V XI l. L
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bia lum Co he f t e o
EDITORS’ NOTE Dear Reader, There's no way to be ready for this. Not because of printing deadlines, or dealing with bureaucracy, but because every year we bring on new staff, new writers, new ideas, and every year this magazine that's always called Quarto manages under its skin to become a different beast. The Quarto staff this year had a lot of arguments around the table. Sometimes we shouted. Can you imagine—literature that makes you want to shout! Sometimes we also wanted to scream with frustration, but that comes with trying to collaborate on something you care about. That comes with cramming a bunch of talented and opinionated people in a room and trying to agree on something. We did a lot of collaborating this year, hosting several readings and open mics with other groups—African Students Association, FemSex, Sig Nu, etc. We hope that this year Quarto politicized a little, tried to take literature seriously as a voice, a way to be heard. Please hear these writings. Give our little magazine your ears and eyes. There are so many weird and beautiful and funny and exciting voices inside. There are poems about Robert Johnson and Lana Del Rey and Gabriel García Márquez. There are pieces set in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the antebellum American South and on the Internet. We read blind, looking only for the best and most exciting submissions, with no idea until afterward of who the authors are. If the VIDA Count counted Quarto, we would be doing better than most literary publications, including The Paris Review and The New Republic, in which only about a quarter of published writing in 2012 was by women. The 2013 issue of Quarto features ten female writers and eight male writers, and we are excited to have you read every one of their words. We hope that this year's Quarto says something about where writing is going, and we know that the writers we've published will be part of that change. We could not be prouder of the papers in your hands. Thank you for reading.
Diana Clarke and Rega Jha Executive Editors, 2012-2013
what life was like &mDASH; n ata li e r o b e h m e d
awn came, and memory the information store opened its doors as a rectangular second shop. Before the Internet, there was a lot of waiting. You didn’t know where people were. You always brought a lot of time with you — but there is nothing horizontal about clocks on a page. A keyboard wakes and shifts and breathes. Every thing cries out in all imaginable colors but they cry out to deaf eyes — the trees weep. An oak sighs — surviving each day has become an act of creativity. The leaves’ data flow is controlled by the flip of a switchboard — l ∞ ink. Its knots squeeze into another imperfect ring. You grow up older and all your base are belong to us. Print the story together — dream of moss and gold. Find a twig. Break it in to—
THE END OF TIMES IS for FEAR AND REJOICING ANDREA BOERE M
1. And it came to pass I asked when our backyard jungle gyms have sunk into the volcano of righteous indignation and your mom has taken off her shirt in protest and everyone is so happy they invested in laser hair removal and we have to answer for the whorish perfume hiding in our pillowcases and all you want is a safe toilet seat on which to ponder are we really going to want to use chemicals to clean our stovetops. I do not think so Janet. 2. For all we are is genetic material, man. Wearing powder-blue chiffon and riding the heck out of wheelchairs. For we are not the ordinary like her whose skin was burned off by the bikini. 3. Verily that is not correct doctrine. Powder-blue chiffon is optional. But it is the freedom to wear blue chiffon that makes the soul chime late as Jellomolded carrot shavings. It is for each penguin couple to consider separate the racy television show. If you return with a dominated wheelchair here are keys to a decent planet where you may rule in power and glory as many of those hunky polo shirts as you can cram down your greedy windpipes. 4. And there went out from the greenhouse a decree saying cover your chunky hair color chunks they are no longer hot. The decree was a very skanky decree. The decree was all covered in lingerie and the decree was thirty-five years old but talked like a skanky baby and the decree had no right to call your chunky hair color chunks un-hot. The first one to skank up that baby will win that thing you made with your glue gun. 5. For there were murmurings of where did you find that baby that is a really nice baby hey will you tell me where I can get such a great baby I heard that baby showed up in your cereal box I heard that baby was your intelligent soul mate I heard I could get a baby if I wanted that baby so how about that baby with the other baby I would like a side of baby to go along with my other baby so that way I will have all the babies and I will be marquis of babies and all.
6. And it came to pass the gentle and reasonably priced suit attempted to regulate things by heaping the earth with college diplomas and three-day weekend cruises and magazine-quality lounge chairs.
// ANDREA BOEREM
7. But some rejected such regulation and would do things such as whip out a feed bag with a really noticeable nipple. Such as one could not miss this nipple. And there were many feasting babies lulled by these proactive nipples who then failed to do such things as grow teeth or wear standard-issue sensible pumps.
DREAM(E)SCAPE AB I G A I L S TR U H L
June 29, 2012: Paris, midnight I. The police sergeant dreams that he arrives at work to find a sign taped at eye level to the hulking front desk, beside the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Pauline, the sign says, disparu le 19 juin. In the picture, Pauline is not yet twenty. She has her mother’s large brown eyes and plush-cheeked smile. The sergeant does not recognize any of his own features in her face. In the same dream, the distance between Saint-Eustache and the police station on Rue Pierre-Lescot diminishes—the sergeant does not have to exit Les Halles, nor circumvent a well-fenced garden to enter the church. II. The man with the butterfly costume dreams the wings won’t work. They are ripped lengthwise and crosswise, and white light pierces through as though the slits reveal blank canvas beneath the painted tissue. His plastic mask is crumpled like a bent infinity. He can hardly see. He wants to stop and remove the wings, but the costume has ceased to be a costume. The waist belt will not unlatch. He struggles up Boulevard Saint-Germain and hopes for a balcony rough enough to rip the wings from him. If the spectators are still there, he cannot hear or see them. The sun is whiter than paint, another corner in which the canvas has been left blank. Feathers float in the wind, pink ones, as though someone has trailed a boa through high noon, and they keep drifting through the streets. As they stream by, they stick to the sweat on the man’s arms and torso until he is enrobed in them. Now he is part bird, part butterfly, part man. He can never return home. The man with the butterfly costume wakes up to the sun coming through his window. He can tell from the slant and color of it that he has overslept. Below, dull cannons of dance music are thudding already, even though the Gay Pride Parade will not begin for another few hours. So he dresses hurriedly, brushes glitter on his face and chest, seizes his wings and tilts them to fit them through the doorway as he goes through. He will stand below in Saint-Germain, clipping the fiddly contraption onto his back,
adjusting it until the painted panels angle perfectly, acutely, toward his spine. In the room above, the sun will be as loose as unpacked glitter, a torrent in the room that thrashes before it subsides. III. The famous actor dreams that everyone else can see the way his head has split in half. A white lane parts the peaks of his curled hair—makes stiff double crests of the top hat that hides the hole where his forehead should be. Other divides bisect his face, and he fears they cannot fail to be conspicuous: one eye is larger than the other. A gap bridges his two front teeth—or rather, does not bridge them, and he must clench his lips. His smile floats on the first plane of his countenance; his gaze, unbounded, opens behind the last. A monocle winks from inside his pocket. A handkerchief peeks from his buttonhole. Carnations bloom inside his earwhorls, and sparrows come to peck at seeds inside his pores. A plaque attached to a stake is hammered in next to his face: Henry Samary, famous actor. Like Vallejo, nobody loves him; they beat him with sticks until his strawstack body splits. The movie actor wants for once to let his smile droop, but his blue irises become sunflowers before they can fill up with tears.
The police sergeant’s wife dreams that the distance between Saint-Eustache and the police station on Rue Pierre-Lescot diminishes. Lighting a cigarette in front of the main entrance, and ignoring the two mendicants shaking cups of change by the door, she wonders why Dorian wanted to rendezvous here, of all places—so close to where her husband works, it’s practically a crime! Suddenly, she finds herself inside the church. She paces up and down the eastern side, until the afternoon sun shifts and one window brightens: a blasé baby Jesus shrugs in the manger between his two parents, his almond-shaped halo subsuming the space between them. Joseph looks down at the Christ child, as though he cannot get his fill of seeing; Mary’s eyes are obscured and she seems to be avoiding her son’s gaze. The sergeant’s wife moves to the next chapel. A gray baby rolls out of his mother’s reach to sprawl on the floor. A bishop stretches his healing hands toward the anguished mother, but his shoulders are turned away, toward Christ. His palms do not belong to him. The sunlight sets Christ’s heart on fire. Amour et Reconnaissance au Sacré-Coeur de Jesus, reads one plaque. Another: Toujours Reconnaissance. The sergeant’s wife dreams that the distance between the chapel and the altar is immense, impossible to breach.
// ABIGAIL STRUHL
V. The matron with the sham pearl necklace dreams that she is young again, but he is not. They sit across from each other in a rather anonymous café on Saint-Germain—not a famous one. Still, the matron can see her own reflection in the glass of the door behind him, and she realizes suddenly that she looks good enough to be famous. Even in the dream she wants to cry out with the sudden exultation that it is not too late to take the path she’d turned away from. She could be a film star, a model, pose for photographs with concave chest and hands on her hips, real pearls in her red hair. Still, he sits in a costume of baggy flesh, wrinkles on his face, tremors in his hands. In the dream he has paused in his smoking and rested his cigar on the rim of his wine glass. He is turning to tell her something—something important, something like listen: all those years ago, when I stood behind you in our window on Rue de Rennes and placed my hands on your shoulder blades, it was to rip the wings from you. So that you’d fall into the sea. So that you could never fly home. In the same dream, the matron is bobbing her head to the music blasting down Saint-Germain. Every time a float passes, she feels as though her eardrums will burst. But she likes the way the café floor shakes beneath her feet, and when he opens his mouth, the way the wind steals the words away. VI.
ABIGAIL STRUHL / / 12
The walls at Cluny-La Sorbonne are releasing their bursts of color as the accountant in the braless fishnet shirt strides over the moving walkway, her wire-rimmed wings flipping open and closed on her back as though in a breeze. Later, when she wakes up, she will be surprised that each footfall felt so realistically heavy, jarring her entire leg and tapping the hard metal brace of her wings against the top of her pelvis. For now, entangled in the dream, she believes that it is true: the parade has been moved underground this year, a last minute decision on the part of the mayor, who is dressed for the occasion as a bottle of mayonnaise. His arms dangle from the cloth cone of the costume, conduct the music that is not the dull beat of drums but the rustle of trains pulling in and out of their tunnels. The accountant in the braless fishnet shirt is dancing, rah to one side, rah to the other, letting her ribcage rattle in her chest as she pulsates to the train-beat. Suddenly she realizes she is the only one dancing. The others—dressed as a bouquet of flowers, a skeleton, and a banana, respectively—whisper and point at her in her braless fishnet shirt, her black glitter wings. Perhaps the mayor has changed his mind. The moving walkway stretches on forever. She decides to keep dancing anyway, even if she can never return home.
VII. The man who begs for metro money in front of the police station on Rue Pierre-Lescot dreams that he is not an alcoholic and that the money he wants is actually for the metro. He dreams that a girl stops in front of him, rifling through her purse for change while balancing a red umbrella between ear and shoulder. Thanks, the man says as she drops a euro into his outstretched palm. She turns away. He calls to her: Come back! He knows he is dreaming when the girl stops and smiles at him over one shoulder—clad as he is in spiked leather, with piercings sprouting from his skin. My name is Pauline, says the girl. What’s yours? The man who begs for money doesn’t answer her question but takes her hand. They begin to walk, toward Saint-Eustache. The mirrored wall of the police station distorts their retreating bodies—alters the red umbrella they share. VIII. The woman in the Musée de l’Orangerie dreams that her eyes can no longer glide from one side of her face to another, taking everything in. Instead, they darken to jet beads, stuck slanted in their settings with kohl. She holds a horse’s face to hers. Her eyes become the horse’s. Hay turns gray, as honey sifted through color-blinkered eyes. She can no longer see her own blue dress—or her sister fending off a ballerina-seductress.
The young woman who writes in cafés dreams that the streets have all gone silent. The crowds still sweep along Boulevard Saint-Germain, but the chatter and cheers have cut out. Teenage girls with bras for shirts and men with glitter-stippled skin continue to dance sinuously on floats. Their faces contort around the melodies they consume and hold within their bodies, hushing the notes before the young woman can hear them. In the dream their chests are cutaways and the young woman can see quicksilver songs flicker and pump through their veins. Or perhaps the tempo is lead. Their hearts and lungs are, she can see now, crusted with rust. Her own heart feels heavy and slow in her chest as she describes the sight to herself. She is dreaming: she is trying to call out, to say, this is the speech I hear in the silence, this is the silence I hear when people speak. And can I live without saying how a single word can become an iron anchor, how the spirits we think we become in dreams are fetters around our feet when we awake? Blood can only travel so far, even if the cells fly through it singing. Even if flight never becomes but a form of imprisonment. The young woman is
// ABIGAIL STRUHL
dreaming that she is sad and that for once she knows why. Now she can never return home. X. The museum director dreams that he is going through his wife’s linens. Perhaps for evidence of a transgression, he is searching—no—he is gliding through the sun on a boat, and light is shining through her gauzy limbs. A whisper of crinoline—a burst of starched rosewater—no, her absence makes a space against the sun. A swirl of smoke where the eye of the sun should be, or perhaps it is paint. It is paint. The museum director is awake now— awake just enough to see the shape her body makes against the darkness, the light from the corridor seeping through the crack in the door. Through the breached mystery of the years to come. XI. The waiter dreams he is missing the Gay Pride Parade. He is frozen, as if enchanted, in front of the kitchen sink. When the parade music began, he thought it would only take him a minute to make his husband a fruit salad. He would enjoy feeding his boyfriend fruit salad as the parade inched by, the juice dribbling down the stubble on his boyfriend's chin. But the minute must have inched by, occupied the space of an hour; while he was frozen, the parade passed like a stream. The waiter listens: already the music is receding. It sounds as far off as a song in a dream. The waiter melts and can move again. The spiral staircase is dark, and he creeps up it with a wet sheet bundled in his arms, as though holding a child or the thought of one. The last rays of afternoon gild the balcony when he reaches the summit of the stairs. It would have been a fine day to watch a parade. Perhaps, on some fine day like this one, he’ll be able to deploy the wings he’s been hiding all along in his cheekbones, unlatch the simple hooks of his eyes to fly home.
ABIGAIL STRUHL / / 14
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA P. J . S A U ERTE I G
My mother shares a long jump rope with the first girl I ever fell in love with. I am naked and I am jumping for them. Mom is pregnant again; I didnâ€™t know she was pregnant again. Looking in the mirror, I like the way my hair looks. I tug my nicest quilt into place under my armpits. Grandfather cups my shoulders and whispers that he finds Iâ€™ve grown tallerâ€” Sister, come look at me! After a big breakfast, my skinny aunt and I curl up together on a bed near the laundry room with dead animals nailed to the walls. My aunt brings out for me an old necklace made of hay. She is crying so much. My abusive father is hugging the first girl I ever fell in love with. She looks ready but underdressed. I want to make her pregnant after this. Oh the pastors are here please I hope she comes to sit by me where we all sit at sunset on the edge of the barren cornfield facing the house. I try smoking for the first time as Mom uncoils the jump rope.
ROBERT JOHNSON IN THE INFORMATION AGE ER I C I N G RA M
I went down to the. I cried when, the one thing, because I realized no one had told him, broke— he asked me Can a work of art be. You can run. I told him though I saw sunrise eyes— I fell down on my— I told him the dark gonna catch him cold. My tears clear his eyes of deals made with. I believe I’m sinking.
FOR GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ WITH DEMENTIA YAN Y I L U O
no one has ever loved you like the rain after noon you would watch the bray of siesta alone with memories still soft as the curve of almonds your sleep collecting in storms of bright-eyed insomnia in your absence the rain drops play on us like teeth from unsung clavichords and we learn to dance your doe-toed dreams so even though you’ve never known us, we’ve loved no other way
Chronoromantic M ic h a e l K o r t e
Stepping out onto his porch, Leo’s lungs tightened as he realized that today in the cold he should take another photograph of the grove swaying right across the street. Those trees were non-special (the thin, grasping variety that seem to dwell more in air than on earth) but Leo visited them every three months during each season’s peak. Today their hair brushed against the blueless end-autumn sky. Leo caught the image in his viewfinder and took it with the tiniest click of a blinking shutter, this mechanical chirp being the last true thing, the last living sound, because as the camera’s eye reopened there was a great clap of silence and the universe sighed and halted. Airplanes hovered and cars parked in motion along the road. The grove bent mid-kowtow beneath a shy sun that was almost beginning to set yet stuck never to set again. You can stare now directly at its core without blinking. Count splayed waterbug legs of banded sunlight as it rests on a stagnant cloudy sky. The familiar warped eerie and Leo felt sick like when a limb becomes paralyzed, when a swimmer cramps, when an illness divorces mind from body. Leo reeled because reality was reality but it wasn’t as he’d planned and dreamt. Town was petrified, the world frozen. He paused before a shop window glinting sunlight and placed his hand over the glow…covering it up. No light spilled onto the back of his hand. He was reflectionless in the plate glass. He test-dragged a nearby potted evergreen—its reflection remained behind. Life is compact and eventually manageable in its mixture of chaos and routine, but without time—the t in planet—our world becomes vast, flat, and meticulously ordered. Its randomness falls into place and somewhere along the thread of its horizon, it appears to terminate. It was as if the earth were one giant art installation— Yes, the world was exactly like that. Inside and outdoors the land was strewn with mannequins dressed in well-worn clothes, each one modeling some human experience, each one smiling or suffering in grace. Now here stuck in place we all became symbolic. Dirt was no longer work’s dust to be washed off. Dirt was now an attribution. Each gaze became profound, significant: one to her watch, one to another pedestrian—invisible cords tied people to the objects around them. You once showed me a blog where great films are summed up in one still and a quote and although I never responded well, I completely understand its power. Leo wandered down Main Street’s median peering into car windows and scanning 18
// MICHAEL KORTE
both sidewalks for movement. There was none. Everything appeared solid and one ton heavier. He was afraid to touch bodies but they all gave way to his movement without a sound. His voice was the only voice. But maybe, just maybe, there laid a solution in love; maybe it was him and her and only they to exist holding each other while our world could fold or keep unfolding. Leo jogged across parking lots, avoiding pigeons that didn’t scatter; he cut through backyards, kicking leaves into low hanging leaf clouds; he waded through streams of liquid glass, dragging scars of parted water behind him. Nothing flinched, nobody worried. Imagine a scream, picture it right behind your forehead—can you see it now? Leo arrived at his girlfriend’s house sprinting and frantic. He tore air out of the sky as he tried to catch his breath. And red-faced, exhausted from running and from extended fear, he thought to himself, Maybe it’s better not to check. But he had to check, he had to open that once-creaky wooden sanctuary door and find her suspended casually on the phone, mouth halfsmiling or just beginning to open. Leo stood facing her for a long time, but since time doesn’t exist when life is an unending afternoon, it can only be measured in a progression of thoughts: at first he thought her mouth was moving and then that it would eventually move and then he was content to look at her even though he could speak but they couldn’t converse and then he slowly began to feel lonely— I’m not trying to win empathy for our protagonist but I’ve always felt hunger and homesickness to be the purest species of suffering, and Leo’s longing was so intense, and the location so sterile, that he tasted divine melancholia, a beautiful spotless sadness of the kind that entices martyrs to burn. Many thoughts passed, followed by many more, until one thick possibility condensed and then Leo bolted out of that house. He ran past restaurants and music shops and jewelers, all of them unlocked and open but now worthless because although Leo had the opportunity to walk up and seize anything he needed, it meant nothing if he couldn’t have what he desired. Upstairs in his bedroom he pulled from beneath his bed a Nike shoebox filled with Polaroids of many past seasons’ treetops. If you expected, like Leo, to encounter life playing like movies on little cards in place of the photographs, I’m sorry to disappoint: that magic is hollow. He kneeled bedside, head falling on the mattress, despairing, eyes unfocusing, surrounded by unordered seasons of some unimportant grove somewhere forgettable in a forgotten town. A habit’s train is hitched a little longer with each successive indulgence, and, gaining momentum, it does not stop as abruptly as other, finer things seem to do. So Leo, lost, visited a close friend for consultation. And so Leo discovered Lobo, lost, in a familiar state—half-drowned, submerged in the
MICHAEL KORTE / / 20
bathtub with a crush of water against his eardrums and over his eyes and soaking his hair, diluting what agony pumped through his heart. He hid from banshees of failure and fear beneath a heavy blanket of water, offering up a daydream to God: if only children’s toys worked in reverse and you could stick me, a ferocious T-Rex made of bloated foam, into the tub and I’d shrink slowly into a green capsule and get sucked down the drain. Lobo was bound for the tub because love and lust have a flow, tempo, and Lobo kept no beat. Behind honesty, vision, and a smackeral of wit he hid a crippling timidity that revealed a child in place of a man. He’d strike after the iron had chilled, hesitate while it glowed. And like all children, his world was powered by hope. Out of every failure led another sally forth —remember my Don Quixote rants?—while those interested in Lobo grew frustrated and began to shake their heads. They knew patience, which is mortal, unlike hope. Each date would get more caustic, more uncomfortable, more guarded, and nights together were exercises of expectant intimacy that quickly became mundane. After these encounters Lobo would sink into the bathtub thinking never again until he called her tomorrow to get battered by the rolling weight of failure, torn in half by love lost as soon as won; to pull the pin, clear his throat, and lob a grenade he’d filled pinch by pinch with blackpowder—compliment and confession—only to nervously change his mind and jump on it shouting a final pun during serious conversation, one last tease and lighthearted insult, whereupon a muffled boom would shake the wineglasses: “Lobo, what was that?” “It’s probably nothing.” “Alright Lobo,” said Leo, pulling him from his bathwater, “let’s get you repaired.” Leo dressed him in boxers, jeans, socks, sneakers, belt, shirt, sweater, coat, sat him upright at the kitchen table, and entered the world outside to look for Carmen. The case would be difficult: Leo didn’t know her appearance, residence, nor even if she’d been at home during the stop (she hadn’t.) He knew only her name, dropped by Lobo across times both high and bad: Carmen. Carmen— Carmen—all Leo had recently ever heard, as if her name repeated became an incantation allowing its caster to magically convey himself to his friends, a new sacred word that wasn’t drawn from the same semi-unconscious well that satiates conversation amongst peers, but a name consciously spoken, a name you could see behind Lobo’s eyes, two electric syllables generated from the center of the brain and not the tongue’s tip. Today’s mantra was Carmen; before that it was Iris, Manon, Tosca, Aida, always girls named after opera heroines. Detective Leo searched and found Lobo’s four past heartaches, those four living memories scattered across the land. With them in mind, he searched for Carmen. She was in the library. He knew her, a composite of all four others, from her threadbare denim jacket and her gaze into a Murakami novel as she sat
They passed undetected through the empty gazes of bored shopkeepers, beneath a sleeping mobile of wheeling vultures suspended, around waiting cars and crosswalking pedestrians, whose winter exhalations expanded into blank cartoon speech bubbles. Behind and between all these human stills, he brought her home. And although our sun was pinned sharp in the sky, Leo fell asleep immediately deep without dreaming, they side-by-side entering a dark slumber before a tranquil apocalypse. This confession was going to end here. Leo was going to slowly conquer his sleep-recovering mind amidst the inconsistent splashing slashing sloshing beat of tires trough slush. He could’ve run downstairs to find it fully winter, halfraining and half-snowing. Everyone, despite being clad in black and obscured beneath black umbrellas, could’ve been walking again. But that would bring us into the realm of the fairytale and the fantastic when in truth there was no Christmas morning—everything remained exactly as Leo had left it.
// MICHAEL KORTE
beside a window. He took the book out of her hands and balanced it on its spine, pages suspended in a victorious V. Then he lifted her up and carried her to his friend. There she sat across from him at the table; he staring at her without a filter of bathwater and she eternally patient and they united alone forever as Leo pulled shut the front door. And that was that. Where once Leo had tread, he skipped. Leo skipped and ran into Saint Anthony Hospital, floating over the literary solidity of each freeze-frame persona: the doctors, the patients, the staff. Now that the injured remain forever injured and the unborn suspend in the womb unawakened to mourn Father Time’s death, Leo can take a free wheelchair and push it to his girlfriend’s. “I’d like you to move in with me.” Find a duffel bag in her closet and pack her best and vibrant clothes. As Leo eased her down the stairs and out into the street, something marvelous happened, and if you’ll accredit a lapse into the cinematic, I’ll open a secret: out of pure silence rang a cascade of arpeggios:
MICHAEL KORTE / / 22
Sometimes the worst times worsen upon waking up to find that sleep fixes nothing. Lionheart, however, rose and unzipped that duffel bag stuffed with clean clothes and chose her a new outfit for the day: something yellow. He began to make trips back and forth, inside and out of random houses as he brought heavy wooden furniture to Saint Anthony. These oak structures were intruders in the hospital lobby—they seemed personal, filled with memory and gravity in a world of plastic and disinfected upholstery intended to sterilize the patient’s existence outside of his symptoms, to leave the doctor a clean doctor with no history outside his occupation. Leo pulled longbow frames from rocking chairs, cracked table legs off like drumsticks, and took all logs to a basement furnace previously used for sanitation. Each limb became a torch, pyrotechnical Dunkaroos, as Leo scooped up frozen flame with the broken furniture. He presented torches to each patient, levitating them vertically in the neutral air. Suffering’s slow endlessness can be replaced by the mesmerizing burning monotony of fire. Upon leaving, Leo found a now-dull-eyed boy on break hugging his knees as he sat on the hospital entrance curb. The boy was staring at a leafless grove stuck swaying in the light wind. He wore a blue caduceus-stamped shirt, khakis, and white sneakers, masquerading as a volunteer when in fact he’d been conscripted at birth to a voyeur’s life: to turn down your bed, to hold your hand as you hesitantly make your way to the bathroom, to tell a nurse you’ve vomited again or to get your visiting son a cup of coffee, all the while watching you and everyone around you bear their souls, hoping that through you he might understand his own. Leo told me to quell the scream behind my forehead because I’d been mistaken about this landscape. “Let it be the glow in your eyes in bed at night after staring at the lightbulb’s light as it’s turned out.” He backtracked to the nearest lobby lamp and unscrewed a shining incandescent bulb, returning and unhooking one of my hands from my knees to place the lit glass in my palm. My Phial of Galadriel. A golem awakened with this power crystal’s surge, my eyes glowed blue once more. The last image I’ll leave you with is Leo’s makeshift magician. Our hero kidnapped a prim clerk from Chase and stood him on a table in a nearby bar. He rearranged groups of drinkers into one merry crowd surrounding the stylite clerk, raising some hands in toasts and colliding others for cheers. Leo canvassed town gathering animals from street and field, plucking flowers from greenhouse buckets, stealing a tablecloth from one residence, a deck of cards from another, a ridiculous hat from the third. Around the clerk’s neck he tied a red and white checkered tablecloth, a café cape. (This isn’t the end of Leo’s tale.) He stuffed poinsettias down the man’s sleeves. (Bittersweetly, it is far from over.) Into his hat went squirrels and pigeons, hiding from us atop the magician’s curly clean hair. (It’s a
// MICHAEL KORTE
small shame his world turned out this way, but que será será Sarah, I hope you’ll understand.) And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Please escort the children, the meek, and the fainthearted outdoors, for here begins the spectazing, fantaculous show of a lifetime. Check your front right pocket, yes you in the green, if you can just hold that up for the audience—what do you know, it’s the ten of diamonds!
SENTENCE K A S S ANDRA L EE
I canâ€™t hear the trains and donâ€™t know if I should be awake or in a field I seen through a color blindness folk know my name now is the sun looking like a maypop to you Katy I told Walt that you once said Alcolu sounds like a river rubbing its tongue against smooth brown ankles but he never heard of Alcolu he wants me to count out the days but that aluminum sky spread pass by the way the old men at the lumber mill do looking like rail tracks themselves
Sonnet fusion restaurant where i drink plum wine with lana del rey K A S S ANDRA L EE
Swallow dove. Swallow dirt’s a form of a needle nerved indifference, scatter oats out lines-ghostly. Clean trees. Unload my delay on inborn blooms, cleaving. Modest boat done lost its cool, hasteful. Sponge me don’t. Sponge aerobic respiration. Still, magma, my throat lozenge. How spits not mouth, not escape? Nothing throat: no single seed about to wood or toad, pluck, implode. Pabst Blue Day at Races, wake road to hole, to hollowing. Oracle snow to purge and pageanting. Pray I won’t, I prayed. Palatial plasma TV, grief-gain—slowed ebb and ether. Swallow weather and blow me witless, wraith. Poor boy plain talk. Own gray.
How long can the poet and the neuroscientist talk before they just have sex already? K A S S ANDRA L EE
The hand is a machine, and you are its horizonless lab tech. “A monkey, electrode in wishless brain, can control the cursor of a computer,” you said on a sunless solstice dusk. “I am in Seattle. Just kidding, I am elsewhere,” I texted at the end of summer, glued to the evening news story: one, Juan González, buys veins for milk jugs. Oh, you’re still working hard at the pulley of the hand’s joints, the flesh wrapped tendons? I take pictures of space needles to send to you. But, you, are you a genius or a centipede? You sign e-mail, “Sincerely, The Turtle” with a link to a YouTube video of a child receiving cochlear implants. I never forget a handshake, the need to know: can a kiloton of sand move from shore to shore without men at the helm of a giant dump truck? And how move the corpses after a flood? Is my muscle pain in my head or flesh? But what is the soul? You would be the first man I would ask, if my larynx had the design for it.
A NUMBER OF HIS PARTS ARE MODERN AND WIDE. G NAO M I S I E M EN S
Stand toasting each exterior bone clicking golden on the platform. Someone is watching your face approach the sun, itâ€™s upward sweeping tilt. Your long glamor whispers wonderful at my back. Lay the bones down, darling, like a duke on the ground. What are you scared of, be specific.
HIS DADDY CALLS HIM MICHAEL N I C HO L A S P I ER C E
“Yo Muddy Mike, why wasn’t the baby Jesus born in Poland?” I say, “I don’t care, Doughboy. I’m trying to piss.” I stare down at the rotted urinal cake, pants and underwear at my ankles. “Jesus wasn’t born in Poland because they couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” “Doughboy, this is fucked. I don’t know why I’m like this. This is fucked.” “Nah bro, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes the prostate just doesn’t pump.” He zips his fly, slaps my bare ass. “Let’s get some more moon rocks.” “Nah, man.” I pull up my pants. “Nah, man. I don’t feel well. I wanna sit.” “Oh yeah? Where you fittin’ to sit right now?” I finally turn away from the urinal, look around and see all these people—males and females and hybrid trannies—drenched in sweat, walking in and out of stalls in pairs, taking sips from the sinks or just dousing their heads in water. There’s this one guy who’s motionless in a half squat, staring into the mirror one foot in front of him with an awed facial expression like his reflection is something strange and magical he’s never seen before. His pupils are dilated as nutsack. “Nah Doughboy, too many people, Doughboy. Not the bathroom.” We leave the bathroom, walk into the basement but there’s still too many people, groups of them standing in pow-wow circles. The music’s loud coming from the main room upstairs. Doughboy says, “Don’t pussy out on me, dude.” “I’m not being a pussy; I couldn’t pee.” “You’re bugging out, Mikey; you’ve been doing this a lot lately. We both swallowed the same rocks. I found the experience quite pleasant. I feel quite pleasant right now, pleasant enough to swallow some more.” I hear Doughboy speak, the words falling from his mouth, but the inner workings of my head are nothing but the by-products of noise colliding; people shouting over the music; the music itself; the bass thump. I want to curl up into a ball and evaporate. I say, “I’m going to sit by the coat check.” “Fine, Mikey. I’m gonna find Gay Dave, get these rocks—and only because I fucking love you—walk all the way back down to the coat check and wake you up from your nap. Then we’re gonna roll balls and enjoy some bangers laid by Afrojeezy, the king of Dirty Dutch, or at least I am. We’ll see if the sand is still in your vagina when I’m back.” “Wait, Gay Dave’s here? Where’s Straight Dave?” 28
// NICHOLAS PIERCE
Doughboy shakes his head, walks toward the stairs leading to the main room. I walk the other way, away from everybody, deeper into the basement which bottlenecks into a narrow hallway with track lighting; halfway down the hallway is the coat check window. When the concert’s over this area will be packed tight as a sardine can, but now I’m there alone. I sit down below the coat check window which is open, but unmanned. The track lighting is bright as the light of the Lord so I close my eyes. I can hear myself think now above the dull ringing in my ears. I want to be somewhere else, someone else. Doughboy won’t leave though. Doughboy is staying and I can’t leave without Doughboy. I could call Mandy, leave a message on her voicemail but no matter what I say she’ll never answer again. Where’s Gay Dave? Where’s that homo hiding? Fuck Gay Dave. I’d fuck Gay Dave. No, not actually but I’d watch live feed of him getting fucked by a man who’s hung like a moose. It’s called retribution. Sometimes you get railed, sometimes you do the railing. Gay Dave’s all into that pain shenanigans, anyway. Kid lays the hurt. My ankles hurt. My mouth’s sore because Doughboy gave me a piece of gum after we swallowed the rocks—jawbreaker. I lay down on my side, use my forearms as a pillow. The lights go away, not for long until I’m shaking. Doughboy’s being a dick about it, so I smack at him. It’s not Doughboy though; it’s a girl with black-and-white spiral-patterned eyes. She says, “Are you working the coat check?” I say, “I didn’t bring a coat.” “Who’s working it? Have you seen my friend?” “I’m sorry. I don’t really know.” She’s wearing a low-cut tank top stamped with I Luv Haters in block letters. There’s a squiggly black line tattooed around her pierced navel— looks like the sun. I say, “I like your contact lenses because optical illusions make my brain damage universal, but I don’t like your tank top. Haters are whiny bitches that deserve a good old-fashioned mushroom slap.” “Hating on haters makes you a hater.” “Yeah, it does. So does that mean you love me?” “I don’t know you.” “Can you just say you love me? It doesn’t matter if you mean it as long as you say it out loud.” She looks down the hallway and says, “I can’t believe my friend just left like that.” “Have you called her?” “She’s not answering.” Doughboy’s back. He sneaks up next to the girl and says, “I see you’ve met my friend Muddy Mike. He was taking a nappy-poo when you found him, wasn’t he? I hope he at least invited you over for the post-jeezy festivities.” She shakes her head no and Doughboy says, “Back at our place we’re having
NICHOLAS PIERCE / / 30
a satanic style orgy. When you walk through the door you’ll be chloroformed and then you’ll wake up twenty minutes later hog-tied, covered in spoo and deer blood with my tongue in your asshole. That could be jarring but I’m gonna go ahead and assume it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had your salad tossed while unconscious.” She slaps him. The contact sounds like a whip crack. Wobbly Doughboy regains his balance, snatches up her elbow and says, “Touch me again, you stupid cunt.” I jump up, get between them. “Doughboy, you’re being ridiculous.” He gets in my face; I shrink away like always. “Alright, Mikey. I see how it is tonight. You got something better to do than hang with the Doughboy.” He looks at the girl. “Just make sure you wrap it up tight. Chlamydia’s a motherfucker.” Doughboy walks down the hallway. He’s gone. I say, “I’m sorry about that.” She says, “Your friend’s a dick.” “He gets into moods sometimes.” There’s a few seconds of silence. I say, “I think I’m heading out.” “You’re leaving?” “Yeah. I need to go.” “That’s no fun. Afrojeezy hasn’t even come on yet.” “I’d need some molly if I’m gonna last through the jeezy.” “I have a Poké Ball you can have.” “Poké Ball?” “It’s half-molly, half-ketamine and a base of acid.” I feel it again, the pressure in my sinuses. I sit down, hold my face in my hands. She says, “Are you ok?” “Nah, I don’t feel well.” She bends down next to me, leans her mouth into my ear and says, “You should swallow a Poké Ball. It’ll make you feel better.” I look into her black-and-white spiral-patterned eyes. “That’s a bad idea.” “But it’ll make you feel better. I promise.” “Nah, I can’t trust you; you bailed on your friend.” “She bailed on me, but she was being annoying. I’d rather dance with you.” The girl straddles my lap. She presses my knuckles to her belly button ring—the center of our Copernican universe. I say, “You don’t understand. You can’t leave me. Promise you’ll never ever leave me ever in those exact words.” “I promise I’ll never leave you.” “You didn’t say it right.” She scans the hallway for onlookers, pulls a plastic baggie from her pocket containing two large, spherical pills that are a faded grayish teal.
// NICHOLAS PIERCE
I say, “Wait, where’d you get these from?” “My friend.” “Is your friend some hoodrat cuttin’ his goodies with Drano?” “No.” She squeezes my groin firmly. “Stick out your tongue.” “Wait, let go. You don’t understand. You can’t…” “Just stop talking. I don’t like it when you talk.” She puts the pill in my mouth. I gulp it down like a shit-flavored Mentos. She swallows hers and then boo-yah, we’re chasing that dragon tonight. We stand up. Butterflies flutter in my stomach lining. She takes my hand, leads me down the hallway, back through the basement which is fuller now. More people standing in circles, the line for the bathroom out the door at least thirty heads. Everybody’s still talking loudly, but there’s a charged stillness in the air because the music’s lulled. She says, “We need to get a good spot before Afrojeezy comes on.” She leads. I’ve got my hips on a swivel as we weave in and out of all these bandana-wearing degenerates sucking on lollipops. We walk up the steps. I get this weird tingling in my head, up and down my arms. The main room’s crammed like a ball pit of bodies. I finally feel close to them—the people around me—their skin and their sweat. She squeezes my hand and says, “We need to be up front. We need to get closer.” We reach the middle of the dance floor, a stonewall of guidos, tiny guidettes that rave in groups like they’re a gang or something. I toss an elbow into some dumptruck’s lower back. He turns around, growls at me with these wild horse eyes. He’s roided out of its mind—six feet tall, probably a cool 250 with veins like spiderwebs pulsating underneath his wifebeater. I say to the girl, “We can’t… We can’t go any further.” It takes a concerted effort to mouth out the words because my bottom lip’s drooping; I’m drooling real real hard. I look into her eyes—the black-and-white spirals. They’re spinning now, sucking me in like a vacuum. She says, “What are you looking at? What are you thinking?” I say, “I can’t feel my fucking face.” She grabs my head like it's a football-shaped watermelon—one hand on the crown, one on the chin—and licks my face, the length of it from the jawbone to the temple. She rearranges her grip, digs her fingernails into the back of my head. There’s no pain or nothing, but I feel the pressure of her teeth sinking deeper into my lower lip, wrenching on it like she’s tearing meat off the bone. She lets go, pulls her head back. I put my finger to my kisser, the open wound. I trace the wetness streaming down my chin onto my shirt. She says into my ear, “I’m a vampire tonight. I wanna suck your blood.” Then everything in the room disappears. All that’s left is our heads floating bodiless in space but somehow I still have control of my arms. I press my palm to the bottom of her chin, press her tongue down with my thumb which is a wooden depressor. With my other
NICHOLAS PIERCE / / 32
hand I tilt her forehead back so I’m staring down her throat, checking her tonsils for strep. The room lights up, our bodies come back. I see it all so clearly—Afrojeezy, the king of Dirty Dutch on stage. The world lags. I move my arm and realize that when you move your arm, it’s not just moving it from point A to point B. In between point a and point b there’s an infinite number of sensory data points through which your arm passes. She presses her body into mine. I squeeze her so tight—nasty bear hug. I’m saying, “No. No. No. You can’t leave me. No. No. No. No. No.” She says, “Don’t worry, I’m here. I’m with you—I’m here.” She plants my hands on her hips and says, “Just touch me. Touch me; I’m here.” I say, “I’m so scared. You can’t leave me. I’m so scared.” That’s when the dub drops. I feel the bass winding in my veins, leading my heartbeat. My stunted cognition is a punching bag repeatedly pounded by a man who’s very angry yet oh so skillfully precise; he tears through the air like a ballerina who’s been around the block several times but still has her hymen intact and that’s how much I would love to make love to your butt. The dub flattens, dies. The beat is smooth again. It’s me and the girl. Our bodies are knotted together like shoelaces. She’s taken off her tank top, tucked it into her pant waist. All she’s wearing is a fleshcolored sports bra. She’s unhealthily skinny, obliques lined with symmetrical tattoos—ivy vines littered with pink and red flowers—that frame her rib cage. Each rib juts out clear as day and at the center of it all is the sun—her belly button melting my face like Play-Doh. She puts her hands on my shoulders, pushes me down. I press my ear to her belly button to see if I can hear what’s moving inside her, but no. She’s covered in sweat, dripping all over me like a gym towel. She squats down so we’re on our knees, facing each other. She says, “Boost me up. Boost me up over everybody.” I bow down, place my forehead in a puddle of spilt beer. She sits on my back, butt in between my shoulder blades. I grab her thighs, lock her glutes down to my shoulders as I base up to my knees. Her vagina is pressing into the back of my neck, legs dangling over my chest when I stand up and start spinning round and round. She seizes two fistfuls of my hair like handlebars and she’s wearing a metal ring or something because I can feel it scraping layers of skin off my scalp. I just keep spinning and spinning and spinning and spinning and she sticks her arms straight out like a helicopter propeller at which point I realize that it may or may not be possible to fly without leaving the ground because shit’s getting mackadocious real quick; too mackadocious, really. Afrojeezy drops the hook. I’m getting hyphy like a sick son of a bitch when she starts hitting the top of my head over and over. It’s not playful tapping. I drop to my knees. She stumbles off me. I get back up, hold her in place because she’s like a seesaw now, tipping back and forth. Her face is so pale. She looks at me with those black-and-white spiral-patterned eyes rolling back in her head. Her mouth moves like she’s trying to speak, but I can’t hear. She falls
// NICHOLAS PIERCE
on all fours like a tabletop. I get down next to her, try to lift her but she’s too busy dry heaving. I hold her hair back when she starts booting all over my sneakers. I keep saying, “No. You’re ok. No. You’re ok.” The people around, they notice. This guy bends down next to me; he’s wearing stunna shades. He leans in to my ear, shouts so I can hear, “Yo, your girl ok?” I say, “She’s not my girl, bro! Don’t call her my girl!” He says, “We gotta get her off the dance floor.” She’s kneeling in vomit when me and stunna shades take one shoulder each, lift her up. Her body’s limp like a rag doll slumpin’ to the ground. Stunna shades says, “Goddamn. What’d she take?” I feel her arm muscles contract on my neck, then loosen. She starts twitching in rigid convulsions when stunna shades screams, “Put her down! Put her down! She’s having a seizure!” We put her down, watch her flop around like a fish out of water with a hook through its gills. A crowd gathers, forms a circle around her. I ask stunna shades, “Is she gonna die? She’s gonna fucking die isn’t she?” He’s pissed at me—I can tell. He says, “We’re gonna get her to the hospital.” She’s done flopping now, just lying there. I bend down next to her, take her face in my hands. Her eyes are closed. She’s got this black, soupy film all over her cheeks and torso. I take my shirt off, wipe her down. A booming voice sounds through a megaphone, “Back away from the girl!” That’s when I go Rambo in this bitch, squeeze her arm—it’s sinewy and slick like a wet rope—pick her up in a fireman’s carry and break toward the front door screaming, “Help! She’s gonna die! Help!” Everybody’s lunging out of the way, staring as I rush past. I barely make it to the lobby when these two fat dudes (“Event Staff ”) with walkie-talkies on their belts grab me, pry the girl from my arms. They pin me to down to the carpet, zip tie my hands behind my back. I start crying. I say, “You don’t understand. You don’t understand. She’s gonna fucking die, man!” One of the fat dudes says, “Shut your trap.” Then he says into his walkie-talkie, “Duncan to the lobby. Duncan to the lobby. We’ve got a hero. Over.” A granular voice radios back, “Copy that. Duncan’s en route. Over.” I’m holding back my tears when Duncan comes. He’s a built, six-five African-American male, arms sleeved-up with tats. He’s wearing a Memphis Grizzlies flat brim hat, a kevlar vest that says NYPD Narcotics Division. He says in a deep, husky voice, “Let the kid up.” The two fat dudes lift me. Duncan says, “What’s your name?” I say, “My daddy calls me Michael.” “Alright, Michael. My name’s Officer Duncan. I know that you’re very confused right now, but you’ve got to do your best to stick with me. Say I’m with you Officer Duncan.” “I’m with you, Officer Duncan.” “Okay, Michael. If I tell these two men to untie you, are you going to cause a scene, make me look dumb?”
NICHOLAS PIERCE / / 34
“Nah, I wouldn’t do that.” They cut the zip tie. He says, “I’m about to ask you a few questions, Michael. It’s in your best interest to be very honest with me. Keep in mind that I’m trying to help you right now; I’m the one on your side. You with me, Michael?” I nod yeah and he says, “Where’d your shirt go?” “I don’t know. It’s gone though.” “Okay. Now Michael, if I search you right now, am I going to find any drugs?” My eyes well up. I say, “You don’t understand, Duncan. I was trying to help her, Duncan. You don’t understand.” “Put your hands against the wall, spread your legs.” He looks at the fat dudes and says, “Take his shoes off; run his ID” They empty out my pockets, pat me down, but there’s nothing to find. I’m standing there with my hands against the wall when Duncan says, “Michael, what drugs did your girlfriend take?” “She’s not my girlfriend.” Duncan squeezes the back of my neck, puts his face next to mine. I feel the moisture in his breath like mist on my cheek. “You didn’t answer my question, Michael. What drugs did your girlfriend take?” “I don’t know. I don’t know her.” “I don’t like being lied to, Michael.” He lets go of my neck, takes my phone from one of the fat dudes. He says, “Who’s Doughboy? Does Doughboy know what drugs she took?” “You don’t understand, Duncan.” “What don’t I understand?” He pauses. “Forget about your girlfriend. Tell me about yourself, Michael. What drugs did you take?” My heart skips a beat. He says, “Take your hands off the wall and look at me.” I face him. He says, “Listen you fucking runt, you cannot play me like some sucker. This is my job and just by looking at you right now, I know for a fact that you’re on something.” He pauses. “I happen to be on kiddy duty tonight, but normally I’m out there on the streets, chasing down some hard motherfuckers—bad people I would never want around my wife and kids, Michael. I don’t know who you think you are, and I could care less. If you do not tell me what drugs you took and who you got them from, I’m going to take you to my precinct on Webster Avenue and toss you in a holding cell with some grungy, cracked-out brothers that love little white boys. So how about you tell me what I need to hear.” I say, “Some girl… Some girl—her name was Sha nay nay or Shannon— she put this pill in my mouth. I don’t know what it was, man. Please don’t fucking arrest me, man. I’m telling the truth.” Duncan takes a step back, cracks this grin like he knows something I don’t. He’s staring me down. He turns to the fat dudes and says, “This kid’s useless. Send him home.”
Because any num-nuts with half a brain who plays the game, plays the game to win. But we don’t play the game just to win, do we boys? We play the game because we love to play the game and we play every single play like it’s the last play of the game and we’re down by seven—that’s just how we fucking do it. Boys, I can’t lie to you because that would be doing you a disservice. We all know. We all know that tonight’s going to be a dogfight. We all know
// NICHOLAS PIERCE
The two fat dudes lead me out the lobby through this door I’ve never seen before. We go down a deserted stairwell which leads to a service loading dock. We’re in this back alley separated from the sidewalk by a metal gate. They open the gate, push me out, give me my stuff back. One says, “Don’t ever come here again. We tagged your ID in the computer; you won’t make it through the door.” The other whips out a taser and shocks me; the electricity doesn’t hurt, just surfs through my blood, eases into me like that gas the dentist pushes down your throat before drilling. My knees buckle. I’m down for the count. Time to throw in the towel, right Coach? If I could stand up, I would, but when I turn my head now I feel so nauseous. The only thing left that’s real, that I can feel, is the sidewalk. I press my cheek into its jagged grooves. I want to be a tree planted underneath the concrete because if my feet were the roots, arms branches, I could be connected to the earth again. I want to be connected to the earth again. Because there are two alternate planes of existence.1 There’s the plane of reality in Mikey’s head and then there’s the consensus plane outside of Mikey’s head which is completely detached from Mikey’s feelings and thoughts. Mikey’s the only person that can be inside of Mikey’s head. Other people, they think they know Mikey. They think they see Mikey when they walk past him. They hear what Mikey says. But can they feel what Mikey feels? Mikey feels what Mikey feels. Mikey wants to sodomize you. Mikey wants to bust a nut inside your colon because Mikey wants to be inside of every person that ever lived: Grandpa Willy, Cousin Rebecca, Taylor Swift, Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, Joe Klecko, a transexual barber with a yeast infection, a Filipino prostitute with lupus and swollen tonsils, your mother and if your mother’s dead that makes a lot of sense because she didn’t move around that much when Mikey made her mouth pregnant. Wait. Mikey, wait: what did he just say? What’s Mikey saying? What did Mikey say to you? What’s didn’t nothing say nothing to you; Mikey————speaking like Mikey about Mikey. He knows Mikey. Mikey knows. Mikey knows they know, too, right Coach? They know the world would be a better place if Mikey just offed himself; took that bottle of Percocet straight to the dome.
that if we’re going to win tonight, it’s going to hurt a whole heck of a lot because the people trying to beat us are mean. They don’t care if you’re tired. They don’t care about your boo-boo. They’re trying to break you, so when you’re out there tonight and you’re hurtin’, you play even harder, you kill yourself. You play every single play like it’s the last play you’re ever going to fucking play because one day, boys, this game you’re playing will be taken from you. One day you’re going to be an old man like me and you’re going to look back on your days playing ball—the wins, losses, everything in between—and I hope you won’t regret a single fucking thing. I hope you can say you played the game the way it’s meant to be played, so play your fucking hearts out tonight. We owe that much to everybody who cares about us, goes out of their way to come watch us, support us. Most of all we owe it to each other because without each other we’re nothing. Without each other, we’re weak. We’re lost. When you’re out there tonight and you’re hurting, you look over at the guy next to you and realize that he’s hurting too. You realize that you’re dying together.
NICHOLAS PIERCE / / 36
But Mikey don’t wanna play ball no more, Coach. How many nights can Mikey spend alone bawling in the locker room shower begging for someone to come, someone to see. Someone he could split in half, touch and ruin. Everybody says they know, says they understand, but they can’t, Coach. Mikey can’t. Mikey can’t remember all the broken things. Mikey’s dead. Mikey died once. Mikey’s lying on the street corner concussed with a ruptured spleen, shattered collarbone. The people who have left him are back again, apparitions dancing in the air above him like there’s cause for celebration. Mr. Fogarthy is there with a hundred-dollar bill hanging from his zipper. He’s doing the merengue with Ms. Bozak, fatty boom batty leaving the dance floor slanted. Clay Rain is there wearing a Member’s Only jacket, wind pants to match, break dancing to Run DMC on a piece of cardboard like it’s 1986. Mandy, who should do the world a favor and hack her fucking ovaries out with an X-Acto knife, is grinding up on some dude wearing a suit—he’s got that internship at J.P. Morgan—and his fingers are down her pants, parting her pussy like the Red Sea. Mikey’s mommy is there. Mikey’s mommy is there for sure. Mikey’s mommy isn’t dancing though; she’s bent double in a wheelchair with a burlap sack over her head. She keeps pleading to nobody in this coarse, raspy voice, “Don’t let Mikey see. Tell him mommy will be fine, he can stay home from school if he wants—just don’t let Mikey see.” Mikey loses consciousness. Mikey is Mikey is Mikey is Mikey. The doctors, they cut Mikey open. They stitch Mikey up, pump Mikey full of blood— transfusion. Two weeks later when Mikey wakes up, he rips the tube from his throat, gasps for air like he’s never used his lungs before. All these buzzers sound. The nurse runs over to his bedside as the blood rushes from her face.
She screams “Doctor! Doctor! He’s awake!” The doctors, they get Mikey’s daddy on the phone. He says, “Michael, who did this to you? Who did this to my boy?” But Mikey doesn’t know. All Mikey can remember is bleeding out on the street corner. The doctors say that with time his memory should come back. But all Mikey can do now is guess, try to piece together everything he’s ever said, every person he could have possibly rubbed the wrong way, pissed off. Doughboy thinks he knows. Doughboy’s certain, says it was Bo Jones and his crew, but Mikey doesn’t know Bo Jones. He’s met him once or twice, done key bumps with him, but Mikey doesn’t know Bo Jones.
// NICHOLAS PIERCE
Mikey opens his eyes. The sun’s beaming all around him on the sidewalk. He can move again. He reaches into his pocket, gets out his phone, calls Doughboy. Doughboy says, “Mikey? Where are you, man? Why haven’t you answered your phone?” “Doughboy?” “Are you crying?” “Doughboy?” “Why do you sound so weird?” “It was the ketamine, Doughboy. The girl died. She died in my arms.” “Ketamine?” “Doughboy?” “Mikey, where are you? Tell me where you are. I’ll come get you.” “They tossed Mikey out back.” “Jesus, Mikey. How long have you been there?” “Wait, Doughboy?” “What?” “Mikey don’t wanna go to concerts anymore.” “Let’s talk about this later, when you’re not K’d out of your mind, but it seems like this girl you were running with was an idiot.” “Nah, Doughboy.” “What do you mean no? If she’s not an idiot then enlighten me, what is she?” “Mikey doesn’t know her, Doughboy.”
ENTITLED A L E S S I O M I NEO
must I apologize for never having had to speak that which others couldn’t? that indelicate indelicate to be delicate about it and say “homo”—to be delicate because they made us/you this way they (mom,dad) made me this way entitled? No. what? “oh, I’m sorry.” Oh, I’m sorry, man. To be theirs who never made me apologize. “to be” and “to be” and “to be” while you Ophelia while you what? beg? to? not? No no apology while I want you this way.
BLOODLINES ANDY N I C O L E BO W ER S
I come from my fathers, a feuding People, raiding parties riding under Murder-colored moons & their sinews Are my sinews strung full-taut inside My gun-hand. I come from my mothers, Scarred, impossible survivors, teenage Brides gone feral on the outskirts Of the cattle towns & their hips Are my hips, some orography of childBirth. I come from ribcage herds that range All down the borderlines, appaloosas, Palominos, marked for liquidation. I come from where the night goes Haywire for the lone girl on the mattress, Color T.V. flickering cool-fire in neighbors’ Windows—all those crime scenes opened Microscopically, with forceps, ultraViolet, all those waters disappearing & measured each day lesser in the lakes We named for missionaries, generals— I am there & I am her & I am also wanting With a heart soaked-through with turpentine & my body if it sleeps will gather up Its jagged as the fossil-creatures pulled From carbon-beds & blue-shales: Silurian, Withstanding, remembering great kills. I come from hammer-down on backRoads & a dose that turns the spine a livewire, From a feeling born into me which I call Breakneck, antipodal—when I speak it in a song It asks for a man, perhaps like you, a cruel Man who incarnadines, it says I cannot curse These ghosts that glitch my brain tornadic, It says that I would like to hang & luminate An eerie shade of radium, says Noose me To the forms I love: the blood-tree & the barnWall, let my black boots clack together In the wind from out the big sky. 39
YOUR PEERS K Y L A C HE U N G
It didn’t seem to bother the administration. She had always been your mother, and she would now be your new teacher. When word gets around, one of the kids declares it we-eird, one whole syllable more cloying than weird. When you hear this pronouncement in the third bathroom stall—the stamping of we-eird on your eighth grade career—you’re young enough to think life is harsh, the overheard words wafting and collecting above you like a cumulonimbus. You’re already in the tight pinch of pee fear, waiting for all the ambient chatter to dissipate so you can let your urine hit the bowl, but the prepubescent press of How am I doing? is now answered by a throbbing we-eird. The girls start to discuss your mother, splay her on the bathroom examination table, and admit that she’s pretty (“but, like, actually”) and how you could be if you tried but you don’t so you’re not. You hear Abby in the mix. Abby, the girl who used to be your friend. The Jewish girl in Spanish class so incapable of rolling her Rs it’s apparent even to you, gringa number two. She’s sticking up for you. No, I mean, she’s like kinda pretty, right? She can be cool sometimes. Someone says, But she’s humongous. The girls laugh. Someone offers, God I hate her. She’s so fucking annoying. You feel sick and stunned. (It only briefly occurs to you that they can see your broken-down, too-small, one-year-old brown Pumas under the stall. They probably didn’t even care enough to check.) You feel begrudgingly grateful to Abby, the one who told everybody about your bedwetting last year. You’re still waiting for everybody to leave, and you grow more anxious. You slip your hand down to press your abdomen, which is starting to bulge with urine. But you jerk your hand back when you hear Lauren talk. You reach your gaze through the slits in the bathroom door, hoping and checking that nobody can see you looking out. Lauren speaks. Have you seen her drawings? Like, she dropped something yesterday and I was just trying to be nice and picked it up. But like, it was some guy dying. He had no eyes. After a chorus of Oh My Gods, somebody (Alexis maybe) answers. I know what you mean, the girl doesn’t talk or fucking anything. She just goes to the bathroom all the time and draws those weird ass crazy things. And then she comes up to you in the cafeteria all awkward and it’s weird. It’s weird. She’s such a freakshow. 40
// KYLA CHEUNG
She pauses. I mean, her mom’s really nice though. Whatever. Freakshow. You think she’s probably imitating somebody, a relative or some person on reality TV, but it just feels like shame pasting itself over your organs, gluing your esophagus shut.You want to pee. Finally, the bathroom gossips leave their station at the sink and send up a few last hissing laughs, a collective cackle that sputters like water putting out a campfire. A minute after, the boiling sound of footsteps in the hall simmers to silence. Let the pee fly, gasping as you do, piss splashing on the insides of your legs and the seat. After it’s all done, you fold up a little wad of toilet paper—it’s more paper than Charmin at this school—and press it on your thighs, butt, everywhere, not wanting to check what’s where. (You already know too well the new map of your thighs—topographical irregularities of cellulite, stretch marks like spidering rivers, a worrying mole. You spend nights in front of the mirror, way way too much for someone who hasn’t dated anybody, you think. You press the round ends of bobby pins into your skin. Sometimes you pop out that plug of wax, sometimes you draw blood. You come into school with scabs on your face, looking like a rat thought your face was food, when it was just that rising anxiety and your ravenous fingernails. You’ll carry divots in your cheeks for the rest of your life, and you worry about this, but not enough. You tried to move the mirror out of your room, but your mom yelled at you about it—she nearly tripped over the damn thing in the hallway. You have to admit to yourself, you wouldn’t have stopped no matter what, even if the closest mirror were on the moon.) Now you construct a second pad of toilet paper and dab up all the drops that made it onto the floor and the seat and the dirty gap where the hairs and dust and fluids stick. You don’t look carefully. You don’t want to. You just think about what bitches those girls are. Bitches. Really mean. Yeah. You imagine marching from the bathroom stall, pushing one of the girls—maybe Alexis, definitely Alexis—into the half-tiled walls. She’ll slump to the floor in her North Face fleece, and you’ll say something to make their kohled eyes widen with fear. Maybe respect. You just keep hearing your voice ringing out, What the fuck is your problem? After that you don’t know what. Think hard. Of course you’re late to class by the time you make it out of the bathroom. You knock on the window, peering at your classmates’ glazed eyes through the reinforced glass at the top of the door. (You’ve gotten taller in the past year. You’re bigger than everybody, even the boys and Mr. O’Malley, the math teacher.) Abby looks back at you, guilty. You don’t think she’s sorry. Your mother walks up all disappointed and reluctantly turns the knob and lets you in. Both of you are quiet and the class is too. Your peers lean toward each other, their eyes on the two of you.
KYLA CHEUNG / / 42
Your mother is pretty. You’ll admit this. Her skin is clear, her jaw strong, her eyes a dark brown beneath powdery branches for lashes. She’s always been nice, but you’ve never wondered what happened to your DNA until she charmed the pants off the very kids who won’t talk to you. And her body is nice to look at, you think bitterly, as it wobbles to the desk in front of the kids. Thin, soft belly cascading down from sizeable breasts. You’ve noticed them—breasts—and you’re beginning to see them on yourself and you observe with dimmed alarm that nearly half of everybody does too. Even Abby. Even Lauren. You kind of can’t believe you never realized they were there before. You wear three shirts to school because you think your nipples poke out. You’re supposed to be precocious, but you feel really naive, really surprised. You try to place yourself on the spectrum of sizes. You attempt to project where you’ll be if you keep up the current progress. You’re heartened, slightly, with each monitoring look at your reflected profile. And yet your mom isn’t all pretty. Her mouth is fish-like, downturned at the corners, a constant frown that only manages a straight line when smiling. Her teeth are wallpaper yellow and slightly crooked. She knows. She’s always holding her lips like an uncomfortable peel over the enamel beneath. Like she’s hiding her gum. When she thinks something’s funny and somebody who’s not you is around, the laughter clangs around inside her mouth and her lips press back into that horizontal smirk, and there: the teeth kept back, the face unmarred. You notice this especially when she’s around Mr. O’Malley. You saw them in your driveway, and their eyes leapt toward you with guilt. You want to know, but you don’t want to ask. In class she doesn’t know what to do when you’re left out of the project groups. You know Abby and Lauren will pick each other. You can see their eyes already drift toward each other when your mom claps her hands together and says, Okay, guys, we’re going to do something different today! Most times you end up with Benjamin. You think he’s fat and his glasses make him look ugly. Everyone remembers the boner he got during his history presentation for Mrs. Johnson’s class last year. The sweatpants didn’t help, at all. When Michael and his friends snigger at their desk cluster and look over at you, you worry—no, you know—that they’re talking about you. Like you’re dating. Like you’re a thing. You feel sorry for Benjamin, you really do, but you talk to him through pressed teeth, mumbling “James Madison” and trying not to look him in the eye as you complete the U.S. Presidents worksheets together. You don’t want anybody to think you like him. Your mom still keeps that family portrait on her desk at school. You made it for her in the third grade, and when she’s sitting at her desk and you ask a question in class, you see bright green in the corner of your eye. You know it says, “Merry Christmas.” You know the three of you are sitting inside the foam frame. There used to be the same picture as the one in the room
// KYLA CHEUNG
with the TV in it, a photo printed on canvas, that your eyes would catch on during commerical breaks. Your mom took it down not long after he moved out. Your dad’s in a blue suit and standing next to your mom, who’s holding seven-year-old you in her lap. Your dad always wanted to make sure you were scared of him—You don’t give me enough goddamn respect, he’d say, as he slapped your face and ass—but he doesn’t look so bad here. He looks happy, you think. You, at seven, have no expression. Just wide eyes staring at the camera. Grim. Your mom’s mauve lips are sealed into a hermetic smile. Your father’s hand is on your mother’s shoulder. Firm, like it would never leave. Like he never would have. After a few weeks of school, your mother looks up from her soup and suddenly asks you, Is it okay? Should I have gone somewhere else? She lowers her voice. I mean, the bed wetting. Baby, I want to know if you want me to do something different. If I’m stressing you out or something. You look at her without expression. She looks back and something catches in her throat. She continues, her spoon sliding down the wall of her bowl. Well, the doctor said I should ask. Especially since this, um, just started. Again. I have noticed that you’re, well, you’ve grown in the past year. Do you want to talk about it? No, you don’t. You don’t want to talk about the wet sheets sticking to you in the mornings. You don’t want to talk about any of that. Don’t say anything. Glare at her meaningfully. But then a few minutes of quiet chewing later, she has to start it up again. It’s not about…Dad, is it? He’s not calling the house when I’m not here, is he? He’s not supposed to do that. The sound of Dad on her tongue is like a mewl. He’s not calling, you say. He’s not talking to me. Something in her face relaxes and she closes her eyes, showing you her oily eyelids. I just want to know what’s up with you, baby. I just hope it’s not, well, weird that I’m teaching your class. I mean, the kids seem really nice. They’re nice to you, right? You remember we-eird. You remember the things the girls said in the bathroom. She sees the face you make and then makes her own. She is Concerned now. You’re at the age that this irritates you. Her round eyes have become rounder, and her eyebrows move to press against each other as if in prayer. She wants you to say something, and you say something. You decide to take the martyr route. I mean, it’s fine, I guess. There’s really nothing you can do about it. Did they say something to you? Baby? Her voice lilts upwards. She’s so afraid. You fork another clump of spinach and press your teeth through the
KYLA CHEUNG / / 44
vegetal layers. The oil and water spill into your mouth. She’s still waiting for you to say something. You spear some more spinach, bring it to your mouth. Let the chlorophyll swish into your gums. You swallow. And then you shrug. You know why she’s asking. She didn’t hear that much from you last year. Which was when Dad finally found somebody who, you imagined, didn’t have banged-up teeth and could smile once in a while for him. You haven’t met the new lady yet. Your mom’s soaked in guilt, and you let her steep in it, because you tell her and yourself that she’s the reason he left. Not out loud, of course, but you both know that she cheated. That she made him angry. Now that it’s eighth grade, she wants to be a better mother to you as if it will make up for what happened. You’re not old enough yet that you want to be kind to her. You refuse to hide your discontent when her friends visit, and they avoid your glowering gaze. You work on your homework, and they don’t ask if you’re going to church anymore. They get in on the chatter with your mother, talking about the congregation and her new teaching job. (“It’s really, surprisingly wonderful. The kids are so great.”) Then they whisper about Mr. O’Malley, or as they call him, Mike. They sound so gleeful with what little they know. Like hyenas, you think. You listen closely, act like you’re stuck on problem 2.4, chew your pencil. You’re disappointed to glance at your mother shaking her head and giving a breath of laughter to disarm her interrogators. It’s nothing, she says. Nobody in the room believes her. She looks over at you, to make sure you don’t say anything, but you weren’t going to talk anyway. The friends let their shoulders drop, no longer hunched up in anticipation. They laugh a bit too now, and draw out a knowing Ookaay. You’ll tell us when you’re ready, they say. You’re barely sleeping at night, holed up on the family computer reading this bullshit or that. Sometimes you just look at porn. You wait until it’s too late for your mother to be up, rub away, don’t take off your pants, try not to make too much noise. You’re not sure if you know what an orgasm feels like. If you’ve had one yet. Sometimes you look up the entry for Secondary Nocturnal Enuresis. You read “Children with SNE will benefit from a caring and patient attitude by their parents,” and feel sorry for yourself. Sometimes you look up how much Alexis’s North Face costs—$180—and wonder if you can’t convince your mom into buying you the kid’s version, which is only $80. You doubt you could fit into one. The blonde model’s hips switch left and right as you click click click through all the colors on the Nordstrom website anyway. Other nights you just look at your chat list, checking everybody’s profiles compulsively, talking to the few who will answer your bare and vacant “whats up”. You delete all your history when you’re done. You stay up so late that you can’t even remember what you’ve been looking at when you slip into bed. You just remember those occasional dreams—strangling
// KYLA CHEUNG
Abby, or Lauren, or your mom, or Mr. O’Malley or just yelling at them as they cower against a wall. You wake up feeling monstrous. You try to shake off that anger, try not to remember the pleasure you felt when grasping thin throats. You feel the bed, the thick rubber beneath off-white cotton. Your hands come up dry, sometimes not. You’re the one who has to take the wet sheets to the laundromat. It’s Saturday morning and the guy who owns the place hates loitering, never could buy folding chairs, so those of you that are there in that dry hot room are standing and grumbling something bitter about your backs. You’ve let your posture sag into the nearest pole. You feel your lower back start to pinch, and you wriggle around to stretch it out. One of the guys waiting walks over to you. Asks you, You’re Lisa’s daughter, aren’t you? What? Oh. Yeah. I am. I am. You’re startled because you almost never hear your mother’s name. He looks like he’s her age. You think he might be Abby’s dad. He kind of has more scruff since you last saw him, since Abby’s parents got divorced. One of his brown eyes seems slightly larger than the other. Something metal, zipper maybe, scrapes against one of the laundry tumblers. He asks, How is she doing? I haven’t heard from her in a while. He seems to reconsider what he’s saying. He puts an unwelcome, chummy hand on your shoulder. His voice is unsure. I mean! I remember I used to see you guys around the dojo. My son’s still there, you know. I don’t see you around that much anymore. You take a breath in. It feels like the lint in the air is sticking to the insides of your lungs. Sure, you remember doing karate for a few months. It was something your dad used to pay for. The gi made you look like a walking pillow, but you enjoyed the yelling, your voice emerging guttural and painting the walls of the studio. You look at the guy talking to you. You really think he’s Abby’s dad. You swat his hand away and he looks scared. You say, She’s dating someone, so I’d get in line and wait my turn if I were you. You can tell you’ve freaked him out. You find you like this. He stutters, It’s… It’s not like that. I just— He looks away, at the other guy in the laundromat. He steadies himself and says, Okay. Okay. Just tell your mom I said hi. I just thought she was going through a hard time. You know, your dad— You look at him, warn him with your eyes that you do not want to hear this. He sighs. It was good to run into you. You know, you’re really starting to look like her. Well, I mean— He gestures toward his face.
KYLA CHEUNG / / 46
You both know your resemblance isn’t bodily. You say, Yeah. Got it. You later think you shouldn’t have talked to him at all. Should’ve told him to fuck off. You practice your curses in the mirror, in whispers before you go to sleep. He somehow gets into your dreams, and you imagine landing a kick to his stubbled cheek, the mirrors of the karate studio showing you at every which angle, your kiai resounding. You wake up with echoes in your ears. When you get to school on Monday, everybody else has to learn that your mother is sick, couldn’t make it, but Mr. O’Malley is supposed to substitute for her. Your mom gets Abby’s mom to drive you in. You remember what it was like, to smell their minivan. It doesn’t smell pristine or like leather, and that always made you like Abby a little better. You don’t think you should mention her dad. You say hi. Abby flashes a smile so quick nobody believes it. You hate her again. You consider telling her. She turns toward her window, eyes stuck to the beige houses rushing past. You both slip into what would have been your mother’s class, and Mr. O’Malley isn’t there yet. The boys and some of the girls are loitering near the front, talking about their weekend. One of the guys, Juan, starts asking when the sub’s going to come, who the sub’s going to be, if the sub’s too late then can we just go early. You and Benjamin are quiet, in the corner. Michael takes the speculation in another direction, asking why your mother is gone in the first place. He looks over at you. You’re just kind of watching this whole thing at your desk, pretending to doodle those scary old man drawings that freak Lauren and everyone out. You keep your head down. Michael is thinking out loud. I mean, she’s like a fine lady. She’s probably, you know, working on the weekends. Juan has no idea what Michael is talking about it, but Randy does and lets out a laugh. Oh man, you’re right. But kind of a fucked up face, you know? Yeah. I’d totally rail her on the desk. The girls listening next to them twitter with laughter, with an awkward desperation. They find this funny. You’re burning. You’re just staring at your doodle—a face without a mouth this time. Your pen isn’t moving. Michael keeps it up. Oh yeah, I’d totally get her like—He thrusts his hips. Shoot up from your chair, just as Mr. O’Malley arrives at the door. He’s talking to somebody in the hallway, looking away. You take your ballpoint and run up to Michael. Slash your pen on his arm. Michael’s skin is so soft. You take the pen to his face, his eyes. His blood is almost brown. You find yourself surprised. He slaps at you. He screams, Bitch! What the fuck are you doing?!
// KYLA CHEUNG
Throw the pen away. Use your hands. Scrabble at his face, tear at his eyes, feel arms on yours and Mr. O’Malley at your side. Feel anger, feel bigger than them all. Yell again and again and again. Throw the arms off of you. Run out of the room. Out of the school. Walk fast through the halls and hear your hands stamp against the middle bar, punching open the door. See the secretaries turn their heads at the blur of you. Run. But you didn’t leave the room at all, didn’t lay a finger on Michael. You’re still sitting at your desk, eyelashes mashed together, breath coming out huh huh. The white of the classroom lights peeks into your eyes and you hear Michael and the boys still laughing—somewhere, out there. You can feel the warmth of pee spreading near your groin. You can feel it pooling in the curved seat beneath you. It’s running down your right calf, into your socks, inside your Pumas. Your pen clatters out of your hand and rolls slowly toward the edge. Oh no, oh no, oh no, you whisper. The cheap plastic of the pen taps the floor. The classroom is quiet.
[Aya.] A L LY C O V I NO
what is it to shuffle my feet on a howl as it inspires and asks what it is to write to write words to speak and to wash myself right words to wash myself with to wring myself with with nothing but a sympathetic noose with out but but i am saying i am praying i am holding suspicion of myself just beyond the fault line to release to combust to drift into an ashtray to ash my mind my mind’s paranoia to ash and to drag within a curved fetal glass of white spaces spaces for a promise black blinking blinking out of my fingerprints blinking out to out to play obedient maintained to be maintained to be a gospel song smoked jesus into my howl that keeps the war in demand that keeps just to keep whose head spins round and round at night inside and only after the dime bag i found outside my daddy’s door is gone but still ain’t no easy way to tow the time to time that toll i pay crossing the river styx into my weapon of sweet feeling a sweet blood evolving shadow pounded into a half-state of scribed screams and salivating horror i tattooed onto my iris to create my lens to affect my voice my howl my conscious world because nobody taught me better to inhale awake to inhale red eyes stretched across white plains stretched across rifles that have shot the show that was about to begin too real without its head up high i never saw the bullet i could never have seen it through this mkultra for the like of you and the weight of mama of a keeper that keeps me within its blinking war blinking rage that makes me forget that i too have a voice without mama’s translation or daddy’s stash or my broken machine of war 48
// ALLY COVINO
that rattles loose and unhinged before the altar of white men who hallucinated harder than i ever will will harder than i ever could bring my self to crack cracked out of the womb that birthed my noose that glowers at the long weight of a my shuffle with jesus debating his salvation weighing his salvation against the atheistâ€™s halo he chains to his hair hair i ruffled tomorrow today i am scared to steal the solid ground the atheist walks on to trade it for the gray aged water i tread bleeding forth into a gospel song the likes of it it has never known
HOW TO SAY HELLO TO A MAN WHOSE COCK HAS BEEN IN YOUR MOUTH M ER I A M RAO U F Selected by the audience at Quar to’s annual Submit & Mingle Reading
I mean I really saw that guy. The one whose name you never want me to say. There were a few moments when I was deciding whether to say hi to him or maybe run away. If I had run, I think he would have understood. He would have seen me, out of breath probably, and he would have thought it was okay. Or maybe that’s you. No, I think he would have been confused, but not enough to talk to anyone about it. Probably not even enough to cock his head to the side. He would mildly wonder about it for a minute, and then let it go like an Alzheimer’s patient watching a shooting star. For a moment, wow, and then gone. But I decided not to and I don’t even really know why. I think I was curious. The other night there was that party for that Jordanian girl and her boyfriend Skye who she says she’s not that serious with. She tells me she can’t get that serious with a white guy, and she says it like none of us can. I’m thinking she’s throwing Skye a birthday party and he has her keys. I’m thinking she is serious, and she would shit her pants if she knew how much. She is here looking hot, hosting this thing for him. It was one of those parties with food. I was drinking a lot of sangria and wearing that dress, something I never would have done if I knew my brother was gonna be there, the gay one. I was there in the blue dress, and I got hit on by that lawyer friend of mine. He’s telling me it’s good to see me, and I’m thinking that if I bend the wrong way one of my tits is going to pop out, and my stupid gay brother is going to say something very gay and a little stupid. The lawyer is looking at me and telling me about winter or cold or something. I was really drunk. I just remember that after we talked, he looked really sad. He’s just standing there and he knows he can’t have me. He’s kind of doing this awkward dance thing, to see if I’ll join him, and it’s kind of really cute. And he’s wearing suede shoes and a denim shirt, like he’s still sort of a film major underneath that law degree. And he’s Palestinian, of all things. My mom goes jogging with his. Your mom doesn’t jog, and she’s underweight. This lawyer has two happily married Palestinian parents. You have two independent Jews who hate each other. When I talk about you, my parents look at me with mild discomfort, 50
// MERIAM RAOUF
as if you are a mole they know will be removed and will never really be a big deal. And now I don’t care to prove them wrong. I figure if you’re benign, you’ll just shrivel off. I was feeling guilty about the lawyer. I wanted to know that if I talked to this guy, the one you hate—but no, I can feel you correcting me. I wanted to talk to this person, the one you strongly dislike, and I wanted to know that there was nothing there. And he’s looking at me for a second, like he has no idea how long it’s going to go for. He’s wondering if the amount of sex we had is proportional—calculating licks over sucks over bites. And I’m thinking, I know how long. I want to remember the world where this guy was what made me cry, and I want to connect with it and be glad I left it. When I say Hello, I’m thinking about how you can’t go back through those green tubes in Super Mario. I tell him it’s good to see him, and then I’m shit out of material. He looked good. He had a pencil behind his ear, which he put into his pocket. And then I’m wondering if he saw me look at it, and judge it as something I’m glad I don’t have to judge anymore. His hair is still dark and he’s still so tall I have to look up to face him. He still talks painfully slow. Everything’s the same, but he looks clearer somehow. He looks like a guy with a major and a better idea of what a haircut is. He tells me that, fuck, it’s good to see me. I ask him if he’s going to Africa still. He says that he’s taking next semester off. I’m thinking every guy I date ends up doing that. Like the moment your dick is in my mouth, it’s time to question everything. He says he’s getting a job in Dodoma. And then he’ll come back for senior year. And I tell him, hey, that’s great. I smile at him. It was more like—I’m sliding my lips away from my teeth at him. It’s logistically a smile. He can probably see my incisors. And then there’s the moment where neither of us has anything to say. I’m thinking maybe I’ll tell him about my friend Grace who is so religious she won’t draw on herself in pen. I want to say, Hey, Grace doesn’t even celebrate Halloween. But no. And the sad part is that I do have this friend Grace. She won’t read Harry Potter. She invites me to her gospel things and does theater makeup. She can probably make me look like an old lady. It feels really urgent, like I have to call you right now to tell you that I can be old. And then I’m looking at my arm. I want to ask you if the to-do lists on my wrist are going to accumulate ink and give me cancer. I figure you know the answer, or you will make it up for me. You’ll tell me that doesn’t happen with pens. You’ll say that pencils are different now. I am going to be fine.
MERIAM RAOUF / / 52
And, you’re just waking up. You’re googling lead poisoning for me and your feet are the type that haven’t hit a side of the bed yet. Your amp is sitting far out enough that you have to jump out of your bed to avoid hitting wires and debris. It’s not dust the way people have, but debris, like last night there was a Swisher explosion, and you got a kind of high that pushed up against the walls of your dorm. I remember that cloud. I remember ringing it out of me like I was an old towel. Tears and weed just steaming off of me for a few days after I see you. It’s a time before I’ve reasoned the next number of days, and I am just looking into my calendar with no understanding of how it works. There are small boxes with numbers one to thirty in them, and one large box that says notes on the bottom. I’m wringing smoke rings out of my hair and if any of my friends see me before I get it together, they will make me feel morose. They will say, It’s okay, he’ll be here soon. I’ll feel like an asshole, because they’re lonely, single, and correct. And yes, so I missed you for a moment, like taking young, waxy hands out of restaurant votives, warm and sad, like you, out of me. Then my militant mind got on the plane and turned its thing into a self-correcting force. It was like Velcro on Velcro. All the fuzzy and sharp ends came together, stuck together, ready. Before long, I knew what “before long” meant. I could count the little boxes and render them as meaningful. I don’t tell him about Grace. I tell him that I love the tree lights. He says it’s pretty cool. And I’m wondering if the trees can breathe under there. Is there this feeling, like wearing a tight sweater? Do trees have that? I’m looking at the loops, thousands of unlit bulbs, cold, touching the bark in nearly every possible spot. It looks like those motion-capture suits, like the one of that clown movie. The actor is wearing this black spandex suit with little white dots all over his body. My mother showed me a video so that maybe I could sleep alone in my bed one night. It’s sort of a behind-the-scenes thing. The actor is standing there, long blood-red hair, the prosthetic grin, pale, hungry face and my mom is patting my hair, See sweetie, he’s not real. And then I’m wondering if these motherfuckers can still photosynthesize. What am I doing after graduation? I tell him I’m thinking more school. He both asks me and tells me that I’m taking the dive, huh. And I say yeah, I’m going to try it. I say it like maybe he’s right and it’s a dumb idea. I’m going to run because I’ve got to get to the post office, and he’s going uptown to take a thing to a place. He rushes away from me and it looks like he has somewhere to get to. I mean, it’s really convincing.
// MERIAM RAOUF
I am about to get on the train and I can hear a sharp static coming out from my center of gravity. For about fifteen minutes I stand outside the station, looking through the hole in my pocket for headphones. There isn’t anything. I wonder if I’ll buy some shitty ones that hurt, or if I’ll just blast my music. I can’t fucking listen to the static. I take three trains to meet you. There is an ocean between us, then a border, then a park, then three Upper East Side families, and a group of German tourists. Hello, you say, in a pile of loud. I want to smile. My lips won’t pull away from my teeth. My incisors are not visible. I tell you your room is dirty and that I hate it. Hello, you say again. Neither of us says the words "nice," "happy," "good," or "great." Neither of us asks about how the traffic was. We are silent and we know our luck. It is an overtaking kind of thing that destroys itself. It won’t shut up, it won’t leave me alone, it won’t stop shitting out tears and sending blood to my pussy and tits every time I think about the moment your hand is on my waist, and your laugh is in my ribs. I don’t know what to do with this kind, a kind that gets tasered to sleep every time it’s the last time, wondering if it should have been better, directed differently, my head leaned more upward, your arm a little stronger, to make you feel what is constantly inside me. It’s a knot of yarn that gets bigger and bigger until the end of it is lit. Before long the whole thing is fire, a flame aflame, a flammable unmanageable, and then gone in a way that is black and dusty and isn’t remembered. There are pieces of black dust on a linoleum floor, like the sounds of little black boot scuffs, and no one can recognize the string that turned to a knot, one that simply didn’t exist anymore, that was apologizing for having existed at all. You tell me you have a suitcase with wheels. I give it a pull. It makes it hard to cry. They are very good wheels. You say, Take me to the apartment. I can feel the two pieces of Velcro peeling off of each other, and the static gets sharper and louder. You grab my hair and you fuck the shit out of me. I have been spending my nights in this same bed. I was there with a fog, whining like a puppy with no concept of getting a thumbless paw around a doorknob. Planes would pass and I hated them. They made this space bigger, made me glueless, like a flimsy piece of paper, only existing because the subway was kind enough in that moment to not arrive should I go flying along the simplest force. Now you come back, and I’m supposed to understand these stupid airplanes, huge gusts of metal in the sky, one arbitrary piece of shit, carrying you, you here, you with me. I’m supposed to believe that and worship it,
and I don’t understand how to take it back, an atheist turned Catholic, a republican turned liberal, an up turned down. I am to take the strongest part of my militant mind and curl up next to the big white back of my most loving shark. I am supposed, it is my job, to take off my clothes, and love this person for four days. I’d prefer it then if you didn’t come here and you left me in this silly apartment building, smoking weed and dressing up, smiling every time my tits are looked at by the next viable man as something worth seeing. Stop, you tell me. You put the back of your hand on my forehead. I wonder if you can feel tears on your knuckles. I tell you I have a mosquito bite. In the dead of winter? I say I’ve got that sweet blood and you roll over onto me. If you are asleep then I’m asleep. I let an hour go by, then I take your coat and my boots, and I’m out by the trees again. The lights are off now. I wonder if they got hot, each bulb warming them a bit. I wonder if it tingled, if they felt the buzz of each little bulb, tiny filaments. I want to ask you if trees have nerve endings, but I don’t have it in me to wake an insomniac. I’m thinking these little bursts are all along the bark, making the trees a little too warm. I’m thinking they can’t photosynthesize, that the lights have become part of their biology. The trees have adjusted to the light and the light to the trees. Even off, they aren’t as cold. And then I run back upstairs. I want you in my hands, in my body, in my mind. I am like your dog at the vet. I need one look so I can feel like I won’t die. I am thinking, Look at me, look at me, look at me. You roll over and I put my palm on your smooth Formica back. I feel white dots all over you. I’m tracking your every move in three dimensions. Forward backward, left right, up down. You put your hand on my hair and I can hear my mother say, See sweetie, he’s not real, and now I don’t even try to believe her. Look at me, so that I'll know something I wouldn’t. Give me a piece of something that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Give me something I don’t have to feel like I borrowed. I scratch my mosquito bite until the skin is raw. My brown skin looks ashier. I want to keep scratching until I’m just one giant bite. I want it more badly because I have it like a handful of sand. I want more sand, and more sand, and more sand, and meanwhile the granules are coming out of the tightest parts of your fist. And the meanwhile is slipping, right into more meanwhile, until it’s all meanwhile, and the itch has grown bigger than the scratch. MERIAM RAOUF / / 54
failed experiment with spirits & camera (georgia, 1872) ANDY N I C O L E BO W ER S Winner of the Quar to Award
The land, we knew, was needling with them, the same as a limb Will needle from long disuse, the blood attempting always To return. We could feel them working in the shifting Weather: they were there beneath what seemed inert & sometimes Effloresced blue-green as mold after a spell of rain, announcing Themselves in velvets & gabardines & furs. They were there too When the swamps would form & it was they who fed a memory To the crayfish & to the fever-hatchesâ€”they leached, it seemed, From marble tombs & war-dumps in the pine-dark a jumbled Kind of life, a swarm of after-images. As if to write themselves They would make a code of foxfire, burning coolly in the wood-rot A pattern akin to the lantern-language of fugitives & messengers Between the sites of battle. Still, they were illegible. Still, we longed For contact. So when the man came from Atlanta hoping to take Portraits, we prayed that they might show themselves, at long last Embodied. We paid to sit for him, the women with their coral combs & great black lengths of mourning cloth, faces pale & set as if Medallions carved from bone; the men in blood-specked uniforms, Sometimes seated on fine horses, sometimes cradling a vanished part, an arm Left on the surgeonâ€™s slab with which they still conversed; the children Also & the stillbirths, those heaps of lilies overgrowing, overwhelming Tiny lacquered caskets. For this we were rewarded somewhat
When the man applied his chemicals occultly. In his porcelain Baths they would emerge above our heads, numinous & luminating & once a shape like crumpled tulle arose beside the Colonel’s Widow & seemed to hold two eyes: one as light as milk-glass & the other Black & shining like the water in a well & once they sent their elements To assemble a shape half-skeletal, a tracery of hoarfrost petrifying In the window of a dead child’s room. We were not surprised But disappointed, yes: here we had proved the presence of the spirits We had ever felt & yet what they would say to us remained a secret logic Writ in planetary bursts of light, in shadows struggling for geometry. They were nothing but the blue that comes behind the flash of lightning, Unlocking what it will inside the heart & brain. Only they were something, Plainly, with a substance & a missive. They were calling from the antipodes & gathering near our ceilings & between our living flesh. Earthlights, We called them. Thoughtforms. Awakening, implacable & no one dared To banish them—unthinkable when we alone believed the noise they strained
Disuse, the blood attempting always to return—return to make a fire in the pathWays we forgot & we could feel them working in the shifting of the weather & beneath what seemed inert: there they were blowing on their embers, crouching Sorrowful & rain-thin—an animal with pathos come to borrow from our warmth.
// ANDY NICOLE BOWERS
To raise. The clamoring of that which never truly leaves, the hunger. The land, We knew, was needling with them, the same as a limb will needle from long
AFTER THE SLAVE REBELLION (LINES FOR AN OVERSEER' S WIFE) ANDY N I C O L E BO W ER S Quar to Award Honorable Mention
There was a sudden yellow turn of weather. A tearing of the sky, a rain. In the sugar fields, fire forgot itself. Bloodflowers cooled & darkened on the parlor walls. Then you found yourself still living. Your hands you watched a long time. How they moved like you could not believe them. You saw your husband hanging from the fruit tree with the tools he made to punish. You saw those other bodies, damning, left to rock on slackwater, drawing halos of invertebrates. Mourned & did not know for which. Felt the ugly of your mouth & could not make a prayer. All night, you cradled your form like a costly gun. A hard dawn, to learn the fear of everything you kill.
WHITE PLAINS A . J . S TO U G HTON Quar to Award Honorable Mention
black blood, no oxygen in clay lungs spouting out the soft red throat of the white boy screaming out the window. drove to White Plains, Ricky blasting. in the frizzled city, night was squalling black—negro-like, someone said, screaming out the window, tingling fingers. rode around the snow globe city, speaker said the n-word, turned the volume up, so speaker screamed the n-word. white boys giggled—windows down I giggled. looked at the black boys as we drove by, paid us some heed, and sang along (we did, some) all the way through town. man, let’s go to Elmsford. one boy, snap-backed skull in front says. word, says another, and nods his head. he likes zoos but he doesn’t mean anything by it probably. 61
HOUSES IN MOTION M I C HAE L B L A I R Quar to Award Honorable Mention
Coming up Gleason, I had that feeling. There were the old colonial houses on the hill with painted shutters and I had walked down this street at night when I was sixteen with an Irish girl or at least she had red hair. These people had great porches and I don’t know why they never used them. Send me back here, I thought, send me back here just once, or tell me I can leave. I made it to Henry’s in my usual way, which was two turns off Gleason and then hop over the creek and run real hard behind a couple of whitesiding houses with dogs and late-night sprinklers til you’re in his backyard and stop and take a breath next to the tire swing. I hadn’t wanted to come back this time. I hadn’t wanted to come back ever. After Scooter died and I had my first beer and went off to college and the city. But I forgot how foggy it could get in October at night in Henry’s backyard when we’d jump on the trampoline and make the leaves go higher than us. I did my three-tap knock on the backdoor, then just like in the old days started scraping my boots off in the grass. “Senior’s at the home now,” I heard from above. “And you know I don’t care about the shit shoes.” I looked up and there he was. Flannel robe, wet hair. Henry stared down at me for a good bit. “Big guy knocked on the back door.” He gave me a look like, you’re too old to walk up Gleason and cross the creek and at this time of night. “Where’s your car?” “It’s at home,” I said, and looked down at my shit boots. Henry cocked his head to the side and smiled. “Get in here, you.” Inside was the same: yellow shag carpet, TV on in the back, everything smelled like chili. Except all the walls had Star Wars posters now. Apparently when Henry got the place to himself, he’d moved the posters from his old room and thrown them up all over the house. That, and there were paper airplanes everywhere: under the couches, on top of the cabinets, in the sink. “What’s with the planes?” I asked. “They’re Hank’s,” Henry said. “Kid’s into aerodynamics.” “You know I’ve never met Hank,” I said. “I know,” Henry said, and walked into the kitchen. “He’s in bed now.” Just then I thought I heard something like thunder. Inside my head 62
// MICHAEL BLAIR
it felt like someone was shooting BBs that kept bouncing off each other. It stopped after a second, though, when Henry came back with two bratwursts and two beers and his cockeyed smile and we sat down in the TV room and watched a baseball game. After a while like this, Henry came clean and said it. “I’m sorry about what’s happening to The Shark.” “Don’t be,” I said. I had hoped we might ignore this. “But I am. You know I’ve always loved him. Just last fall we were sitting in the duck blinds, eating Baby Ruths and talking about you and your play. How we missed you. Then the big man winks his eye and grabs the gun, knocks back two in one shot. The dogs brought them in and he laughed and said, ‘Write a play about that, son.’” Henry laughed a laugh I’d heard all my life—the Shark’s laugh—but never from him. I wondered if he’d changed as much as I had since last time. “The Shark’s a tough man. He’ll make it, I know.” “Yeah. I guess so.” Inside you could hear the wind stepping on the leaves, and I looked at my socks. They were just gray/white tubes stacked on top of each other and they had so many of those little flint things dangling on the sides and I wanted to pull them all off, make them into little balls and then toss them across the room. On TV they ran a commercial where you could ask the government to deactivate your telephone wires, since “we live in a wireless world now.” Little kids swung along the wires like they were bungee jumping, and fathers walked on top of the poles scaring away the crows that were sitting on top. I guess if you ordered a clown for a birthday party he might be able to tightrope walk across the yard, or the old poles and wires could double as treehouse or a clothesline or a spot to sip beers at night in the summer and count how many houses you could see from that height. Very few people know this about him, but Henry had made his first million by the time he turned eighteen. He was a computer whiz and created an app that made personalized food predictions (based off wild things like the barometric pressure, your distance from a skyscraper, and the number of siblings you had) while working on his 11th grade Science Fair project. Those who ran in the school intellectual circles knew he took gold at the state fair, but no one put it together when it appeared online three years later, and on smart phones not too long after. Henry stayed home when we all went to college, put his dad in a home in Florida and took over the family pet salon. I asked if he was still tinkering. He took me upstairs.
Upstairs was the motherload. “This is where it is,” Henry said. “The motherload,” I said. “Yep.” On Henry’s old twin bed next to two or three used coffee mugs, a black Halloween cape and a plastic-wrap box of vampire fangs, I could see what looked like beat-up aluminum box. Henry picked it up like it was a really good sandwich—and undid the used wires and cables that were hooked into the box. “What is it?” “It’s more what it’s not,” Henry whispered. “What does it do?” I whispered back. We were whispering on account of Hank’s room being right next to us. “It’s more what it doesn’t do. If that makes sense.” I gave him a side-nod and he handed me the box. On a piece of white tape on top of the red box the words “twinMACHcube model” were sketched in Henry’s handwriting. And also: “for Scooter and Hank, October 10th 2011.” “I heard about this from a guy down the street—Buddy Smithson remember him? He talked about the stuff like this they had in the war. He said if you held it right it would make you new, or different or something like that. It’s kind of become more object-oriented now and the programming has percolated more toward the end of switch-optics. Like if you relativized the Voltars back, but made the sensory return fire more simply. But I want you to give it a whirl.” I craned down at its red outline and thought about Buddy Smithson who picked his nose in Geometry holding on to this box and feeling transformed next to exploding farm-fences and cinder-block canyons and the shock in his throat and the nighttime rocket shots that must have looked a little like fireworks. The box began to feel too light in my hands the same way things do when you’ve been talking to your Uncle or thinking about the ending of a movie for a while and you realize you’ve forgotten that you’re holding something incredibly important like a baby or a plate of burgers or a pill or a ring or somebody’s hands. I didn’t like this and it made my stomach tromp and reminded me too much of too many things. “I don’t think I could, Hen.” Henry understood. Nodding, he plugged in the old black wires next to the cape and fangs and coffee cups. MICHAEL BLAIR / / 64
Out on the porch, I got hit with a Fig Newton. Up on the second floor Hank’s head fell out the window and he flashed me a quick sshhh sign and a series of gesticulations and head bobs which I took to mean “the coast is clear/it’s time to rumble/don’t worry my Dad will never know/I’m sorry
to have chucked a Fig Newton at you but I needed to wordlessly grab your attention.” Then I lost him in the porchlight glare. Soon, though, he hit me again. This time on the head with a thick black cord with a red plastic cup fastened on the end. Telephone wire. I put the cup to my ear, and looked up toward Hank’s window. From this angle, he looked to be about five or six, with long blonde hair that fell over his eyes. “Hey.” Hank switched his cup from mouth to ear, waiting. “Hey,” I said back. “Hey, I heard you’re going through a rough time.” Hank’s voice sounded tinny and timid through the cup, but even so I could hear the way he rolled over his vowels like the wind over swinging cornstalks and I thought of Henry upstairs tweaking the box. “Yeah I guess I am.” “Maybe you need this.” Out of the gold porchlight came gliding a paper airplane, except it had some kind of paper box attached to it on the bottom that made it more like a paper hot air balloon or a paper sailboat. I jumped up and nabbed it with both hands before it flew too far away. Inside the paper box sat a neon-green Silly String gun, which I assumed to be fully loaded. When I opened my mouth to say thanks, Hank did his hand-gesticulation and pointed to the telephone wire. I picked it back and said, “Thanks Hank.” “You might need it,” Hank wired down. “Just don’t tell my Dad.” I tucked the gun inside my pants, and tried to do a bit of the cockeye to let Hank know I knew how to keep a thing or two from his old man. Then turned past the tire swing and the trampoline, and into the grass with my shit boots.
LUCY: How about Max’s? ME: Eh. I don’t like the lighting there or something. Something’s weird. LUCY: We could get some Thai. There’s a good Thai place on 16th. ME: How about just a burger?
// MICHAEL BLAIR
On Gleason, again I had it. When I was nine I got the feeling too, so maybe it’s nothing to worry about. Just like when you jump in a leafpile after you and your dad raked the yard but if you spend your whole life longing for the root beer or the Popsicle you had when you were nine you can’t change. Lucy says I can’t change. I tell her I’m a Popsicle but it’s hot out and melting and pretty soon there’s only the stick. She says what’s the joke. I say at least there’s still a stick. Last week we tried to go out to dinner. It went like this:
LUCY: I’m not eating red meat anymore. ME: But you could get something else. Maybe if we went to O’Connell’s. They’ve got that good salad with the salami. LUCY: I want to go someplace where we could drink wine. ME: We’ll bring our own wine. LUCY: We always go to O’Connell’s. ME: What’s wrong with that? LUCY: It’s all the way over on the west side, and it smells like smoke and they have six TVs that play baseball and the waitresses are blonde and thirty-seven and I don’t eat red meat anymore. ME: Maybe we should just order in.
I guess it went like that, but in my mind it went more like this:
MICHAEL BLAIR / / 66
LUCY: I want to make things right again. ME: Who says it’s your choice? LUCY: Just listen for once. If you can change then things can be like they were. ME: I wish it wouldn’t have changed ever. LUCY: You are too afraid to let go of everything that you hate because you think it belongs to you. ME: You want to remake me into a person I can’t be. Believe me I’ve tried and I’m stuck this way. LUCY: I know you care. ME: I miss the way your hair looked that night on 11th Street outside the seafood market right before the cab honked. If I lived in a shack in Nebraska like Holden Caulfield said he would things might be better. I’d get a girl named Betty or June and we’d live in that cabin eating pork chops and watching reruns of Sanford and Son. We’d catch rainbow trout and have some smiling kids and at night sit on the porch and wash in it—the black grass, the stream sound, bird calls, dead leaves and owl pellets raining by the highway. I am worried now if I am myself or just some lesser fucked-up conglomerate of everyone I’ve ever wanted to be. The things you want the most you can’t just try and get. If you do you’ll mess them up or lose them for good. My cousin Ray wanted to live in an amusement park and now he sells socks online. Lucy and I met one summer at an outdoor disco night on a shut-down street downtown. I told her about a dream I had where I went to college in outer space and in class my chair would always float up and down because there was no gravity. She smiled, saying, “I love analyzing dreams,” and
On the way they began shooting in my head again. That was a sign. You don’t know this until you’re eighteen, but if you step over the train tracks just beyond the creek behind Henry’s, you find a strip of old stone townhouses which at night turn into bars. It wasn’t midnight and I couldn’t go back yet to wherever it was I had to be and in spite of it all I might use a drink. Inside I knew I might see some of them, and I did. They said: Welcome back pal and Sure good to see your face back here and We’re praying for you at the shop and We know The Shark can take it and Look at this city boy sweater and these city boy slacks and Write me in the next play, all right? The wife and I need a little something to make it spruce and shine and I always thought I was something of a character what with my bandana and this tooth and my whole outlook on things generally and I haven’t seen you since senior year. Where ya been? Drinks on me all right. I wanna know and When you’re back up there you look up Lon Brewster and
// MICHAEL BLAIR
then she asked me about my relationship with my father. I worked wild that summer on my first play, while Lucy helped out across the river at her father’s factory where the Pizza Roll was invented in the early 90s. Lucy said it was her idea or at least inspired by the way she used to eat pizza starting at the crust. She wore blue skirts and white shoes, and once or twice slashed across the stars I saw her eyes clapping like wings in the rhythm of sobbing—after going to a baseball game with her parents, when her dog died, when her brother didn’t respond to text messages—but she’d wash the tears off in the kitchen sink and then smile back at me and we’d go for a walk in the city. But she did not want me to go home: “You’re stuck,” she said one morning in a park. “It’s because you hate them and their life but you can’t let go of them. Let go of them. Write your play about a lounge singer or a taxi driver or an heiress or anyone that doesn’t live two minutes from your house. You’re stuck and you shouldn’t go.”
I know you’ve got yourself a sweet little corn-wispy woman I know you do and Let’s do another and Can they dance like this in the city? and We are on our knees hoping it’ll be ok for The Shark. He’s meant more to me than my own dad I swear and Where is he now by the way? Or where’s the family? and Maybe just one more and We’ve painted the walls red tonight boys
MICHAEL BLAIR / / 68
And then I knew I was heavy drunk and walked between the brown walls smiling like a no-name, like I was nobody’s son. In the morning I’d rinse off along the bank then fall in the rivertide and be gone, be gone. And I had the frisky-fingers now and I saw in the mirror atop the barroom wall that girl I went to school with, Jane Brighton, and she smiled through the mirror as if to say I’ve missed you too or what it is with you it is with me or time to catch a crocodile in the corn or let me love you once to make you remember it still is real. Jane Brighton had blue eyes like moons you could swim in and I remembered seeing her too at the amusement park pool eating an orange Popsicle the summer before I went away to college. And then I turned and saw the pictures on the wall next to the gun rack. One side said, “In Memoriam: Thank You Fallen Heroes.” In cheap black plastic frames stood these guys in white caps with American flags superimposed in the background as if they had all chosen the same exact background for their senior year yearbook photo. The other side said this: “Catch of the Season.” Stuffed inside the same black wires were the townsmen on boats or in blinds holding fish and turkeys and dead ducks in one hand, gun or pole in the other. I could hear a voice yelling my name in my head, and I knew he was there among these headshots but the walls spun too quickly for me to pick him out and I wanted to cut my hands right through the middle of the wood wall and keep splitting both sides apart until I could step between them and wait there forever, or at least cry there a long time and then go home. I left, cold hands splayed like a hooked worm and outside the crickets sung. *
I’d been looking at my boots for a while, but I knew we were there when Jane stopped walking and stomped twice in place. “We’re here.” Jane let go of me. “Thanks, Jane.” It sounded like I had vinegar in my throat, but she smiled and began walking down the road. Then I saw my house. My eyes: used blue gluesticks, my ribs: stones mashed flat beneath its current. The green-and-red roof, the black bushes and the dogwood tree that was always second base, and the stitched white mortar between the bricks,
// MICHAEL BLAIR
Jane Brighton woke me up. “Where am I?” “On hole seven.” Jane stood with boots split between me as if straddling a creek, and from this angle her beer bottle looked like a wand, like she had cast the stars and could make them move around us if she wanted. “I passed out at Riverwood?” “Not the first time you’ve done it.” “It’s the first time on hole seven, I think.” Jane reached down and gave me a lift. Her arm smelled like a leathery cigarette but I liked it. “Let’s get you home,” she said. “Not yet,” I said, and I did that slow lean back the way people do when they want to test their friend’s trust, but really I just wanted to be back on the grass. “Yet.” Jane caught me and put her arm around my shoulder. That was it. We walked in wet grass from hole to hole, drunk on the golf course again. The fairways full of dead leaves and the half moon and the puckered fog. On number three, Jane stopped, pulled me from the shoulders in and kissed me once on the cheek. Then pulled a helicopter seed out of my hair and said: “Did you come all the way back here just for this?” All around the wind moved through stripped trees and we waded through leaf mounds and Jane led me down again and again: fairway, green, tee, fairway, green, tee. All the stars were Titleists flying for some amount of seconds you could count on your hand before they landed again back on the black green. I thought I might have been better this time. I thought things might have changed.
MICHAEL BLAIR / / 70
the lantern near the mailbox where the moths flew around in June. All the windows: living room where we’d put the Christmas tree, Mom and Dad’s bedroom, my old room’s little box by the red-green sideroof, and Scooter’s room that looked out the side over the driveway and the basketball hoop and the Vances' backyard. I got every one of them with the gun. The foam sputtered out yellow and purple and green and it crusted the windows over. Scooter’s hurt my back a bit twisting over the sideroof. But I got it. This, I thought, is what this house always needed. Maybe now they’ll wake up in the morning, jittering their feet and making the coffee and when its blacked up with foam and there’s no mail truck or no starling to see outside they’ll have to look at their own patchwork faces and deal with it. I pushed the screen door open and howled like a dog under the front hall lamp. Stumbling to the kitchen, I could smell the flowers. The house was tube-tinny and cold and it felt like I had walked inside an aluminum corn silo. My face felt like hard elastic like it does after riding a golf cart or a motorcycle or a boat at full speed into the wind. On the table, they hung everywhere: roses and chrysanthemums and red balloons floating up and down on the draft, and cards that said “Get well, Shark!” and “Just keep swimming, Shark!” and “The Great White Wonder!” There was even a pile of stuffed animal sharks that sat sideways on the tablecloth next to a box of sunflower seeds attached to a ribbon on a sunflower. Everyone was gone and I knew it. You could tell when the house was empty: when Dad wasn’t snoring, when Mom hadn’t left the TV on Animal Planet, or, before, when you couldn’t hear Scooter singing up in his room off the sideroof. Some nights Dad would spend the night out hunting somewhere, and I’d come home and it’d just be me, Scooter and Mom. I could breathe then. But now—among the sunflowers and the Silly String windows and the lawnmower that kept driving around in my head—I wished I could see someone, anyone, and confess myself with a look in their eye. I tracked up the steps toward his office. I couldn’t go in but I opened the door and saw the moose head and the stuffed dove and next to that my play framed in that same cheap black wire they had used back at the bar. It smelled too much like him in there: a mixture of river reeds and ash. I had to go, I knew it. Two turns off Gleason and back to Henry’s. On the tire swing I slipped my shit boots off and made for the trampoline. I jumped on and watched the leaves fly higher than me, then as they fell pushed them together around me and made my bed just like that under the light of the half moon and all the golf ball stars. Like wet matchsticks the strands of my hair fell down and covered my eyes until I closed them for good. *
// MICHAEL BLAIR
I will not shoot a bird. I will not sit in the blind with my waders and camouflage jacket and I will not call in the ducks with the whistle and I will not feed the dogs their kibble in the kennel next to the cornstalks and I won’t shoot the rifle when the birds fly by. You can’t tell Mom who to vote for. You can’t tell Scooter to stop wearing sneakers to school. I was in a play every semester in high school and you saw two. I am sick of your dry hands. I am sick of the way you breathe, and how loud you walk down the steps in the morning, and how when you’re watching TV and the phone rings you just turn it up. I hate your teeth and your beer gut and the way your left thumb is bigger than your right thumb and I want to give you a perpetual Indian Burn. I miss Popsicles and the sound of Velcro and getting black hands after playing basketball in the driveway. I’ve never seen a firefly except once in July when Scooter and I caught one in a glass jar on the golf course. I miss the way you’d carry me up the stairs when I fell asleep watching a movie, and I’d be half-awake but your hands were so soft that I felt like a bird or an airplane and when you’d set me down on my bed I’d slip an eye open and see you smiling down with those hard-hope eyes and the lights would go out and I’d look at my glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. You made the best hamburger I’ve ever tasted. When can we go to the drive-in? When can we play catch in the yard? I raked the yard yesterday, you didn’t have to ask. I’ve been working on my handshake how do you like it? It is Easter morning you will wear white to church and sing louder than the rest. Ever since it happened you won’t talk to me. Ever since it happened I can’t look at you. He died shooting guns like you taught us to shoot, and they said he did it better than anyone they’d seen. It didn’t matter. They called us and said he got killed that day at Al-Jawzaa. My brother died at some war, shooting shit. Maybe he was in a helicopter, maybe he was in a cave. The desert wall blew up and the birds exploded and the children howled and everything clay turned ash. Whatever. On Mondays at the range he never missed a clay bird. I can’t forget the time you were drunk and wouldn’t stop yelling at the spelling bee. Still, I don’t see you crying. Mom is crying still. Would you maybe make dinner? I got into that college does it matter to you? I don’t see you up near the sideroof anymore. So what if there is a lump on your head now. Do you think I can come back to all of this and forgive you just because you’ve got a lump on your head? Everyone else seems to care so much.
Dad, I don’t want to do this right now. I don’t want to shoot a bird. Dawn like spilt yolk in the trees, and he’d put it above the leaves on my chest. On top of the twinMACHcube model was this note: “Took Hank with me to the hospital. See you there.” The summer before I went to college I lived in an amusement park with my cousin Ray. We discovered a small gulley underneath a wooden rafter of the Screamin’ Eagle rollercoaster and under it pitched a tent where we slept and stored supplies like flashlights, corndogs and walkie-talkies. In the afternoons we’d smuggle a bar of soap into the Aquatic Center and wash like mad when it went pitch-black on the tube slide. This was when Scooter was deep in the shit. By day I’d take on the hardest hitting thrills I could handle as if I were somehow serving or doing my penance right alongside him. You’d think you’d get used to the grinding rails over time—when to expect the flip or the drop or the splash—but the more I knew exactly what would happen to me the more it bothered me and the worse it got. After six days I came home. Ray was living his dream and stayed for a couple more days alone under the Screamin’ Eagle until he ran out of cotton candy and orange soda. Dusting leaf bits out of my hair, I jumped the creek and began the trip up to St. Luke’s. When I was sixteen I walked down this street with an Irish girl with red hair. For a while we moved beneath the green trees without speaking. I remember trying so hard not to go too fast. When we passed Grand, I grabbed her hand. She took it, then let go and ran across the street to dance behind a tree trunk. At Kingsway, she came back and smiled and put her pinky inside my palm and closed each one of my fingers around it. At Oakland, she ran out again and spent a long time on tiptoes, spinning in circles with her head pointed straight up at the sky. Then at Fremont she came back again to me. And we kept at it this all the way up Gleason—with her coming and leaving and then coming back—and after a while I dropped into its rhythm: the letting go and the coming back, watching her dance and feeling her hands on my neck and seeing her spin and pushing a strand of red hair behind her white ear. She kept leaving and returning and each one felt new and the same, and all the time I walked straight ahead down the street. MICHAEL BLAIR / / 72
MICHAEL BLAIR is a sophomore in Columbia College from St. Louis, Missouri. ANDREA BOEREM is a senior in the creative writing major at Columbia University. When not writing poetry, Andrea can be found carrying on a torrid love affair with Quarto. This is her first publication, if you don't count her junior high diary. Which she doesn't. ANDY NICOLE BOWERS is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing. Her poems appear in Columbia New Poetry, The Columbia Review, past issues of Quarto, and The Hill (Cambridge University). KYLA CHEUNG was born and raised in New Jersey and now resides in New York City. ALLY COVINO is a graduating senior at Columbia University majoring in Creative Writing. After graduation, she plans on tracing the travels of her literary heroes across the United States, eventually ending up back home in San Francisco where she will be applying to MFA programs for the following year. ERIC INGRAM is hip to Easter Island, the Bermuda Triangle, and Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, July 16, 1961. MICHAEL KORTE is a General Studies sophomore studying environmental science. KASSANDRA LEE (CC '13) is a major in comparative literature & society with a focus on poetry of the African diaspora. Her work has also appeared in other campus journals such as The Columbia Review, The Current, and Tablet Literary Magazine. Find her on Twitter @kassylee_.
YANYI LUO likes the sound of the word arugula. ALESSIO MINEO likes the audible scratch of a pen on paper and is inspired by the work of John Ashbery and Mary Shelley. He loves Columbia, his family, and the American Museum of Natural History. nICHOLAS PIERCE was born and raised in New York City. He is currently a senior at Columbia University. After graduation he plans to pursue an MFA degree in fiction. MERIAM RAOUF, second-generation Egyptian raised in the heartland of suburban New Jersey, has been published on Bwog.com, Popsense, and The Columbia Review. Meriam has lived in Writers House and worked with Artists Reaching Out as a creative writing instructor. Meriam is studying creative writing and visual arts at Columbia College. natalie robehmeD is an English and music double major, CC '13. A UAE-raised third-culture kid, she is currently in the market for a visa marriage. P.J. SAUERTEIG is a second-year at the college majoring in creative writing (poetry) and concentrating in psychology. He is originally from (you guessed it!) Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is the Executive Editor of The Columbia Review. GNAOMI SIEMENS is a senior at Columbia University and is currently working on photographic pieces for a group show. She lives in New York City. A.J. STOUGHTON is a freshman in the college, hoping to study English or creative writing. He likes the band Pavement and shoveling snow without a coat on. ABIGAIL STRUHL is not funny.
Diana Clarke Rega Jha
Natalie Molina Eva Schach
Devin Choudhury Lily Fishman Allen Johnson Leena Mahan Michael Menna Ben Rashkovich Angel Shin Serena Solin Emma Stein Matthew Travers Victoria Wills
Quarto accepts submissions of poetry and prose authored by Columbia University undergraduates. Send submissions, correspondence, and queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org ÂŠ 2013 by Quarto All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon publication.
To Dorla McIntosh for believing in everything we do. The faculty of the undergraduate Creative Writing department for their continued support and mentorship. Susan Bernofsky for judging the Quarto Award. Barry Zucker for once again holding our hands through the publication process. Edi Kearns and the graduate Creative Writing department for their generous support of our events. Hillel, the IRC, and Sig Nu for hosting us and allowing us to make ourselves at home in their spaces. To the publications and organizations that cohosted events with us this year. To our many talented writers, thank you for deeming Quarto your showcase of choice. Finally, thank you dear readers. This is for you.