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Spittoon 2.4

                                                                                                     

 

 


Spittoon      

Volume Two Issue Four Posterior Spider Winter 2012

 

www.spittoonmag.com

ISSN: 2166-0840

 

 


Spittoon 2.4

Fiction Editor Matt VanderMeulen

Poetry Editor Kristin Abraham

Creative Nonfiction Editor Berly Fields

Front cover art by Martyn E. Jones: Orange Pool. Digital photograph. Back cover art by Miguel Saavedra: Posterior Spider. Digital photograph.


Spittoon 2.4

Table of Contents

Changming Yuan

poetry

Natural Confrontations

1

Laura Madeline Wiseman

fiction

Tornado Song

2

Michael J. Wilson

poetry

Chirality of Life

7

Brent Terry

poetry

The Murder in Her He(art) (a criticism)

8

David Rawson

fiction

After We Were Trees

9

Josh Prichard

nonfiction

Burning Giraffes

14

Ken Poyner

fiction

The Theft

21

Dan Pinkerton

poetry

LOGGING ROAD

23

Mark Parsons

poetry

After Moulting, the Insect Driven Mad with Love in the Light of the Moon, or the Moveable Empty Center of Everything

24

Matthew Lykins

nonfiction

Adult Situations and Language 27

Jenny Drai

nonfiction

The Humans Receiving Telemetry Are as Happy as They Are

38

Mark DeCarteret

poetry

mt washington (march)

45

Amanda Cobb

nonfiction

excerpts from Low Self-Esteem: 46 My Jesus Year

 


Spittoon 2.4

Sam Buckley

fiction

Rue the Whirl

54

Justin J. Brouckaert

fiction

The Spins

59

Kristy Bowen

poetry

from beautiful sinister

62

Daniel Beauregard

poetry

Reading Glass

66

Stephanie Anderson

poetry

from Mist Nets

67

Contributors

69

 


Spittoon 2.4

Natural Confrontations Changming Yuan

1/ Seabird As though right from heaven A snowy seagull charges down Trying to pick up the entire ocean With its bold beak As the tsunami raises All its fierce fists In sweeping protection Against earth’s agitation In foamy darkness 2/ Swirl A gossamer-like breeze Left far behind By a running dog Tries to strike The stagnated twilight Hanging above the whole city Before the storm sets in 3/ Sinoplum Without a single leaf Grass-dyed or sun-painted To highlight it But on a skeletal twig Glazed with dark elegies A bud is blooming, bold and blatant Like a drop of blood As if to show off, to challenge The entire season When whims and wishes Are all frozen like the landscape 1


Spittoon 2.4 Wiseman, Tornado Song

Tornado Song Laura Madeline Wiseman

There is a tornado. There’s always a tornado. Against the balcony you lean, camera in hand, below a sky the shade of jade, clouds like upside down volcanoes. Amazing to get this on tape, you say to short man beside you, drinking whisky at noon. You know nothing of tornados, of scrotums. Nothing of male competition in windstorms. Nothing of black shoe polish and hardwood floors. You only know this: there’s a tornado and it’s coming for you. Studded man is half-nude. Your camera is flashing. The clouds roil. Ten years ago, a tornado legato killed studded man’s sister. Short man’s sister, too, was broken by storm. Her body a cyclone, limbs flailing. She’s chair-bound now. Studded man slurs, She’s a land witch. Short man echoes, She’s a twister girl. You ignore them. Their tales of one-upmanship, their vying for ownership of sisters’ bodies, of yours. You record that wide jade thing outside of the porch. The tornado kicks up dust and trees. Houses whip up into the sky. Here is the window as tall as a door you can’t walk though. Outside the short man berates his kid sister. A tornado, he says, sucking up all I build, all I do. You’re inside with studded man, breath rapid, tumultuous like confused birds unable to land. Studded man captures you by camera leaning into storm-light. You’re wicked, studded man says. You say, I need to shower, exiting the bedroom. See, you want to be brief, as hasty as an accident mid-May, as short-lived as a house along Tornado Alley, as chaotic as three tornadoes in a prairie city. You want swiftness. You want someone accelerando temporarily. Is it short man? Studded man? Big man? Whose he? Here’s the options. One, claim the dance floor as hard and as a promise. Two, chase the tails of tornados as they rip through, out-of-season in multiples: three, seven, five, nine. (Should you play the odds?) Three, dominate the bed, your body as rich as black soil. Decisions. When given the choice, choose both, a teacher once said in earth science in a unit of storms, tempests, gales. So you do the unthinkable, following the craggy barrel, choosing one, two, and three. 2


Spittoon 2.4 Wiseman, Tornado Song

You get into the car with three men and chase tornadoes falling down like stars. Big man is tall, size eleven polished shoes, a bald head as bracing as a hard freeze, the morning after. Your broken sister once said, Tall men have big cocks. You don’t know about his cock, yet, but assume as much. In each podunk town, the girls rain down. You follow rainstorms, squalls? refrain they say. You touch the fast funnels? they croon. Tell me about the typhoon, they ooze. All their phrases are questions, all their eyes are moons. Big man schools them, breaks them in the motel, calls them, My kid sister. My best friend.   Meanwhile short man, studded man, and you wait out storms the downpours, the weather eruptions. Not a tornado in six days, you rage over a beer. No need to rant and rave, says studded man, his hand flaring up your thigh. There was an outbreak in Lincoln last week, small man says, grabs your hand, and two-steps you to country swing across the bar floor. Yes, but none touched down, you fume. He spins you. He twirls you, and dips you down low. We leave for Lincoln tomorrow, regardless, small man says, pulls you toward him fermata for a tango. I didn’t think Iowans did Argentine, you say. I can teach you things you don’t know, small man says, your body and his pressed like two storms about to converge. You converge. You let him call you, My broken kid sister. Little girl. And so, next morning, as the sun explodes and the birds break out their songs, you pile into the car set for Lancaster county, a land of castles, a prairie of tall hats, and emancipation. Story goes a president was born there, or at least, passed on through.   The sky thunders along I-80. The sound clears the interstate of all but semis and storm-chasers, even the birds leave the roads alone. You caress the camera through turnpikes, ditches, bridges, turns, and shoulders as narrow and sharp as school girls. You go angrily into gas stations for fuel: allegro twelve ounce soda bottles and grab bags of chips. Always the tornadoes wobble away from you. Always the black soil like a gash in its wake. Always the stories from locals of tropical storms, of monsoon, of torrential rain, of cloudbursts driving crops flat to the ground. You say, How much precipitation? 3


Spittoon 2.4 Wiseman, Tornado Song

Was it a rainfall or shower, drizzle or mizzle? How many inches has the river risen? They look confused, rain tangled in their hair, buckets at their feet, the cats and dogs roaming the town. Nothing this bad since the floods of 1993, one man says, his thumbs hooked into bib overalls. Another in a Carhartt offers, My father survived the great storms of 1912 and 1929. You thank them and you end your night in cups. You pour booze for young farm men too scared to go home. Tell me, you say. They replay their internal footage. They rewind a tornado song.   Big man says, This is fucked. Sidewinders at every turn, not to you, but to short man whose eyes go green when the girls are gone. You paint your toenails black and shut yourself up like a trap against an inevitable deluge, the flood that’s coming on, the hail to volley the land. Midwesterners dive into tornado-cellars, packed with canned corn, water jugs, and trashcans for waste. They light tornado-lamps and burn kerosene in tornado-lanterns. They cuddle up in tornado-pits presto as the world rumbles to a sound like trains, tornados in the sky and on the land undressing one board, window, and roof at a time. Then the land streams. The sky opens. The people climb surface-side to see the soil, to squint at clouds Where are you in all this? You hold the camera. You’ve get to watch. Big man pinches your ear and bellows at the din in one long barrage, Not good enough! Stupid wench! Try harder! We’re going to catch this! Of course big man talks to tornadoes, lobbed from black clouds stacked by white. Big man talks to you and the team about doubt, about that one time on the bar floor a girl dropped from his hands. Small man gushes, We’ll try again. Looks, Kansas is in for a surge. Studded man rushes to add, We could swing into Iowa on the way. A soaker is for sure. Tornadic possibility. I got a tip. You roll up the wires, staccato download the images and feed, put the memory card in. You file into the car for a 300 mile drive to find a 300 mile an hour vortex like a waterspout, a tornado not rare anymore. Thing is, you can’t forget what your broken sister said years and years ago, You are what you eat. Meaning also, You are what you seek. Are you surprised, then, as your cells rearrange into chaos controlled? Are you concerned that 4


Spittoon 2.4 Wiseman, Tornado Song

what you do comes naturally, a part of your inherent design? Call it knowledge that what you do is to make even, inside and outside the same. Call it grand larceny. Call it treason. Call it a con. Call it love or money. Call yourself a tornado by land, Chaybradis by water. Call it what you want. Big man calls it lust. You do lust, but your lust’s got a crooked tail. Studded man calls it a videographer disorder, a hankering for the graphic. Your laptop, your purse, that flexible thing, has a hole in it, an upload to an unknown dropbox, on an unnatural site. You siphon everything and tell none. Small man calls it absence, calls it payback, calls it balance. Take the oil out of the earth. Nature takes it out of you. Your taking creates a vacuum you fill with disaster words. Fuck, you preen. Is this on tape?  

Is it any wonder, then, that short man, big man, and studded man have adopted you as their mascot? Their cyclone. They pet name you Cy. They rub your thigh in turns. You’d care, in another time, to be passed around, but it feels too much like brotherly love. Then a film shoot away from Oz, midKansas seventeen tornadoes touch down from one storm. The video runs. The camera shakes in your palm. Studded man stands behind you, his hand bracing your back as the wind lifts. The car rocks beside you. The trees gutter. Big man and small man take close up measurements as the tornadoes approach, hooks from the sky, their prongs surround by brown dust. Tell ‘em to stop, you say to studded man who speed dials their mobiles. Towers must be down, he yells, I can’t get a signal. The video runs. Tornadoes scamper to and forte fro, some merge like dancers on a prairie stage. We should go, you say as a tornado turns and aims. Big man and short man disappear into a gray funnel, gone in a swirl zipped off to some Emerald City. Your mouth gapes. Studded man pushes you to flat to the ground, your face smashes in mud, only the eye of the camera pointing up, out, above. Studded man climbs atop you. The car shimmies. As the wind whips, the one thing you note as your ears close: studded man is hard against your ass, trapped in his pants. Strange, you think as you enter silence or silence enters you like a cold scream. The air is dead, still, the terrible eye passes over, a promise you’ll survive. You black out. Time is lost. You wake, roll studded man off your back, climb from the ground, to see all the tornadoes gone. The sky is as blue as a newborn. 5


Spittoon 2.4 Wiseman, Tornado Song

Studded man opens his mouth as if to scream, only you can’t hear. You knock the side of your head, shake it side to side, but nothing. The only sound is a tango beat on a floor in the middle of nowhere. You think you say aloud, I still have the camera.  

6


Spittoon 2.4

Chirality of Life Michael J. Wilson

The path from the house is broken slate piling over grass When we walk to the gate you turn to and say that life as we know it is left handed That all of your atoms lean the same as mine And I find comfort in knowing that we are accidents of chance That in the beginning there was naked void then that big bang thing And for every negative there was a positive but that somehow the positive won the day I want to take your hand but you are holding the umbrella We open the gate and then we are on the cliff in Wales that is called Lands End Even though it is no such thing But if names were honest if they really were things that we could count on When I face the sunrise counting seconds between dark and light I would feel let down when dawn is neither beginning nor end

7


Spittoon 2.4

The Murder in Her He(art) (a criticism) Brent Terry

Last thoughts: the godhead is a fist of light a pistol and a pestilence my maker my destroyer I guess I always knew. I knew names, dates (and she couldn’t have that). I knew the paintbrush was trying to tell me something: the hum and the buggery, a thug with some sluggery. Mayhap it was something more funny ironic than funny ha-ha (a smattering of bandicoots) (a splattering of pigment) (a fidgety figment). Sophie sleeps and the trees sing ding-dong the muse is dead, the doorstep wolves aslumber, sated on the lawn: one red shoe, a dandelion a sonnet or two, the shadetree shadow-hung, the anklebone picked clean.

8


Spittoon 2.4

After We Were Trees David Rawson

1. The scientists said the banana was dying. But we can build a better, banana, they said—genetically. There had been talk of another Cold War, and of the black hole that would eat the earth whole, take us to a no-place, a place of shadows, where our own smiles would break us, where we would be aware of the universe’s weight, the inner seam of being. But no one predicted the virus. Later, the scientists would say, We just wanted a better banana. Those of us not infected, the One Percent, tried to communicate with the infected, but some of you fed on us, tangled us in roots and branches and fed off our bodies, pressed us into the soil until we were the soil. Your toes grew like roots into the earth, your fingers toward the sun, then bowed under the weight as new, smaller arms grew in your nooks. Five years of this, and then a cure. But you, Madeline, cannot stand the bus anymore. Do you understand I have your groceries delivered? You stand by the mailbox for hours, looking skyward, allowing the wind to sway you. I noticed you in the high school gymnasium, where we took those who survived the serum. Some did not make it—when I found you, your legs intertwined so tightly, so deep within a man I recognized as our neighbor, the dog complainer. His legs for miles, he fed you. I encouraged you to speak, you with your slack jaw, your gaze of readiness, your surrender. You have remained quiet around me, but I understand that we must process, both of us. You have lost your husband, I my wife. Our neighbors are gone. So many people are gone, Madeline. In our village there are roughly four hundred.

9


Spittoon 2.4 Rawson, After We Were Trees

Remember before? I remember you picking weeds in the front lawn. I would wave to you while I mowed the grass or washed the car. I am not sure why we never had you over. We never did have many guests. The night I made you dinner, you told me you watched an owl take nest in your husband’s mouth. You stared at the breadbox for a good fifteen before I kissed your neck. I said, “Tell me where your roots grew. Tell me about the soil, about the red ants moving up your spine, of finches making love in your hair.” “We bore fruit,” you said. “They would not let us keep it.” Then: “Close your eyes. Imagine a fruit like that. Taste it.” When I turned to kiss you on the couch, you whispered, “I still have one.” Your eyes challenged, or pleaded, as if to ask, Will you tell? I feel you must think the virus transformed me as it did you. You see me with doctors and scientists. As you moved your index finger to your mouth, I studied the stumps between your fingers, then followed them down your wrist—all those scars where your limbs died. Where do you keep your fruit, Madeline? I asked if you would like to go home with me. “I have tea,” I said. I left you standing by your bookcase, you facing the wall, your arms over your head. I thought I heard you say goodnight. I help the scientists and the law enforcement now. I have a nice car to patrol in. Before this I managed a cell phone kiosk in the mall. The scientists let me administer the serum. They say I do a fine job. My wife Ellen—I came home to limbs spread out from busted glass, limbs grasping out from our blue sedan, skittering across blacktop, searching for soil. Ellen resting on top of our insurance man, their eyes forever closed, his vines protruding out her back. 2. I was at my sister’s birthday party for five years. At first I looked inside my husband’s eyes, but after a while I did not see him anymore. His eyes, his nose, his

10


Spittoon 2.4 Rawson, After We Were Trees

owl mouth were outside of me, and my own body no longer mattered. I was at my sister’s house, washing laundry detergent off a Cabbage Patch doll, and when the tape ended, someone would loop it back and play it from the start, from when I knocked on my sister’s door. I have studied these events over the last five years, and most of the memory has kept intact. Every once in a while my niece would turn into a bird. Beetles would crawl over my arms as I ate birthday cake. Night this happened most. My tree body would shake from the night winds. Rain was the worst. I would be listening to my sister’s brother-in-law tell us how you have to take out the pacemaker before you embalm or the whole chamber will explode, when the storm clouds would gather near the ceiling fan. When I think of the virus, I think of that day and all that happened right before the virus changed me.

My sister Lucy invites me in, and Jack is making green bean casserole, shouting a who’s there from the kitchen. Jack’s brother Candle Man is reading a book, telling everyone about it—I’ve arrived in the middle of the story. Candle Man is telling everyone he doesn’t want to make candles anymore. He is going to night school in the spring to become an undertaker. He got this book at the library, all about preparing dead bodies, and he is reading from it. “The skin gets leathery after death,” Candle Man says. Everyone is at the dining room table, waiting for food. Some are drinking wine. Lucy nurses an orange juice. Lucy sits next to Aunt Bluebeard. We call her that because she is always getting married, her husbands always dying. “They puff up the skin,” Candle Man says. “Puff it up how?” asks Jack’s mother Wanda. “They set the features. They use makeup. They replace your blood with colors. Dyes.” “What makes someone want to do that, is what I want to know,” Wanda says.

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Spittoon 2.4 Rawson, After We Were Trees

“I could be part of the funeral. After I set the features, I could sing for them.” Candle Man is the family singer; he has an EP somewhere. Everyone eats. We drink coffee and say how good the food is. birthday pies and one birthday cake.

There are five

The children go downstairs. The children are too quiet down there. I volunteer to check. When I reach the bottom stair, I am asked, “Is this our fault?” Lucy’s daughter Mary and Candle Man’s daughter Tabby are wiping blue off the carpet with their hands. “We were doing laundry,” Tabby says. When they see me flinch, they change tactics, pointing at each other. Some of these shirts will not make it. I take the Cabbage Patch doll soaked with detergent upstairs and whisper into Lucy’s ear, assuring her this is not a big deal. The two young girls are put in time out, and the cry. Mary is red. She does not itch and has not trouble breathing, but her face is so red. The redness spreads down her neck. I assume this is an allergic reaction to the detergent and the fabric softener. As is sit with Mary on the couch during her time out, she looks at her hands and tells me she feels different inside. “You’re still you.” “I don’t feel the same. I think I’m different.” Aunt Bluebeard talks to Wanda, tells her about her last husband’s death, how she found him on the couch and could tell from behind, before she looked at his face. His presence was missing. Candle Man asks Jack how we really recognize someone. “People look so different after death,” he says. “Isn’t it weird that they have to make you look like yourself?” “No setting of features can ever capture a person because no one is one person,” Jack says. “We are multitudes in one body.” Someone knocks at the door; someone says come in, and it is my husband Bryce.

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Spittoon 2.4 Rawson, After We Were Trees

Bryce is the one who notices the growths on the girls’ hands. Everyone begins looking at their own hands. The girls are crying—they kick off their shoes, now too snug to fit. We are all up, instinctively moving for the door.

Aunt Bluebeard and Wanda had no reaction to the serum. The girls were too entwined; they could not be separated. Candle Man and Jack stood back to back, a few feet apart, for five years, withered, their branches falling. We all made it to the front yard, and then a cool blackness hit us, and we did not move. We stood and grew.  

13


Spittoon 2.4

Burning Giraffes Josh Prichard

I was sitting on the worn leather couch trying to wait out the clock before I had to head to the MUNI station. I kept myself occupied by digging a piece of dirt from underneath my thumbnail. Brendan walked in, his towering figure made the floorboards creek and sag beneath him. His thick lensed glasses enlarged his blue and glossy eyes to a comical size. He looked like a cartoon character. He was a crippled cartoon character with his arm tied up in a sling, the result of a motorcycle accident. Cold Hard Fact #1: Trying to impress people by burning out on your motorcycle will almost always backfire. Brendan was my roommate. I was living in San Francisco with two forty year old elevator mechanics. These guys were as rough around the collar as they come unionized, galvanized, anesthetized. I knew that they were recreational drug users, they were upfront about that when I had moved in, but it had gotten worse over the past few months. Ever since Brendan had been put on medical leave for his injuries he had taken to staying up all night snorting coke and preaching from his reclining pulpit. I was usually the only one in the audience. The only thing that I had in common with these two was I had the necessity for a place to live, and they had an extra room. For a not so modest price I had a shoebox sized space with one window that looked out into an alley. Cold Hard Fact #2: Necessity is the mother of living in an unstable environment. Go figure. I adjusted on the couch, futilely trying to find a comfortable spot on the lumpy cushion. I had moved from picking at my nail to biting the pieces of excess skin on the tips of my fingers. I thought about a friend of mine who suggested I take up drawing or painting to alleviate my anxieties. “It gives nervous fingers something to do,� she had said.

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Spittoon 2.4 Prichard, Burning Giraffes

My stomach had turned into an all too familiar knot. It was the kind of feeling that sent false signals to my brain telling me I had to go to the bathroom. Brendan shot a look at me on the couch. “I thought you had a date tonight?” he said. “I still have some time before I have to leave,” I said. I assumed that Brendan could see the uneasiness in my eyes as I stared off into space. He smiled. It was not a comforting smile. It was more of a conniving grin, the wrinkles of his face wrapped up in its own wickedness. He walked into the cramped kitchenette and reached into a high corner cabinet. After a few seconds of digging Brendan removed a dark green bottle. “Have you ever had absinth before?” he asked. Brendan removed a few glasses from the cabinet as well as a knife and a small box of sugar cubes. “I spent over a hundred euros on this when I was in Paris, but I’m willing to share.” “I don’t know,” I said. “This doesn’t sound like the best idea. I’m supposed to go out in a few minutes.” “It will calm you down,” he said. “I heard it does the opposite.” “There’s only one way to find out.” Cold Hard Fact #3: Thujone, a chemical compound found in absinth, has been banned in the U.S. since 1912. Some say thujone causes madness. I walked down to the MUNI station a few blocks away from the apartment. The two glasses of absinth made me feel light, as if I were floating over the ground on a wisp of fog. I whistled a Berlioz medley as I glided down the street. I’m not the kind of person who whistles. More importantly, the knot in my stomach had untangled and was replaced by the warm fuzzies which felt like the inside of a pair of good sheepskin moccasins. I spotted Tori waiting on the platform. It was hard not to spot her. I could have sworn that her fiery red hair was glowing in the dark. We had met at the library where we both worked. It took a chance run-in at Bottom of the Hill for me to finally 15


Spittoon 2.4 Prichard, Burning Giraffes

ask her out. Tori had unassuming good looks that originated in her big and dewey brown eyes. She had an aggressive surrealism about her, marked by the ring through her septum and Dali’s burning giraffe tattooed on her arm. The unaltered version of myself would have questioned why such a sublime girl would have agreed to go out with me in the first place. This would have started an avalanche of self-doubt that would eventually lead to me either clam up or even worse, say something insensitive like, “I think vegans are self-righteous”. This was the way it always happened sooner or later. Tori and I took the M-line to the Castro. I suggested we go to this little tea place I had heard about. The tea room was dimly lit with candles and frosted lanterns. In the corner of the room there was an old man hunched over a huqin, screeching a bow across the dual strings. We ordered a pot of tea in a variety that I didn’t dare try to pronounce. I merely pointed at the menu, and the waitress smiled. I was still rolling on my absinth fog, which meant I was more present than usual. I listened to her tell her first date story without fading out to some other spot in my mind. “I love your tattoo,” I said. “Oh, thanks.” She ran her fingers over the burning giraffe on her arm. “You know, someone once said I reminded them of a Dali painting.” “Why’s that?” “Because I have long sticks for legs, too.” She laughed. Whistling and charm, this wasn’t like me. I had become someone else entirely, and it seemed to be working. Why be a neurotic mess when I could be the guy who gets second dates? After the tea, Tori and I walked back to the Castro Station. On the sidewalk we passed a naked man wearing only a Santa hat and a rubber band wrapped around his genitals. Cold Hard Fact #4: The weirdos only come out in the Castro. God bless them.

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Spittoon 2.4 Prichard, Burning Giraffes

I walked Tori to her apartment, which was only a few blocks away from mine. I didn’t talk much on the way back. My head was furiously grinding away at what I would do when we got to her building. Was she expecting me to make a move? Had I really done that well? The absinth fog was burning off. I was transforming back into Dr. Neurosis again. We stopped for a moment in front of the door leading into her building. We stood there for a long and painful moment. “What was with that guy in the Santa hat?” I asked. “I wish I would have taken his picture or something.” “You really want a picture of that?” “No, of course not, it was just...” I trailed off. For a moment I thought of shooting off a quick “goodnight” before turning and rapidly walking around the corner. The knot in my stomach had returned. I chuckled in an attempt to try and blow off the tense air that was brewing between us. That was when she drew me in with her small hands and kissed me. The first few pecks were short, but soon it turned into a heavy and elongated gesture. We pulled apart slowly, and she looked up at me with those big brown eyes. “You know, my roommate is out of town,” she said. “Do you want to come up?” For a fraction of a second it was like I was floating again, and a whistling medley rang in my ears. But it was only for a second. I knew what was going to happen if I went up into that apartment. At first I would appear to be doing alright, but right around when the button slipped off my jeans, the knot would stretch out of my stomach and wrap around my chest. I would start to breath heavy, and a thin layer of sweat would lace my forehead and palms. An overwhelming feeling would tell me to try and break out of whatever was restricting my chest, but of course nothing would be there, only myself. That’s when I would have a full blown panic attack right there in the room. I thought for a moment that I would come clean about my sexual anxiety. Maybe she would understand. She seemed like an understanding kind of person. Would I start by saying it was my nanny’s eighteen year old daughter? People have a hard time believing that part. I should mention that I was only five years old to make myself look vulnerable and worthy of sympathy. Would I have to say how it felt? It was like warm honey drizzling over a stirring stick. I don’t think I wanted her to associate me with a stirring stick. Either way, I wouldn’t have to tell her the whole truth. It was as if reality was a canvas, completely white and unobstructed. I could always paint over the canvas and turn into something more absurd and impenetrable, like a surrealist painting, like the burning giraffes. My rendering 17


Spittoon 2.4 Prichard, Burning Giraffes

would be more appealing than the cold hard facts. Put your right hand over your heart. Ready, begin. Cold Hard Fact #5: The word “molestation” comes from the latin word “molestus” which means to really fuck up someone’s life. No pun intended. “You know, I have to get up for work early tomorrow,” I said. And that was it. Goodnight. As I entered my apartment I saw Brendan slung back on his recliner. He looked dazed sitting in front of the TV. Running the risk that Brendan might start pontificating, I sat on the couch next to his chair. “You’re home early,” he said, “and you’re alone. That’s not a good sign.” “I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. Over on the small table next to the kitchen I noticed a motorcycle helmet that didn’t belong to Brendan. “Is somebody else here?” I asked. “My friend Eric and I have been hanging out. He’s in the bathroom.” Brendan and I went back to not talking about it. Some fifteen or twenty minutes went by before Eric came out of the bathroom. From what Brendan told me later, Eric used to be a stud back in his high school days. A real laid back kind of charmer. To look at him then was to know that this guy was going to conquer the world without lifting a finger. Nobody who saw him now would think that. Pushing forty, his dirty blonde hair looked mangy and untamed. His eyes were soft and droopy, like someone who had fought it too many times and just gave up. Brendan told me that in his twenties Eric had taken up hard drugs and he hadn’t been the same since. Brendan gave Eric and me a lazy introduction without getting up from his chair. Eric slapped my hand and pulled me in tight. “It’s real good to meet you, bro,” he said.

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Spittoon 2.4 Prichard, Burning Giraffes

It was hard not to like Eric. He was a sweet guy who enjoyed holding court. Even though I was tired and worn out from the near panic attack I had on my disastrous liaison with the redheaded woman of my dreams, I couldn’t help but stick around and listen to Eric tell stories about his life. There was a certain magnetism about him, like the catharsis you feel with tragic figures. Eric was craving something sweet to drink so he and I went to the bodega across the street. When we returned, we sat on the stoop of my building and smoked a few cigarettes. Out on the stoop Eric told me about the time he lived in Southern California, surfing from one friend’s couch to the next, and if there wasn’t a place to stay he would sleep on the beach. Then there was the two years he spent in prison. He didn’t talk much about that. I noticed that as Eric went on talking he was making less and less sense. His eyes looked as if they were heavy sandbags, and he struggled to keep them open. Eric began one story, closed his eyes and let his head fall, then popped back up and started another story somewhere in the middle. Eric was like a choose your own adventure book if it were written by a drug addled maniac, and the adventure never went anywhere. Eric jolted himself awake and looked as if he had something very important to say. He struggled to dig something out of his pocket as he juggled a bottle of cranberry juice in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. Eric finally pulled out his phone and shuffled through some pictures. He stopped at a blurry photo. I couldn’t make out what the focus of this particular picture was. “You see that?” he said. “No. What is it?” “That’s a syringe, man. I took this picture just the other night.” He paused and took a long drag off his cigarette. “Look at the end of that needle. Just look at it.” I squinted my eyes and cocked my head as I stared at the screen. With every second I became more and more convinced that I wasn’t looking at anything at all. “I don’t see it.” “Man, there’s a demon at the end of that needle. That’s where he lives. Every time you shoot up that’s what you’re putting into your body. Fucking demons.”

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Spittoon 2.4 Prichard, Burning Giraffes

Cold Hard Fact #6: Crack cocaine can be melted down with a little bit of water, and shot directly into your vein. The bathroom in our apartment is a safe place to try this procedure. I could tell by just looking at him that Eric believed every word he had just said. Hell, even I believed him in some abstract way. Maybe he was trying to impart some sort of cautionary wisdom to me, I don’t know. What I do know is that Eric and I found a common bond. We were both damaged goods, haunted by a past we couldn’t shake. In a moment of vulnerability, I thought of telling Eric all about my disastrous date. I would tell him everything he needed to know, the baby sitter’s daughter and the panic attacks. There would be no slight of hand or obfuscations, there would be no burning giraffes. He would have the whole canvas, a clean sheet. Cold Hard Fact #7: There is no such thing as a Cold Hard Fact. I turned to Eric as if to say something, but I stopped. Eric had faded out again. His eyes were closed and his chin was resting against his chest. The cigarette in his hand was burning dangerously close to the finger. In the other hand his grip on the bottle of cranberry juice had loosened and the red liquid poured out onto the sidewalk.

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The Theft Ken Poyner

Our village bathing spots are not that secluded, not that shadowed. There are few hidden approaches. Our only dark relics are the modest piles of stones behind which bathers undress, and after their wash regain, for the remaining day, their woven skins. Over the backs of the stones, our people lay their clothes and their towels, as well as the residual work they perhaps bring with them. We do not understand the thefts. We bathe together in any number of river gift eddies. Once we are assured our nakedness has no relation to a sexual arousal, our communal bathing is accepted as a matter of convenience. There would be no prurient advantage to removing our towels, nothing unseen to see, no inartistic display. But the thieves leave our clothes, anyway. It is only our towels they want. So now we each linger longer on the bank, letting the water drain off of us. Or we flap our arms and fan ourselves. Or we stand in the open wind, sometimes atop the stones of our hand gathered dressing wards. And some of us simply crawl back into our clothes, letting them soak to our skin, letting them gain the weight of water and pull at our waists or our shoulders, like children wanting the patchwork outworld’s technology trinkets. It is a matter of inconvenience. No one has seen who steals these towels. There is no true value in the towels, no novelty in our standing naked on the river bank. The motive eludes us. Those times we have watched diligently, no towels have been orphaned. When we did not watch, or have glanced away bare seconds, the towels would disappear. No footprints; no stray scents in the air; no laughter of children; no guffaws of old men; no cackle of biddies. All of our towels are second hand cloth, of various sizes, rough-edge colors, unwanted threads. Only the richest amongst us have towels of regular geometric resemblance. Most are tatters, what is left of something otherwise no longer useful. They will not be ransomed. The thought is that children do it on a dare. Or perhaps the local wild life is infatuated by our smell and has begun to drag away a memory of us. Some, counting imperfectly back, time the losses to the installation of our one washing machine at the one electric hook up in the village. It sits on its infuriating platform, fat with water brought to it in faultless pipes. We at first were to wash our children in it, until it was explained that the water is too warm, that the lid must be closed, and that there is some unknown gyration in the bowels of the device that would

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addle anything living. This confabulation would be for our clothes alone. And towels are not clothes. So we keep watch when we can, suffer loss when we cannot. Some have passed the rumor that statistics exist to show our towels are less likely to leave when the washing machine is employed, when it is lame-hopping its importance dance on its proud platform, than when it is brooding in unloaded idleness. But the material loss is secondary to where this emergency has drawn us as a people. Only yesterday, a mother came with her two children to bathe at a river nook, and she brought no towel at all. For years our people have placed their towels akimbo on the rocks, let their towels air as the owners mingle in the river, washing the unwanted parts of the day from their bodies. Tomorrow it might be a man who imagines himself a great hunter; and the day after the scandal could be a team of boys without towels, their faces unconcerned with this breach of communal protocol, their spectacularly mute hands in their washing like the blades of harvest. Amongst those of us who remain respectable, who have stockpiled towels against a season of unfathomable theft, the talk is whether an opinion about washing machines is worthy of us, or if we should consider the place of mechanical intervention in our joys at all. It is the individual who confounds the people, and that should be enough for us, perhaps. Some say the machine’s weak link is the dial on the font; others point to the cord and its birdlike mating with the electric pole. Yet others say there is dark knowledge there, and our knowledge of it is yet another reason to go to the river and wash ourselves further away from the selves we are becoming. It does not matter who is actually removing our towels. There will be a day, if there is no easy explanation woven into our cleanliness, that towels will be left at the base of the spectrally enamel white contraption, when women will surrender towels to the machine that they would not loan to their husbands: when towels become whole cloth, and we forsake our clothes to make ever more elaborate towels, trusting they will be of no use to us whatsoever. Then towels will become so large that children can wear them as clothes, and the world will change.

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LOGGING ROAD Dan Pinkerton

I left the dying thing where it lay and made for the chainsaws, not loving them but at least of an understanding. Again we were felling trees, reburying relics before the authorities arrived, for accompanying them were judgments, C & Ds, wages lost. Gas fumes stung the air, the gray netting of exhaust hung fir to fir, nearly decorative if you stopped to watch. There were men nearby who’d never seen full sun nor recalled the look of their own fresh-shaved cheeks. They dug a quick pit, gripped the thing by its legs and heaved, these same men who could live a fortnight in their own thoughts. Words crunched like ground glass in their mouths. When we neared the roadhouse they hung back, slipping treeward, their own lightningblind whiskey holed up variously. Dust rose like a welcoming party as the thing made its last fetal cries and fell still. The rasp of shovel blades in loose dirt. Chainsaws swarming again. I wonder what the men will do whose life work is also their dismantling.

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After Moulting, the Insect Driven Mad with Love in the Light of the Moon, or the Moveable Empty Center of Everything Mark Parsons

En pointe On thumbscrew dividers

Calibrated to a linear scale His mind

Steps off projective space To the dissident outpost of what he desires A target Tremulous, billowing Circumscribed by pivots Under the ultra-wide angle lens of his obsessive gaze. The distance Between the man and his target The prismatic distance Between the same idea resonant in two different minds. The most important thing The only thing The target

is everything

The target is not. The target is a black drawstring sack Worn over the mans’ head Letting him see

Letting him see everything The target is not.

He fans the knives And holds them up in front of his face Like he can see the row of fine, double-edged concave points. In a leotard trimmed with flapper beads 24


Spittoon 2.4 Parsons, After Moulting‌

The woman Isn’t wearing pantyhose But no one can tell. Under the white flawless skin of a natural redhead Without superfluous flesh The toned muscles of hips and thighs Emit a high-pitched sound Only small dogs and knife throwers can hear. Leaning forward

in a listening pose

He throws the knives The black nylon bag Vibrating with a frequency The stylus of his mind Etches in the darkness. The idea of the target Connects the man and the woman

Like a hinge Connects compass legs

Fixed at the precise angle The distance between man and woman refracts. Teardrop gashes opposed in the white paper moon Circle slower and slower As the spinning wheel spinning the woman slows down. Reaching in the sawtooth rent He rips away the diaphragm. Wearing a sooty elliptical smudge of wire mesh fencing mask The woman steps out of the ruptured membrane Removes the mask And takes in every member of the audience

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Spittoon 2.4 Parsons, After Moulting‌

At once

Faces arrayed Over some kind of hemisphere

That is her whole world Wherever she looks The edges of anything

and everything She sees

Falling away from her Off the edge of the empty moveable Center of everything.

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Spittoon 2.4

Adult Situations and Language Matthew Lykins

My wife and I rarely argue; most of the time she explains why I’m wrong and I listen and nod. I’ve stopped pointing out things that annoy me about her. I might as well pull the pin on a grenade and eat it with salsa. She is, aside from being far more rational, caring, and blameless than I, a world-class arguer at her most convivial; cornered, she’s a wolverine. She will attack past any and all reason and logic. She will listen only enough to find things to disagree with. There is no truth she cannot find objectionable. There is no hatchet too deeply buried. She is an artist. The only argument I am still adamant about is what my kids are (or aren’t) allowed to watch. My gut reaction is anything with no sexual penetration, but I dial it back to PG-13, except that rare occasion (Aliens, Terminator 2, Die Hard) when the film’s overwhelming quality and life-affirming message trumps the recommendations of the MPAA. My children are ten, seven, and four. They are good kids. As I type this, all three of my children are spending their leisurely Sunday morning with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s rated PG, but the movie is famous for creating the need for the PG-13 rating due to its violence and intense scenes of monkey-brain eating and anesthesia-free heart surgery. They are unsupervised-which is really the point of putting them in front of the television anyway, right?-and seem completely at ease, even while an evil and overwhelmingly stereotypical Indian reaches into some poor schmo’s chest and removes his still-beating heart before giving him an elevator ride into an active volcano. “Sweet,” my youngest says, as if he were watching a replay from last night’s 49ersSaints game. “Does he eat it now? The bald guy?” my middle asks. “No dummy. Eating a heart’s gross,” says my oldest. “Don’t say dummy,” I call. 27


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“Sorry!” they all say in unison. See? Good kids.

All three of my kids have probably seen movies they shouldn’t; my oldest has seen the most, and shows the most interest, followed by the middle, as would be expected. My middle daughter, however, is the most sophisticated wit and understands the naughty bits more quickly, so we have to be careful. I’m never that careful. My four-year-old is still in the early haze of childhood, not quite a toddler, but still seemingly unaware of what constitutes good and poor behavior. He understands that he can’t shout “poop” at dinner (he does anyway) or play with his scrotum at the park (he does anyway) but he’s still seemingly oblivious to overtly violent or sexual imagery on television.1 They have seen, to this point, all of the Indiana Jones movies, as well as Star Wars (the old ones; we pretend the new ones were never made), Close Encounters of Third Kind, Terminator 2, Inception, Batman Begins, Speed, Superman Returns, Spiderman I and II, Back to the Future I, II, and III, and Rocky I, II, III, IV, and Balboa, among others. They’ve also wandered into Celine and Julie Go Boating, The Seventh Seal, The Conformist, and L’Aventura, as well as suffered an unfortunate run-in with Jackass II, when I thought they were asleep. Try explaining to a five-year-old why a violently swearing, tattooed putz is taking a shit in a dollhouse toilet. If you can do it with some modicum of grace, you deserve either a medal or a free pass to hell. I’m still waiting on the medal.

My father and mother let me watch whatever I wanted, or to be fairer, indulged and tolerated my curiosity for film. They didn’t have much of a choice. Accessibility to                                                                                                                        

1 Not that I’ve done tests. That would be heinous. Nor do I regularly watch snuff porn when he’s in the room. But he can wander in, glance at True Blood or Saw III, and wander out without asking questions. Those days, I fear, are numbered. 28


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movies, in terms of procuring and consuming, exploded in the early eighties, a time rivaled only now in the free-streaming, online era. When my parents grew up, and even during the first few years of my life, one saw movies in the theater, or had to wait until they were run on network television years later. It was a tightlycontrolled environment. VCRs and recordable cassettes changed that, as did pay cable. I was six when my dad came home with a new television, VCR, and video store rental membership. It was a grand day. He rented Old Yeller and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The television was wood-paneled and as big as my current oven, with a screen about the size of, well, the window on my current oven. Enormous. We invited neighbors over, airpopped some popcorn, and watched Raiders three times in one night. Before, movies were a sitter, a car-trip, blankets in the back for the drive-in. Now film was not performed but procured, a consumable thing, part of the fabric of your home life. HBO and Cinemax cemented that relationship by showing movies 24/7. When VCR prices dropped significantly in 1984 or ‘85, we bought two: one to play a movie and another to dub it. All of a sudden, we had copies of The Godfather, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Revenge of the Nerds, and Porky's just lying around the house. All a kid needed was a couple hours alone. My education in the dirty realms of sex and violence was not uncommon, before or after the videocassette deluge. Print pornography has been around since Plato and before. Intrepid kids snuck into grindhouses to catch exploitation films. However, the chance to watch people fuck or kill each other, even in simulation, was never so easy. It wasn’t parents’ faults, either. Kids are little spies. Not in the sense that they are watching and recording everything around them2, but that they are tremendously sophisticated little actors, and sneaky as hell. So, given the demonic combination of curiosity, stealth, and opportunity, and suddenly everyone I knew had at his or her disposal a treasure trove of educational sin. On top of that, my dad was tired of waiting for his firstborn to grow old enough to share all his favorite movies. Despite my dad’s middle-brow exterior, he was quite the cinephile, and we had afternoons of spaghetti-westerns, gangster movies, and sci-fi spectaculars. I remember an argument he had with my mom one evening                                                                                                                         2

They are, by the way. My kid wrote a story, for a classroom project, about getting me beers from the fridge when she was in first grade. 29


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about how I was old enough to watch First Blood. I was seven. The only evidence he could provide was that I’d seen all the Dirty Harry movies and hadn’t succumbed to nightmares, so this one would be cake. An airtight defense. So, because my life is really all I know, I imagine that letting my kids watch inappropriate films is a necessary step to their self-fulfillment and maturity. It’s like the cycle of violence or abuse, only on celluloid. And though I am well-aware that my reasons are as shaky as my father’s that night he convinced my mom to let me watch Sylvester Stallone impale local cops on skewers and lay waste to an unsuspecting town, the alternative is having to watch these movies alone. That is unacceptable.

Truth is, we have great conversations when we watch these movies. We recently discussed why Indiana Jones seems to have to punch everyone. Everyone. In the three films3 he hits Nazis (shitloads), Egyptians, Frenchmen, Chinese, and Indians (both foreign and domestic); soldiers, policemen, gangsters, sherpas, domestic help, and on one unfortunate occasion an unsuspecting cigarette girl who got in the way while he was trying to punch a Chinese gangster who may or may not have been affiliated with the police, the Nazis, or a random group of sherpas. Weirdly, it was the domestic--a butler--that upset my kids the most. Perhaps you remember the scene: it occurs during The Last Crusade, when Indiana and his duplicitous sidekick Elsa infiltrate the Nazi-infested castle where they are holding Indy’s father (Sean Connery). Indiana Jones is dressed unconvincingly—in fact laughably—as Scottish law, with an accent that would get him tarred-and-feathered in Glasgow. When the butler calls him on his stupid beret and hambone accent be knocks him out4. It’s a cold move, and though you can chalk it up to the stress level                                                                                                                         3

Like the recent Star Wars prequels, we pretend the fourth Indiana Jones does not exist. In addition, my kids and I have made a pact that the Karate Kid ends at number 2, Rocky V never happened, there’s no such thing as Grease 2, and Mel Gibson died shortly after Signs was released, in 2002. 4 Quick side note: Indiana Jones is capable of knocking anyone his size or smaller stone-cold unconscious with one punch whenever the script demands it. Though I am aware that this is a convention of the 1930’s and 40’s adventure serial that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are celebrating with the films, realistically the motherfucker must have heavier hands than Roberto Duran to inflict so much damage. Watch the castle scene I’m referring to above; he doesn’t even punch him. He bitchslaps the poor bastard, and the guy drops like he took the business end of a spud bar. How many poor, Indiana-Jones-raised saps had unrealistic expectations of such power only to get their heads kicked in after their opponent shook off their best shot? 30


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Jones is feeling at the time (his father has been kidnapped by Nazis, after all), all three of my kids cried foul. “Why’d he hit the butler?” asked my oldest. “The butler wasn’t buying the Scottish law deal,” I reply. “Punching is mean,” says my middle. She has some experience with punching, giving and receiving, so she knows of which she speaks. “The butler is a Nazi,” I explain. “Oh,” they say, though I can tell they aren’t convinced. I’ve already had to thumbnail the Nazi movement for my kids. They were German’s in the 1930’s and 1940’s who killed people for no reason. When they asked whom they killed, I said “Jews”5. When they asked who the Jews were/are, the only thing I could come up with on the fly was that they were a people who didn’t eat pork or shellfish (fucking pathetic, I know, but should I start at Genesis 1:1 and go from there? Indiana Jones is on!). Armed with this embarrassingly scant explanation, and deformed by their father’s insistence that they watch age-inappropriate programs with little to no context, they made due. Immediate synaptic adaptation. Jews=Awesome. Nazis=Shit. Not a bad day’s work, Pop. Still, the butler is dressed in a tux and looks like a grandpa. He’s not in jackboots, not goose-stepping, not smoking a cigarette between the middle and ring fingers of a black leather-gloved hand. They want to know, in so many words, how a butler, some dude trying to provide for him and his during wartime, can be all bad. “He’s a Nazi butler,” I say again, hoping repetition carries us through. “He kills Jews?” my oldest asks. “Well, no.”                                                                                                                         5

An obvious and quite possibly offensive oversimplification. 31


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“So he isn’t bad?” my middle asks. fading. Change gears, fast!

I can feel their hero-worship for Dr. Jones

“Well, he cleans and cooks and irons and washes for Nazis, and that gives them more time to kill Jews.” Bam. “Does he know they kill Jews?” asks my oldest, who’s seriously starting to get me worked up. At this point it’s tempting to preface Hannah Arendt and her thoughts on the banality of evil set forth in her seminal work Eichmann in Jerusalem, or maybe the quiet tragedy of the butler in The Remains of the Day, but I defer to a more time-honored approach. Lies. “Totally. Loves it. Loves that they kill Jews. Makes swastika-shaped pancakes to celebrate.” “What’s a swastika?” Fuck. Not a shining moment, and I don’t even want to get into the body count in those films, a majority of which are notched by the titular hero, though for some reason my kids don’t get upset about Indy killing the bad guys, just hitting them. This is a strange and perhaps even chilling paradox, but not impossible to explain. It’s really about schemata; their concept of hitting has been well established. It’s bad. You don’t hit. If you get hit, you don’t hit back. If hitting occurs, the punishment is a spanking, which is a parent-approved way of silently asserting: “Hitting’s wrong. Hit and you’ll get hit.” Getting hit hurts. They know this. Dying—in whatever way it happens—is the undiscovered country and can be explained away. The guy isn’t really dead; it’s just a movie. I actually think this conversation, distinguishing the real from makebelieve, can only be broached when watching more “grown-up” films. Maybe it’s because in having such a conversation, I’m not just hinting at the darkest corners of the human heart or the sickest nooks and crannies of the mind, but of my mind, my heart. I am aware that the world is, can be, such an awful place. I’m selfish. I want to keep my kids innocent for as long as I can, but whom am I really doing it for? My kids make me realize that this planet can be good and funny and hopeful. They let me reclaim a small portion of innocence. Despite my

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somewhat cavalier instincts concerning what they should be allowed to watch, I have rules I follow and lines I don’t cross and rationales for those rules and lines. Random, contradictory, ridiculous rules and lines, but nonetheless…

And that’s why they aren’t allowed to watch two people fucking. This is finally a stupid rule, right? They will, presumably, have a (hopefully) happy, well-adjusted and healthy sex life. I really, really hope they do. I hope all three of my kids find someone they love and respect and cherish and fuck that someone stupid. No joke. Fuck ‘em blue. It’s one of the more profound human connections we make with another life form. Go for it. But don’t watch it yet. Please? Not with me in the room or aware of what you’re watching? I can’t handle it. So I let my children watch a human being kill another human being, something I hope they never have to do or have done to them. But I am adamant that they do not watch one person fuck another person or get fucked by them. Even though they will, presumably, have that experience (hopefully) more than once in their life? You bet. Let’s speak of schema and schemata6, shall we? I would argue that most humans could not seriously conceive of, consider, decide upon and undertake killing a person. We may want to; we may daydream elaborate scenarios; but when it comes down to it, we will probably not get the opportunity, we are respectful of the laws that restrict that kind of behavior, and we just couldn’t actually go through with it7.                                                                                                                         6

Confession: I don’t know the difference between these two words. I included both so it looks like I’m being repetitive for style’s sake, but the truth is I’m just hedging my bets. 7 This is born out by a study I read about former soldiers who fought in World War II. Almost all (75-80%) admitted they shot to miss and fired high and wide on purpose. 20% said they shot to kill, but imagined that they would be troubled by their actions for the remainder of their lives. 2-5% seemed comfortable with killing, either at home or abroad. There’s an excellent book by Dave Grossman called On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society that I have not read but showed up on the first Google search I conducted to back up my figures. Solid research, right there. 33


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It’s within the realm of fantasy. That’s true whether it’s Saw or Saving Private Ryan, Amistad or Aladdin. It’s dismissible because it is, ostensibly, out of the realm of experience of any and all watching8. But if kids see two people fucking, they’re going to ask their parents what’s going on. If their parents are honest9 they’re going to explain. And somewhere deep in the kid’s brain, in the animal part, the evolutionarily vital part that keeps us, as a race, still here and multiplying, a breaker’s going to flip and the kid’s going to understand. They will ask, “Do you and mommy/daddy do that?” And you’re going to have to answer: Not Anymore, because you’re here. But we used to, all the time, and it was glorious. Just kidding. I don’t know what you say, because my kids don’t watch people fuck on my shift. I think what scares me most is my kids connecting the act to me, my wife, and our life. We build a wall around us when it comes to that behavior, like most people with kids, and the mixed motivations of our various roles—father, brother, husband, lover, etc.—is a difficult thing to explain. Enough blabber. HERE’S what I’m scared of: What if I’m watching something with my kids, and it gets steamy-dirty-sexy, and my kids get turned on? They’re not that young, and I’m not old enough to have forgotten that it happens pretty early. That’s fucking terrifying! Now there’s all three, four or five of us, sitting in the same room, all of us watching the same thing,10 and then a scene rolls through, and I’m aware of it, and when it’s going to occur in the film, and I know its coming, and suddenly Demi Moore and                                                                                                                         8

I often wonder what it would be like to watch The Godfather with a hit man, or Silence of the Lambs with Charles Manson. Would they cry foul or complain about the general lack of verisimilitude? I’ve seen movies about teachers, and as a teacher myself, all I can say is if they screw up slasher movies as badly as they do classroom dramas, there’s a lot of corrections to be made. I know a cop who won’t watch police procedurals because the sloppy research pisses him off, so who knows? 9 Or at least strive for honesty… 10 Dirty Dancing, say. Or Footloose. Ghost. Something mildly potent. I just want you to know that I’m not talking about porn. I’m not watching Jenna Jameson with my kids. Kids should find porn the old fashioned way: from the skeezey kid next door and his dad’s pile of Penthouse. 34


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Patrick Swayze11 are fucking, standing up, in the enviably spacious Manhattan loft. It’s an intense, passionate scene, with nothing that overtly rates an “R”, and yet I can hang a coat off my dick. What if my daughters, or my son, are feeling the same way? We ain’t nothin’ but mammals, right? Can you feel me? Can I get an amen? Am I responsible for the budding and awakening tumescence that has made itself known to my children? Am I the catalyst of their sinful awakening? The snake in their garden? Holy shit. I would be the snake in their garden. So do I, as the adult, as the responsible parent, consider such things and skip ahead or, God forbid, refuse to screen that particular film for my children? Of course not. I wade in, often wrong but never in doubt, Bush on the aircraft carrier, dressed like a soldier, dumb as a corncob, convinced that “certain” is far superior to “right” and hell-bent to sacrifice whomever or whatever I have to, to get what I want.

When it’s all said and done, though, I would probably opt for the dump-truck-sized piles of discomfort I would feel watching two people have simulated, on-screen sex with my kids12 over watching the overweening, sentimental, LSD-fueled bullshit that television produces for children. It hasn’t really changed since I was a kid. There are three kinds, as far as I can tell: hyper-ironic, humorless sitcoms/sketch shows in the Full House/You Can’t Do That on Television vein, scatological nonsense such as Cat-Dog and Gumball, and precious, lesson-driven over-simplications like Caillou, Special Agent: OSO and Dora the Explorer13. The last of these are absolute mind-melters and the reason the terrorists are winning.                                                                                                                         11

R.I.P. Dalton. “Pain don’t hurt.” To clarify: I would be watching it with my kids. I would not be watching my kids have sex. 13 I’m oversimplifying to make a point. There are quality programs for kids, both cinematic and televised. Hugo came out this year. Pixar, with the exception of Cars 2 (overcomplicated and 12

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What really distresses me is the general tenor of self-congratulatory accomplishment these shows try to engender. Tying your shoes? Acting like a human being towards another human being? That makes you a hero? I don’t advocate that Disney start screening Shoah for kids at six in the morning. But if the people responsible believe that this is really what the incipient generation of Americans can handle and need to accomplish in order to be successful human beings, then we are all truly and profoundly fucked.

It’s finally about connection and discussion. You can teach a group of struggling learners how to read Shakespeare. I’ve done it. It just takes time and the commitment to sit down with them and explain how it works. They aren’t going to get it at first. They will have questions. I’ll need to answer them. But they will. They will understand if I put in the time. Instead, we’d rather give canned lessons that are immediately comprehensible and call it learning. Then we, as teachers and parents14 can pat ourselves on the back. Success! Nope. Not even close. My parents made a lot of mistakes. Some I know about, others I don’t. I’m sure, extra sure, that my kids will one day understand the same thing about me. However, one thing (of many) that they did right is they saw how smart my sisters and I were and did not fear it. Did not try to fight it with compromise and easy lessons in terms of what we read, watched, or listened to. They treated us like people. I mentioned my father’s influence on me in terms of film. But the most instructive story I can think of is about my mother. One Saturday evening, we were alone. I was eight. I have no idea where my sisters were. Possibly with grandparents. My father was out of town. My mom and I went out to dinner15 and then home to watch the Olympics. It was the night Mary Lou Retton won the all-around and became an icon.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

elitist) is always a homerun despite some troubling thematics. Spongebob and Phineas and Ferb are first rate. 14 Same thing, by the way. 15 Bonanza Bar and Grill: weird that I remember where we ate but not where my sisters were. Understandable, though: I was a chunky kid. Food was important. 36


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The Terminator came on HBO. My mom had seen it, so she knew it had about everything you’d want to shield an eight-year-old from: sex, violence, and a twisty, paradox-filled plotline that could induce seizures in an eight-year-old’s brain and murderous urges in a beleaguered mother after too many questions. She didn’t even hesitate. “You’re going to love this,” she said. And I did. Still do. It’s my all-time favorite movie; not just because it’s such a well-designed braincruncher, but because it’s a memory. My mom and I, watching a movie, together. So when I argue with my wife, I bring up this story. And I can tell she understands. Then she hops on the internet and tells me that Mary Lou Retton won the AllAround Gold Medal on August 3rd, 1984. A Friday.

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The Humans Receiving Telemetry Are as Happy as They Are Jenny Drai

The task doesn’t lie in my hand or receive its comeuppance. When brevity dances out its latent marriage songs, it’s a wedding of ipso facto and tactility. Our portions grow smaller with the argument of each year, which is one way to say “time passing.” I want our elevated responses to match gravitational pull. Elect me for the chosen office and I’ll do you seven times seven favors then expect some equaling out. Leverage costs a suitcase of bulky money but not shiny coins. When I’m a disaster, I’m also someone’s honey. But I’m not a disaster now. I’m just planetary heist. What this is about is all that fancy narration the characters dreamed inside their heads then planted in this panorama for our bemused sight. But it wouldn’t be a lie to say I needed to know what happened so Googled it and scrolled ahead. Watching the action thereafter replays a surprise of texture but not occurrences. Not being “that kind of smart” doesn’t hurt all the time but does cede instances of projective misunderstandings. Like living in a lavish theater with all the doors shut. Here the seats are plush and comfortable but lack enough viewers. My shift is rough and tenuous and wants the security of nuance. * Fortunata, the wheel, turns slowly her spokes and sometimes rather quickly but only selves are counting. Justifiable fiends paint their faces with the expressions of colorful balloons and float anxiously. Dystopian universal selectivity paradise. When I drop the baby, it turns out to be just a doll so we’re cooed. The fortune of our bodies is proportionally equal to the time left in them plus drastic measurements for discerning the temper of personal fortitude. The characters love each other, it’s that clear. But then the life situation burns through and little brown fizzles eat up the entire possibility. How badly do you want to be happy? the daytime TV guru asks then completes her forkful of low-fat tiramisu. One whole white plateful. Well, I think. Certainly I don’t want to suffer needlessly. The wheel links forward in her groove, lifting up the current moment. What’s here is ready to be seeded in the cool, blowing air. But it’s not really a storm coming after all, rather a radical acceptance of whatever letters are dictated in the office of the feeling circus. As in “emotion cubicle,” and not the sensation of silk on skin. The guru sips a cappuccino, confident in the correctness of her marketable policy. Get Happy Now! the glossy cover embraces a certain pitch and tone. Of course,

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learning a trick and doing it on the trapeze are two different pressing matters. Often, a net may help. Or just not doing the trick. * I can tell I’m wiser because of how I begin to watch the show. All ten seasons on DVD. Carter and O’Neill may cast glances but will not succumb. It would be depravity to disobey orders and just loosen a uniform to breathe the encomium of each other’s tangential flesh. When you’re always on the ledge of dying, you may develop a nascent permeability. Happiness takes place in the department of the storyline where a light glows from the television and just pounces on the hardwood floor. I grovel with them inside my head but they’re not speaking, just looking tortured through an energy shield at the possible end of her life and him not being able to save her. What this is about isn’t dislocation or end-times but rather a deeply pointed magical potion to underestimate the communicative links of human silences. Pry out that deliverable panel of options, I want to say but of course don’t reverse engineer this lack of verbiage. Sir, Carter says, her voice a squadron of anti-hyperbolic meanings so just understated but pensive. O’Neill is her commanding officer so they jump light with the precept that he’ll deliver orders and she’ll follow but if she loves him equally is as good a question as any. I’ll wait for her compartmentalization story. Blue shadows coat the wall and then some corners of the leather furniture. * Happy endings come with a price and that’s getting to them plus also not ending there. Several cadences struggle to complete the prerequisite emotional formula. Well I couldn’t be brief or long-toothed either. Well I ought not to fix up all my meanings upon lilacs when there are also tulips in the garden. The guru wears a bright outfit with a boldly contrasting pashmina to protect against the sharp corners of failed treatises filed under “the literature of self-improvement.” Try this recipe for a positivity comeback! And then some raspberry truffle cake pops on the next glossy page. So. This is what. You’re telling me. If I agree to let this sad proclivity. So easily rinse off in coconut-scented bath foam then I’ll feel. Like your old self again in thirty minutes flat! Extinguishing this candle, then lighting a burnt-out phrase, from whatever orange ember the distinguished wick still holds. I can’t just send this guru to a gulag, she’s also sight-out, night-stocked. The sofa can’t hold my bad time so I decide on an epistemological theme. Day crunchers worship high noon but not just for lunch. Under this mantra, I carve out my own emblem but realize it’s not polite to stare. Please go over this with a red pen. 39


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* [read: in red ink] red crimson scarlet ruby: correction is nearer my heart than thee scrubbing out syndromes and thematic rulings in the dismal courtyard of the round-year tree should still matter even as you burn the paper someone like that discussing endlessly the mitigating effects of a juice cleanse, which are an authorship, if insalubrious * Blame no one for this hindrance—you are one hundred and twenty-three percent fine. Cause and effect are the playthings of event horizons and parallel universes. When Carter goes through the Stargate, she discombobulates at the cellular level then discovers, when it’s over, her hands attached to her arms, arms, arms. Thinking about the streaky light journey doesn’t ruin it but does advance the population of science, which might startle her cadence every time if she weren’t such an evidentiary composition. Today I’m not being my best self but am still being. Trying not to think about “it,” which is the ruin of not thinking. A floor lamp clicks on when I flip up the wall switch because of the connective circuitry. I want to speak out some words like “I love” but am marbled by the horrendous amount of expressiveness I start to notice during the first crumbling junction of a multitude of tenses. The guru effing guru—she just crosses her arms and castigates the script, which got damp when she cried on two of several sides of that bothersome, flimsy paper. Carter and O’Neill aren’t going to be lovers but aren’t star-crossed either so they’ll just deal with some occasional belonging feelings. In other words, they just don’t “go for it.”

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* You can hold your whole world in one box and honor specifically the zones where problems turn out not to be disasters. My shapes are so prescient and exchange witty dialogue. They bury unusual phonographs from which an old song keeps emanating. Sometimes the music becomes a dartboard and accepts the whizzing speeds of every last suggestion. At other times, O’Neill holds his impoverishing emotion even in his hands but because he’s military, he bears the brunt well and just buries that sucker. Carry on, carry on that song rings out to annoy the sense of hearing, which gets stuck in seven endless loops. Meanwhile, I’m getting burnished, which means mostly painting my toenails a deep rose pink for no other reason at all than a distinctly personal series of grudges. If I could “carry on” and mean the lack of devastation of the hunger we often lug around in little crates. “Soul hunger,” the guru calls it and recommends frequent feedings. But I just lean against the innermost doorjamb and recognize some different facts—the deferment of pieces, all pieces all the time, pieces clad in jam of the opposite flavor but still edible. I want to be breezes now and just carry the window. * The white pitcher on the dining board could be elegant or just presumptuous about demonstrable actions. When a blue season smatters, the earth seems to stop spinning but of course really doesn’t. Exist in springing periods the plant life wants to shriek coyly, terrified the commitment to blooming will end. Spices don’t revolve around a similar axis but do simper when shiny curls are implicated by damp steam in the kitchen after dark. This is about tonics and having enough spleen to make the evening train. Many of us sue for that singular brisket of peace, a meal at home, crusty rolls in one meticulous wicker basket. On Stargate the characters keep getting new haircuts to indicate their military heritage. And then some. The multifarious purpose of this list is to facilitate a series of latent anxieties and then dismiss the stomach-butterfly syndrome with fussy exactitude. The white pitcher has a beginning and an end and is tumultuous, albeit smooth. Last night I ate another vision, which allowed me to experience the etymology of the word “hallucinate.” To wander in this way, the illuminating conversation can be surprising. In a cave I draw a foggy line. *

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Originally I decided the guru must answer for her crime, which was to load the future with an expectation of ease if you’d just follow these ten easy steps. She is her people’s Moses, would part the Red Sea of personal pain, could be found as a suckling within a copse of fastidious golden rushes. The sore cat chews on bouquet vegetation, which isn’t exactly a non-sequiter but does require tangential associative leanings to understand trajectory. It’s all right to be this neutral some of the time, because all of the time is just for always on and never turning off. The other brainwashing occurs early, depending on exposure through the various mediums of gurus. For example, that segment this morning on the insistence of flat stone massage when all I wanted was to sit on the similar brown porch and just behave towards my own reconnaissance. A message for all personnel is located within a pretty easy reach just suggesting it might be all right to plan ahead even though we may never know “the end” or other deep precisions. That is, to lead an authentic life you should probably heat up some food, or at the very least a graham cracker spread thinly with peanut butter. Little sparkles everywhere—these aren’t photographic remnants but fame leftover from a dream. There are ghosts in my teeth. * Serious applicants remain considerable and believe two or three truisms about the “state of human kind,” truisms which aren’t exactly laughable but still nothing like an actual template. Everything matters, which is the same as putting this is in a food processor and blending with what is. Not to mention the low fortune of death and the high stakes of impermeable rescues. These serums, that fanatic abbreviation, all pulsing out new boundaries akin to the plasticity of mirrors. Well. I do it. I wander gracefully. It is what it is. A naked hallway beckons and smiles and also some minor awkwardness to get that other end. Something involving contraction, the stripping down of even our fussiest stances. Oh tilt-a-whirl. Oh blowing-at-me-like-a-child’s-roller-coaster-of-pastel-tea-cups-after-too-muchfairground-Pad-Thai. I couldn’t have seen you coming. The mirror shows the end of the history, which is the crimson-clad laser point of this exercise. A little girl with pink ribbons and a Minnie Mouse t-shirt in the next stall in the public restrooms just hears me yakking up that Pad Thai but I don’t actually know what she’s wearing because I can’t see her. Also, her shirt is white with pink stripes and like most kids her age, she knows what it’s like to taste something twice. *

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My visionary pulpit isn’t really deviation but hugs a lancet and bastes tears with thin black thread. The thread isn’t silk but cotton floss and won’t be bilious to duty. At least for now the story flossing Carter to O’Neill (and back again) has calmed to just spent notches, making room for several new story lines. For example, brainwashing incidents in outer space. The slavery of indigenous species. Really, their two faces are now a sideshow but I’m still vaguely latching. Wanting to experience just how this narrative finishes up, if ever. For example, as one needs to know the action of our terra firma. For example, the squirrel chirping angrily at several roving felines. Actually, the presence of its tenses results at the center of the gerund. Truthfully, I almost forget we are here together. You lash out premeditatedly your sequence for falling asleep, which is funny because the clouds hide not the moon but sun. I would like to approach, would like to be given precise coordinates and dates so I may prepare a little public speaking and leave a note in the most obvious drawer. The old mapmaker dies at ninety-six. His eyes were picky and fine. That happened just down the green, leafy street, one aisle for known cartography. I never once locked you out of our theater. The swallowed key dangles from a forged and clinking chain. Find it. Find the iron way to turn. * I am just going to work on this motorbike and you go fishing Carter says to O’Neill to explain the vacation, which ends abruptly several times. Really, their feelings make them strange. On the other hand, the guru lapses out to stutter her more adaptable, more pertinent plan. Of course she wears loose drawstring pants, a white tunic, her feet are bare, and she. Well she imprisons her leftover tenacity with right doing but then spoils the whole panoply by demanding one particular fulfillment. I’m thinking about the center of the world and the center of me, which certainly is one verifiable hub but lacks the necessary notation of anyone else’s justifiable perspective. When you wallow at this level, you may wear the white tunic too, the guru tells Carter and O’Neill who don’t listen fluently to anything but a need to save the blue-green, globular world. I never really bore my will to your door then unbent several cadences. When we chase the bloom on this flushing copse of personal stories, a tiny notice is sent to repeal all other offers. This world or that, the letter seems to say. Choose or don’t choose. * An alternate reality doesn’t actually spoil the ending, just drudges up a book of several possible named equations. For example, this crow in the yard as two little hooks that fly away from the herb garden with one string attached. I often relish 43


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the evening’s careful mirth. When we complete our platefuls of dinner on the stonelined terrace—baked tilapia with fennel, whole wheat couscous with sun-dried tomatoes and shallots, sautéed asparagus smothered in a citrus-pine nut béarnaise—I have to tell you what I eat to prove that I exist—then gravitate to some personable cast acting out the long-term decisions of story arcs. Here, let us look around our high-stakes parameters. This is our story arc. The guru doesn’t know anything about it. By “it” I mean present status, achievable mood, the shades painted on our innermost walls, even the funny thing about being real humans instead of one real human playacting in an adventure story that may also be a respectable farce because of how well some pieces fit. Just like that. Some other human just crafted some scenes then plunked in visages. The guru calls this forge your own storyline in seven simple ways but really this process is more one of reading the holes in empty space. What happens is anything we bargain for or haven’t.  

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mt washington (march) Mark DeCarteret

I had fallen in w/that line where love at times wasn’t looked at as so low so shadow dash snow  

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excerpts from Low Self-Esteem: My Jesus Year Amanda Cobb

I get my nails done, so I can’t hate myself all that much. Maybe I’m even a little vain (for which I begin to feel guilty) if I’m willing to invest an hour out of the weekend to having my cuticles nipped and nails lacquered. But part of it, I think, is an act of rebellion. When I was a pastor’s wife, before I had any children, I had great, all natural nails; long and strong without even trying. I didn’t really notice them until one of the other women in the church pointed them out to me saying, “I used to judge women who have nice nails.” She went on to tell me that she felt neatly manicured hands meant that the woman wasn’t a hard worker, that she valued herself more than honest labor, and that I should feel like an act of the Holy Spirit for being around her with my photographable hands, convicting her of her judgmental ways. Yep, that’s exactly how I felt. So, not on a regular basis or anything, I have my nails painted about once every couple of months, usually something garish and impractical, some shade of “Hey bitch, repent!” Not today, though. I went to Nail Trix II next to Target, but not able to fake my usual manicure moxie, I chose a nude color (all the magazines tout it as a trend right now anyway). I like going to the Vietnamese salons; they are fast and there’s no pressure to have a lengthy conversation with your nail technician; interaction with the nail tech seldom goes beyond small talk, so even though I’m surrounded by people, I still feel like I’m alone. I could see from her license posted on the wall behind her station, that my nail tech’s name was Suong Thi Ngoc Nguyen, but I asked her name anyway just to get the small talk out of the way. The other workers called her “Suze,” but I’m pretty sure neither of us wanted our relationship to amount to nicknames. In fact, I didn’t address her by name at all, though that would mostly have to do with my embarrassment for not knowing how to pronounce Vietnamese names, and less to do with how I felt about her as a person. She probably saw 50 other women just like me that day: we were equally interested in not knowing each other. But she was touching my hands, grooming and massaging them; I don’t do that with my best friends (wait, that’s weird). Of course, she’s getting paid (and my friends probably should too, just for putting up with me), but it’s amazing how, in that context, her touch was not intimate. I guess if she were to invest emotionally in all of her clients (most of whom aren’t going to be repeat customers; the ladies behind me had just finished lunching at Cheddar’s when, on a whim, they decided to treat themselves to an impromptu pedicure) Suong might have nothing left to give her

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family at the end of the day. And it was, in part, because I had nothing to give my family, that I was there at all; beginning to love oneself is a long, hard road with many manicures along the way. And wine. As I started drifting off, imagining that it was me, not Katy Perry, on the radio overhead singing to adoring masses, Suong asked how long I’d been married. She held up my left hand with my wedding ring. “Four years,” I said. “You happy?” “Yes,” I said. But what if I wasn’t? What if I had visited Suong ten years ago when I was married the first time? I kept my unhappiness a secret for so long that I might have caved, and not without weeping, to a complete stranger, holding my hand, asking me if I was happy in my marriage. I married young. The guy was eight years older than me and had just moved to West Virginia from Nepal to work on his doctorate in education. He was interested in third world cultures, had pictures of his family taped up in his room, and loved Jesus so much that he had a tattoo of that fish you see on the back of Christian cars on his right forearm—a reminder to serve only God, a witness to others when shaking their hands what he stands for. And I just got sucked into it all; he was exotic and I craved anything other than the familiar. I love West Virginia, but I have lived here nearly my entire life and he was sort of a gateway to getting out of here, even if it only really existed in my head. Plus, he was Baptist, and I grew up the same, so that little bit of familiarity made it safe. What falling for him led to, unfortunately, was my involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ and the main church all the crusaders went to in Morgantown. This is the church he went to. He held Bible studies in his dorm room (he was a Resident Assistant at the age of 26) and raised money for mission trips—so I followed suit. After a few years of really reading the Bible (which I think I honestly did just to impress him, not really to educate myself or develop my spiritual life), I was ready to lead my own Bible Studies (though I could only lead children and other women; the men needed a man teacher, someone they could really take seriously). And I went on a couple of mission trips too—I asked my friends and family for help financially; they thought it was weird. It was. That was my college experience. Most people party and laugh and make lifelong friends—I prayed and read the Bible. I made friends, for sure; Campus Crusade 47


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and the non-denominational church I attended made sure that everyone was connected and spending time with other Christians. There was an event every night for college age Christian girls and boys—having Bible studies, bowling nights, potlucks, etc., made it easier not to act out sin. Instead, of course, we were all just sexually frustrated, abstinent twenty-somethings thinking about how deviant we could be with one another if we weren’t, you know, followers of Christ. I’ve caught up on all that college drinking I wasn’t doing then, but it’s a little pathetic when a thirty-something gets excited about beer pong. Anyway, I did make friends. I just lost them all in the divorce. So the only thing I have to show from college is one degree, one minor and a concentration in creative writing. All my girlfriends from that time period, have gotten married, been bridesmaids for each other, had children and probably pray for me. One woman, in particular, Karen, came over to my house after my separation was in full swing and told me, quite forcefully, that I was a Christian no matter what I said and I just needed to get my thinking straight. God does not abandon people. Another friend thought that maybe I was a lesbian because that would really be the only explanation for leaving my Man of God husband; she waited for me to shave my head. There was and is still very little distinction for me between leaving my husband and leaving the church—it’s all the same. Karen is the same girl, who a year later kicked me out of a playgroup. I wasn’t there to play with the other mothers, all of whom were members of my old church, which had excommunicated me. After one phone call with the senior pastor, I was to understand that until I reconciled with my husband, I was unwelcome in that church. I was at the playgroup to pick up my daughter; her dad had dropped her off. But I made the mistake of taking off my jacket and saying a few cordial hellos to the mothers with whom I used to study the Bible. Looking back, I think I remember seeing a few of the cardiganed ladies gathering in the kitchen, huddled in a whispered panic before Karen was the one commissioned to say something first. Karen had just married a man from the church a couple of years prior to the playgroup incident. He used to be a frat boy who wore almost exclusively rugby shirts, but converted to Christianity in college and started tucking them in. Then he felt called to the ministry, just like my husband. At the time of this playgroup, Karen’s husband might have been three years into his non-denominational training. When I worked as the church secretary for a short time before I got pregnant with my daughter, evidence that god was calling me to my real job, I worked with Karen’s husband, who turned out to be the kind of guy who always used, “we.” “Amanda, could we order more toner for the copier?”

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“Amanda, have we gotten the mail today?” “Amanda, have we noticed how lucky we are that god ordains gender roles?” Once, when we ate lunch together as an office in the break room during the workweek, Karen’s husband volunteered to say the blessing for our individual meals brought from home. None of this was unusual, that’s why it jarred me a bit when I heard Karen’s husband thanking god for his superfluousness and pronouncing it “super-fluous.” Did Karen’s husband think that god was unnecessary or some Marvel Comics superhero with the word, “Fluous!” on his shield? Even though he was as dumb as a bag of rocks and balding before thirty, he was pursuing a life devoted to sharing the love of Christ and Karen was that wife he needed to make the picture complete—sort of like Ted and Gayle Haggard, all teeth and miraculous commitment. Karen was the unspoken woman leader at the playgroup that day. If she could bag a pastor, then she must be super spiritual, if not super fluous. She had the difficult task of telling me to leave. It was an important moment for her life, I suspect, to prove to god, herself and the other mothers that she would follow the holy spirit’s lead to love me scripturally by reminding me that sinners like me are not allowed to enjoy the fellowship of other believers. How hard that must have been for her. I didn’t ask why. I just gathered my girl and got the hell out of there. What bothers me more than being kicked out of someone’s house is that they probably started praying for me after I left; in front of all those sweet kids. I cried a little in the car that day, but if there is something to thank their god for, with great gratitude, it’s that I have not become the scriptural ball-buster, Stepford Wife type of woman. Karen’s hair sucked then (a faux-early-nineties-Rachel-Greenhaircut) so I’m sure it sucks even more now. So, no, my story is not simply the traditional impressionable-girl-married-too-young thing. The brand of Christianity I was so entrenched in for something like eight years, was just plain freaky. The playgroup incident was the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t realize until I decided to quit God, church, and my husband all at once, what my life looked like from an outsider’s position. I was hurt for a long time. I lost every friend I had just because I could no longer fake faith. And divorcing my husband at the same time, was just too much for them all to bear. I’m pretty sure it seemed to come out of nowhere to all those church ladies, but I knew the minute I got pregnant that the world was bigger and more important than having blind faith. 49


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I just didn’t think I had the courage to go through with it. So when I did, I gradually forgave myself because they sure as hell weren’t. I was (and am) an unrepentant sinner in their eyes. Now that the hurt is gone, I have a hard time not thinking about what a freak show my life was. Or maybe it’s just that I’m probably drunk all the time and I can’t remember what the hurt felt like? I wonder if Suong would be as nice to me if she knew I used to pray for people like her with the assumption that because she’s Vietnamese that she didn’t have Jesus? She’s probably the most Jesus-like person than anyone I’ve ever met, and somehow she’d still get Christian tracts as tips if the church ladies didn’t believe that getting your nails done was an act of vanity. I found out later that she has two kids—a boy and a girl. Just like me. Her hands look like my newly dead grandmother’s except without the gaudy diamond chip rings—the same long thumb nails, but for Suong, they were an occupational necessity, cleaning under and around the edges of my nails—the girl does a damn fine paint job. * Today is Ash Wednesday. I went once to get the ashes thumbed onto my forehead (I just wanted to see what it was like) and my then six-year-old daughter freaked out. She couldn’t stand the look of me, I guess (and sometimes I can really relate). Since I grew up Baptist, we didn’t do the ashes on the forehead thing. I think it was another act of rebellion, then, when I started going to an Episcopal church a few years after divorcing my evangelical pastor of a husband. I sort of missed the ceremony of church, the community of people it can create, so I found a church with a woman priest and a gay acolyte—home. The observance of Lent has always interested me, far more interesting than the tenet of total immersion baptism, which I grew up debating with Catholics. We didn’t believe that you were saved until you made a proclamation (in response to an altar call) in front of the congregation (and infants can’t proclaim, so no way, babies) and then got baptized, totally covered with water. I did all of that at the age of 13. It felt like peer pressure or something worse—I wanted to be like Holly Fields and I just knew Holly Fields was going to walk down the aisle after the altar call, and she was absolutely going to weep with joy. All the grown-ups would be so happy and they’d praise her and hug her and she’d belong to their little club, exactly where she wanted to be. She was my best friend for about a year; we both carried a zeal for Debbie Gibson and lip-synched her songs in Holly’s attic of a room—and we absolutely hated 50


Spittoon 2.4 Cobb, excerpts from Low Self-Esteem…

Tiffany. That bitch didn’t write her own songs and she wasn’t nearly as classy as Debbie. Holly had a 2X5 lavender boom box cassette player, a Columbia Records membership that allowed her to purchase 10 tapes for 1 penny, Hypercolor t-shirts, brand new Guess jeans, acid-washed and perfect for pegging, and a Cindy Crawford mole. What confused me about Holly’s style was that it clearly had to have cost money (all but her god-given mole). That meant having nice things clearly had to have mattered to her mother, since she was the person presumably in charge of purchases—but her mom was single (and almost none of my friend’s mothers weren’t married) and her home was hot and dark all the time. I had two working parents who bought me my first pair of jeans in the eleventh grade when we moved to a terrible town in southern West Virginia where the kids didn’t want to know me since they hadn’t already known me since kindergarten. I wore only my sisters’ hand-me-downs until that year, and I only believe I got new stuff because of the guilt they felt for moving me in the middle of my junior year. My sisters were out of the house by then, so it was me alone who had to endure the move. Anyway, if they couldn’t afford to buy me my own clothes until I was driving cars, then how could Holly’s mother afford to buy her the coolest clothes, music and décor? I was really lame from the start, in bad clothes, with bad hair, so being friends with Holly Fields was essential. Her whole house was wood-paneled and Holly’s room had to be in the unfinished attic (it was either that or share a room with her older sister, who had style, but not as much, so of course, the attic). But she made the room way cool. First, she picked out two New Kids on the Block posters for sale at Kmart; one was of Jordan alone (I would have picked Joey), and the other was of all five, rat-tailed and one-earring-ed; I noticed these posters first upon entering her room, they were on the far wall on either side of the window. Beside Holly’s bed was what can only be described as a Debbie Gibson shrine. Several pages from Teen Beat were torn out and taped by her bedside—all images of Lady Debbie, I suspect for Holly’s research. I also have vague memories of Richard Marx being among the teenage décor as well, but I think his poster was mostly covering a hole in the plywood. I knew these posters well, but not from the time spent in Holly’s room; it was from all the hours I spent thumbing through the posters at Kmart displayed like a giant holy book to female thirteen-year olds. I stopped asking my parents to buy me some, because I couldn’t stand their exasperation. I knew they thought my love for Joey McIntyre was stupid, so I felt increasingly more stupid every time they said no. I needed my own money. So, I found a few babysitting gigs (even though I hated children then as much as I do now) and bought two NKOTB posters and a mint green mini-boom box just like Holly’s. It was hard keeping up with her, but necessary. She had the hair, pierced ears, an older sister who actually liked her, and she could sing. I’m pretty sure all the girls in the seventh grade envied her and 51


Spittoon 2.4 Cobb, excerpts from Low Self-Esteem…

she wanted me to be her BFF. I felt lucky—I suspect now that the only reason she liked me best was because she knew she was better at everything than me, including her devotion to Jesus; it was safe to have me around. Absolutely no competition. Thank god she moved to North Carolina before we both discovered we liked boys; if I didn’t already hate myself, compare all my inadequacies to her abilities, and also sickly save up for a black Debbie-brimmed hat (that I never ended up wearing) after Holly was photographed in her school picture wearing hers, I would have certainly spiraled once the boys noticed her instead of me—they would have too. She would’ve had that virtuous-sexy thing going for her that keeps boys intrigued. She was the promise-ring type of girl, except that her ring would have a cross on it and it would signify not that she was going to marry some young fella one day; rather, it would be a promise to Jesus that she would save herself for marriage. Meanwhile I would’ve been giving out BJs just to prove that I might be more interesting than skateboarding or baseball. So, thank god she moved. Thank god. Anyway, if I wanted to sing, “Awesome God” with Holly as a duet at one of the Wednesday evening church services, I needed to prove my devotion. I think it was “Stand Up for Jesus” that the congregation of Elkins First Baptist was singing when I walked up to make a public announcement that I was accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior. My parents stood with me, my sisters. I didn’t cry and no one hugged me, but all the other adults were shaking the hands of my parents, congratulating them, like they’d just dodged a bullet. Because without the blood of the lamb, I could’ve really been a problem child. Holly and I were baptized together wearing one-pieces under white robes. The pastor met with us a few times to make sure we were for real or maybe just to instill the rhetoric of the born again child of god. Then we were dunked in the secret hideaway baptismal revealed only after removing the floor boards where the pastor normally stood for his sermons. The baptism also had to be public, a part of a Sunday morning service, in fact. I remember Holly emerging from the water, her sin beading off of her like oil, and she was laughing. She might have jumped up and down if she hadn’t been in water up to her waist. When I was pulled from sin to life, water to air, I worried only that the whole church could see my sister’s light blue swimsuit I’d borrowed for the occasion show through my now-wet robe. I was aware for the first time of my own nipple erection, aware in front of my parents, the choir, the whole church, Holly (who’s demonstrative joy I hoped deflected any attention away from my chest), and worst of all, Chris Lynnwood, who was in the tenth grade and a talented guitar player. He would also be the boy who in three years taught me how to give a BJ— the first of many. 52


Spittoon 2.4 Cobb, excerpts from Low Self-Esteem…

My luck with church ceremony and ritual, obviously, isn’t the best, so I opted out of the ashes today. I did, however, decide to observe the tradition of giving something up this year, but I made the choice flippantly, without careful consideration, and what I’m giving up isn’t really that much of a sacrifice. I don’t know why, but maybe I want people to ask, “Why are you giving up sweets if you don’t really believe in Jesus?” just so I can say out loud that it doesn’t take Jesus to have willpower. Or maybe I just want to see if I’ll lose any weight. Either way, I wasn’t giving up beer, which would be total sacrifice and too Christ-like. As Baptists, I remember we devoted the Lenten season to talking extensively about Jesus’ turmoil in the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan to give up on his obligation to his Father’s plan to have him sacrificed for the sins of the world. I know that should be meaningful; I should hmm, and hold my chin, and appear pensive when considering the Temptation of Christ, but I’m really sick of introspection, repentance and confessing sins. That’s what this Lenten season is about, right? If I buy into the atoning powers of Christ’s blood, covering my sins, “making me white as snow,” then I should probably feel good about hating myself, which means I’m a worthy candidate to be saved by Jesus. I should be grateful for these Lenten days of sacrifice. But there’s really only so much self-reflection I can do before I turn into Narcissus and I don’t feel good about my self-loathing. When I was a Christian (and I’m not anymore, which drives the eternal security zealots crazy) all I thought about was what I could do for myself to make me more like Christ. It’s supposed to be a selfless, giving, forgiving religion, but that didn’t work for me. It just made me look so far inward that I couldn’t see past the end of my nose. I lost all perspective if I had any to begin with. Cheers. Look. It’s come to my attention that I drink too much. When I open my e-mail and see one or two word subject headlines like “Unacceptable,” “Devastating,” and “Arrest Warrants,” my first thought is, “Oh god. What did I do at the bar last night?” I’m relieved to find that these are e-mails from Democrats.org trying to gain the attention of its party while the Republicans and tea-partiers attack teachers for making too much money and having the summers off. But when my first thought is that some other mother from the community is sending me an email of shame because she saw me staggeringly drunk on High Street singing “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles at the top of my lungs, perhaps I truly should be ashamed. Perhaps I should try to rein it in a bit. So, no sweets for forty days. That’s all I got right now.

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Spittoon 2.4

Rue the Whirl Sam Buckley

I Bound to a strip, the scene holds itself. Shreds of sun fall across the sand and rocks in strips of gold, broken by blue shadows of twisted tree trunks and gnarled twighedges. Outcroppings of black rock extend in salt-beaten shoals out, and the tide comes to meet them. Each are crowned with piles of picked-clean white shells: razors, snail spirals, cockles, and the crispy exoskeletons of crabs. A black and white dog bolts across the sand, salt-sanded driftwood in mouth, fur bunched by the sea. We perch around the sandcastles, halted with smiles, looking over constructions that will stand even after the tide has come in, and stand here still. One cannot see them, but the hills rise in bulwarks across the bay, and the sun will lay out its embers across their crowns. Night will never come, and nothing will change so long as the colours do not fade. II Up quick, shoesies on and out of the door: things already in the car, apart from the assorted gadgets and curios crunching in his cereal box. Chill here; sky is off-white against the trapezoid rooftops of thirties semis. In the car, now. Seatbelts on? Heart is pounding. Away, away! Let’s go! The cat watches from next to the wheelie bin. Note out for the milkman? Here they go. The car pulls them free of suburban bound, and cascades to the ring road. A milk-float crawls past them as they slingshot out of the city, a satellite flung beyond orbit. He holds a little plastic windmill out of the window and it spins and the wind barks as they pick up speed. —Close the window, Tom, his sister says. It’s too loud. Dad— —Close the window now, Tom, there’s a good lad, his father says. Too loud when we’re on the motorway. And aren’t you cold? —He’s too awake to be cold, his mother says. Where’s your sweater, Tom? —Sitting on it, Tom says.

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Spittoon 2.4 Buckley, Rue the Whirl

The windmill goes back in the cereal box, next to circuit boards and capacitors prised out of a broken video recorder. And as they go on the sun lights up the sky, and the off-white begins to shimmer out with almost-gold; tall grasses in hedge-bound fields sway softly in the breeze. The motorway takes them down like a slow grey river, extending out to infinity and Birmingham. When they pass a sub-station there Tom’s eyes light up, and he looks: towers of brown porcelain segments linked with wire bridges and steel scaffold. He is here in different voices: passing now, unearthing the little windmill again, passing in a year, ninety-nine, looking through a Beano. Passing in eleven, smoke pours from looted stores and rolls lazily over, an overcast grey in the blue day. Passing out of time, he becomes a god sending forth great blue barbs of electricity across the substations, gathering up insulators for gathering’s sake. Birmingham is a great round haze: they slingshot off it and onwards. —Are we nearly there yet? Tom asks. —No, dad says. * At the corner of the campsite sat a rusted hump of corrugated iron: a chicken coop at one time. The stinging nettles and brambles had curled a nest around it. To Tom, it could have contained a whole other universe; but he didn’t look, save the possibility be dispelled. It was quiet, save the buzz from a wooden pylon with a metal transformer belly. One could look at over the fields, hearing nothing but the faint buzz and the fainter bleats of sheep. If one looked right the way down, a little slip of blue cut across the horizon, seeming to tease and promise. There would be white beaches; endless sands. But now a quiet wait in the soft evening, playing fetch with the dog, back and forth, for endless happy hours. He awoke one night with the rain hammering on the roof of the blue caravan they lived in, and the wind howling around the tin; a gate rocked against its post with a tolling boom. He called mum and dad. —There now Tom, dad said. Don’t worry, mate. Did you have a bad dream? —Yeah. —Well, it’s alright now. Want me to wait here awhile?

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Spittoon 2.4 Buckley, Rue the Whirl

—Yeah. —Okay. Then, seven years separated, he emerged from the tent in the half-gloom and looked at the vanishing gold over the sea. The dew had already fallen. The old blue caravan had been set at the side of the yard, put to pasture. III Edging from the tent, filing past the stove, he is three years removed in the other direction, and a few hundred miles drifted. The air has a sea-chill and a dash of salt; as he edges down the hill the lush grass begins to thin and black shoals take over from soil crusts. He is in his own version of the photograph, wandering onto the beach with his niece the dog as the evening gathers. The sun bursts out in fiery arcs across the edges of clouds; soon it will be dark. The sea is a little way off yet but coming in. He will have to be careful. The sunlight catches in flickers of brass on the water, and glares softly across the sand. They play fetch. He looks across the fields and the bay, which is almost perfectly still. Glowing reeds move; trees are still, daubed in darker green among the fields. Cottages lie dotted in white, and the mountains watch in the distance. No sounds but for the soft sigh of sea and the patter of paws fill the air until seagulls dismount, illuminated by the vanishing sun, cackling and laughing their way away. And then an odd thing happens. At a tiny point on the still dry sand in the upper part of the beach, between drying mermaid’s purses and bunched black seaweed, two currents of air seem to converge. The scramble of paws is receding after the thrown stick. The two currents of air begin to circle and duel, and the sand follows, gently leaping up in little curls. Then, the duelling escalates, and more sand is drawn into the whirl: it is grown, now, a tiny little devil. Particles of seaweed and shell are drawn into the tiny whirlwind; still, Tom feels no breeze. The dervish grows, still fixed to the spot, now a column of contorting sand and shell fragments; eventually it grasps a mermaid’s purse and hurls it at him. It bounces from his knee. The paw-falls return and a soaking stick is dropped at his feet. The whirl disintegrates from the inside; the converging currents slow, and the forces expend themselves. The sand starts to fall down again. Still he watches, as slower and slower the whirlwind spins; the column disappears. A few last particles

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Spittoon 2.4 Buckley, Rue the Whirl

of seaweed fall. There is no noise but expectant panting and the soft sigh of the sea. He throws the stick. Paw-drops scatter. He watches for a long time, willing the whirl to return and still trying to make sense of what he has just seen. He dips his toe into the little circle left by the whirl: nothing. —Tom. Dad comes down the beach. —There you are, Tom. Where’ve you been? —Just round here. And guess what... —You shouldn’t be so far over, Tom. Remember the tide, what I told you. —But dad... —Tom, it’s dangerous. You’re okay at the moment, but it can be dangerous. You need to keep a good lookout. —I was, dad. —Okay, Tom. Good lad. —And dad, dad, guess what I saw... —What did you see...oh look who’s back. A stick is laid down; dad throws the stick. Scattered paw-falls. —I saw a little tornado. Just there. —A tornado? —Yeah, a tiny mini-one. Like a dust devil. It was spinning, spinning, down there, really fast. It threw a mermaid’s purse at me. Look, you can see where... —Oh look, so you can. Yeah.

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Spittoon 2.4 Buckley, Rue the Whirl

IV Three years pile on in the other direction again; he is back into the last century. There is talk of a tornado in Birmingham and he is sure he can see it: an odd fold in the clouds, a variation in the grey. There it is: incredible, a great whirling grey god, tearing up the world with a pitch-altered growl and a glimmer of computer graphics. —Mum, Mum! I saw the tornado, mum! It was an F5, mum, or an F3, Mum! The F5 was biggest, like the one with threw the house and oil tanker at the end of the movie. The F3 was in the middle, still bad, like the one with threw the boat at the pylons in the earlier bit. They were all deadly. But it was probably an F2, or something, or— —Yes, darling, Mum says. Now shouldn’t you be trying to get a little bit of sleep? —But Muuuuuuum —Yes, you should, you’ve school tomorrow. —Muuuum, I don’t want to do to schooool... —Well, you have to. It’s the law. Otherwise the police will get you. Two years removed yet again he hears raging wind and the vinyl crackle-fuzz of falling rain on the tent canvas; he creeps out, careful not to press the sides or rustle too much with the sleeping bag, and poke his head out into the wet for a second. No tornadoes; only rain. Or was there? How did you know what you saw? Was it imagination or real? Or were you just remembering it wrong? Hair’s dripping when he’s back in the tent. He’s woken no one. It’s still early; he’s half-asleep.

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Spittoon 2.4

The Spins Justin J. Brouckaert

Sam presses a single finger to the plastic, peeling like the paneled walls around him, eying his own print clinging to the surface. The world is at his feet. Shaking, he picks it up and braces it between his legs. Poises his finger above it. Gives it a spin. The spinning sticks to him, tugs at him like a dull razor. A thin mustache growing now, furry caterpillar inching along the spindly limbs of fallen twigs in his mother's garden, she on her knees spreading topsoil with spade in hand, forehead damp under the ribboned straw hat; lemonade and smile. He lets it grow to relive latesummer mornings in the dewy grass. A squirming reminder, his heart. The beating it took, the single swing killing the bee docked on his arm; the furry feel of it then, oozing black spaghetti innards on his little-boy limbs, the stinger sticking stubbornly to the blonde hairs. Through the blur, he sees his grandfather’s throat, pleated in folds of liver spots, gulping pints of thick dark ales. He swallowed Sam whole with the acrid stench of imported cigars, his syrupy accent. The winding stories of mad deported escape, lugging trunks and travel bags, leaving only domesticated house cats, castoff pets foraging for drops of moisture in houses empty from the move. It is the genetic migration that sticks to the floor of the woodshed now, mixing into paste with sawdust and dead flies. The ghost of the dying old man tenses his withered muscles to lift and tip back tall drafts, shaking under the weight and easing only into soft velvet and cold soil, dropping into a smoky drunken heap. Feels the spins. He searches everywhere for his mother. She is not in the garden with her white pearl knees speckled brown; she is not in the dented Martin leaning, two strings snapped and glossy finished scuffed to hell, on those paneled walls, ten years taller than nine taller than eight; she is not in Paraguay or in China or raised in the textured bumps north to south along the western ridges of America or the crested Italian backbone; not in the crevices, the smooth and rounded curves of the dark mahogany lowered now far below the covered crust of spinning sea level. Where do you look for your mother when the garden is full of weeds and the snow has erased her like a riding mower cuts through deer beds in that drooping valley she looked down into? Winter is the only season. He is spinning past the muddled countries of East Europe, their borders rubbing arms like pubescent moments on living-room couches, sweaty hands inching over, 59


Spittoon 2.4 Brouckaert, The Spins

hot lamplight pushing beads of sweat from his brow. He is wiping mud off his shoes, scrubbing it from the knees of his jeans; he is shitfaced drunk and stumbling into the soft ground of suburban backyards, vomiting blood between a grounded boat and a rusted wire fence. He is searching in the garden; he is growing tall and gaunt and pale from afternoons spent with his back against a dirty cot, grasping at the world. He is fighting against his father's hand: thirteen and tasting sawdust; fourteen and pushing back, dizzy. He is scrubbing harder at the myriad stains, feeling the heat on his face as her hand touches his leg – not too close – European diplomats jostling for political space, pushing themselves from each other. His passport: To end of the block ten times a day for two years under mother’s watchful eye, mother home from work in business suit heels, laughing as he spun past on his Huffy with pedal brakes and plastic handles; to the pale-brick schoolhouse once a day for eleven years with an empty locker and an aching back; to his great aunt’s Christmas party once, twenty miles outside of suburban frost, dull lights on the tree and sticky, screeching cousins inching themselves like earthworms along the red carpet; the bloated white noise of adult laughter from the table – but her motherly hand gently murmuring, touching his father’s beard at the table once like he was only a boy. Like he was only a boy. Like he was only a boy. Cold, hard leather – hard to see where the metal goes when the light's off, pull string in the woodshed limp as a drowned man. The first time, pinned to the dank corner, his scalp teeming with termites – the first time, tasting grit, watching the paint-stained hand go up; he grips the world closer and thinks of China. The millions of Chinamen: them Russians and them Chinamen. His grandmother, a big beautiful Indian with hair blacker than memory; mother of ghostly mother of ghostly son. His silent guide, her brown hand on his as she took him to hidden stony beaches, searching for Indian secrets in the sand. Their footprints forcing the perfect sheet of brown beneath the waves; the itchy feel of sand crabs crawling up his leg. He loosens his grip and thinks of water. Traces the bones in his hand with sunken eyes, the thick veins like seagull wings, harried and flapping from the swishing of his bright orange trunks. The birds patter forward dumbly first and then rise with a jerk, wings kicking up sand like the gritty bottom of the cement floor, the sweaty secrets twisted by hair pulled back, his father's boots slicked with rain. The gulls start slow and find their rhythm, fleeing the safety of lake-water currents, the borders blurring into black specks. They are his father's beard; they are his father's belt; they are the spinning wheels of his father's truck; they are his father's black tshirts with the pockets on the left breast holding three cigarettes burning always in his memory.

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Spittoon 2.4 Brouckaert, The Spins

Sam watches his earth spin, rattling into slow rotations, wobbling at the base. Watches the tainted family picture that paints itself dizzily in the itinerant earthly palette. His mother's sad smile drowning in the North Sea; his father's gnarled hand gripping the Adriatic. Sam reaches out with one finger to stop the spin, steady, and plunges into the Atlantic Ocean. He takes long strokes to dip beneath the salty waves, holding one breath until blackness flickers, surfacing above to the massive crashing thaw.    

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Spittoon 2.4

from beautiful sinister Kristy Bowen

 At the bottom of the lake women are

waving at trains that never stop rolling through town, at visitors who never alight from the platform and take off their shoes or their coats. The minnows have woven their way into the folds of their dresses and they dream about deserts and saguaro, the lip of sun on the horizon. They hide sardines at the back of their cupboards, wait for the knock at the window, the key at the door. The women at the bottom know luck when they see it, can talk to you about fortune without batting an eyelash. They’ve forgotten their names, but remember the slow slide into mud. The long, low chasm of voice.

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Spittoon 2.4 Bowen, from beautiful sinister

Before she is merely a footnote in a story about mirrors, our mother names us after the muses. Clio, Thalia, Urania. No three daughters are exactly the same, even if they claim to be. The same grey green eyes, the same pale strawberry hair. The same girl in the glass reflected three ways. One is always prettier. One is always smarter. One with the smallest fingers and the narrowest wrist. We argue in the dark of our beds over which is which. When the men come, they will swing to the most willing to please like the arms of a compass. When the devil comes, my father will say, he takes a shine to the brightest penny.

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Spittoon 2.4 Bowen, from beautiful sinister

Nia learns to build the dolls from mud and a bit of hair. Three. We watch them wash away the rain. All good stories begin with a little magic. I keep a suitcase in the closet, half packed, just in case. Later, the cat births her litter deep in the red dark interior. This is how we learn rain. This is how we learn want. I burn them underneath the wolf moon. Wish for softer skin and a new pair of levis. Thalia steals lipsticks from the drugstore and brings us sodas and perfectly lined notebook paper. We are safe as houses then, safe as the violins swelling unused in the attic. It makes us virtuous. Makes us clean. Even our hands bleach white from the poison in the traps laid so carefully. Even our hair sings.

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Spittoon 2.4 Bowen, from beautiful sinister

All good stories begin (and end) with vanity. Snow White’s stepmother and her broken glass. We are all vain as useless as the bottom of kitchen drawers. Even I note approvingly as my hips begin to swell and my hair shines in the light from the dirty window. Even Nia straightens her buttons and braids on the walk to school. Thalia stops eating anything but cabbage and bananas and takes to throwing up behind the shed after breakfast. We say she’s being overdramatic, but everyone hesitates over the lunch tray mashed potatoes, each of us willing the others to take a bite first.

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Spittoon 2.4

Reading Glass Daniel Beauregard

A molehill is undoubtedly a mountain to some creatures that have existed for millions of years. A glass house is how nudity could easily shatter an illusion, whereas my brain is a solitary rock and I remain outside looking in. Your paper deserves an A but the lens is wrong. We’re back on glass again. In a way they’re all the same—glass, skin, words : blown up into paragraphs, returning to sand. All this time the American Cockroach has suffered no change. Trust in nothing more than closing your eyes and bobbing for apples. Lean forward. Return to the fold with a golden knife between your teeth, cheeks flushed crimson while you struggle to breathe through your nose. Skin diver: garbage floating beneath you in a murky barrel. You sit at my kitchen table: an empty suit. Reading and writing is so important, you think to yourself, and stare at the dead leaves piled on the porch. That’s an idea.

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Spittoon 2.4

from Mist Nets Stephanie Anderson

9 A snowy egret A green and red boat A key stuck in a door Chiggers on the grounds You say They don’t make their own holes You say The rightmost diagonal A grand veranda You say The woodcreeper’s back You say Tailed and tailed A reptilian face You say The table is high You say Sour? You say Number 59, solitaire kite Lattice-work windows You say For consumptions of bar ask for your receipt Gould’s jewelfront You say I think I saw one this morning You say Down to trogons Four cold Cusqueña

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Spittoon 2.4 Anderson, from Mist Nets

You say I think I saw all three You say You saw a white bandit You say Look at the girl, knows the dead ones Cake of cake You say An accident of judgment You say It’s what dinosaurs would sound like You say What is the cuckoo?

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Contributors

   


Spittoon 2.4

Changming Yuan, 4-time Pushcart nominee and author of Allen Qing Yuan, has edits Poetry Pacific and has poetry appearing in 599 journals/anthologies worldwide, including Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline and Exquisite Corpse. Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of She who Loves Her Father (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in Margie, Poet Lore, Arts & Letters, and Blackbird. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com. Michael J. Wilson lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His work has appeared in Pax Americana, Shampoo and Lungfull! He is working on his first novel and keeps a blog at gnashnosh.blogspot.com. Brent Terry is the author of the chapbook yesnomaybe (Main Street Rag Press) and the full-length Wicked, Excellently (Custom Words). His new book, Troubadour Logic, is forthcoming from National Poetry Review Press, and yet another manuscript is wandering the streets looking for a home. Terry teaches creative writing and literature at Eastern CT State University. David Rawson’s work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Bound Off, The Monarch Review, and others. He can be contacted at davidallenrawson@gmail.com. Josh Prichard lives in Southern California where he is writing in earnest after wandering around San Francisco failing to be a filmmaker. He is currently studying fiction at Cal State Long Beach. Ken Poyner has been appearing in the alternative and small presses for 40 years or so, and is now out and about on the web. His real avocation, however, is being awful eye-candy at his wife’s powerlifting meets, from which she holds multiple world records. “Menacing Hedge,” “Corium,” “Eclectica,” “Asimov’s,” “Frostwriting,” “Gutter Eloquence,” and a host of others have been tongue tied with his work of late.

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Spittoon 2.4

Dan Pinkerton lives with his wife and children in Des Moines, Iowa. Poems of his have appeared in New Orleans Review, Indiana Review, Boston Review, Subtropics, Willow Springs, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Sonora Review, and River Styx.

Mark Parsons has published poems in Indiana Review, Smalldoggies, Poetry Quarterly, and Curbside Splendor. His email address is parsoma_2006@yahoo.com and you can find him on Facebook. Matthew Lykins lives and works in Oxford, Ohio, with his wife and three children. He has been recently published in Spittoon, PIF Magazine, and Metazen. Please visit his blog, http://50percentfinished.wordpress.com/, or follow him on Twitter (@50percentfinish). Jenny Drai has work appearing or forthcoming in Handsome, Indefinite Space, Spork, Parthenon West Review, and Aesthetix, among other journals. She lives in Vancouver, Washington, where she is working on a novel.  

From 2009-2011 Mark DeCarteret was the Poet Laureate of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You can check out his Postcard Project at pplp.org. Amanda Cobb lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she teaches English Composition and Creative Writing at West Virginia University. Her poems and essays have appeared in Verse, Arts & Letters, Cutbank, Tygerburning, Pebble Lake Review, Controlled Burn, Georgetown Review, and others. Sam Buckley divides his time between Liverpool and Leicester, writing short stories and long, dreamy novels. He has previously been published in the Eunoia Review and Crack the Spine magazine. Justin J. Brouckaert is a creative writing senior at Saginaw Valley State University. His flash and micro fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Thrice Fiction and The Molotov Cocktail. He occasionally thinks out loud at jjbwrites.wordpress.com.

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Spittoon 2.4

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book, chapbook, and zine projects, including the forthcoming girl show (Black Lawrence Press, 2013). She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press and studio, an indie press and design studio.

Daniel Beauregard, 27, currently lives in Atlanta and is a reporter for a local newspaper. His work has appeared in Gesture, Hobo Camp Review, Midwest Literary Review, and is forthcoming in NAP and Brown God. Follow him on Twitter @666ICECREAM. Stephanie Anderson is the author of four chapbooks and a forthcoming full-length book, In the Key of Those Who Can No Longer Organize Their Environments. She edits Projective Industries.

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Spittoon 2.4: Posterior Spider