spring/summer 2012 Issue 10
excerpts “His only vice was that he sang old boleros on the weekend in his apartment using a
SPRING/SUMMER 2012 ISSUE 10
a room full of voices
thick Castilian tongue that made us question his origins. Although the sounds of our curses ran easily from our mouths, it was hard to forget whom we were talking about. It was hard for any of
us to understand why he, above anyone else, would steal something as irreplaceable as time.
Señor Ignacio Perú Joseph Cáceres page 10
Yesterday’s Whales Megan Mayhew Bergman page 27
anything he could do to make my Slurpee taste better and he “I asked him if there waspoured a healthy dose of vodka in.”
out of the bathroom and wagged the positive pregnancy test wand in front of his face. “I burstImmaculate conception is out, I said. God and I aren’t on good enough terms.”
Night at the Reservoir on Airline Drive Kathy Fish page 47
He and Ashley build a castle of primary colors. Yellows and reds. A tower for a princess “and a turreted wall for the king. In the back, Cuth constructs a gallows. He does not tell Ashley what it is.”
After the Intromit Douglas W. Milliken page 50
“To produce Jar, I’d been informed, Pascal had emptied out a jar of strawberry jam, wrapped it
in newspaper, and then filled it with two hundred milliliters of Ebola-infected chimpanzee blood, which he’d purchased from a PhD student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Sealed Vessels Ned Beauman page 112
who was in debt to her skunk dealer. All his other recent work was of that same category.
JOHN FICARRA 20 NINA SANKOVITCH 40 MARTÍN ESPADA 58 OSCAR HIJUELOS 88 CURTIS SITTENFELD 117 JULIA ALVAREZ 134 2/25/12 5:28 PM
IN THIS INTERVIEWS ISSUE WITH JOHN FICARRA
SPOTLIGHT MAMA’S BOY
SEÑOR IGNACIO PERÚ
Joseph Cáceres YESTERDAY’S WHALES
Megan Mayhew Bergman
CURTIS SITTENFELD 129
THIS IS HOW EVENTUALLY THE WORLD FALLS APART
Kathy Fish NIGHT AT THE RESERVOIR ON AIRLINE DRIVE
Kathy Fish AFTER THE INTROMIT
Douglas W. Milliken
MARTÍN ESPADA JULIA ALVAREZ
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Marytza K. Rubio POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCES
Nina McConigley TWO DUCKS
Sarah Gerard THUMP-THUMP
Ariel Faulkner EVERYTHING I KNOW
HOW TO BE A JUVENILE DELINQUENT
LIKE MOURNERS’ BREAD
Kelly Sundberg Elizabeth Blachman
WHISPERS THE ASSASSIN ONLY ONCE, AND EVEN THEN
John Trotta SEALED VESSELS
Ned Beauman IN THE WAKE OF SILENCE
INTERVIEWS JOHN FICARRA
Sonia Nayak NINA SANKOVITCH
Celia Blue Johnson and Maria Gagliano MARTÍN ESPADA
Greg Christie OSCAR HIJUELOS
Maria Gagliano and Celia Blue Johnson CURTIS SITTENFELD
Tom Hardej JULIA ALVAREZ
WHEN I CAME TO THE GARDEN, I HAD MUCH TO FEAR
Bethany L. Carlson THE KINGDOM OF DIRE HEARTS EVAPORATES
Bethany L. Carlson UPON A BIRTH
J.D. Smith PICTURES OF LISA
Justin Bigos DIAGNOSED
WE DO NOT SWIM
IN THE WRECKAGE
WHEN THE HOST IS AWAY
36 80 94
39 57 66 96 97 110 111
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SEÑOR IGNACIO PERÚ JOSEPH CÁCERES
On that distant Wednesday we were awakened
for this hullabaloo. At this point we stopped trying to
by a yell that sounded late in the evening. At first we
make sense of Señor Ignacio and said that some miracle
thought someone had died (clarity never comes with
must have kept that cripple (and those stitches) from
disrupted sleep) and it was a murderous enough sound
tragedy and shame since he had landed on his feet (and
for a few, that is, the most curious of us, to respond.
his moon-shaped belly continued to jiggle without rip-
So like a strange monster (with heads protruding
ping his pants).
from the windows of the edifice) we saw a man running
Laughter. One of us said that maybe the muertos
barefoot down the Grand Concourse. He had on a pair
were chasing him because he tapped that palo the
of black pants that were held up by suspenders that
wrong way. Our eyes closed hard to fight off the tears,
crossed over his big exposed belly, and he screamed
lost in laughter. Then, one minute he was in front of the
some foolishness into the night. The infamous palo
vivero and, moments later, he seemed to have disap-
abandoned at the building entrance gave way to his
peared. That’s when one of us said that Señor Ignacio
identification. It was Señor Ignacio Perú. By the way he
must have heard us, took one look over his shoulder, saw
was moving we thought he was drunk (and confirmed it
us cackling and flew.
after he rushed past some corner bum and knocked him
Once we realized we were watching the dark we got
off the milk crate he sat on), but when he jumped into
angry. We screamed at him and called him a mamão for
the air, it seemed that he’d clicked his heels, and we real-
wasting our time. Yet we stayed at the windows for a
ized that alcohol alone could not bear the responsibility
while longer, laughing at our own stupidity—really wait-
DRAWING BY KIRSTEN STOLLE
2/25/12 6:05 PM
ing for the reason for his outburst—until the silent street
in spite of the fact that it was the second night of what
was the only answer we got. Still confused, we all went
became a three-day heat wave. They placed a great
back into our apartments.
importance on the fact that peace had been stolen from
During that time the others, that is, the ones who
them and announced that the things from outside made
had covered their ears with pillows and who didn’t find
all of our lives that much worse. Their complaints only
humor in the situation, told us to shut up. Some even
added to the noise that moments before had begun to
got out of their beds and slammed their windows shut
die, and—frustrated—we all closed the windows.
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Pictures of Lisa
There’s this picture of me in bed with Cindy and Lisa. We’re drinking Bud with our shirts off. My hands are on their tits. Lisa looks asleep
because she blinked. This was all Scott’s idea. He said it would be cool if Cindy blew me but Lisa said don’t. It was Scott’s last night before jail. He’d taken a tire iron to Carl after Carl beat him at arm-wrestling and Lisa couldn’t stop laughing. Carl’s short but he’s got muscles from his job. They flex like he’s talking. He and Lisa almost had a baby two times. She says it’s over. She turns away when I tell her she’s pretty. There’s this star she points to when she’s high.
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Some nights it moves.
in jail forever.
She says it’s us
One time he ripped
that’s spinning. She tastes
out my earring
just because. He’s
and blood. I don’t know
the one person
what she wants
I will kill
from me. Maybe nothing
if he makes me.
but a way to forget
I’m not so young
Carl, or Scott,
as everyone says.
her graveyard shifts
He said one baby
at the warehouse.
was his. He showed me
Sometimes we drive
a picture of Lisa
to West Swanzey,
sitting up in bed,
once all the way down
hugging a sheet.
to Troy. We bring coolers
Her eyes were pink
of beer and chips.
from the flash. I stole
We lie in the shade.
his camera when
The out of town
they took him. I thought
plates ride slowly through
I could fill it
the streets. They’re here
with proof of who
to watch the leaves
makes Lisa cry
turn red before
out to heaven
they’re burned. Soon kids
from every angle. But
will be banging
the next day was so
on doors dressed
quiet I wasted
like monsters. Lisa’s
all the pictures
scared. She won’t say
on rocks and leaves.
she loves me. I would
The tree I carved
name our child
a star in. The clouds
Carl if she wanted.
moving high above
Anything. I pray
Lisa all afternoon
for Scott to stay
as she slept.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH
CURTIS SITTENFELD PHOTOGRAPH © DARIO ACOSTA
TOM HARDEJ The women Curtis Sittenfeld writes about are all a little like her. They are smart, funny, and complicated women—whether we’re talking about Lee dealing with issues of class at a Massachusetts boarding school in Prep, or Hannah, an insecure woman trying to navigate through her life in The Man of My Dreams, or Alice Blackwell, the future First Lady of the United States in American Wife. But Sittenfeld is also a good enough writer that each is fully drawn and distinct from the others (and from her). We discussed how she got into writing, her inspirations, and what she’s working on next.
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What made you want to be a writer? What was your process for getting where you are now as a novelist? I was one of those people who always wrote from a very young age. I learned to read and write around kindergarten or first grade. I always wrote stories, and then I never stopped. Obviously it’s a little different to do it as a hobby and to do it professionally. When I was in college, I worked for the student newspaper, and I interned at magazines. And the summer I graduated from college, which was 1997, I was an intern at the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina. I was working as a general assignment reporter, which I was pretty bad at, but I learned a lot. After that I got a job at the business magazine Fast Company, which was then a new magazine, writing about Silicon Valley and the new economy. I was a reporter there, and I stayed there only for about a year and a half, and then I went to graduate school at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I continued to write nonfiction and fiction, and to do articles, but before Prep came out, I supported myself taking journalistic assignments; but I’ve always done a little bit of both. Prep came out in 2005. And Prep was a part of your thesis at Iowa? It was like I was writing sections of Prep, and then some of it was my thesis. This is a tiny difference, but I wouldn’t say I wrote it for my thesis. I
and figure out what I need to do to finish it. To my sur-
would say that I was writing it, and I used it for my
prise, because I had written different chapters as these
thesis. The first part of Prep that I ever wrote was in
entirely different sections, or almost like short stories, I
January 2000, which was my second semester of my
had over 300 pages. So then I thought, okay, I need to
first year at the workshop, and it was what became the
fill in this hole; there’s a big hole in the character’s fall
last chapter. It wasn’t like I started on page one and
of her sophomore year or spring of her junior year. And
really systematically worked my way forward. I kind of
I thought it would take me six months to finish, and I
dipped in and out. I might write what would become a
think it took me like eighteen months. But eventually, to
chapter of Prep, and then I would go and write a short
my astonishment, I did finish.
story about entirely different characters. I graduated from Iowa in 2001, and that was when
Did you have a literary agent at this point? Or were
I had almost backed my way into writing a novel, or I
you working in hopes that some day it would be
had pretended to myself that I wasn’t writing a novel,
because it was intimidating to think that I was. At that point I thought, I need to look at what I’ve written so far
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MAMA’S BOY RACHEL MAIZES
As soon as Mrs. Cossgrove turned off the dormitory lights, and the slap of her oxfords against
“He wishes he was a girl.” Melbourne threw back his covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
the flagstone path receded, Lila hopped on Reese’s
“Maybe he is. Maybe his name isn’t Reese. Maybe it’s
cot. She kneaded Reese’s chest, her claws pricking his
Rose.” Wendell slapped the ends of the other boys’ beds
pajamas, her long, gray fur tickling his wrists. Reese
as he closed in on Reese.
closed his eyes and breathed in the cat’s smell—a mix
Reese rolled to the floor. He didn’t want the boys to
of cold, tree bark, leaves all but melted into the earth,
find Lila, and he was sure to end up there anyway. He
and also a raw scent, of mice perhaps. Petting her, his
had recently grown, his body stretched out like a boat
breathing slowed like it did when he solved equations,
paddle, his limbs now long and wide, making for an easy
everything balancing out in large, white letters on the
target. The boys struck his arms and back, yanked off
his pajama bottoms.
Around him, boys argued about who was the great-
“Looks like you’re a boy after all,” Wendell said. They
est, Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb. The 1960 season had just
continued to hit him until Wendell was breathing hard,
sweat rolling off his brow and falling on Reese’s legs.
Reese massaged the top of Lila’s head.
The large boy climbed off.
Melbourne, a boy lying two cots over, said to Reese, “What do you think, faggot? Huh, fairy? Ruth or Cobb?” “He’ll say Ruth. He thinks you mean a girl,” Wendell
Melbourne seemed reluctant to quit, punching Reese a few more times. “Ah, you’re hardly worth it,” he said, finally standing and stretching his arms.
called across the room. He was a heavy boy, and his words reverberated against the long, gray walls.
ILLUSTRATION BY DANIEL ZENDER
Reese found Lila where he had left her. Though his arm ached, he petted her, counting one stroke for each
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Reese ached for the home from which he’d been banished. He longed for hand-sewn quilts as he tossed beneath military blankets. He ate with his eyes closed, pretending the gray mashed potatoes and dull meatloaf were a soufflé. He yearned for his mother’s endearments, whispered them to himself in the shower, plugged his ears against the housemother’s rough orders.
the beginning of each semester to the barbed-wire fence thrown up by a neighbor and marked private property. In the heart of the New Hampshire winter, when the lake froze, Collins wasn’t deterred. A single shot from his Colt ended the animal’s life. While the other boys rose and dressed, Reese sat in the garden, Tennyson open on his knees. He recited the poem “All Things Will Die,” which they were to have memorized for the day: Yet all things must die. The stream will cease to flow; The wind will cease to blow; The clouds will cease to fleet; The heart will cease to beat; For all things must die. Reese didn’t want his parents to die, or his older sister Sarah, or Lila, but at times he wanted to cut short his own life at fourteen years. His problems hadn’t begun at school. At home he had often sneaked into Sarah’s room, going through her dresser, caressing the fabrics, the panties and half slips, trying them on before the mirror, his private parts tucked
week until he would board the train home, ten strokes in
between his legs. The touch of silk brought goose bumps
all. He had no one but himself to blame for the way the
to his skin, and speeded up his heart, though he couldn’t
boys treated him.
say why. One Sunday afternoon his father caught him.
In the morning, Lila woke Reese, stamping her nose
“Depravity!” his father shouted, his face turning as
into the side of his arm. Soon Mrs. Cossgrove would wake
gray as the switch he ripped from the maple and beat
the other boys. “I’ll rip those cobwebs right out of your
heads if you don’t get up,” she would shout from the
A few days later his father announced he was send-
ing Reese to Havermaster Academy. “He needs the com-
Reese stumbled to the bathroom. If he hurried, he
pany of boys. You girls,” he said, sweeping his arm in an
could wash without having his face pushed in the toilet.
arc that took in Reese’s sister and his mother, “coddle
He cringed at his image in the mirror. The morning of
him. He’s surrounded by needlepoint and sweet rolls. He
his departure for school, his father had taken a razor to
should be playing baseball or hockey, but you keep him
his hair, which had been as curly as a pug’s tail and the
hidden in your skirts. No wonder he thinks he’s a girl!”
color of yams. It grew back in angry spikes no amount of
Reese ached for the home from which he’d been
combing could soften.
banished. He longed for hand-sewn quilts as he tossed
Lila was gone when he returned to his bed. She hid
beneath military blankets. He ate with his eyes closed,
during the day. The groundskeeper, Mr. Collins, had his
pretending the gray mashed potatoes and dull meat-
own way of keeping down the population of cats. When
loaf were a soufflé. He yearned for his mother’s en-
he caught one, he dragged it in a sack to the lake beyond
dearments, whispered them to himself in the shower,
the hockey field. The wail of the unlucky animal split the
plugged his ears against the housemother’s rough
air, traveling to the far ends of the school property—from
orders. His homesickness put the other boys off, and he
the gravel parking lot where the boys were dropped at
made no friends.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH
JULIA ALVAREZ ELIZABETH BLACHMAN Julia Alvarez’s first novel, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, is a classic coming-of-age novel—but Alvarez structures the tale chronologically backwards, so the four García girls begin as adults and grow younger throughout the work. When time works in reverse, the moments of childhood, its small sins and strange discoveries, feel like the climax of who we will become. Other of her novels make similar trips—the tale of a woman in her sixties who joins Castro’s revolution is woven with the past of her mother; a woman looks back on the coming of age of her three sisters and the series of events that led to their deaths as martyrs of a brutal dictatorship. Even a nonfiction piece about quinceañeras—one of many books Alvarez has written for young adults—becomes in part a journey into the past as she remembers what it was like to grow up as a Latina in the ’60s. As Alvarez’s characters trace their way back through the episodes that crafted their identities, it becomes clear that children are creatures of the moment. Growing up is for adults. It is the story we tell ourselves about who we are. We asked the novelist and poet about growing up under a dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, about her work with the sustainable farm and literacy center that she and her husband started there, and about how memories become the stuff of stories.
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PHOTOGRAPH © BILL EICHNER
The theme of this issue of Slice magazine is Growing
way that I want the reader to experience the story. And
Up. We thought of you right away because I devoured
that’s when I thought, I want my reader to be thinking
your novels when I was a teenager, and also because
“like an immigrant,” always “going back to where we
so much of your work sheds light on what it means
came from”; instead of progress toward a climax, a
to come of age. I was wondering why you decided to
return to a homeland.
organize How the García Girls Lost Their Accents in
The structure also mirrored this quirky habit of mind
reverse chronological order so that the four sisters
I had: whenever I was going through some big mile-
grow younger throughout the novel.
stone in my life in the United States—shipped off to boarding school, kissed by a guy for first time—I’d think,
It’s easy to tell you in retrospect why I
you were once a little tiguerita from another world
structured the narrative in García Girls that
and language! Look at you now! It’s like I had to pinch
way. But it’s never as easy or clear a process when you
myself to believe that this moment was happening to
are inside a mess and trying to make it a novel! Years
the little know-nothing kid I still carry inside me. Again,
later, after many interviews and Q&As, you come up with
always going back. Maybe we all do this? And I fool
brilliant answers, as if these choices came full-blown like
myself that this is the immigrant experience?
Athena from Zeus’s head. So my honest reply: I wasn’t satisfied with the traditional chronological bildungsro-
I’ve always loved how García Girls ends with this one
man model of starting with early childhood and ending
sin from Yolanda’s childhood, where she steals a tiny
when the writer/artist/protagonist comes of age. This
kitten from its mother and the act haunts her. Those
wasn’t the traditional, canonical artist-as-a-young-man
small moments from childhood feel so significant.
story, so I was fooling around with how to structure the
Would you share a memory or moment from your own
whole. And I thought, well, structure should recreate the
childhood that stays with you?
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I remember reading Wordsworth in college,
it was also a dictatorship, where the act of reading was
“Intimations of Immortality from Recollections
subversive, branded you an intellectual, a troublemaker.
of Early Childhood,” and the Prelude, where he writes
Reading was not something that I recall being encour-
about “those spots of time,” moments of “renovating
aged in my family or in the culture around me. Kids get a
virtue” he keeps returning to for sustenance. Those
big kick when I tell them that I was a terrible student and
moments give him “intimations of immortality.” For me
flunked every grade through fifth. That said, I always
they are not just moments of renovating virtue. They can
clarify that I loved stories, and in an oral culture, I had
also be terrifying moments that continue to haunt me.
plenty of storytellers all around me. So actually it was
Moments that have this luminous quality: time sort of
books, as in censored, bland, lifeless texts, that I hated. But I do recall one wonderful picture book my aunt
(the only reader in the family) brought me as a gift, The
I write about one of those moments in a poem in my collection The Woman I Kept to Myself. I call it
Arabian Nights. The cover showed an olive-skinned girl
“Intimations of Mortality from a Recollection in Early
with dark hair and eyes who could have been Domini-
Childhood.” It was a moment when I was four or five
can. She was Scheherazade, captive in the sultan’s
or six—those years merge with each other . . . I looked
court, telling stories to keep herself alive, and in the
down at my arm, and it’s as if by doing so, I had pulled a
process changing the sultan’s bloodthirsty ways, and
plug, and suddenly I was yanked down into my physical
ending up marrying him. (This was the kid’s version, re-
body. I was flesh and bone (little hairs, little pores, little
member.) Wow, this little piece of luminous information
beads of sweat), transfixed, and trapped! I had become
slipped into my head: that stories have power, that they
incarnate. And, alas, mortal. I don’t know why it took me
can transform others, that they can save your life.
four, five, six years to realize I would travel through life In your adult novels you often write from the
in a body, but there you go.
perspective of your characters as children, and of course in your novels for younger readers you are also
Do you ever use those moments in your stories?
writing from a child’s perspective. What, if anything, is Absolutely, I use those moments in stories,
different when you are writing for adults versus when
and especially in poems. It might be that lyric
you are writing for young people?
poems are all about those moments—not just relating them, but creating them in language for the reader. Yes,
That is a good question. When people ask me
that happens when you are writing, the very process of
about my kids’ books, I say, “I write for
writing creates those moments. I have luminous memo-
children of all ages.” I don’t have those separations in my
ries that I’m not sure I actually lived or lived them in my
head when I am writing: this is for kids, this is for adults,
reading or in my writing. Does it matter?
this is for poetry lovers, this is for Latino/as. I think those categories often have more to do with marketing and
What books or authors were most important to you
sales strategies than with something integral to the
when you were growing up?
books themselves. Would The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn now be published by the children’s division of
I can’t pass myself off as an early reader.
a publishing house? How about Great Expectations? I
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I hated
think three of my “children’s books” especially (Return
books, especially because they delivered stories via the
to Sender, Finding Miracles, and Before We Were Free)
solitary act of reading, of separating yourself from
take on serious, adult issues through the point of view of
others. Ours was an oral culture; stories came through
living, breathing people. It was also a “we” culture, where pleasure came in the collective. I should add that
Perhaps with my Tía Lola books, it did make a difference that I was thinking of my readers as young
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