Page 1

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

GROWING UP

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.”

SLICE

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

growing up

who was in debt to her skunk dealer. All his other recent work was of that same category.

US $8.00

www.slicemagazine.org

Slice_Issue10_COVER_r2.indd 1

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

NINA SANKOVITCH

OSCAR HIJUELOS

SPOTLIGHT MAMA’S BOY

Rachel Maizes

FICTION

SEÑOR IGNACIO PERÚ

Joseph Cáceres YESTERDAY’S WHALES

Megan Mayhew Bergman

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CURTIS SITTENFELD 129

THIS IS HOW EVENTUALLY THE WORLD FALLS APART

Kathy Fish NIGHT AT THE RESERVOIR ON AIRLINE DRIVE

10 27

Kathy Fish AFTER THE INTROMIT

Douglas W. Milliken

MARTÍN ESPADA JULIA ALVAREZ

46

47 50

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EL CHOLO

Marytza K. Rubio POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCES

Nina McConigley TWO DUCKS

Sarah Gerard THUMP-THUMP

Ariel Faulkner EVERYTHING I KNOW

Elizabeth O’Brien

64 68

NONFICTION

HOW TO BE A JUVENILE DELINQUENT

Jaquira Díaz

76

LIKE MOURNERS’ BREAD

86

THE JOURNEY

98

Kelly Sundberg Elizabeth Blachman

POETRY

WHISPERS THE ASSASSIN ONLY ONCE, AND EVEN THEN

John Trotta SEALED VESSELS

Ned Beauman IN THE WAKE OF SILENCE

Nicole Ducleroir

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

Elizabeth Blachman

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106

Chris Haven

112

WHEN I CAME TO THE GARDEN, I HAD MUCH TO FEAR

123

Bethany L. Carlson THE KINGDOM OF DIRE HEARTS EVAPORATES

Bethany L. Carlson UPON A BIRTH

20

J.D. Smith PICTURES OF LISA

40

Justin Bigos DIAGNOSED

Katelyn Delvaux

58

WE DO NOT SWIM

Katelyn Delvaux

88

IN THE WRECKAGE

Lucas Hunt

117

WHEN THE HOST IS AWAY

Lucas Hunt

36 80 94

19

38

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-

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DRAWING BY KIRSTEN STOLLE

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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

JUSTIN BIGOS

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

like honeysuckle

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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SLICE

ISSUE 10

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,

publishable?

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

chalkboard.

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,

begun.

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

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Reese found Lila where he had left her. Though his arm ached, he petted her, counting one stroke for each

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SLICE

ISSUE 10

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

Reese with.

heads if you don’t get up,” she would shout from the

A few days later his father announced he was send-

door.

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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SLICE

ISSUE 10

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

opens up.

(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

young protagonists.

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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Slice: Issue 10  

This issue celebrates growth, but, as we’ve discovered with Slice, growth is rarely what we expect. In the following pages, you’ll encounter...

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