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Propeller OCTOBER 2009

books music art life


A Puppet Documentary

Four Barrel

San Francisco

Autopilot Is For Lovers

Tin House Books Tour de Fat Atlantic Line Is this for you? Yes, this is for you FICTION BY MARY RECHNER | POEMS BY ZACH SAVICH AND GEOFFREY HILSABECK

“A few writers can be taken as metaphorically illuminating the world of the hangover while ostensibly dealing with something else. Parts of Dostoevsky can be read in this way.” — Kingsley Amis

Propeller Volume 1, Issue 1 October 2009 Editor Dan DeWeese Managing Editors Lucas Bernhardt Benjamin Craig Evan P Schneider Contributing Editors Shea’la Finch Matthew Hein Alison Schneider Lisa Sibbett Keri Thomas Design Presence/Absence Subscriptions Archives Posts Store Letters Submissions Publication October January April July Advertising

contents 6 10 12 16 18 30 40 54 62 76 88 98 108

FEAST Matthew Hein. Four Barrel Coffee. Pulling shots and p AISLES Dan DeWeese. Two new anthologies from Tin Hous LIBRARY Lisa Sibbett on Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Spar NOTE Daneen Bergland. Ultimate Writing. In search of the b MUSIC Autopilot is For Lovers and Atlantic Line, interview POEMS Zach Savich. Three poems. SCREEN Benjamin Craig. Photographer + Puppet = Film. A PORTFOLIO Ian Dingman. Images. FICTION Mary Rechner. Exhibit. “Amanda was into performa WORK Evan P Schneider. And You Will Be Landfill. The editor POEMS Geoffrey Hilsabeck. Four poems. INQUIRY Keri Thomas. A World Outside Ours. Is it possible CONTRIBUTORS Notes on our writers and artists.

pouring gibraltars in The Mission.

se: The Writer’s Notebook and The Story Behind the Story.

rrows; Sarah Kruse on Simon Critchley’s Things Merely Are.

best pencil.


filmmaker documents puppet theater about Mike Disfarmer.

ance, into getting off the page.”

r of a bicycling journal hits the road with a beer festival.

to believe that what animals feel resembles what we feel?


Four Barrel Co

Pulling shots and pouring gibraltars in The


e Mission


Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

atthew Williams looked up from the espresso machine he was cleaning and shouted across the floor to me that he could sympathize with fascists because he felt that he too knew what was good for people. He wanted them (people, including fascists, I guess) to care about where and how their coffee was grown, harvested, shipped, roasted, brewed, and enjoyed. I kept mopping, but shouted back, “I don’t think that makes you a fascist.” “I just don’t understand why

you would have something that wasn’t nearly as good, and came from someplace you didn’t know where it was, and then got ruined anyway. It’s just that people need to have some decisions made for them, for their own good—that’s why I think I’m a fascist. But then once people understood what they were missing, then of course they could get whatever they wanted…” The Marzocco wheezed and sneezed and coughed as Matthew finished rinsing it. I’m not the kind of person who thinks


Cindy Loughridge

about whether I’m a secret fascist or not while mopping up at the end of the night. Actually, what am I talking about? I’m totally that kind of person. Last night, however, I was not. I was sweating, like I always sweat when I mop Four Barrel’s concrete floor. Of course, Matthew isn’t really a fascist. He’s a bit of a patriot, though. He likes the idea of the gibraltar, a drink that we

don’t technically serve where we work. “It shows that we can have our own espresso traditions in America. It’s not like we’re just supposed to mimic the Italians and French for the rest of our lives,” he shouted over the counter at me, even though the record we were playing had finished. The gibraltar was invented not far from us, in the San Francisco Bay area, by a cou-

ple of the old Blue Bottle Coffee masterminds. These days Blue Bottle seems to have lost a bit of the intensity/connectivity/quality that places like Sightglass and Ritual are rocking, and Matthew has his own opinions about them. (You know how fascists are with their opinions). He said a bunch of other stuff that I don’t really remember word-for-word. I was mop-

ping, and sweating, and drinking Anchor Steam at the end of a weekend workday. But I remember that he likes the gibraltar because, served as it is in a small (about five and a half ounce) glass—gibraltar is actually the name of the cheap glassware set that includes the light rocks glass/water glass often used for the drink—even people who don’t care for a big glass of sweetened milk with their espresso can enjoy it. Matthew is also a fan of the fact that it can’t be ordered “take-away” or “to-go.” If one orders it in a paper cup, it’s no longer in a gibraltar glass, and we might as well call it what it is: a tiny latte or a very flat, wet, cappuccino in a paper cup. That’s a fine drink, but you don’t have to sit down in a coffee shop and get off your phone to enjoy it. That’s the deal. As for the Rock of Gibraltar, a community surrounding old British naval bases south of Spain: It remains on the United Nations list of Non-SelfGoverning Territories, and has hosted both pro-Franco and pro-Republican Spaniards over the years. There must be a way to tie this in with coffee, fascism, and European tradition. So do that. —Matthew Hein

Emily Dunham

Four Barrel Coffee 375 Valencia Street San Francisco, California 94103


Writers on Writing

Two new books from Tin House discuss the art of writing—and


ooks about how to read or write can go wrong in two ways. The too-prescriptive book flattens the subject, implying (or declaring) that there is a best type of book to read, a correct lesson to “take from” each masterpiece, and a few simple rules that, once understood, should allow you to contribute your own masterpiece to the canon. Any reader of catholic reading tastes, robust writing strategies, or a sense of modesty in the face of the task before him or her sees the lie in this kind of book immediately, and sets it aside. On the other hand, the wide-eyed guide places its favorite books in the aerie confines of the ineffable, and discusses the act of writing as if it involves no craft or dogged discipline at all, but instead only the madness of inspiration occurring in the presence of genius (and near a pen and notebook, if you’re lucky.) The equivalent of a sports highlight reel, these books present moments of brilliance, implore us to recognize them as such, and then suggest we go and do likewise. Well, I’ve watched Michael Jordan dunk from the free-throw line, and I can see how he did it, but friends, that is not my method for scoring. (Unless we’re talking a Nerf Hoop hung from the back of your dorm room door, in which case: Come fly with me.) The difficulty of doing these kinds of books

well is why two new titles from Tin House Books are such a pleasant surprise. The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House gathers the thoughts of faculty from the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, adds some pieces from other authors the journal has published, places them between two covers, and even includes a cd of some panel discussions. If you’ve ever wanted to get an advanced degree in writing without actually having to talk to other people or pay tuition—and without actually getting the degree, I suppose—this is your book. Susan Bell’s look at Fitzgerald’s revisions of The Great Gatsby drive home how crucial it is to dive back into your text. Rick Bass’s “When to Keep It Simple” of-

d reading—fiction.

fers wonderful clarity on our choices when lost in lyricism or doubt, Jim Shepard’s thoughts on writing historical fiction give one confidence in engaging the world of facts, and Aimee Bender’s essay on character motivation reads like the best writing on any subject does—an intelligent putting-into-words of the thoughts you’ve had, but haven’t been able to express. Seventeen smart and hard-working writers is an impressive faculty, but the best thing about having them in the form of this book? These essays won’t be gone on sabbatical when you reach for them.


n immediately impressive quality of The Story About the Story: Great Writers Ex-

plore Great Literature is that it is expansive. The book contains thirty-one essays and over four-hundred pages, but it is twice that, really, because when a good writer offers intriguing thoughts on another good writer, you end up writing down two names whose work you want to read more of. Who knew Virginia Woolf had diagnosed Hemingway’s methods more acutely than anyone else? Hermann Hesse considers Dostoevsky, Dagoberto Gilb approaches Cormac McCarthy from the other side of the border, Salman Rushdie sits down to watch “The Wizard of Oz,” and then others take up the baton, in a kind of relay conversation about books, movies, and what was up with Katherine Mansfield. (Though I might suggest that Nabokov drops the baton, or at least walks kind of tediously through his summary of The Metamorphosis.) There’s more here, too, and much of it bears rereading: one looks at the essay, tracks down the book or books being discussed, and then wants to return to the essay, as if calling a friend to say that you’ve just read that book now, too, and can we talk about it again? That, really, is the solution here: reductive prescription or impotent silence is avoided through lively conversation. And the conversations in these two books are, like the best conversations, smart, entertaining, and ongoing. —Dan DeWeese


An Episode of Sparrows Rumer Godden I

’m proud to have discovered An Episode of Sparrows all by myself. In a little bookstore in a town far away from anywhere, I came across the novel and liked its looks: a paperback in the 4” x 7” size they no longer make, with pages yellowed but fine, neither mealy nor crumbling. Typeface: smallish. Front cover: a painting of an angry-looking, delicate-featured woman with a broad peasant’s body and fat grey hands, holding a flower pot. Lightly penciled in the top right corner of the title page: “$1.95.” That smell. The novel concerns a few very urban children in post-war London who find some seeds and steal some soil and supplies and try to grow a flower garden. It sounds pretty and peaceful, and in some ways it is—but it’s far from sweet. The children are rugged and wild and dirty, the settings are hard and smelly and dirty, the whole

thing’s shot through with a Graham-Greeneesque dose of guilt and suffering, and there’s some pretty heady sexual tension between two of the kids. Lovejoy has been abandoned by her mother and goes around pinching littler kids hard in places where the bruises won’t show,

“All of this quickly starts to come off like one of those well-filmed American movies of the 1970s, where it’s always late afternoon, and the characters wear rough fabrics and have glossy hair.” and stealing their seeds. Tip is big and Irish and goodnatured and the leader of the gang who destroys Lovejoy’s garden, but who, contrite, comes by to give her a garden fork: “She felt Tip beside her and she noticed him acutely. She saw the shabby blue jeans, the way his wrists came far out of his grey-coloured sweater—it was halfway up his arms—the way his shoes were rubbed and his heels worn down. She noticed other things: how hard and bony Tip’s arms were, where hers showed round and soft; the funny look of his cheek that was bony too and freckled, freckles all over it, thought Lovejoy.... “As for Tip, he only stole glances at her but she seemed to him small and curiously clean, and he noticed that her hair was beautifully brushed. “They sat together and the tears dried on Love-

joy’s cheeks; fixing her eyes on the hopscotch, watching it without seeing it, she told Tip about the garden, beginning with the packet of cornflower seeds...but Tip did not seem to be listening. “’Who brushes your hair?’ asked Tip.” All this quickly starts to come off like one of those well-filmed American movies of the 1970s, where it’s always late afternoon, and specks of dust float in light that slants across yellow or orange, and the characters wear rough fabrics and have glossy hair. The atmosphere alternates between beautiful and hard, and everybody wants something, but there’s little to suggest they’ll get it. It’s the promise of a little discovery, compassionately and brutally fulfilled. If only every book first loved for its cover could turn out this way. —Lisa Sibbett


Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens Simon Critchley


he primary strength of Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens is Simon Critchley’s ability, despite numerous allusions to philosophers and poets, to make us forget we’re reading something academic. Critchley examines Stevens’s poems and discusses how, taken as a whole, they pertain to a philosophy, but this book is more an unpretentious meditation than a theoretical analysis. The object of that meditation? The tension present between how things in the world exist as opaque things-in-themselves, and how poetry creates or recreates our experience of the world. Critchley draws first on Kant, Schlegel, and Romantic Transcendentalism as he examines how a poet’s work can reveal the true nature of things—making us see more acutely, for in-

stance, the flowers in a brilliant cut glass bowl. As Critchley puts it, “Poetry is like a light which illuminates objects in the world, it is the unseen condition for seeing...Like light, it adds nothing but itself. Close to the heat of that light, we can be said to live more intensely.” And yet things always, at some level, resist being understood, because what exists before us can exist without meaning: In Stevens’s poetry, Critchley claims, “Things merely are. The palm, the bird, its song, its feathers...One can say no more. Stevens suggests that it is not human reason or even unreason that makes us happy, but something foreign and real that we can’t even imagine, something that gives life as it is, that we live from and which is not the transfigurative sorcery of the imagination.” The difference

“Objects themselves ‘speak,’ even if it is in a very foreign tongue.”

between Stevens’s elegant descriptions of New Haven and the real New Haven—with its industrial train platforms and broken-windowed warehouses—is the difference between the New Haven that exists in the language of the poet,

and the reality of the objects that are “New Haven.” For Critchley, Stevens’s poetry does not replace reality, does not try to represent what is, but awakens our awareness that objects themselves “speak,” even if it is in a very foreign tongue. Where poetry fails is that it is not the direct experience of the world. One must move beyond poetry not because its representation is inaccurate, but because it is not all that is. So poetry’s failure leads to irony: wanting to believe in representations while also signaling awareness of their insufficience. Stevens’s poetry, Critchley claims, addresses both the necessity of poetry and awareness of its failure. And in this way, it permits us to confront the starkness of reality not as an empirical experience, but as a world of naked Being. —Sarah Kruse




act: sexier than the mini is the pencil skirt. There’s something to be said for the classic wooden pencil, school bus yellow with a pink eraser. And something satisfying, like growing and canning your own tomatoes, about using something over and over, whittling it down until it virtually disappears (rather than disappearing virtually, like so much of our correspondence.) Besides, nothing smells like a freshly sharpened pencil; only rain on hot pavement comes close. So when it comes to writing something down, I prefer the pencil. With these thoughts in mind, and autumn in the air, I decided to search for

My Favorite One. At the nearest big box office store, I bought a 12-pack of Ticonderoga #2’s for two bucks. Made from premium cedar with a latex eraser and black graphite point, each is, according to the box, The World’s Best Pencil. I savored the first line written on a just-sharpened point, but without a sharpener nearby, its use would be limited to a page, maybe two. Next, I tried a Pentel Sharp, a plastic mechanical pencil. At $8.79 for two, it certainly couldn’t match the Ticonderoga’s thrift. A mechanical offers a consistent point and the choice of dif-

WRITING VS. ferent lead sizes, but annoyingly, this one had no eraser—any deletions required a cross-out, which seemed silly. I also noticed that the mechanical pencil did not write as darkly as the Ticonderoga, a definite drawback—with pencils, it’s all in the lead. The trick, it seemed, was to find one that created a smooth, non-smudging, dark line, in a mechanical pencil with an eraser. You can find pencil leads of different diameters—even liquid lead—and all manner of colors and styles of mechanical pencils at an office supply or drug store, but you can’t find a darkness rating in anything other than good old No.

2, so I drove across town to an art and drafting supply store, where I discovered twenty impressive degrees of hardness and blackness. Starting from No. 2, otherwise known as HB, I settled on two levels softer: 2B in .5mm. Because I’m not made of money (as a poet, I think I might actually repel it), I found a black Pentel TwistErase Automatic pencil with a rubber grip on sale for $5.25. Clicking the end of the pencil advances the lead; twisting it advances the eraser. Opening it, I threaded in the special new lead and wrote a line. I erased it and wrote another. This time? It was just right. —Daneen Bergland


Jason Quicley





Portland, Oregon, band Autopilot is for Lovers began as a collaboration between songwriter Adrienne Hatkin and musician Paul Seely. To the Wolves, their first full-length album, was released last spring, and Adrienne Hatkin answered some questions for us this summer. PROPELLER MAGAZINE: You’ve said that you don’t really like the band name “Autopilot is for Lovers,” as it seems less original now than it did when you thought it up some years ago. What did you have in mind when you decided on that name? ADRIENNE HATKIN: Originally the band

name was just “Autopilot,” which now is entirely unoriginal. Any band name that consists of one word, or starts with “The” and is followed by one word, is probably taken. It was easier to ignore this fact before everyone had constant access to the Internet (I am one of the last in line), and now the world is much smaller and much larger at the same time. PM: To the Wolves has, as you put it, “some Balkan folk inspiration.” What’s your experience with music of that region of the world and how did it come to influence you? AH: I started playing accordion because of

Jason Quicley



Emir Kusturica, a Serbian filmmaker, but honestly I don’t listen to very much traditional Balkan music at all. My accordion teacher Eileen Hagen believes strongly in the concept of cellular memory. I asked her once if she thought that it was possible that I play Balkan-esque music because my father has an Eastern European ancestry, and she did not think that was at all implausible. I’m not really sure what I think, but I like the theory. PM: Why do you think this particular sound has struck a chord with musicians and listeners? AH: Hmm...cellular memory? I think Balkan folk music just has a hypnotic romance to it that we don’t hear much of anymore in America. PM: What sounds or bands did you and Paul discuss in the process of making To the Wolves, and what was the impetus to “bring back” such instruments as the glockenspiel, accordion, and casiotone on this record? AH: Geez, there wasn’t really much discussion. The songs that were written on the accordion just kind of are what they are. The glockenspiel seems to just come naturally, since it compliments the accordion so well. It never would have occurred to me to use a Casiotone on that album—Paul has a collection of vintage thrift

store Casios that he loves. I would come home and he’d play me a Casio part that he’d overdubbed onto a song, and it would work. Such is his genius. PM: What’s on tap for Autopilot is for Lovers this fall and winter? AH: We had a tour lined up, but sadly it fell through for a lot of reasons. So we are trying

“I could tell myself that taking longer to craft songs is a good thing, but I don’t know if that’s always so.” now to just focus on recording the next album, a perfect project for cold weather, if you ask me. PM: How you go about writing songs? Where? When? How long did the last album take to write? AH: I do not write songs often, and it has become fewer and far between the last few years. At least it seems like it. To the Wolves spanned

about 6 years of songwriting, making the oldest song on there about 8 years old now. There have been many times where I started a song spontaneously and finished it up within a week or so—“Come Now” is an example of that. But that doesn’t seem to happen much any more. I could tell myself that taking longer to craft songs is a good thing, but I don’t know if that’s always so. PM: In photos, Autopilot is a band of two, but onstage you are five. What kind of challenges do you face in translating the songs to live performance, and how do you find the musicians that play with you live? AH: It’s really not much of a challenge, honestly. Paul and I are so blessed to be playing with the people who are in the band now (Jessie Dettwiler, Stirling Myles, Emily Nelson and sometimes Paul’s brother, Matthew). If anything, they’ve made us a lot more excited to practice and play out and generally push the band forward. They’ve been creating some really amazing arrangements that really flesh out the songs, and I think during our live sets the focus shifts around a lot while everyone has their shining moments, making our shows a lot more interesting. With more people, there’s more room for more magic to happen. Ω

Intro to Exit to Intro

Atlantic Line


Nandi Alexander

Q/A The Los Angeles band Atlantic Line consists of five members: Ray Silva, Vincent Medina, Will Oraha, John Correa, and Noah Alexander. Their first album, Exit to Intro, was released in June, and is available for free on their website, www. The band recently answered some of our questions about inspirations, songwriting, and what it’s like to record a first album in the music industry of 2009. Individual responses are noted, while answers that were the result of collaboration are credited to “Atlantic Line.” Propeller Magazine: So it sounds like your early work on these songs was the result of pretty traditional acoustic-guitar-based songwriting. When you realized you wanted the songs to go

in the direction of using of electronic devices and sounds, did that change your songwriting process? Ray and Vincent: The songs were written on acoustic with the full intention to get a full band and expand electronically. I still play acoustic but now I just plug it in to some pedals and an amp to keep a mix of the original soul but take it somewhere new also. PM: Did you think about or develop songs differently than you did when it was just you and a guitar? Ray: Oh, yes—we had ideas for the size of the song, but as soon as you add another person,


album brought to mind a sense of that full, sonically-swelling sound The Verve were using on an album like “A Storm in Heaven,” as well as some of the warmth of “The Bends”-era Radiohead. Did you discover any sonic tricks or techniques when you were listening to other albums while recording your own? John: Muse. Rest of the Band: Oh, man—John doesn’t know that any other bands exist. We didn’t really have time to study up while recording. We were in the studio 3 weeks after our first show and were on a time crunch, so we just had to put our head down and get it done. John: ’76-era Aerosmith.

Corey M. Capetillo

keyboard, or pedal effect the song takes on a whole new direction.

Will: Half of the songs started in the acoustic setting, and then—

Ray: I definitely listened to The Verve and The Bends a lot in school and after, but during the recording I was mostly listening to folk music. But those bands and sounds have always been a big influence. Will: Captain Beefheart.

John: And then we met the e-bow.

PM: Are there any bands you admire in a different way, or hear differently after having recorded your own album?

PM: Who were you guys listening to when you were going through the recording and engineering process on this album? For me, the

Will: Yeah—it really helps you dissect an arrangement. It makes the songs you listen to better. Or worse, actually.

Noah: It made me appreciate the 70’s stuff a lot more. Hearing Pink Floyd or Queen and realizing all of the work it must have taken to make something like that—and without computers! Crazy. PM: Vincent, there’s a track on the album called “The Voyage Home” on which you play a melodic bass line that acts as an anchor that allows the rest of the band to send the song soaring in various directions. Is the development of a line like that something you’re able to just intuitively come up with, or do you have to think more consciously or intentionally about finding the right line for a song like that? Or is it a mix of both?

make--it sounds like a demanding song for a drummer, technique-wise. In a band whose songs move between a full, driving sound down to moments where things are really stripped back, are there problems you have to solve as a drummer in terms of figuring out what works in the different sections? Noah: Yeah, Big Brother was a demanding one

Will: He stole that from “The Twilight Zone.” Band: [laughter]

Noah: So are bad-ass bass parts easy for you to come by? Vincent: Yes. PM: I have a similar question for Noah about the drumwork on the song “Big Brother.” The propulsive rhythm you set up, the shifts you

Victory Marshall

Vincent: I wrote that part on guitar for another song Ray and I were working on then slowed it down and brought it over to Voyage.


PM: How did you guys meet, and how long did you play together before recording the album? The album really has a sense of coherence--of being “an album” in that sense of songs that appear in a meaningful order. And did your sense of the album as an entity in itself change over time? Did your sense of the album as a larger unit contribute to the way your worked on any of the individual songs? Atlantic Line: Well, Vincent and Ray have been in bands together before, and became a duo playing acoustic versions of what they were writing. They knew Will and played a show with his band at the time, and soon after Will and John were members. We went through three or four drummers and used this thing the kids are calling Craigslist to find Noah. Two weeks later we played our first show at Spaceland in Silverlake and the sound guys said, “I’ve been looking for you guys! Can I record your album?”

Corey M. Capetillo

to nail down a solid beat that we were all happy with. It’s really difficult to be confident with drum parts in most of these songs. Especially when we start out with a beautiful layer and some soaring, reverb-soaked vocals, then try to put a loud drum in there, it can distract or change the mood in a negative way if you aren’t careful. I joined the band about two weeks before our first show, so half of the songs had a drum beat that I could use as a starting point. Will is a drummer as well, and had written a few of the beats, so that really helped as we came together to flesh things out.

A month later we were scrambling to finish enough songs to make it an 8 song record. We didn’t have a chance to think too much about it as far as theme, or tailor the songs into a “sound.” Luckily Scott Seelig (the engineer) was just as excited as us to make this a great recording so it just flowed really well. A few times we would throw on some of our favorite albums and try to match some elements of

their sound, but mostly we just took a step back and let the recording speak for itself. PM: There are often new problems for bands to solve when they move their songs from the studio to the stage. Have there been any particular challenges in performing these songs live? Did you have to master any new musical or technical skills in order to achieve the live sound you wanted? Atlantic Line: Wow. No. Not at all. Actually, it’s backward. We have a five-piece band, Ray’s acoustic goes through pedals and an amp, Will and John have keyboard amps, tons of pedals, guitar amps, a home made theremin, plus our drums, electronic drum pads, and a huge bass rig—so to try to capture that energy on an album was pretty difficult. PM: The album can be downloaded for free on your website, but there are also options for people to donate $4 to $7. How have people responded? It’s of obvious benefit to fans to get the album free, and the Internet is clearly the most powerful distribution device ever invented, but are there downsides to giving the album away for free? Any experiences or opportunities you don’t get to have when you distribute by posting the album on the Internet? Atlantic Line: We would love to make $10 off each album sold or downloaded, but when you are an independent band trying to reach people all over and can only use the resources in

front of you, you need to be creative and not expect to make money on everything. People hear about different bands every day in one way or another, so to break through all of that, you have to offer something special. We’re really proud of our music and the art we’re trying to create, and to have someone else enjoy it is the best we can ask for right now. We also have to be smart in what we invest our little bit of money in right now, and putting that in the gas tank to get out of town makes more sense than pressing a bunch of cd’s and then trying to figure out how to get someone in Portland or Chicago to buy it. Why not give them the album and then go to Portland, have a new person bring a friend to the show and buy a T-shirt, you know? This will hopefully grow into a demand for vinyl and limited edition pieces that we can give to people and be able to expand the ways the music is put out there. We would much rather each person have a physical copy with original art and packaging and a locket of hair or something, but that will come soon enough. PM: You’ve played a lot of west coast shows. Any plans for a bigger tour? Vincent: We’ll be playing SXSW in March. But we need to make sure everyone is legal first. When we were in Boise on the last tour, John almost got us kicked off of a military base that we were staying on with some friends because of a “Green Card Issue”. That’s all we can say at this time. Ω


Kim Faler: “Anniversary” - 2009

Back Into This Life You Have Brought Me To I could build you a house or just give you the boards. Tell me of the sustained injury. Tell me of realisms, unmired. How simple longing grew. I proved it so thoroughly I don’t need to again. Is your life an adventure and are you free? Is there hot water left or hot water again?

Very Loosely from Dante As one carrying a heavy load walks quicker so momentum balances not to speed his end I watched them tear shingles from the roof as though merely keeping their footing any way they could, and their momentum balanced me. They crouched above me eating sandwiches some high red berries still on the bare trees dusk darkened them faster at that height as though darkening up from the house they’d opened. In place of a radio one man sang, a little I held your hand so I would never end with a voice that untrained trained all his listeners when they climbed down he was the one they shook the ladder for.

Kim Faler: “Bicycle” - 2008

Portrait of a Lady 1. I didn’t know if I should throw my apple core down on those crutches or if someone was coming back for them. A poem-letter fails qua poem and qua letter. Part of you is in pain and you say I am in pain and it is all of you. Part of you is numb and you say I am numb and it is more psychological. The woman knew all about apples, the key factors are not only variety and season but the distances they have traveled. The waiter in his white cape came to turn us out, like bedding turned abruptly down. Ah, to be turned abruptly into, or like, down.

2. The problem here is a lack of weather. They hardly have any seasons. It’d be easier to sleep if the train outside came by all night. Nights here bad but bearable. Too bearable. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be sleeping. We played a game called Bet. If you bet the most, you win all the other bets. The problem is you don’t know what anything is worth. And if your bet (anonymous) is not the highest, you lose. For example someone bets a kiss someone his ladder someone a dog. Everyone gets to vote. Someone bets her vote.

3. Then we made love with our hands up, temperately, suddenly unsought by nostalgia. It was just good manners. I tell her I never really knew how to eat sunflower seeds, I’d just spit out the chewed-up shell muck. She tells me that’s a fine way of eating sunflower seeds. I demonstrate on her loins. Time to bear. Up under. Upon the patio fall, or land, cuttings from the Korean guy upstairs trimming everything.

Kim Faler: “Some Sidewalks #2” - 2009






uring the summer of 2006, filmmaker David Soll met me at Powell’s Books in Portland to find a novel to read on his flight back to New York, and to talk about his new film project. He led me up to the Pearl Room—art, dance, film, and photography— and to a tall table, upon which he placed a large white book. The spine read “DISFARMER,” and the book contained page after page of remarkable black and white portraits taken by an enigmatic photographer named Mike Disfarmer, from 1939 to 1946. The portraits are startling. The faces of Disfarmer’s subjects are remarkable in their lack of self-consciousness. Their eyes are hard, sad at times, even when they are accompanied by a smirk.The photos include shots of individuals and of groups: lone men or women, or sometimes a pair of friends; couples standing close or apart; entire families, or, as parents often choose today, just photos of the children. Soll explained that he had recently met a New York theater director name Dan Hurlin. Soll had seen one of Hurlin’s earlier puppetry pieces, “Hiroshima Maiden,” about a group of twentyfive Japanese women who had been disfigured by the atomic explosion, traveled to the United States for cosmetic surgery, and appeared on the NBC show This is Your Life on which they shared the stage with the pilot of the Enola Gay. The adult themes and particularly the sophisti-

Story by Benjamin Craig Portraits by Mike Disfarmer


cated storytelling of Hurlin’s puppet show were appealing, and Soll’s interest was sparked. And after speaking with Hurlin in Miami, Soll had decided to document the production of Hurlin’s next theater piece from start to finish, and use it as the centerpiece of a documentary about puppets, and why they are so captivating. And the subject of Hurlin’s next puppet show? The man behind the photographs Soll and I were looking at.


oll had been thinking about puppets off and on since seeing the Spike Jonze film “Being John Malkovich.” Though he had been just nineteen, and still finding his way in the Los Angeles film industry—Soll’s understanding of puppetry changed after seeing the film. “Having grown up in a rural area, some distance from any serious theater, or certainly any avant-garde arts community,” he explained, “I had never thought of puppetry as anything other than children’s entertainment.” The film opened up for Soll the possibility of puppetry as an art form for an adult audience. “I thought it was amazing,” he told me recently of the immediate empathy he felt for the puppets, “but I thought it was just for the film, something Charlie Kauffman came up with. It never occurred to me that there was actually this world of New York City puppeteers who worked seriously and were struggling as

“Puppets are more provocative, because the audience is given all sorts of latitude to project their own thoughts and emotions onto the face of the puppet.” artists, the way musicians elsewhere and other artists in America struggle.” Why, he wondered, were puppets so effortlessly and immediately fascinating? When I spoke to Soll again recently, as he closed in on a first complete cut of the film after three years of work on it, he didn’t want to answer that question for me. After all, he said,

“That’s the central question that the movie explores.” But he did go on to explain a couple of the theories that float around about puppets, beginning with what he referred to as the “Theater Theory.” “By virtue of being more still and less expressive than a live actor,” he said, “puppets are more provocative, because the audience is given all sorts of latitude to project their own thoughts and emotions on to the face of the puppet in a way that actors can do—and you see this in great actors, moments of stillness and hesitation, and an audience’s mind becomes more activated.” The theory is that when an audience is given less, they are inspired to do more, supply more. And so it’s a more active audience experience.

In the now-completed rough-cut of Soll’s puppet documentary, the virtue of stillness has been taken seriously. Quiet scenes from Hurlin’s theater piece punctuate the film, demonstrating one or another of the concepts discussed in the film, or letting us view a scene that is being described in narration. These scenes also break the rhythm of the interviews, forcing the audience to focus on the images. In one scene, the puppet-Disfarmer attempt to take a self-portrait when there is a know at the door. Startled, his head spins toward the door, and he stares for a long moment before turning slowly back. Each of the small, individual movements that make up this sequence is endowed with significance, because it is performed by a puppet whose movements are controlled by three vis-


ible puppeteers. As viewers, we appreciate the complexity of even the puppet’s subtlest movements, and the weight of immobility when he rests. A second theory about the power of puppetry is that puppets, as human simulacra, touch on something fundamental about what we as humans are, in the most basic sense. This theory is supported in part by the presence of Puppet Theater across cultures and centuries. Puppetry is, according to Soll, “one of our first art forms, and one of the only ones you can find virtually

everywhere in the world.” Eileen Blumenthal, a theorist interviewed in the film, confirmed this opinion. “There are very few societies that we know enough about to know if they would have puppets, that did not have puppets.” If puppets touch us because of their mimicry of human bodies, movement, and expressiveness, Soll asked, does this suggest a spiritual element, or a “yearning for spirituality that is well expressed in puppets? For creating little images of ourselves which we can attach to divinity the way Catholicism did, or the way Indonesian reli-

“He would spend long peD riods below the hood of his camera, and his subjects would never know when he was about to pull the trigger.”

one attempt to re-mystify the world, he said. “There is something fundamental about us that requires a degree of poetry in the world.”

gions have—the way almost every religion has?” The proliferation of both puppetry as an art form and human simulacra as a component of religious practice presents a compelling ground for this theory, and Soll wondered aloud if the current surge in avant-garde puppet theater is a symptom of repressed religiosity, a reaction to an increasingly secular culture. Puppetry is

an Hurlin first encountered the photos while browsing the photography section of a Barnes and Noble bookstore, where he saw the same white book with black block letters that Soll introduced me to in Powell’s Books. Hurlin looked at the cover, a photo of two men arm in arm, and then spent some time looking through the rest of the book. Continuing to be amazed by the photographs, he began to wonder just who this Mike Disfarmer was. What Hurlin learned, and what Soll’s film reveals to the audience, is that Disfarmer was a reclusive photographer in the small town of Heber Springs, Arkansas. Disfarmer had a knack for creating a sense of intimacy in photographs. His portrait studio sessions were uncomfortable. He was silent for long periods. The myth is that he would spend long periods below the hood of his camera, and his subjects would never know when he was about to pull the trigger. The photos, both tense and candid, have made Disfarmer a cult hero to photographers. Quiet and unnerving, he makes a fitting subject for a puppet show. He was also eccentric. It turns out that Disfarmer was born Mike Meyer, and only changed


his last name to Disfarmer after his mother’s death. He felt so out of touch with his rural farming community, and out of place in the Meyer family, that he was compelled to disown the name Meyer, which in its German etymology comes from a term for farmer—or so the conventional wisdom goes. This, however, is not the explanation Disfarmer himself gave. Soll recently screened the film for me, and in one of its most exciting scenes, Soll captures the moment when, visiting a records hall in Heber Springs where Disfarmer lived, Hurlin discovers the legal document in which Disfarmer requested his name change. In it, Disfarmer writes that as an infant he was lifted by a tornado from his original home and deposited at the doorstep of the Meyer’s, who took him in and raised him as a member of their family. In order to relieve the Meyer family of any concern that he would lay claim to family holdings as an inheritance, he was asking that his name be changed. Soll, as we watched the film, asked me: “Jokester, or ambulatory schizophrenic?” On camera, Hurlin reads the document aloud, his voice quavering slightly at the strangeness of his discovery—the document, it turns out, did not even require an explanation for the name-change request. As we watched the film, Soll’s attention moved between the film and my reactions, his expres-

sion concerned and focused. During the opening sequences I found myself pulled immediately into the puppeteering world, and the world of Hurlin’s show, rapt at each of the puppet’s slow, deliberate movements. As the film progresses, the puppet show is sometimes in the foreground, and sometimes recedes in favor of interviews with theorists, puppeteers, Hurlin, or others in or around the puppet theater community. It asks questions

that it doesn’t mind leaving unanswered, returning instead to the puppets, which never fail to compel. We are happy to once again watch the puppet-Disfarmer slouch in his chair and breathe, or stop to take another drink from his beer before climbing into bed and pulling a blanket over himself—actions we might never expect or desire from a human actor without demanding more action, more narrative. But the puppets captivate.

In the completed cut of the film, the layers come into sharp focus. The residents of Heber Springs are at the beginning of a chain. Next stands Mike Disfarmer and his photographs of them, Dan Hurlin and his puppet-Disfarmer exploring loss and death in a puppet show, and finally, David Soll’s film documenting Hurlin’s show and the world of contemporary puppetry. Each layer is fascinating. The last time I met with Soll was when I stopped by the house he was renting in Portland, where he had holed up on a month-long retreat to finish the documentary and prepare to send it out to festivals. He was feverishly burning DVDs, packing to leave town, taking and retaking inventory of his equipment, and cleaning the house. His current cut of the film was ready to send out, and a stack of FedEx envelopes addressed and ready to drop in a box lay nearby: Soll had festival committees to impress, and distribution companies he hoped to attract the interest of. But those things still lay in the future, uncertain. What Soll had on his DVDs, after three years of work, was actually not that different from what Disfarmer created: a series of images. Disfarmer’s images captured the men, women, and children of Heber Springs; Soll’s images were the film that captured Hurlin presenting Disfarmer. And it was time to share it. Ω


Ian Dingman Images



Propeller: When did art became a focus in your life? Ian Dingman: I was always drawing throughout my childhood and into high school, but it wasn’t until my senior year in college when something clicked and I started to take art more seriously and explore different mediums, themes, et cetera. Odd, I know, that I was studying art for almost four years before I really began to care. I think my lack of inter-

est was in large part due to my feelings of inferiority to the other students surrounding me.

to make it more interesting. This is normally where the notions of whimsy, nostalgia or romance are infused.

Propeller: What do you look to for inspiration?

Propeller: How would you describe your work to a stranger?

ID: A lot of my work comes from experiences. Something catches my eye and I try to either take note or photograph it. When I begin work on the piece, I’ll take a step back and see what I can add or remove

ID: Pleasant. Propeller: What’s your daily work routine? ID: I completely lack a daily routine. I’ve tried again and

Q/A again to create a schedule that works for me, but still find myself painting on a Saturday at 1 a.m. I wax nostalgic about my 9-to-5 days frequently. Propeller: What has been your favorite illustration commission? ID: The first piece I did for the New York Times has always been my favorite. It was a great short story. It had a handful of simple visual solutions. Also,

my execution wasn’t rooted in reality, like most of my personal work is, so I feel like it was a successful departure from what I’m most comfortable working with. Propeller: What ten ingredients would you bring to a deserted island? ID: The following Christopher Pike novels: Bury Me Deep, Monster, The Midnight Club, Remember Me, Remember Me

3: The Last Story, Gimme A Kiss, The Cold One, Execution Of Innocence, Scavenger Hunt, and Fall Into Darkness. Propeller: Could you name something you read that changed you? ID: See previous question. In addition to the images here, Dingman’s “Falling” and “On the Lawn” appear in Mary Rechner’s short story, “Exhibit.”

“Belden and Clark”

“French Film”





Mary Rechner A

manda was into performance, into getting off the page, but the words of her poems remained glued to the paper. She couldn’t memorize them. There was no place to sit in the living room. David’s gear was spread out over the cushions of the couch—tomorrow morning he was going on a fishing trip. And at midnight, Amanda’s mother was arriving at the Albuquerque International Airport. But first there was a poetry reading. “You’re not coming?” Amanda asked. David was crouching in front of the couch, untangling fishing line, stretching his hand for the hook. “I can deal with poetry,” he said,

speaking to Amanda over his shoulder. “And I can deal with naked women. But poetry at a strip club?” “All this equipment,” Amanda wanted to say, “but no bucket.” Instead she said, “I’m meeting Tanya at the reading. After it’s over, she’s driving me to the airport to pick up my mom.” “Sounds good.” David was sorting lures into piles by weight. “Keep your clothes on.” Amanda left the apartment and started walking. Her favorite jeans fit snugly. So did her vintage satin blouse. The cloth-covered buttons looked like tiny pillows. Under her clothes she wore her only pair of black lace underpants, and a matching bra that made her breasts itch.


She walked in the dark to the rhythm of her mumbled poems. Now all the words were in her brain, but onstage was always another matter. Downtown Albuquerque had only three bars when Amanda had moved there from New York two years before, to be a copy editor at the newspaper. Albuquerque was a desert, but everything was growing: microbreweries, cafés, comic book shops, restaurants, and movie rental stores. When she met David, he was renting “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He was so handsome she decided not to worry about the implications. But though Amanda failed to memorize her poems, she could recall word for word a phone conversation she had had with her mother six months ago, the night David moved in. “What’s this guy all about?” Her mother was calling from Long Island, from the house where Amanda grew up. “He’s concerned about the planet,” Amanda had said carefully as she watered her jade plant, omitting the things she actually liked about David: the flat muscles in his stomach, the zesty songs he made up in the shower, their fun sex in a chair with metal arms. The jade’s soil was so dry she had to add water gradually, waiting impatiently as it soaked into the dirt. “Concerned about the planet how?” Aman-

“Now her mother was in the air, probably flying over the Midwest. Probably zooming toward Wyoming or Colorado.”

da’s mother sounded suspicious. Amanda answered her mother’s question with a list. “He’s a vegetarian, he’s into alternative energy and sustainable agriculture and zero population growth.” “What?” her mother had asked. “He doesn’t like kids?” A dead brown leaf had fallen off the jade as Amanda shrugged, even though her mother couldn’t possibly have seen the gesture over the phone. Now her mother was in the air, probably flying over the Midwest. Probably zooming toward Wyoming or Colorado. And tomorrow morning David was leaving with his brother


to fish. He never kept what he caught, though. Catch and release was his motto. In the neighborhood Amanda walked through, yards were filled with wildflowers instead of lawns. The white flowers glowed in the streetlight. Large birds screamed from the nearby Albuquerque Zoo. They also screeched in the early morning, and sometimes the calls and cries woke Amanda from a dream, or became part of one. The poetry slams Amanda read at were usually held in the bar next door to the strip club. Though she had read many poems and drunk many pints at those slams, she had never won. She feared her poems were too simple. Mostly she wrote about people and places and feelings. Occasionally she wove in a Greek myth. Some of the lines of her poems stretched to the edge of the page, as if she wanted to tell a story but didn’t know how. Back in high school she wrote skinny floral poems about lust and inebriation, but that was a long time ago, long before she met David. She had never been inside the strip club. David always pretended to go in when they walked by, and Amanda always pretended to steer him away from the door, though in fact she was interested in seeing women who weren’t afraid to be naked in front of an audience. As she neared the club, she still hadn’t decid-

“She had never been inside the strip club. David always pretended to go in when they walked by.”

ed whether she would try to perform her poems from memory, or whether she should read them off the pages folded into the back pocket of her jeans, like she usually did. The poets who recited their work kept the audience riveted. Reciting from memory seemed straightforward, but each time Amanda tried, even the titles of her poems stepped out of her brain. She opened the strip club door. Inside, a beautiful bald woman sat on a stool. Her leather jacket looked like it weighed at least fifty pounds. “Ten dollars.” The woman extended her small white hand. Amanda considered telling the woman that she was a featured poet, not an audience member, but the reading was a benefit for a safe-sex non-profit. So she just handed over a twenty and waited while the woman made change.


isappointingly few people were in the club. Behind a small bar, the bartender rubbed glasses. A few baffled men wandered across the dance floor in front of a low stage. The readings at the bar next door were always packed with rowdy college students and artsy twenty-two year olds—but then, there wasn’t usually a cover. People weren’t used to paying for poetry. As she stood there looking for Tanya, Amanda felt like she was back on Long Island at one of the many sweet sixteen parties she had attended. It was the mirrors, the purple walls. At least there were no balloons or streamers. “Like a Virgin” wasn’t blaring. She remembered the outfit she wore to one such party: a cardigan sweat-

er, backwards, baggy corduroys, a long string of fake pearls. She could not find a bra with a low enough back and so she went to the party without one. She thought she would have to sneak out of the house, but her mother hadn’t noticed her braless state. No one at the sweet sixteen noticed either, but Amanda could not stop thinking about her breasts the entire party. How old she would have to be before that memory and many others like it would cease to be embarrassing she did not know. She was currently twenty-five. By the time her mother turned twenty-five, she was married, owned a house, and had three children. Maybe people didn’t go to strip clubs on Sunday nights, or maybe, like David, people didn’t


care to mix poetry with breasts. Amanda felt flat-chested already. In a way it was a relief that David hadn’t wanted to come. It would have been awkward, pretending not to notice as he pretended not to ogle naked women, though so far she hadn’t seen any. Perhaps this was a poetry-only event. She ordered a scotch and soda. Later, she’d have a drink with her mother in the living room after the flight, and it was better to stick with one type of liquor. Tanya walked into the club then, wearing a sheer, long-sleeved black shirt so tight it looked like a wetsuit. “Well?” she said as she grabbed Amanda’s glass, took a long sip, and made a face. Tanya saw herself as a spoken-word goddess, and said her poems about cats, wine, and broken wings were burned into her brain almost the moment they came to her. “I barely write them down!” she once confided. Amanda pulled her poems from the back pocket of her jeans. The pages were creased into boxes. “Should I try to recite?” She felt pathetic, as if about to ask whether she could copy Tanya’s homework. “Or should I just read them?” “Don’t should on yourself,” Tanya said— though she no longer attended AA meetings, she employed many of the platitudes. She moved a couple of feet so that the lights hanging above the bar illuminated her chest. She was braless,

her shirt see-through. “What do you think?” “Tanya!” Amanda immediately regretted sounding shocked. “Remind me where we are?” Tanya made an open-handed gesture that encompassed the mirrors, bar, stage and dance floor. One-word lines began coming to Amanda, reminiscent of her high-school style: I can see your boobs I can see your boobs I can see your boobs! She wondered about breaking the poem into three separate stanzas. Maybe remove the exclamation point? Tanya’s round breasts were slightly smashed by the bodysuit. “Of course recite your poems,” Tanya said,

“She had a reputation in the open-mike community for going over the time limit.”

gesturing to an imaginary audience while using her hands to showcase her breasts, as if she were a model at a trade show convention drawing attention to a wonderful product known as her boobs. Several men in the club were in fact looking at her, elbowing each other and nodding. Tanya was the only woman Amanda had ever met who actively loved her body. The friends in middle school who took their shirts off when they rode bikes at night later became bulimics, and the college roommate who danced topless at every party had recently undergone breast reduction surgery. Glenn, the safe-sex reading organizer, walked toward Tanya. His denim shirt was more unbuttoned than usual, though his greasy blonde hair looked the same. Behind his back they called him Kurt Cocaine. “Three poems each, tops.” Glen glared at Tanya a moment; she had a reputation in the open-

mike community for going over the time limit. Then his eyes moved to her chest, where they remained. “What do you think?” Tanya turned sideways to offer her profile. “Am I making things harder for your imagination or just making things harder in general?” “Nice shirt.” Glenn grinned as he jumped up onto the small stage. There was no microphone. “Welcome to the benefit!” he yelled. “Sex is good! Sex is positive! It’s all about being safe!” Tanya rolled her eyes and took another swig of Amanda’s scotch and soda. Amanda didn’t see any of the local poets she had assumed would be at the reading: not the small girl in the blue beret who had a reputation for sleeping with the other poets, not the guy with the Roman haircut whose poem about the Victoria’s Secret catalogue had won him the slam on three different occasions, not even the Vietnam Vet with the broken teeth and the po-

“Amanda loved her mother’s body, her wordless gesture, the careless way she flicked her wrist and ditched the ice.”

ems about Nietzsche. The audience consisted of disoriented men—right club, but no naked girls—and Amanda felt bewildered as well. How she had missed the clues that this event was going to suck, she didn’t know. Her only comfort was that Tanya had missed them, too. Onstage, Glenn was reading his poem: “White tile bright light sink as hard as my dick...” Tanya mimed a finger down her throat. Amanda ordered another drink. Eventually the woman in the poem would bang her head on the sink and blood would drip onto the tiled floor. The sad truth was that when Glenn got up on stage Amanda knew each and every word of his poems. When he finished the sink poem

he began reciting the one about his motorcycle. She wondered how old Glenn was, and at what point reading poetry in bars, or worse, strip clubs, became un-cool. Glenn looked at least thirty-five. When Amanda’s mother turned thirty-five, there had been a big party on the back porch. Amanda had been twelve; in a strange coincidence, she had gotten her period for the first time on her mother’s birthday. Her mother had cried and hugged her. When the party was over, fireflies were blinking in the backyard, and her mother stood and chucked the ice from her drink into the grass. Amanda loved her mother’s body, her wordless gesture, the careless way she flicked her wrist and ditched the ice. Tanya was elbowing Amanda, reaching for another sip of scotch. “And now, sexy poetess Tanya McCurdy.” Glen said before he jumped down off the stage. “Right on,” Tanya whispered, warming up her sexy poetess voice. She stepped up onstage and turned to face the audience. Through her shirt her breasts gleamed like illuminated grapefruits. Someone ripped a wolf whistle. A man with a droopy handlebar mustache began to stomp. Amanda looked at her watch. Soon they were due at the airport to pick up her mother. When Tanya began her second poem, Amanda finished her second scotch. Her brain felt syrupy, and looking around, she thought about


how she had never seen her mother naked. Not once. She thought of a modern dance performance she had seen in college: the dancer alone onstage, dancing without music, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, her hair cut like a little boy’s. She nervously fingered the buttons on her vintage blouse. She couldn’t concentrate on Tanya’s poems; soon it would be her turn to read. The urge to pee was overwhelming.


t first the strip club bathroom looked like any bar bathroom: condom dispenser and no paper towels. Then Amanda saw the hooks on the wall, where fishnet stockings, garters, bustiers and baby doll nightgowns were hanging. Black satin, white lace, green gauzy stuff, leopard prints. On a shelf bolted into the cement wall sat several wig-topped foam heads and a cardboard box, the word “pasties” written in lopsided script. The wigs were a study in contrasts: geometric black bob, long blond shag, cascading red curls. The bald woman who worked the door was leaning toward the mirror, plucking her eyebrows. “I thought this was the bathroom,” Amanda said. “Sorry.” “It is the bathroom; it’s our dressing room too. What can I tell you?” The bald woman blew a hair off the tweezers. “It’s a low rent place. But

“He wanted lots of energy to catch a fish, unhook it, and throw it back into the water.”

poetry?” She leaned close to the mirror again and Amanda thought she might be arching her back just a little bit, showing off her bum in black leggings. “Now that’s a weird gig.” “I know,” said Amanda. She entered a stall, slid the latch in place, and peed. David had said he would clean up the living room. He said he would wait up to meet her mother, said he would have the scotch and soda and mixed nuts ready. He wouldn’t be able to stay up too late. He wanted lots of energy to stand in the river, catch a fish, unhook it, and throw it back into the water, where it would swim away only to be caught again by someone else. Perhaps Amanda was alone in thinking there was something unkind and exhausting about this series of activities. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands at the sink. The bald woman was still at the mirror. “You’re not hot in that jacket?”


“I’m hot,” said the woman, “under my jacket.” “Ha ha.” Amanda waved her hands in the air to dry them. “Why are you here?” she asked, even though she already knew. “I’m a dancer,” said the woman. “But I’m not really working until later. You’re one of the poets?” “Yeah.” The woman grimaced. “I could never get up in front of people like that.” Are you kidding? Amanda wanted to say. Instead she asked, “What happened to your hair?” “That’s a really personal question,” said the woman. “And I’m actually a very private person.” “Sorry,” said Amanda. “Cancer,” said the woman. “Not now,” she added, after registering Amanda’s shock. “I got better and it grew back, but I discovered I like it this way. Now I have it shaved. Might as well, right? I call it Beyond-Brazilian. I have everything else waxed. I like wigs. Make-up, too. I like that feeling—erasing and creating myself, you know?” She unzipped one of the many pockets of her jacket and offered Amanda a metal tube. Amanda read the small circular label on the bottom of the lipstick: “Fire and Ice.” The woman was back at it with her tweezers. There must have been one tiny hair she just

“I like wigs. Make-up, too. I like that feeling—erasing and creating myself, you know?”

couldn’t remove. “Check it out. Try it on. That red is so fifties, right? Just like mom. It kills them every time.”


hen Amanda emerged from the bathroom, Tanya was standing next to Glenn at the bar, waving. “Here she is, Glenn! Here she is! Nice lipstick!” “Where the fuck were you?” Glenn muttered, then hopped up on stage. “Our last poet tonight: Amanda Jones.” His voice was flat. So she wasn’t sexy, fine. She wasn’t a “poetess” either. The stage lights made it hard to see the audience, though Amanda knew the men were out there. Their silence felt impatient. She left her poems in her pocket and let her hand slide down the V of her blouse. She could feel that the men wanted to watch, plump button by plump button, until the blouse was open, then shrugged to

the floor. She licked her painted lips. Zoo Animals The stork banged his giant beak on the hard packed dirt zoo life confused or depressed him was there something essential about being a bird? If so, he’d forgotten. A short film ran through Amanda’s brain. When she was a child and took a bath, her mother told her to “clean between her legs.” She had learned the word vagina from a book, mistaking it at first for the southern state. David Fishing in the river catch and release I will break up with him before he can break up with me She had thought that men knew who they

were, but now that she was standing in front of them, she could feel their confusion. Her need to keep speaking was internal, insistent. The Story Of mother brains and bodies what we know how we know it who we are what we tell what we remember what we forget Beneath the hot lights, Amanda refused to absorb the men’s disappointment: she wasn’t taking off her clothes. Unconcerned by the lack of applause, she stepped off the stage. Ω

Will you go on the road for the summer to promote the small bicycling journal you’re the editor of? Okay. Will you find a place to stay in each of the eleven cities the festival visits? Um...sure. Great. Oh, and one more thing. The festival will require a small amount of performance work from you, as well. The parts have been cast...


By Evan P. Schneider


New Belgium Brewing’s Tour de Fat 2009

(Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Boise, Fort Collins, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Tempe, Austin) {Day of show routine} 8:00AM: Wake up in undisclosed location, usually on couch of a friend, or friend of a friend of a friend. Sometimes seedy hotel, though not usually, as that costs money. Get dressed in Goodwillprocured period-correct attire. Brush teeth, maybe, and apply deodorant. 8:30AM: Ride bicycle with full backpack (water, shoes, business cards, etc.) to find coffee at nearest local café en route to festival site. This inevitably includes getting lost. 9:00AM: Arrive at site. Stare at the vast expanse of stages and gimmicky devices scattered about on the grass and think, “Here we go again.” Sigh. Then hug every other coworker with whom I’ve been on tour all summer/fall and experience relief of company. 9:05AM: Locate Wolverine Farm Publishing’s Nomadic Engagement Device (aka “literary gypsy cart”) tucked somewhere under a tree where NBB carnies have stashed it after unloading it the previous day.


9:15AM: Set up cart, restocking Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac and Matter Journal to be sold throughout the day. 9:30AM: Find more coffee, usually from someone’s car trunk, then chat to the one adoring fan who


has come early and sought out the cart and wants to make small talk about font and perfect binding. 10:00AM: Remount bicycle and join wandering, raucous bicycle parade through city. Shout, “Happy Saturday” over and over until it is true and my lungs ache with exertion. 11:00AM: Lock bicycle to cart. Duck backstage to don Landfill costume, consisting of Tyvek faux-Haz Mat suit, gas mask, trash can lid adhered to construction hat, and rubber boots and gloves. 11:15AM: Appear onstage during opening theme song number. Dance around holding a sign reading “Landfill.” Think to myslef, “This is my life as a writer?” 11:16AM: De-costume backstage.

11:17AM: Mentally prepare to sell books. 11:18AM: Sell books. 1:00PM: Reappear onstage as myself, sans Landfill costume. Clap hands excitedly as a free cruiser bicycle is given out via wristband numbers. Lower bicycle to giddy (buzzed?) raffle winner. 1:05PM: Return to selling books at the cart. Talk to people who had no idea there would be books for sale at a bicycle/beer ballyhoo and convince them that it is a wise pairing and that they will like these books. Besides, these books are the same price as a beer, so, hey, why not, right? Please... Excellent! 2:00PM: Find food at one of the vendors and pay for it with a special blue token. Mutter, “Thank you,� and wander for a few moments in the shade


wishing I could take a nap, and that I hadn’t decided on a full wool getup or drinking two beers before food. 2:10PM: Yes, sell more books and “engage people.” 3:45PM: Reprise role of Landfill as festival goers are told how many pounds of compost, trash, and recycling they have created during the day. Landfill always has the smallest amount.


5:00PM: Pack cart closed and drag it near the truck where it will be loaded later in evening by people paid way more than me. 6:00PM: Turn down several invitations to party in cool bars across the city and instead hope I can sleep as soon as possible, but realize that I can’t remember the address of the place I’m staying, and I’ll have to ride around until I find it. 8:00PM: Eat food. Collapse. And then think regretfully that I should have more stamina than this. Ω


Biography of Jean Genbach (A Collage) A priest falls in love with an actress. When he is defrocked for it, she leaves him. Just as he is about to commit suicide, he comes across a copy of La Révolution surréaliste and is saved. At the cafés he continues to wear his cassock, now with a carnation in the buttonhole, because, he says, my suit is torn. Here and there a few holes. Not in possession of myself, another one traces flowers, a third one paints. Harp on a raft. A hand on a map in a mirror: there is a strain of falseness in my character. Steam makes the mirror silverwhite. What others call my body is my soul, what is true is what I am moved by, an amorous radiance in everything, an almost unlimited radiation of birds. I just don’t know how to feel about it. Faint horn in a case. Still, some will remember the singing wires, will feel the night air coming in, and one will say, I can only see one reason for living: to love and to desire.

The Chinese Poet The famous Chinese poet approaches. You see him on the side of the hill, smaller than a cow, larger than a crow, black because it is nearly night and dusk has made silhouettes of all outstanding objects. Yes, dusk, the watery brush of the moon, has blotted and flattened the landscape. Wine-jug in hand he approaches. In wide hat and bamboo he approaches. The floating hummingbird is gone, the long-whiskered dog, russet color of the creek bed. He crosses the wood bridge at the base of the hill. He is close enough now for you to see that famous expression. Such mixed feelings accompany the approach of the famous Chinese poet!

Like Some Turkey Meat A knee-high, bearded figure, splitting mad, approaches. You duck behind a hedge. Soon, like a clear Scandinavian liquor, the figure disappears into the night. “Far out!” you yell, only to be hit with a piece of big, Wall St. news. (The second in a series of sharp turns.) Turns out your stockpile has been wrapped in Tokyo dough. “This just doesn’t add up, like Czechs and Poles.” That’s true, John for short, it doesn’t. Therein lies the problem. You know the problem is urgent, not rural, and so in this cemetery expanse, weirdly like a Utah city, you flip on your music device with earbuds, utter a girlish laugh, and refuse, absolutely refuse, to label this a hosiery mishap. “My intimate apparel is durable!” you say to nobody in particular. “I am a go-getter!” No, John for short, you are one who’s toast, like some turkey meat.

Jules and Jim I have had a vision of my art! It will have three faces—the urbane, the religious, and the romantic. Mismatched lovers will kiss and grope, long, hard kisses, on its sidewalks, against its walls. When it wears a suit, to go to the city, say, that suit will be too small. It will be as ponderous as man, as playful as cat and dog, it will be both cat and dog, night and day, painting on a faint moustache to race itself across an overpass. In a voice full of laughter and reverence, leaving a bar or sitting down to dinner, it will shout the name Shakespeare. It will write its own name with a light heart in a soft-edged script. It will end strangely, absurdly, with a few words and something the world would not allow.


A World Ou

Is it possible to believe that what animals feel b

By Keri

utside Ours

bears at least some resemblance to what we feel?



n a recent evening I was kayaking with my friend John on Little McNary Lake, about fifteen miles west of downtown Portland, when we came across a lone Killdeer piping for an insect dinner along a muddy shore. We’d been paddling through


Alan D. Wilson

the gathering dark and had already seen a dead cow on the banks, scavenged up to its waist by turkey vultures and other opportunists. Feeling macabre, we pulled our boats up close until, hit by the smell, we made serious haste in the opposite direction. Further on, perched in the trees of a shadowed dell, the silhouette of a Great Horned Owl drove home the feeling

that we were trapped in a horror movie, gliding unwittingly toward our demise. By the time we spotted the Killdeer’s raised eyebrow through binoculars, we were genuinely creeped out. This might have something to do with the fact that the Killdeer seems perpetually alarmed. A solid black band rises urgently above its eyes, giving the impression that it always has some-

“As predators wander too close, it flies to an open spot away from the nest, crooks its wing, and hobbles around as if injured.” thing Very Important to tell you. I pointed out the eyebrow to John. “I think it’s trying to tell us that the dude from Scream is about to jump out of the bushes and slash us,” I said, kidding only a little. John had a different interpretation. “I think it feels guilty about the deer,” he said. Despite its menacing name, which actually re-

fers to the sound of its call (a piercing “killdee), the Killdeer is no killer. Neither is it a harbinger of bad omens—at least not in any officially symbolic way. On the other hand, if a can-do attitude and sheer energy were all that was needed to take down a deer, I’d put my money on the Killdeer, though really, it just doesn’t have the body for it. Like all plovers, Killdeers have a shortish, blunt bill designed to poke around in soft ground, not hook and shred large mammals. At their largest, they reach only eleven inches long—about the size of an adult Robin—not exactly the physique of a master hunter. They also have an almost supernatural sense of tolerance, nesting in the open on gravel or pathways, and have been known to let people get right up next to a nesting site. It is in the bird’s response to predators, though, that we learn something of its nonviolent and industrious spirit. When the moment comes, as it inevitably does, that the Killdeer fears for the safety of its young, it enacts an ingenious bait-and-switch. As potential predators wander too close to a Killdeer’s nest, it flies out to an open spot away from the nest, crooks its wing, and hobbles around on the ground as if it has been injured. With this brilliant ruse, it lures the predator toward


itself—away from the nest—and then flies away no worse for the wear, leaving the predator confused and, I suppose, not a little ashamed. Ah, but if human security concerns were handled in such an intelligent and delightful way! I’ve also found in the Killdeer a special physiognomy that has brought me back to its page in my bird guide again and again over the several years that I’ve been lazily watching birds, because apart from its graceful problem-solving skills—which are impressive, to be sure—the Killdeer also has a unique expression. Some birds have mild expressions: gulls appear to be smiling, geese look irritated, and hawks project consternation. But most birds look essentially expressionless. The Killdeer’s visage, however, is somehow more urgent than any bird I’ve seen: it implores. It’s one of the reasons I love it—when I study its photo in my bird guide and look into its eyes, I feel like we’re communicating. And out on the shore of Little McNary, I’m looking for connection, a message from the Killdeer: I know you. I have something to tell you. Come closer. I realize that imputing to the Killdeer my own human concerns is a bit of a sticky wicket. Paul Theroux, writer and gozzard, might say that my desire to anthropomorphize the Killdeer in this way reflects a “deficiency of observation,” a failed empiricism operating “against nature.”

“To Theroux, a perspective like White’s—like mine—is more than just silly, it’s ethically bankrupt.” Or in any case, his essay “Living With Geese” condemns E.B. White for such a desire. White was a gozzard himself, and he wrote about his geese—and the raccoon family in his trees and his cantankerous dacschund—in human terms. To Theroux, a perspective like White’s—like mine—is more than just silly, it’s ethically bankrupt. It’s not a new argument. We’ve heard a lot about how anthropomorphizing animals and other non-human beings distorts, and, in the worst cases, aids in the destruction of the natural world. If you’ve ever seen Werner Herzog’s

documentary “Grizzly Man,” you know that projecting human desire and concern onto animals really is a dangeorus business—dangerous for humans, yes, but more importantly, dangerous for animals. A Grizzly killed Tim Treadwell; humans, in turn, killed the Grizzly, though it had simply acted out its Grizzliness. This is an old argument, the logic of which I accept. But it’s an argument that I bump uncomfortably against every time I look at my bird guide, every time I see a Killdeer through my binoculars. It’s one thing to know objectively

Alan D. Wilson

that animals occupy their own worlds quite outside ours—as Theroux says about his geese, they “live in a goose-centric world, with goose rules and goose urgencies”—but it’s another thing altogether to internalize that objectivity, though that can be especially difficult when the animals under the lens are so darn cute. Animal cuteness, of course, is no reason to eschew objectivity. Just because, like White, I see human correspondence in the raised eyebrow of the Killdeer doesn’t mean I should give in to interpretations that flow from that observation.


Or does it? Animals are, after all, suggestive —they touch our imaginations. Isn’t it possible that it also goes “against nature” (what did Theorox mean by this anyway?) to believe that what animals feel doesn’t bear at least some resemblance to human feeling, as if we weren’t also part of the animal kingdom? When White describes one of his geese as “grief-stricken,” is it really the deficiency of observation that Theroux claims it is? Think, for instance, about the story of Ozzie and Harriet, a monogamous North American river otter couple who lived at the Oakland Zoo during the time that my friend, Jeanne, worked there. The pair of otters, who had one kit, Willow, together, were a hit at the zoo, as otters typically are. To zoogoers, otters, more than most other animals at the zoo aside from primates, can seem as though they are performing for the benefit of onlookers. They are naturally busy and excited creatures, who spend the day sliding and swimming with youthful delight. When they catch your eye, they stare back at you with animated faces framed by an endearing nimbus of whiskers, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the faces of those most beloved of pets, the cat and the dog. Perhaps it was this sense that river otters exist for our pleasure—that one could maybe even be our pet—that led to Harriet’s disappearance

“Perhaps it was this sense that otters exist for our pleasure that led to Harriet’s disappearance.”

in the middle of a June night in 2000. When zookeepers made their rounds at 8am the next morning, they found Harriet, along with her carrier which was housed in an adjacent equipment shed, missing. Because humans have made an ancient habit of owning, and in some cases domesticating, exotic animals, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that it’s not all that uncommon for zoo animals to be stolen. For better or for worse, it’s even less surprising to learn that someone would want to possess a river otter. After all, the cuteness of river otters is blinding. And their play—well, their play is just

Dmitry Azovtsev

North American River Otters. The Oakland Zoo never recovered Harriet; she is presumed dead.


so human. Projection, possession, and destruction. These, according to Theroux—and evidenced so many times in the history of animal-human relationships—are the end stops on the slippery slope of noticing and ascribing to animals human characteristics, human feelings and human urgencies. But still. After Harriet’s abduction, Ozzie—her mate of twelve years—had an otter breakdown. He paced, he refused food, he groaned. Any observer, deficient or not, could rightly claim that Ozzie’s behavior, even if borne of otter-urgencies we can never understand, was the behavior of grief. This is our human word for it, but I’m using it to describe Ozzie because, in so many ways, his behavior so closely resembles what we might do if we, too, suddenly lost a loved one. His behavior is suggestive of ours, and ours of his. I suppose it’s this suggestiveness that draws me to birdwatching in the first place, and draws me to the Killdeer in particular. In almost every way, humans are utterly different from birds. At the same time, though, we can admire an alert eye, or a certain ingenuity in the face of danger; we can see in the Killdeer’s attention to its young a correspondence with our own desires to nur-

“His behavior is suggestive of ours, and ours of his.”

ture and protect; we can interpret its eyebrow in the context of a creepy boat ride. Every day— with our pets, with the animals in our trees and parks—we walk the shadowy line between our correspondences with and alienation from their world. I can’t help but think that the connection I experience between myself and the Killdeer is as fundamental and as important as our division. Out on Little McNary, the Killdeer finally decided that we’d pulled our boats too close, and it took to the wing with a screeching kill-dee to let us know. John and I took the point, but continued to watch it through our binoculars as it made its way to some other shore to resume its birdly activites. All told, I may be looking at the animals of the world in which I live with human-centric, binocular-augmented eyes. But, really, what others can I use? Ω

Carol Spears

Contributo DANEEN BERGLAND is a poet and teacher whose work has appeared in journals including Willow Springs, Born Magazine, and Hayden’s Ferry Review.

IAN DINGMAN’S work has recently shown at Harbinger and Living Room in Los Angeles, Urbanest in Chicago, and at the AG Gallery in Brooklyn.

MATTHEW HEIN’S reviews have appeared in Reconstruction: The Journal of Drama Studies and Sobriquet. He lives and works in San Francisco. SARAH KRUSE works in the legal profession. She has written, most recently, about Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. ZACH SAVICH’S first book, Full Catastrophe Living, won the Iowa Poetry Prize. He has recent work in Boston Review, Kenyon Review, DenverQuarterly, and Best New Poets 2008. KERI THOMAS writes and makes films in Portland, Oregon.

ors KIM FALER has shown work recently at the RhysMendes Gallery in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and at the 2009 SP Arte/Feira Internacional de Arte de São Paulo.

GEOFFREY HILSABECK’S chapbook, The Keeper of Secrets, was published as part of the Kenyon-Vassar Chapbook Series. He is currently teaching in Portugal, while researching Portuguese poetry.

MARY RECHNER’S fiction has appeared in Kenyon Review and Washington Square. Her story “Hot Springs” was published as a limitededition chapbook by Cloverfield Press.

LISA SIBBETT teaches in Seattle, Washington. She has written, most recently, about Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

EVAN P SCHNEIDER, in addition to being a managing editor at this magazine, is Editor-inChief of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac. BENJAMIN CRAIG is a managing editor at this magazine.

Profile for Propeller

Propeller Oct 09  

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Propeller Oct 09  

books music art film life

Profile for propeller