has a way of changing actuality. Up to the moment we begin to write, our lives are the gestation period. Our minds alter our

memories and our poems alter them again. In the title poem of the new book, I tell the story of my friend Darse and me traveling across the country and getting into a scrape with two rednecks in Ohio. Some of what I describe actually happened. Some did not. I’m thinking that the fictive is the ecstatic realm in which we get to engage life on the terms our imagination imposes. In my new work, this verse novel I mentioned, I’m finding some freedom from that autobiographical foundation. It’s in three voices; a woman and two men “speak” about failed love. The main character is the woman who is divorced from one of the men, a Vietnam vet. Back in college the woman had a special onenight romance with the other guy, a young Italian tourist who loves the poet Montale. In some ways, everyone fails at love until they don’t, right? I’m gratefully, uncommonly happy in my relationship with my wife Amy. But I can remember some of the troubles in love I had half my life ago before we met, and I can draw on those… Still, these three characters are way different than I am… So it’s energizing to make all this stuff up. PROPELLER: You have observed in John Ashbery’s poetry a tendency “to endow the reader with an impression of consciousness energized


propellercraft

“In my thirty-plus years as a teacher of poetry writing, I haven’t met too many students who were influenced by Ashbery.” by a desire to question while enervated by a propensity to doubt.” What would you say to those who described him as an intriguing writer but a questionable influence on other poets? How would you describe his influence on your work?

KEVIN CLARK: Ashbery is a genius. He and Adrienne Rich are probably our most celebrated living poets. And yet she has been much more of an influence on emerging poets. In my thirty plus years as a teacher of poetry writing, I haven’t met too many students who were influenced by Ashbery. Perhaps middle aged poets, such as John Koethe and Jimm Cushing. Certainly a few others, especially those who were originally enamored with surrealism and who came to see Ashbery’s brilliant representation

of disorder as a helpful path… Most poets want to assert themselves more directly than Ashbery does… While I’ve been much more influenced by T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath as well as contemporaries such as Phil Levine, Norman Dubie, Susan Mitchell, and Robert Hass, to name a few, I’ve always been an admirer of the way Ashbery creates seamless transitions in his lyrics, and I think I may have subconsciously attempted to bridge from one realm to another as he does… Like him, I am also skeptical of too much belief. As I say in the last poem in my book, I like “open / closure, the kind that improvs its own end- / lessness.” Is that Ashberian?Ω


propellerpairs

I

f you live with dogs, you may know the feeling of being unable to get them to stop barking at every passerby. A woman leading a young girl by the hand walks slowly down the sidewalk in front the picture window, and in the uproar you seize upon a method, as yet untried, of quieting the animals. You join in their delusion, and let out an amazing string of threats and curses, sure to make even a Labradoodle feel silly about having blown her top. You shout and jump on the sofa and gesticulate so it is very lucky the glare on the window conceals you. There is one complication. Before the invasion, you had been composing an e-mail us-

+ ing the latest speech recognition software, and when you embarked on your folie a deux you forgot to remove your headset microphone. The result reads: A money sucking must have sucked sucked big sucking face knockoffs of talk and suck me running back and give a fark about Alsatian shear God dam it was me he bulleted bran was only half as how mulling teeth her are yes right keep walking I do take boost his him of death will you are a dude tips should good to Goodman’s and is the enough is right that this Dahmer took place no nothing as okay okay.


+ Maybe this explains why I don’t listen to music while I read. Multitasking is inefficient, if not dangerous. My dad frequently does two things at once, like talking on the phone while paying bills; one year he sent his tax payment to the electric company, and his utility payment to the IRS. He ended up with a sizable credit with one and a big to do with the other. Yet still I can hear papers rustling in the background when I drop him a line. Once upon a time I might have put on classical music while reading so I could pretend it was making me smarter, or 60s rock so I could pretend to be optimistic and edgy, but all that

came down with my dorm room posters. Now, if I am to join two pleasures, they will be reading a book and talking to myself. In this case I need not remove my headset, because my monologue generally pertains to the reading, and is a method of notetaking that seldom degenerates into the sort of language which modesty will not allow my speech recognition software to translate accurately. —Lucas Bernhardt


am aim propellerPortfolio


my mee Cutler

Bender

Fur


propellerPortfolio

Q/A I

once was lucky to see a show of Amy Cutler’s art in New York, guided by my late friend Annie Herron, a curator who had an excellent eye. Cutler’s work is akin to taking a snow globe of prairie women, adding tiny charms of teapots, octopi or matchsticks, and seeing what happens when they land, shaken. In 2006 I tracked down Cutler’s first eponymous book of paintings and drawings (published by Hatje Cantz). They have an energy that that can’t be reduced to a description of objects, such as Umbrage, in which girls on goats prepare to duel with umbrellas as lances attached to their heads, or 2001’s Disembark, where young women in thrift-store dresses, their braids like ships’ ropes, fall from two huge trees (like impervious towers). I have to squint to see all the details on the page—I want to see all the details, like I would want to immerse myself in a fairy tale illustration. They’re chilly and they’re charming. They’re certainly not naïve. This spring a second volume of Cutler’s art, Turtle Fur, is coming out, with text by fiction

writer Aimee Bender and curator Laura Steward (pub. Hatje Cantz). Turtle Fur will accompany Cutler’s show at SITE in Santa Fe. It’s an overview of her surreal, unnerving art. Cutler’s art makes sense intuitively, not logically, but the commitment to that world is complete—which is what I love about Aimee Bender’s fiction, too. I was led to Bender’s fiction by another friend/mentor, novelist Monica Drake, who was emphatic: “You have to read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt!” She knew the collection would change my ideas of what short stories could be. —Alex Behr PROPELLER: I read that Aimee wrote a story based on Amy’s Tiger Mending, which features women stitching up the bellies of complacent tigers. Aimee, did you see Tiger Mending and get inspired to write a story, or were you two introduced some other way? AIMEE BENDER: I forget the details of it but it

“The process of being interviewed by Aimee was a bit daunting.” Photo of Amy Cutler by Witold Riedel.


was early on that Amy and I had a conversation about collaborating—way before “Tiger Mending.” I remember sending Amy a story and she showed me a preliminary sketch she’d done of one of my characters from Flammable Skirt. Then the Black Book assignment kind of fell in my lap; they let me pick the artist and so it was a perfect opportunity. As soon as Amy sent me links to her work, I responded to it right away—the clear, precise, wondrous imagery, the imaginative leaps, the familiarity and strangeness at the same time. When Black Book asked me which painter I’d like to work with (they gave me a choice of three), it was a no-brainer! [ED note: the story came out in fall 2004 and is reprinted in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005.] AMY CUTLER: I’m a huge fan of Aimee’s work. I was introduced to her work in 2001 on the NPR program Selected Shorts. Soon after, I read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and I was enamored by the way her writing was able to transport me into another world. I was questioning the importance of making paintings about my insular imaginary world. The twin towers were still burning and I couldn’t see how my narrative paintings mattered in the context of what was happening outside

my window. Her stories gave me the courage to soldier on. They created a great escape and I realized the importance of fiction. This was a transformative moment for me and I decided to write my first fan letter. Amazingly, she wrote back, and I sent her some images of my work and she sent me a story that she hadn’t published. Serendipitously, in 2004 Black Book paired our work together and Aimee wrote “Tiger Mending,” inspired by my painting with the same title. PROPELLER: Aimee, did you contact Amy while you were writing “Tiger Mending,” or just go with the initial impulse until it was done? Were you challenged by wanting to guess what the painter’s intent was, or did you just take the image as an initial set of characters/mood? BENDER: I did that solely on my own—I wanted to just have a conversation with the painting itself. I guess I don’t really think intent should be that key—she may have one intent and I may see something really different in it. But I did feel shy/nervous when she read it, and at that moment I felt worried that the story would be very different than what she might hope or expect! PROPELLER: Aimee, have you done similar

Amy Cutler Tiger Mending, 2003 Gouache on paper 17-3/4 x 14-3/4 inches Courtesy of Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York


propellerPortfolio

projects with artists before? How was Turtle Fur definitely altered my daily studio practice. I had different? forgotten how much work goes into the making of a book. I had to revisit the past six years BENDER: I do like collaborations—have done of my life and decide what I wanted to include. some with composers and I’ve written other The process of being interviewed by Aimee was stories off paintings, but I haven’t had a rap- a bit daunting. Verbalizing my thoughts about port with the painter before. Being able to talk my work doesn’t always come so easily and to Amy after was a complete treat. And she has writing them down was something very new since shown me photos on the web of tattoos on to me. Aimee asked some really great questions a thigh and a back based on images from “Tiger that made me rethink my own understanding Mending,” which was so thrilling for both of us! of my work. PROPELLER: Aimee, how do you encourage PROPELLER: Amy’s paintings remind me of your students to trust their improvised “mis- children’s book illustrations from my parents’ takes”? generations that we had in our house growing up, like the original Oz series, Arthur RackBENDER: Yes! Anne Sexton used to talk about ham’s illustrations in Aesop’s Fables, or Arthur using typos in her poems; I think it is so freeing Szyk’s illustrations in Andersen’s Fairy Tales. Are to realize that we just don’t always pick the best any children’s book illustrators an influence on word with our carefully thought-out planning. your (Amy’s) paintings or your (Aimee’s) writing? PROPELLER: Amy, I read in your first book that you like bringing improvisational elements BENDER: I just love those illustrations—use into your art, which seems similar to Aimee’s them when I teach. I do think they have had a approach to fiction. How are you improvising big influence on my writing, because the imwhile working on Turtle Fur, or is it a different ages sort of stick on the brain intensely—the Oz process? books in particular. Something of the deep imprinting of childhood is captured in how well I CUTLER: Huh, I’m not sure if so much impro- remember those images. And fairy tales usually visation went into the making of this book. It contain very simple images that are extremely

“I wanted to just have a conversation with the painting itself.” Photo of Aimee Bender by Max S. Gerber.


Amy Cutler Above the Fjord, 2010 Gouache on paper 29 x 41-1/4 inches Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York


propellerPortfolio

resonant and fresh: a glass coffin, a boar’s heart, a pumpkin carriage. CUTLER: Richard Scarry was my favorite illustrator as a child. I was always captivated by the whimsy and amount of detail. Your eye can always wander around on the page and find so much enjoyable chaos. I hadn’t seen the beautiful classics you both enjoyed until much later. As for influences, I can’t think of any specific ones. PROPELLER: Amy’s paintings and Aimee’s stories also remind me of movies that share a similar menacing or magical quality, like City of Lost Children or Pan’s Labyrinth. Have any films inspired either of you recently?

“For me the woo to no matter whic a sense of calm found in a place w ders and the hori move through it t

or because they inhabit the space in a rhythmic CUTLER: I watch a lot of animated films. Some way (which may be more akin to slam-dancing of my favorites are stop-motion animations. than ballet). Are you influenced by any particuI love the work of the Czech filmmaker Jan lar music when you draw or paint? Švankmajer. Alice and Little Otik are two that I feel have had some influence on my work. Syl- CUTLER: Thanks, Alex. I think that’s fantasvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville is an in- tic. Sounds and rhythm are two things that I do credible film. One of my favorite movies of 2010 think about when I paint because they are absent in the actual painting. I often think of my was Fantastic Mr. Fox. True escapism for me. painting as snapshots from a bigger story, the PROPELLER: Amy, when I look at the groups frozen pause before a tumble. My musical preferences change throughout of women in your paintings, I feel this musical presence, too. Maybe because of their movement the work process. English lyrics are sometimes


ods are a place that you return ch forest you step into. There is and grandeur that can only be where it’s difficult to see the borizon is hard to place. You have to to find your way.” too distracting when I’m trying to form new ideas. I was listening to Shugo Tokumaru, a Japanese artist for a while. Seabear, Thao, and Architecture in Helsinki take me to a good place when I need to move around a bit. My paintings are very slow moving and I often listen to audio books and a lot of ABC radio (Australian Broadcasting Corp.) podcasts, mostly science shows and documentary recordings. The monotonous details would be pure torture without listening to something interesting. I’m always happy when a new David Sedaris recording is released. He is so much fun to listen to.

PROPELLER: One thing I like about some of the paintings is the setting of the woods, which have this allure/taboo meaning to me. I grew up in the 1970s in northern Virginia, where the woods were close by but viewed as a potentially threatening place. Amy: Do you choose that setting—without men—for any biographical reason or primarily to evoke fairy tales? CUTLER: The woods are a place that is available to most people through experience. Part of my childhood was spent in upstate New York so I think I am familiar with the allure/taboo that


propellerPortfolio


you mention. For me the woods are a place that you return to no matter which forest you step into. There is a sense of calm and grandeur that can only be found in a place where it’s difficult to see the borders and the horizon is hard to place. You have to move through it to find your way. It is the only time that all of my senses are on. I become aware of my body as a whole. In an urban setting I am always propelled to move forward in a straight line. Channeled by a grid that is colored by the dense amalgam of noise. In the woods you have to create a path and your feet become your ears. Everything is awakened. I guess all of your animal instincts are set into motion. The woods and the white of the paper seem like very similar places where anything can happen. PROPELLER: I took a fiction workshop one time in which we read The Conversations, a series of interviews between author Michael Ondaatje and sound/film editor Walter Murch. I’d like to quote from it and see how you each respond to this concept of ambiguity, especially working on an art/text book with other people. Murch: One of the most fruitful paradoxes is that even when the film is finished, there should be unsolved problems. Because there’s another stage, beyond the finished film: when the audience views it. You want the audience to be co-conspirators in the

creation of this work … If by some chemistry you actually did remove all ambiguity in the final mix … I think you would do the film a disservice. But the paradox is that you have to approach every problem as if it’s desperately important to solve it. You can’t say, I don’t want to solve this because it’s got to be ambiguous. If you do that, then there’s a sort of hemorrhaging of the organism.

BENDER: I think I know this book. Loved hearing Murch in it. And I really like this quote— it seems to capture something I really believe about the role of the reader/viewer. And how I like to be treated myself, as a reader/viewer. Paul Auster talks about the reader making the book—with the writer. It cannot be made, be done, until read. And I like gaps, revel in gaps, as a reader. I am comforted by that space made by the writer for my own take. CUTLER: That’s a great quote. It’s true that in bringing something to the point where there is no longer room for the viewer/reader to enter, it becomes stagnant and boring. You always have to leave space for ambiguity. PROPELLER: In an online article for Ain’t It Cool News with director Guillermo del Toro, the interviewer asked him whether he had nightmares or waking nightmares that influenced his films (del Toro had just made Pan’s Labyrinth). This is what del Toro said:


propellerPortfolio

When I was a kid [and] slept in the guest bedroom of my grandmother’s house, at midnight, a faun would come out from behind the dresser. And I know it was lucid dreaming … But at that age, you are dreaming that you are in that room, you dream of the exact same conditions. It was a recurring nightmare. The distant church would strike midnight. The hand would come out first from behind, then it would pull out the face, then the left leg would come out, and it would start pulling itself out from behind the dresser, and I would start screaming … I find that the girl in [Pan’s Labyrinth] is not so much trying to escape reality, which is the way that it would normally go. She’s actually articulating the world through her fantasy. So the things in her fantasy would reflect things in the real world. It’s not really her way of coping with the real world, more like interpreting. Fantasy, for all of us, is a very intimate place, as intimate as religion and as spiritual as religion. That’s why movies provoke that much anger and that much passion, because when a filmmaker you love does a bad movie, you not only don’t like him; you want to kill him, kill his whole family, burn his house to the ground. And by the same token, when someone does something you like, it speaks to such an intimate place that you absolutely fall in love with that.

ality-based dailiness we experience at the coffee shop or dinner table. I’m about to go hear him speak next week and am very curious about it.

CUTLER: I always had a terrible time trying to fall asleep as a child. My mother would tell me to say goodnight to every part of my body starting with my little toe. If I wasn’t asleep by the time I reached my head I would have to start all over again. Lying there awake in my dark childhood room, certain objects would become animated. I was convinced that my green shag rug was crawling with alligators, the curved shape of the window curtain was a private detective hunched over staring at me and my blanket with a small flower pattern would turn into a cloud of gnats. I think a lot of my dreams are driven by anxiety. I went through a phase where I was misplacing my hands. I would put them in a plastic bag and bury them in the sand on a beach and forget their location. This would happen with my eyeballs as well. There was never any blood involved. Each time it happened it seemed very routine. I removed my head once, PROPELLER: Amy/Aimee, how do you re- but thankfully I placed it right back on my neck. These images always find their way into my spond to that quote? work.Ω BENDER: This seems about right! What I love here particularly is how deeply he is valuing perception and dreams as ways to live in the world/ experience the world that are as vital as the re-

Amy Cutler April, 2010 Gouache on paper 13 x 10-1/2 inches Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York


propellerpairs

B

efore I left Boise, Idaho, to go off to college, my mother asked me to go through the books I intended to leave behind, and to make a stack that she could take to Goodwill. I had lived in the same house all of my childhood, and still owned every book I had ever bought or been given. The idea of piling up some stack of disdain was foreign to me, and struck me as callous to the point of immoral, so I refused. My mother, trying to reason with me, suggested I could at least part with my children’s books. She pointed to the section of my shelves near the floor, where a number of Ezra Jack Keats titles stood together, and told me that those books,

+ for instance, could make a child happy. I refused. Those books could not make another child happy, I said, because they were already busy making a child happy: me. She said I was being ridiculous, that I hadn’t looked at those books in years. I said that if it made her feel better, I would look at them that day. I would read every Ezra Jack Keats book I owned—I had probably eight or nine—that very evening. My mother gave up. She didn’t need to argue with me—I was going to be gone in a week anyway. I was going through a Rolling Stones phase at the time, and turned on their Rewind hits compilation, loud, as I sat down to defiantly read the


+ work of Ezra Jack Keats. I had, at that moment, no particular affinity for his work beyond the same vaguely-positive memories of his books that most people have. I would have defended any group of books in that argument—my mother just happened to point at those. But the bittersweet mood of my impending departure combined with the emotional rawness I felt in the wake of my argument with my mother caused an odd thing to happen that evening: the collected works of Ezra Jack Keats fused, in my head, with the 1971-1984 hits of the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger was singing about Puerto Rican girls; they were the older sisters or young

aunts, it seemed to me, of Louie, who wanders quietly through more than one Keats tale. The Stones were coming to your emotional rescue; Keats was taking me on The Trip. And I realized, because I had finally opened them up again, that these books were beautiful, and rich enough. I was not too blind to see. Later, I compromised with my mother, and did indeed make a stack of books she could take to Goodwill. The Ezra Jack Keats titles were not in it, and they never have been. I know it’s only children’s lit. But I like it. —Alan Limnis


MAUREEN THORSON Three Poems


The WONDERS of My ENCHANTED GARDEN One day, I decided I’d rather have a different world and so I did. Me and plastic gnomes, and if you are very romantickal, and perfectly at leisure for such trivial amusements, you may espy something elfin among the lobelias: a ceramic toadstool, or a set of wicker dolls’ chairs. For minds “habituated to the Vast,” there may seem no surfeit here: but mirror-balls and glass butterflies may yet be said to create a sense of distance through accumulated detail: everything teensy, but a lot of it, and breezes, too, rippling through unshorn, blue-flowered grass, the waves of a miniature, suburban sea, interrupted only by walks laid in crazy-paving, by soft little mosses thrusting up between the stones. You needn’t apply only to the stars for wonders. Here’s world enough and welcome for any astronomer. A galaxy may be no bigger than a tea-urn, if we get quantum. But there are roses here.


Clarity

Why not make pets of rocks? That’s a good plan for a kid who hates people. You can collect fragments from the cul-de-sac and test them by yourself. Easy to find: Mica, shale – smelling of wet earth – and bits of quartz. Empty egg cartons are good storage for pebbles, and the large chunk of what you’ve labeled “anthracite coal” (without proof except that, er, it’s black). Makes a fine paperweight, as does the red granite you fished from Perch Lake, North Minnesota, after following the perfect impressions of a raccoon’s feet down to the water line. You were fastidious, too, holding the rock down in the water but over the sand, cleanly rinsing it off. It now sits, angular and rust-colored, on your particle-board shelf. You’ve got all the books, specimens of garnet and chalk. You know the hardness of diamonds, how they form, how pressure builds inside them, a seam of weight. And then a long time. Like you’ve got. You can squint and feel that focus. You’re ready to feel it for as long as it will take.


You Versus the Wonders of Blue

at the Navy Memorial

Seven crenellated fastnesses concealing treasures in their depths: beneath reefed escarpments, in trenches spiked with volcanic plumes, in tubular stalagmites that house swaying, eel-like worms. Who is keeper & king? What warden holds the key to bone & anchor, to dungeons leaching calcium to coral, fathomless? This world repels rejoicing. Composed of salt and air and darkness. Those who rove its battlements have disappeared into the blue. The blue of ink inside their skin, names mapped on their flesh. Blue


of scallops’ eyes, electric. Blue of arctic ice, blue of hurricanes, blue of blusters, squalls, blue of rain that beats down on the castles’ unchippable walls. How will you enter the castles of blue? Be invited by mermaids, arrive on a maelstrom, get pulled in by a riptide? However it may be, you will then see the least leaf floating upon the mirrored surface, drink from the seven waters, watch the men you left behind as they pay homage, how they mix the waters in the fountain, how their bugles bellow sadly, how their uniforms and gold braid, how their brass band plays on.


propellerinquiry

Imagine. The year is 1 are six years old. Your Sholem Ugajnik. You the town of Wasilkow northeast of Poland. Wasilkow is burning. Ugajnik an investigation Eric Gold Title

Type

Author


1895, you r name is live in w, in the

.


propellerinquiry

I

magine: The year is 1895, you are six years old. Your name is Sholem Ugajnik. You live in the town of Wasilkow, in the northeast of Poland. Wasilkow is burning. It is written in the city archive, May 5: Great fire destroyed a large proportion (almost half) Wasilkow. The fire was about noon in the attic of a Jewish Rajchli Berszgorn Dwornej Street. The reason the fire was poor technical condition of the chimney. Burned 209 homes and 178 other structures. In the city there were only 4 buildings of brick. The fire claimed 10 deaths (mostly children). Damage was estimated at more than 218 thousand. Rubles.

ents are there. Some uncles, cousins. You will go to them, mother says, after your bar mitzvah. In seven years, when you are a man. (At any rate, this is what you will eventually tell your children and grandchildren. Your great-grandchildren, too, will hear it secondhand. They won’t know precisely which details to believe, what has become apocryphal. They won’t be able to separate truth from embellishment, reality from aggrandizement. They’ll have to believe your account, because there will be no other version.) A few days after the fire, you hear hammering—a regular occurrence, though this time you go next door, to the source. Tsiva, two years older than you, is helping her father by assembling crates to hold his skeins of wool. Her curls bounce as she works. You sit down beside her. The hammering increases.

Your house is one of the only two-story buildings in Wasilkow. Your father Mordukh built the addition himself, to accommodate the loom on which he makes his living. Your house is not burned. Neither is the house of the neighbor girl, Tsiva Saperstein, daughter of the wool spinner. asilkow was a shtetl outside the city of But the fire makes a dead-end town even more Bialystok, near the borders with Lithudead. You are just a boy, but already, perhaps, ania and Belarus. The town had, with the rest you have an idea: America. Your mother’s par- of Poland, the great misfortune of being locat-

W


Wasilkow, Poland. Photo by Hubert Smietanka.


propellerinquiry

ed between more powerful neighbors. In the 1790s, adjacent states (Hapsburg Austria, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Russian Empire) divided the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth among themselves. On the Russian throne sat Czaritza Catherine (Ekaterina Alexeievna) II. Formerly a German princess named Sophia Augusta Frederica, later called “the Great,” she was known officially during her reign as “By the Grace of God, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias.” There were many Russias at this time; she added more. (The Empress had assumed the throne after her husband, Peter III, was assassinated in a conspiracy she may or may not have instigated.) With the Third Partition, Catherine’s empire engulfed much of Poland, subsuming the large population of Polish Jews. My great-grandfather and perhaps as many as three-quarters of his coreligionists on Earth became unfortunate subjects of her domain. Today, the town of Wasilkow has a website. On its historical timeline, I read that when Sholem was two years old, the town had 3335 residents, of whom 1457 were Catholics, 1154 Jews, 675 Orthodox and 49 Protestants. Someone recorded that in 1888, “In Wasilkowie were 424 houses, including one stone.” In 1889, the year of Sholem’s birth, someone called Abram Mendelewicz wrote, “35 persons born in the

“With the Third Partition, Catherine’s empire engulfed much of Poland, subsuming the large population of Polish Jews.”

Jewish faith.” And under the year 1870: “Abram Ugajnik was an assistant rabbi, and properly so. Rabbi.” I wrote to the man whose thumbnail portrait appeared on the site, one Antoni Pelkowski. I asked him the source of this information about Abram Ugajnik, who may have been one of Sholem’s, and hence my, ancestors. I wondered if I could trace the family back any further than Sholem and his parents. Pelkowski replied promptly: Dzień dobry W Urzędzie Miejskim w Wasilkowie posiadamy w archiwum Księgę urodzeń ludności Żydowskiej w latach 1870 - 1939.

Catherine II of Russia, by Fyodor Rokotov.


propellerinquiry

Innych dokumentów urząd nie posiada. Z poważaniem Antoni Pełkowski Burmistrz Wasilkowa I typed these words one at a time into an online translator. It turned out to mean something like: Good day In City Office in Wasilkow have in archive Priest level population Jewish in year 18701939. Other documents don’t have. Yours faithfully Antoni Pelkowski Mayor of Wasilkow I did learn, by other means, that the Czaritza created what was termed the Pale of Settlement in 1791. She ordered a line drawn between the Baltic and Black Seas. The Pale was the Empire’s territory west of that line, well away from Moscow and the Russian cultural heartland. The word “pale” comes from the Latin palus, for stake, from which we get pole (though not Pole), palisade, and impale. The Pale of Settlement was a territory surrounded by figurative spikes, beyond which Jews were forbidden to settle. The economy of the Pale region was primar-

“The Pale of Settlement was a territory surrounded by figurative spikes, beyond which Jews were forbidden to settle.” ily agricultural, but Jews were prohibited from owning land. Large cities within the territory, such as Kiev and Yalta, were by decree excluded from it. For Jews, living in the Pale meant settling in smaller cities like Bialystok or towns like Wasilkow. The latter, according to an unnamed “portraitist” quoted by Irving Howe in his book World of Our Fathers, resembled “a jumble of wooden houses clustered higgledypiggledy about a marketplace...as crowded as a slum...The streets are as tortuous as a Talmudic argument. They run into cul-de-sacs like a theory arrested by a fact.” Excluded from the countryside and the big cities, most Jews made their living from artisanal


Good day In City Office in Wasilkow have in archive Priest level population Jewish in year 1870-1939. Other documents don’t have. Yours faithfully Antoni Pelkowski Mayor of Wasilkow


propellerinquiry

“Bobby will sit near you, ready to listen. ‘Your great-grandfather froze to death on guard duty in the Czar’s army.’”

handicrafts and commerce. Unless they became soldiers. Under Nicholas I, Catherine’s grandson, who would begin his reign in 1825, Jewish boys as young as eleven were conscripted but barred from rising above the rank of private. The tour of duty was thirty-one years. Years later, you will be a grandfather in New Jersey. America will be drafting boys to send to Vietnam. You will call to your grandson, Bobby, just old enough to be summoned by the draft board. “Come here,” you will say. “I want to tell you about our family’s long and glorious military history.” Bobby, a compact dark-haired youth, will sit near you, ready to listen. “Your great-grandfather froze to death on guard duty in the Czar’s army.” ican relatives sent this sum along with the steerage ticket for the ship across the Atlantic, to alt is December 1903. You are fifteen years old, low you to become an illegal emigrant. and leave Wasilkow with a few clothes and The ship is the Pennsylvania. Before boarda scrap of paper bearing the address of your ing, there are many questions. Your answers maternal relatives in New York. The ship will are recorded on the ship’s manifest. Age? 15. depart from Hamburg, so you must first reach Occupation? Tailor. In U.S. before? No. Prison, this city. Probably you travel the distance of 543 almshouse, institution for care and treatment miles by train, via Warsaw and Berlin, sneaking of insane, or supported by charity? No. Polygaacross the German border. mist? No. Anarchist? No. Condition of Health? A bribe equivalent to about ten dollars, slipped Good. Deformed/Crippled? No. In possession to a Russian official at the border, will make up of $50, and if less, how much? 2. for not having a passport. Probably your Amer- The Pennsylvania is 579 feet long and 62 feet

I


Train station, Wasilkow. Photo by Athenor.


propellerinquiry

SS Pennsylvania (1896).


“Tsiva, the spinner’s daughter, will meet you in New York. She will be called Celia. You will be married to her for sixty-five years. You will never see your parents again.” wide, built in 1897 for the Hamburg-American Line by Harland & Wolff, Limited in Belfast. Its service speed is 13 knots. It has one funnel and four masts, a steel hull, four decks, steam quadruple expansion engines and a crew of 250. Its capacity is 2,724 passengers; 1,097 are on board. The ship has already traveled from Boulogne-sur-Mer via Cuxhaven to Hamburg. It will steam back up the Elbe to the sea and stop over in Plymouth on the southern shore of

Great Britain before continuing on to New York City. This will be the first of its eight transatlantic round trips this year. In 1914, at the start of World War I, the Pennsylvania will be interned at New York. Three years later, it will be seized by the U.S. government for the Naval Overseas Transport Service. Its name will no longer be the Pennsylvania. From this point forward, it will be the U.S.S. Nansemond. Before you board, one more thing. Your surname will no longer be Ugajnik. From this point forward, like your relatives in New York, it will be Gold. In America, you will be called Sol. One of your sisters, Yitke, will soon join you. She will be called Ethel. Tsiva, the spinner’s daughter, will meet you in New York. She will be called Celia. You will be married to her for sixty-five years. You will never see your parents again.

A

lexander II, who succeeded Nicholas I, was relatively liberal, and even opened up some universities to Jews. He became famous for freeing the serfs. This was not enough for the democratic socialist revolutionary movement that finally assassinated him, with a bomb, on its seventh attempt in 1881. Alexander III took his slain father’s throne and immediately instituted a series of “temporary regulations.” These laws lasted until the successful Revolution of 1917; Alexander III was the final Czar.


propellerinquiry

Alexander III’s May Laws consisted of about 650 restrictions aimed at Jews, ostensibly in retaliation for Jewish involvement in revolutionary agitation. The laws excluded Jews from universities, set a ten percent maximum for Jewish enrollment at all schools in the Pale (even the ones founded by the Jews themselves), and banned Jews from settling outside towns, holding mortgages, or managing the property of others. Some towns were reclassified as “villages” so the Jews could be expelled. Meanwhile, Konstantin Pobiedonostev, Ober-Procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, launched a program of “Russification” through religious conversion. Within a month of Alexander III’s ascension, the first pogrom (a medieval-style anti-Semitic mob riot) broke out. Within a year, the violence spread to 160 places in southern Russia. By 1906, when the pogroms reached Bialystok, Russia was conscripting troops to send to Manchuria. The Czar was fighting Japan for control of Port Arthur on the (relatively) warm waters of the Yellow Sea. The youth of Russia, Jewish and Gentile, were rounded up to stop Japanese bullets. By then, though, my great-grandfather had already left for New York.

To this action I owe my name and nationality. It is not going too far to say that to this decision I owe my existence, since the Wasilkow of my great-grandparents, the one where Jews and Christians lived side by side, no longer exists. Of course, any of us can go back a few generations and wonder what could have been, what accident or coincidence could have caused us, quietly, never to have been born. Typhoid, earthquake, vendetta, train wreck. A bull at the county fair moves or refuses to budge, allowing the eyes of two young people to meet, or not to meet. For me, this speculation comes down to one moment, one steerage ticket for a transatlantic voyage. One young man who, whether he fully grasped it or not, came of age as the world he knew was ending, and who slipped out the back door with his parents’ blessing and the burden of their hopes. Sholem Ugajnik made the decision to leave Poland and travel to America, because it was the land of opportunity. Once, Poland had been the land of opportunity. Sometime in the past, maybe hundreds of years ago, at a moment lost forever, some other ancestor of Sholem’s and of mine made a decision. This person, whose name was maybe not Ugajnik, left a place—Lisbon? Munich? Baghdad?—where Jews had become unwelcome, holem Ugajnik made the decision to leave where life had become hard, and made his way Wasilkow, or the decision was made for him. to Wasilkow.

S


Tsarevitch Alexander (later Alexander III). Photo by Sergei Levitsky.


propellerinquiry

Would I recognize disaster, were it looming ranged in alphabetical order by nationality. You over my life and everything I know? Would I are wearing a heavy wool coat—everyone is know when to leave? wrapped in layers of clothing, to ward off the January cold and because they must wear what ou settle into the steerage compartment, on they cannot carry. one of the two tiers of narrow bunks, sur- Inspectors examine eight such groups simultarounded by nervous adults and children either neously, performing what are called “six-second crying or sitting in stunned silence. The wom- physicals.” The infectious eye disease trachoma en’s heads are covered by scarves, the men’s by is a serious concern. You stand in line so that heavy brimmed black hats. Sturdy, hard suit- a uniformed inspector can lift your eyelid with cases and misshapen bundles wrapped in cloth a metal buttonhook. From there you are called, spill out from under the rows of makeshift beds. in turn, to stand before another inspector, with The air is dense and foul. huge paper roll books laid out before him. The food on the ship was treyf; presumably After the inspection, you go through the bath God would forgive the transgression of eating house, where two hundred people are showered it. “People had vomiting fits,” recalled one of at a time. The following year, the Assistant Comthe anonymous memoirists whose words are missioner of Immigration for your new country compiled in Howe’s book, “throwing up even speaks to the press. “They will land on Ameritheir mother’s milk.” The journey lasted about can soil clean, if nothing else,” he says about you two weeks. First and second-class passengers on and the other immigrants. Overhead, above the ships such as the Pennsylvania disembarked at inspection chamber, an American flag hangs peers off Manhattan; Ellis Island was strictly for from the gallery, caught in the middle by a prothose in steerage. truding light fixture. At Ellis Island, you and the other immigrants are numbered, tagged, and divided into groups rank P. Sargent, Commissioner General of of thirty. You wait in narrow corrals bordered Immigration in the administration of Theby white bars and chain-link, two long benches odore Roosevelt during the first decade of the in each enclosure. All the people in your little twentieth century, was against what he called waist-high cage are Jews—though you don’t an “open door” policy on immigration. “Big as grasp this from where you sit shoulder to shoul- we are and blessed with an iron constitution,” he der with the others, all the immigrants are ar- told a reporter, “we cannot safely swallow such

Y

F


“Would I recognize disaster, were it looming over my life and everything I know?�


propellerinquiry

Ellis Island, 1904.


an endless-course dinner, so to say, without getting indigestion and perhaps national appendicitis.” A reporter for the New York Times, visiting Ellis Island with Commissioner General Sargent in 1905, described the crowd of immigrants: “Chinamen elbowed Maygars; Celts and Teutons rubbed shoulders with Gauls and Latins; Russians, resembling so many John the Baptists in their primitive sheepskin coats, trod the heels of ale-hued Turks; screaming children, scowling men, and patient, resigned women made up the curious ensemble.” I don’t know if a reporter was present when my great-grandfather landed at Ellis Island, to record whether Sol’s eyelids were judged clean, or to describe him anthropologically. In the echoing halls of the Ellis Island facility, Sol passed through with the rest, surrounded by the faces of the world. Serbians, Italians, Jews like him. In 1906, Sargent’s boss, President Theodore Roosevelt, would win the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that so many Russian Jewish men hoped to avoid by emigrating. “Poor fellows,” Sargent said, of the thousands fleeing conscription at Ellis Island, “most of them are hardly more than food for powder, having been ill-fed, ill-housed, and ill-clad all their lives, and the impromptu accommodations here on the island are amazing luxuries to them.”

Y

ou are not swayed by the amazing luxury of Ellis Island. Before leaving home, you were told that your uncle Elias would meet you outside this castle-like building of brick and pale stone, with its towers at each of four corners, and bring you to Brooklyn, where you will work alongside him, sewing leather into pocketbooks. The towers of Ellis Island’s Main Building are crowned with copper domes, pointed spires reaching upwards from their tops. The alternation of the brick and pale stone in the walls of the edifice make it appear striped. Over the huge arched entryway, eagles molded in concrete stare down at the sea of people below. Outside, it is cold. Across the water, you see the buildings of Manhattan, dwarfing even the monster in whose belly you have traveled all this way. Perhaps you see the Statue of Liberty, Mother of Exiles, and gaze at it in awestruck admiration. Perhaps not. Had you managed, inside the ship, to keep track of the days? It is Saturday, January 2, 1904. Do you know it is the shabbes, the day of rest? Uncle Elias is nowhere to be found. A man in a blue cap, emblazoned with familiar white letters—Hebrew letters—appears. The letters stand for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The man speaks Yiddish. You show him the scrap of paper pinned to the lapel of your coat: the name, Gold, the address in Brooklyn. He directs you to a barge that will ferry you to lower Manhattan. Perhaps you practice with him the


propellerinquiry

two words of English you have learned, the ones that, with the paper, will get you to Elias. The words are “mister” and “please.” Once off the ferry, that first Saturday of your American life, you move through the narrow cobblestone streets of tenement buildings. Until sundown, it remains the holy day, the day of rest, but soon this Yiddish hive on the southeast edge of Manhattan will again come to life. By morning, laundry will sway on lines strung overhead. It is Wasilkow on top of Wasilkow, street after street of a gigantic buzzing shtetl. Hester Street was the nexus of the Lower East Side’s Jewish enclave in the early 1900’s. Sol would have passed this way en route to Brooklyn, just before crossing the East River. The market street would be empty on a Saturday. Before the first three stars become visible in the sky on Friday night, work must cease, to observe the holy day. A pious Jew would not even tear a piece of paper under those stars. On a Saturday, Hester Street is quiet. Hebrew letters, spelling out the Yiddish names of a tailor, baker, or poultry market, are all that remains of the robust commerce that unfolded here a few hours earlier. Maybe some evidence of the previous day’s bustling market would reveal itself to an attentive observer. The muddy tracks of a wheeled pushcart, one of the many that lined both sides of the street in double rows. The tingling of the bells attached by string to the frame

of a fruit vendor’s cart. A piece of rotting fruit, tumbled from the wagon, or a bit of newspaper stained with the oil of the fish it once wrapped, might lie in the gutter. There are no eggs piled in wooden crates on the sidewalk, no pretzels stacked on sticks rising from the basket of a woman holding a small child. A cigarette butt, crumpled against the curb, is the only sign left behind by an old man who shuffled this way, a sack of second-hand clothes resting over his shoulder. It might be during this first walk through the Lower East Side that you first see Forverts, the Yiddish-language newspaper also known as the Jewish Daily Forward. In 1904, as you arrive in New York, Abraham Cahan is in his first year as the paper’s new editor, having arrived from the Pale of Settlement about twenty years ago. He will lead the Forward until 1946, and you will remain a devoted reader for the rest of your life.

B

etween 1899 and 1910, one in seventynine Russian Jews emigrated to the United States. (One in 11,552 Russians overall made the journey in the same period.) Half a million Russian Jews emigrated to the U.S. just between the years 1903 and 1908. Eventually, half a million would come from the region of Bialystok alone. Hester Street, the 1975 film version of Abraham Cahan’s 1896 novella Yekl, offers a portrayal of the Yiddish-speaking immigrant experience


Abraham Cahan, American socialist newspaper editor and novelist.


propellerinquiry

Norfolk and Hester Street, ca. 1898.


propellerinquiry around the turn of the twentieth century. In one early scene, the title character, who in America goes by Jake, greets a bearded Jew just arrived from Europe. The immigrant joins Jake and his friends at their cafe table. “How do you like America?” Jake asks the greenhorn. “I’m looking for my cousin, Pincus Levinski,” the greenhorn says earnestly. As the assimilated Jews at the table run through all the Levinskis they know, Jake leans into his lady friend’s ear and stage whispers, “He’ll soon learn—in America there’s no such thing as family.” In school, I learned that America is a nation of immigrants. “Give us your tired, your poor,” we told the world, “your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In 1883, the Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus wrote the sonnet “The New Colossus,” from which those words are drawn. She may have been inspired by the pogroms in Russia, which had just begun. Her poem, inscribed on a plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, refers to the statue as the Mother of Exiles. That name never caught on. In school, I did not learn that we are a nation of exiles. I’m not sure whether it’s right to think of my great-grandfather as an exile. He came to America voluntarily. If anything, the rulers of the Russian Empire might have preferred he stay, if only to join the ranks of their military. Still, every emigrant is to some extent exiled. In our national mythology, we prefer to see the im-

migrant as hopeful and ambitious. This plucky traveler, covered as he may be by the grime of his journey, is the exile sanitized, scrubbed of the tragedy of the loss of his home. Jewish tradition rests on a line of successive exiles. If Sol was an exile, he was exiled from exile, since he was a foreigner in Russia as well. If Sol was an exile, does that make me one, too? I don’t think so, because exile seems to me to require some idea of home, the awareness of something lost. I can’t say that I feel that for any land beyond America’s shores. Still, as little as I feel the Jewishness that might connect me to a succession of past exiles, I do think that a fundamental if faint otherness, by now drained of any specific blessing, ritual, or scripture, remains at the center of my idea of myself. Not having known Sol and my other immigrant ancestors, even indirectly, I feel a sliver of unoccupied space in my sense of home.

Y

ou walk through the streets of Lower Manhattan, hoping to make your way to the Gold house. Maybe someone invites you to eat at his home, as it is only proper to make such a gesture on the Sabbath, though you were still at sea during the Friday night meal of gefilte fish, braided challah bread, and wine. But you have your scrap of paper, still pinned to your jacket. You have come too far to rest now. Where you can, you ask directions in Yiddish, your native tongue. Otherwise, it is “mister...please” all


Eric Gold, 2011. “If Sol was an exile, does that make me one, too?” the way to the Brooklyn Bridge, a mere twenty years old at the time. You walk across this massive demonstration of the newness of this new world. On the other side of the river, you ask again: “Mister...please.” You pass through neighborhoods, full of more Jews and even more goyim. More streets crowded with people, more brick, more stone. Finally, you reach what you believe to be your destination. A door opens. Your uncle Elias, thirty-two years old, is there. You tell

him your name, where you have come from. How you have reached him all the way from Wasilkow, alone. Elias is silent. Behind him, perhaps, the family peers through a kitchen doorway, wondering who knocks on the Sabbath. Elias cocks his head, looking at you, a slight teenager. It may be that he smiles through his thick beard. “For this one,” he says, “we won’t worry.”Ω


propellerpairs

I

hit repeat on my MP3 player. A minimalist known for repetition, Philip Glass opens his Symphony No. 3 with strings that build on only a few themes. Like the buzz of noise on city trains and buses, the violins gradually build and then shift suddenly, like an outburst in public that disturbs the hum of regularity. Out of the din, a solo violin arises, punctuating the repetition. This solo voice repeats as if calling for something lost, but in a moment that seems near the brink of discovery. Perhaps this is why I like Glass’ Symphony No. 3 as a backdrop to Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes’ last work. Camera Lucida is in my bag

+

as I wander the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, listening to Glass while I ride the trains. In the Guggenheim, Sander’s photograph “The Notary” is strangely familiar. I think I’ve seen it in the exhibition book, but realize later it is in Camera Lucida. Repetition. Barthes studies endless repetition through photography, searching for the image that will capture the essence of his mother. Meticulously, he finds what he calls the photograph’s “punctum.” Barthes’ repetitive search becomes an object I carry with me, reading and rereading it as I would an e. e. cummings poem. To quote, “confronted with the photograph, as in


+

the dream, it is the same effort, the same Sisyphean labor: to reascend, straining towards the essence, to climb back down without having seen it.” The search that results in loss is perhaps why I find Glass an appropriate accompaniment to Barthes. Barthes repeats that moment, and so does Glass. In repetition, I try to recapture a moment, a fragment of something lost. Barthes refuses to reveal the essential image of his mother, leaving the reader wondering what the essential is. But repetition is the search for the essential, essence, or punctum that emerges only if I look and listen—an interchangeability of reading and

listening. In Glass’ minor repetition of strings ,nuanced and punctuated by the solo violin, I find a fleeting world— fragments of the sublime I’m unable to hold in my hand. That is what I seek in my abandon to repetition of the phrase of both music and language. Glass and Barthes offer us this in a form so small, one can carry it in his pocket, even on the crowded subway: the punctum of experiences that escape us in the real world. —Sarah Kruse


propellerfiction


The Debaclist Evan P. Schneider

T

oday for no good reason I stood up on my pedals and pretended to whip my bicycle like a jockey would a horse. It is supposedly one of the cooler months now, but it was not that cool this morning, which meant that the date on the calendar convinced me to bundle too thoroughly in proportion to the exertion I would expend reaching my destination. It is a delicate algorithm, one that I may never master completely, and therefore I sweated again, heavily—so much so that my collar was wet almost out to its tips by the time I got to work. It’s embarrassing, but I compensate by getting in half an hour early so that my collar and hair have a reasonable head start in drying before my colleagues arrive. This also lessens the chances that folks will comment on

my appearance. I don’t need extra attention, I just want to count and record the checks, slim down, and maybe sip some whiskey in the evenings out on the porch without thinking too much about money. My sweatiness today was also compounded by the fact that my crank fell off my bike on the hill before the bridge. Why it did that exactly I don’t know. It could have had something to do with the jockeying, but I doubt it. I don’t think I’m strong enough to tear the pedal and entire crank mechanism right out of the bottom bracket, do you? My thighs are getting stronger, I think, even if my midsection lags in visually boasting the results of my commute, but hardly am I capable of shearing metal components in half. Firm, like small firewood logs, are these


propellerfiction

two legs. But my belly, bless it, is still just a bag of ashes. According to my calculations, last month I rode 182 miles, burning 8,575 calories, though when I stand naked in the mirror and look at my torso from different angles, I can’t really tell. Maybe one gets fit from the inside out and for now the fitness is happening beneath my skin and in my legs, and soon it will start to show around the equator. My stomach is what Marie used to rest her hand on when she slept wrapped around me from behind. This was before she said she needed some time, which is why I want so badly to do right by that part of my body now. Maybe my mirror is a trick mirror. I should pedal harder. The thing about trying to exercise to feel better about yourself and win back someone you love is that you don’t really know you’re fit until you are. There’s no in between, unless you use all sorts of fancy scales and tracking mechanisms and charts and trainers, which of course I don’t have, unless you count the mirror. Anyway, at the intersection before the bridge,

right as some of the other people who also ride their bicycles to work like me—we’re usually all together in a silent bunch—had lined up at the light and were awaiting our turn to climb the tiny hill that would take us over the river and into downtown, where we each conceivably sort checks or answer phones or call people or tell other people to call people about important things, the debacle with my bike went down. I like that word. Debacle. “The tumultuous break up of ice in a river.” I can understand that. A mass of heavy frozen water cracking and crashing as it breaks free and floats away on its own, untethered from the constraints of the rest of the fettered flow. As I jumped off the line, though—without making it seem like I was jumping off of the line, because I don’t want to seem like I’m actually trying to beat anyone else up the hill (just in case I lose)—I got in a good three or four pedal strokes before — WHISH! — my whole crank fell off the right side of my bike. It broke free of its own volition and rode


propellerfiction


on alone without me or the bike to which it has been attached for many years. It took me a second to discover what had happened, but I coasted to a stop as everyone passed by without saying anything, and then I pulled myself up onto the sidewalk. “Huh,” I thought. Without the necessary replacement bolt on hand or in my bag—I hadn’t thought of carrying extra bolts—I could do nothing but walk my bike the rest of the way to the office, holding the greasy chain in my hand so that it wouldn’t drag behind me like an oily dead snake. I made it to the office in good time, which surprised me. I’ve always figured having good bicycle legs doesn’t quite equal having good walking legs, but as I’ve told my boss Greg, I’m not a scientist, so maybe it does. The thing you’re probably wondering, though, is what Greg talked to me about in his office with the door closed this afternoon. Well, I’ll tell you, the first time a boss ever called me into his office was when I was working at a pizza place, and I walked in thinking I might get a raise or maybe get asked to do a special project. Then I got fired for repeatedly putting too much cheese on the pizzas, which was costing the restaurant “more than my monthly salary.” I wasn’t on sal-

ary, though—I was hourly, a fact I did not point out as I left. Much like the boss who fired me, Greg is not a bad man. He just appreciates certain qualities I do not possess. “Heya, Nick,” he said. “Can you come in here a minute?” “Sure,” I said. “How’s it going out there?” he said, closing the door behind us. On the wall behind his desk Greg had framed a large poster of some old masons building a house or a small factory in a place that looked a lot like London. “Well,” I said, getting lost for a moment among the workers of Greg’s poster. I very much liked their wood-handled tools with triangular metal blades for smoothing and removing excess mortar. Four men, each in various suspenders and different versions of the same wool cap, went about their individual tasks. The gentleman worker in the foreground was my favorite. Moreso than the others, he was truly concentrating on doing a fine job, even if from the outside the work looked simplistic and mundane: swipe, plop. But what brilliant strokes. Swish, swoosh. Swish, shoosh. With the soft J of a hand movement, he was bringing this wall into beautiful architectural completion one small brick at


propellerfiction

a time. “Well,” I said again, “lots of invoices recently, as you know, but good. As long as I keep all the records straight it goes pretty smooth.” “Do you remember speaking to Nicola Robins on the telephone last week?” “Don’t think so. About what?” “She called about the tiled tub and sink combo, and mentioned talking to you.” “I probably talked to her, then. I don’t faithfully remember.” “Well, she called me directly, to complain. She said you were very rude.” “That’s interesting,” I said. “The thing is, that’s actually not the first time someone has complained about your phone etiquette. Which is why we’ve been having our little professionalism talks.” “But I’ve even been practicing,” I said. “Just last night I thought through how I would explain to someone who does not ride a bicycle what to watch out for on the road. Like cabs.” “She’s taking her business elsewhere.” “Taxicabs are fast moving vehicles.” Greg brought the curve of his hand to his mouth and rubbed his cheeks with his thumb and fingers. “Nick, I’ve decided that this is the last time we’re going to do this.” I wasn’t communicating very well. The way I see it, cab drivers very much enjoy gratuity, and many customers say things like that guy in In-

“People who lose know when to cas not doing very w just keep going, intoxicated by the finite Jest does: “To the library, and step on it!” So cabbies are inclined, for their own monetary gain, to employ such tactics as speeding, weaving, and other aggressive motoring maneuvers. Infinite Jest is one of those books that I’m still vacillating on what to do with, because I haven’t finished it. In fact, I haven’t even really started, but I haven’t sold it either, though it’s probably worth half my rent. It’s a hardcover 1st edition. The taxicab and library scene occurs on page 10, which is as far as I’ve ever gotten on three different tries. But now Wallace is dead. He cashed out when he was on top, just like they tell you to do when you’re gambling. People who lose at gambling are those who don’t know when to cash out. Despite the fact that they’re not do-


e at gambling are those who don’t sh out. Despite the fact that they’re well anymore and know it, people like Joe Montana or Madonna, eir own past success.” ing very well anymore and know it, people just keep going, like Joe Montana or Madonna, intoxicated by their own past success. I lost $40 in Vegas on my first blackjack bet, but Wallace knew what he was doing. Critics only get serious about you after you’re gone. I know that a man my age should have some things in place as a foundation, like a career and some investments, or at least a personal trajectory, but I have gained none of these, though I’m certainly working on losing weight. I am, however, gambling that Infinite Jest will end up, once I get around to finishing it, being worth its bulk and its imposition on my life as a book I have owned and looked at and moved around for many years, but have never actually read.

“You don’t have a car, do you?” Greg said. “I don’t, no.” “Does that explain your hands? Can’t you wash it off any better than that?” “My chain fell off.” Greg looked at my fingernails, and then went back to rubbing his cheeks and jaw. “What are you looking for, Nick?” I looked back up at one of the other workers in the poster. Unlike my favorite, he was sitting behind everyone else, eating lunch and reading a newspaper. “I’m not sure, exactly.” “Nothing comes to mind?” “Not really, no.” “Your hair. Your shirt,” he said, waving in my direction.


propellerfiction

“The ride was going really well,” I started to explain. “Can you get some new clothes for work?“ “I think so, yeah.” “What about taking the bus? Is there a route that comes by your place?” “I don’t know. I usually just ride, unless my crank falls off, then I have to walk. But it’s not a problem, the biking, is it?” “Look into the bus schedule,” Greg said. “We may even be able to get you an employee pass or something.” “The economy—” “But is Stevens’ even where you want to be? I can’t honestly say that you look like you enjoy yourself around here. You put yourself on the margins of the office.” “I can certainly work on that. The margins, I mean.” “I just wonder what you want out of all this. I have a steady thing here. I go home at night and Rebecca has a nice dinner ready and Holly and Travis are there at the dinner table and tell us about their days at school. I don’t make a ton of money, obviously. You know that. You see the checks. We’re a fucking sink company, but we get by. I sleep next to a nice woman and wake up and have breakfast and then come back into this goddamn place all over again, but it’s bearable. I just wonder what you’ve got that you don’t want

“I sleep next to a nice woman and wake up and have breakfast and then come back into this goddamn place all over again, but it’s bearable.” to give up. Something that you look forward to.”

My favorite worker was still dutifully building his wall. Being able to ride home once I fix my crank arm, that’s what I looked forward to. Cutting vegetables. Starting to slowly shed this flabby skin suit. Kissing Marie again. That’s all, really. “Never mind,” Greg said. “Forget I said any of that. Bottom line is you’ve got to make it look like you care what’s going on around here. Go to lunch with Michelle and Dave once in awhile. Blend in. But then once you’re outta here, think


propellerfiction

about what makes you happy, and find a way to go get it. If that’s not at Stevens’, I understand. We all have to do what we have to do. But if it is, I need you to be professional, okay?” “Absolutely.” “That’s all I’m asking.” “I know.” “And don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re good at what you do. I just want you to be okay, you know? Happy.” “Thanks, Greg,” I said, standing. “No sweat,” he said. Being able to jump your bicycle and get both wheels off the ground at the same time is a great skill. I learned how to do this as a child, but it still impresses me every time I see it done. When I sat back down at my desk, I could see out the window six kids riding BMX bikes around our parking lot. The bikes’ seats were very low, but the kids never sat on them, so I guess it didn’t matter. They took turns riding in circles, speeding up along the blacktop and gaining enough speed to jump up with both wheels onto a thin concrete curb that bordered the far end of the lot. The contest, I could tell, was who could ride on that thin curb the farthest. By the time I was

finished talking with Greg, it seemed they had each already decided upon their personal strategy to win. With enough speed, your momentum could take you pretty far. But on the other hand, going slowly and paying careful attention to your balance and pedal strokes could pay off, too. Five of the six went with speed, while with every one of his tries, the last one would hop up onto the curb and ride steadily, staring down at the cement tightrope as far as he could go. I watched them for a while, trading high fives and laughs, until Michelle came by and gave me the mail and the day’s invoices, so I got back to work. After processing a check or two and entering it into the database, I looked up to see who might be in the lead, but by that time they had already ridden off. I hoped the slow riding boy had won, but it seemed unlikely. Afterward, contrary to my custom, I said goodbye to everyone in the office. “See you guys tomorrow,” I said, sort of too softly for everyone to hear. But I think Greg caught it.Ω


JAY THOMPSON Three Poems


Paradise

1.

doubt showed through cracks in his deathmask until riddled with color my late father rose to clump around in his backyard squeeze the hose coil bump the hummingbird feeder his elm showing studs of green there’s a place even light exhausts itself in squinting and doubt and professorial judgment

2.

he turned my hands over and over clay flaking off his cheeks and brow as if to say and you and you? the demonic simple assurance around his death quite gone its light trailing out my father chagrined back to his mountainside house and quiet purchase of world


Nazca lines, Peru.


3.

no more thoughts ending in light please not with my father back shooting snowbound Cascade landscapes on expired film and building exotic instruments not with my dying windowbox kale a face I can’t look at the way the moon seems to shrink in its rise past landscape reference

4.

my friend frets that poetry reaches a hypothetical maximum of indecision word by word tree branching into bud and bud and bud where have you been and what have you done pitiable final flowering the alwaysfinite sums of color and shape and an eyelash curve of remaining moon


5.

my father before his death and return was a master of haiku its brief mystery and seasonal brace but he’s quit since in favor of the longest blown-out drum and electric guitar songs you’ve ever heard tunes trying for light a color through clay cracks

6.

rage at the littlest part missing from you I woke last night to a door’s slam and laughter and front-yard camera flashes from the drunk-as-shit agnostic dead my father courts a famous photographer with a handful of elm buds wrapped in curtain lace and plucks withered leaves off my windowbox houseplants dispassionately


Daphnes Luff true ash leaf scraped from, a death, dismasted, flight is simple— First brace only one foot in air, then step No more “give” than the bus’s far corner or patched alley gas line, dead High Lifes, sky the sweater blocked to corkboard, waver fading, Favorite lyric in a fruit cut in half but still sexless, brushed at a shrub of hailstone-size flowers, If I was beautiful I’d be embarrassed at any pleasure’s rippled apartment wall, wet seams


in stone a few seconds off its charger, a tape lurching to life then receding into memory, Palate more a mirror the older, shirt self-whitening like the tiny sound a match makes

dropped in a toilet, Moon-colored

back room shine in pane, I’m announcing something even as I sit, to say how my suit of daphnes smartened me to you, the dangerous colors left to dispose of selves, Bullish on sight but already dreaming.


Summer Letter There was an evening train of parishioners talking quietly, scattering crumbs in the seat leather. One out between stations for a cigarette at sunset watched a fly caught between the train’s screen and pane, found himself monitoring what seemed his soul from its own position of horror and frenzy, its earthly purchase. He leaned against the cab, smelling a heating oil leak, the Words seeming briefly not borne, Kingdom not established; feeling for a match in the crumples, the wax-wrapped candy in his pocket. ~~ I’m tired of these / responding sensations / I feel something / growing like a mayapple poisonous until it’s ripe Is August already over I want / to leave thoughts that leave me ill-at-ease / Light long ~~


Rack violin laced / as tight as a dress Sentences are one / sort of sound Two strangers soaked in hot rain / under the same / parking alcove Two anonymous / hammering moths under a single governing idea Empty ramparts / of a city built against invasion / never came ~~ Not the shape of the lips the words / not the sun’s even pan indent but the heat / in the sky / I knew a girl so thin you could see the blood trace / It wasn’t the air around her but that / delicacy to her fingers and forehead we called / Skyline or Style of Seeing Not the man / embracing his murderer the sound / of the meek and victimized arising to know purpose


propellerpairs

I

+

n the Winter of 2005 I was listening to a lot of Animal Collective—something accessible about the way they do experimental led me along. However nervous the restless drums, slightly menacing whispers, or overeager “whoops” of “We Tigers” made me, the music left me satisfied and— just a bit—bewildered. I like to be bewildered, but I also like to sort things out. So I’ve made a diagram of the album Sung Tongs:

It’s nonsense, this diagram. Around the same time I picked up a copy of Erlend Loe’s Naïve. Super in a local bookstore be-


+

cause I liked the way the cover looked, and started reading that. It’s a short novel about a guy who leaves school and spends a lot of time throwing a ball against a wall while living in his brother’s apartment (while his brother is away on business), trying to figure some stuff out. It shares something with Sung Tongs that I can’t quite put words to—Naïve. Super’s diagram:

There it is—some essential, structural similarity. So, I started reading the book and listening to the album at the same time. The result was occasionally akin to multiplying fractions (angst x panic over enthusiasm x innocence, then simplify). More often, though, the result was something new, an amplification of both rather than a blend—like salting a watermelon, or:


propellerpairs


— Benjamin Craig


Contributo ERIC GOLD is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Follow him: @EricGold. ALEX BEHR wrote about Ultraman in the July issue. Her essay on art curator Annie Herron will appear in LUMINA in April. SARAH KRUSE wrote about Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the July issue. Her article on Albert Camus appeared in a recent issue of the International Journal of Zizek Studies. JAY THOMPSON writes Dungeons & Dragons fiction, designs educational software, tutors at King County Jail, and blogs at downdeepdowndeep.wordpress.com. WENDY BOURGEOIS lives, writes, and teaches in Portland, Oregon, with her small dogs and big kids.


ors MAUREEN THORSON’S first book of poems, Applies to Oranges, is available from Ugly Duckling Presse. DEVAN COOK is a freelance writer for Willamette Week, and former sports journalist for the Portland Trail Blazers. EVAN P. SCHNEIDER is the editor of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac. His first novel, from which “The Debaclist” is drawn, will be published this October. ALAN LIMNIS reviewed Bernard DeVoto’s The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto in the October issue. LUCAS BERNHARDT wrote about Cordwainer Smith in the July issue. He is a managing editor at this magazine.


Propellerbooks “With no frills, no gimmicks, just a gimlet eye and quicksilver prose, Rechner defamiliarizes the mundane and makes it marvelous.” —Malena Watrous, The Believer “Cockeyed smart, sharply written, and very funny. A muchneeded new voice for women and men has arrived.” —Nancy Zafris, Kenyon Review

Nine Simple Patterns For Complicated Women

Stories by Mary Rechner Available now at Amazon, Powells, and in many fine independent bookstores information: www.propellerbooks.com

Propeller 3.1  

Propeller volume 3, issue 1

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you