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Book Thirteen : 2011
strokes 2nd Annual Creative Writing Competition
Poetry Marshall Chapman
Flash Fiction George Singleton
Short Story Marjory Wentworth The Rapture
Poetry: Marjory Heath Wentworth
contributors Cynthia Boiter …Co-Editor Mark Pointer …C0-Editor
Kristine Hartvigsen … Contributing Editor Ed Madden … Poetry Editor
Kyle Petersen … Music Editor Michael Miller … Writer
Subscribe now at: www.undefinedmagazine.com These pages are the labor of many talented hands, from writing, design and editing, to sales and marketing. We encourage you to contact us with any feedback or story ideas at our website. Please support the artists, your community leaders and advertisers. For advertising information please contact us at: 803.386.9031 or firstname.lastname@example.org undefined magazine is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner, in whole or in part, without the publisher's written permission. Write us at: undefined Magazine 709 Woodrow Street : 321 : Columbia, SC 29205 803.386.9031 ©2011 All Rights Reserved
A message from the editors. Last spring when the editorial staff of undefined announced that we were accepting submissions for our First Annual Creative Writing Competition, we all looked at one another and, well, we smirked. It wasn’t the creative writing part that made us grin. We had no doubt that our readers would provide us with high quality examples of poetry and prose. It was the First Annual part that got us – the implication that there would be more competitions in subsequent years to come. Our team had only been together for a few months and we all knew the idea of us being together long enough for us to hold a Second Annual Creative Writing Competition was … let’s just say far-fetched. Yet, here we are. So it is with immense pride that we present undefined Magazine’s Second Annual Summer Reader, containing the winners of our Second Annual Creative Writing Competition. Our winners hail from as far away as Wisconsin and as close as our neighbors next door. This makes us happy. In many ways, it epitomizes what we had hoped for undefined from the beginning. We wanted a forum where we could present, no, let’s just say it, where we could show off the immeasurable talent in Columbia, and South Carolina at large. At the same time, we
wanted to help bring a taste of the larger world of artistic ability to the eyes of our artists, patrons, and readers. We believe that, in some small way, when it comes to the literary arts, this issue accomplishes both goals. We also introduce two new projects in this issue. Fresh Paint is a new element of the magazine which will feature the freshest works by Southeastern artists in a stand-alone format. We’re also using this issue to announce our First Annual undefined Magazine Photography Competition coming up later this year. As with Fresh Paint, we’re looking for work that has not been exhibited previously, and that is excellent and innovative. Winners will be published in a photo-centric issue of the magazine in early 2012. For more information on both Fresh Paint and our First Annual Photography Competition, please turn to page 9. We hope you enjoy this issue of undefined Magazine as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Thanks for reading.
Allan Anderson, “untitled”. Collage. 30x40”. 2010
We’re looking for Fresh Paint Fresh paint smells funky. But it also smells stimulating and exciting and new. Fresh Paint is a new element of undefined Magazine that will feature the freshest works by Southeastern artists in a stand-alone format. We're looking for work that has yet to be exhibited or published, is innovative, thought provoking, and excellent. Some months you may find one example of Fresh Paint – others you may find more. We’ll make our decisions on what to publish based on nothing but the tone and theme of any given issue of the magazine, and the collective whims of our editorial staff. We want you to be surprised and delighted when you find new art – by both old favorites, as well as new artists you’ve never seen before. Our first Fresh Paint artist is Allan Anderson. We chose his untitled mixed media painting because we could so easily visualize it spread out across two pages of the magazine. Anderson is a rising senior majoring in painting at the University of South Carolina. His influences for this piece were Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns. “I love the traditional figure, but I also enjoy working with mixed media, which is why I fell in love with spray paint and the
things you can manipulate with it,” Anderson says. “It’s like working with Photoshop, but on canvas and in real life.” The 24year-old explains that after doing many studies from works by Fairey, he has begun to make the process his own. “This particular painting is a collage, mixed-media piece,” he says. “It’s the same process I use with all my collage pieces. I use different images and old newspapers to build a background that I like. I’m constantly ripping things away and adding more until I’m satisfied. I like to use images that are powerful. Portraits just do that for me.” It did it for us, too. To see Anderson’s work, turn to page 6-7. We invite you to submit photography of your fresh paint, clay, chalk, cloth – whatever medium makes your toes curl, to Freshpaint@undefinedmagazine.com in .eps or .tiff format at 300 dpi. Please include your name, contact information, medium and title of your work, and the date your art was finished. And, please, be patient. Send only one image per sixmonth period of time. If after a six months we still haven’t published your work, send along something else. We’ll continue to take both into consideration.
Judge these book by their covers The South East Association for Book Arts along with the University of South Carolina’s McMaster Gallery present a bi-annual exhibition, The Celebration of the Book, on the campus of USC. Thirty-five artists will show their interpretations of the book as art, focusing on both traditional and uncommon book formats – think codex, pop-up, and scroll; and materials – wood, metal, plastic, even glass. The exhibit encourages readers to be as viewers of the book as an art form as well as consumers of literary content. The exhibit is open Monday through Friday from 9 until 4:30, and is located on the first floor of McMaster Gallery at 1615 Senate Street in Columbia, through August 4th. Admission is free. The following artists have work represented in the show: Lisa Blackburn, Mary Beth Boone, Frank Brannon, Barbara Bussolari, Anne Cicale, Cynthia Colbert, Laurie Corral, Gwen Diehn, Bridget Elmer, Daniel Essig, Annie Fain Liden, Larry Lou Foster, Michelle Francis, Susi Hall, Susan Hogue, Cathy Howe, Ellen Knudsen, Susan Leeb, Matt Liddle, Peter Madden, Wayne McNeil, Stephanie Nace, Linda Neely, Bea Nettles, Teresa Prater, Robin Price, Kathleen Robins, Lisa Robinson, Alice Schlein, Sharon Sharp, Kathy Steinsberger, Susan Stevens, Kate Stockman, and Kathleen Strouther.
Heavy Feather Falls on South Carolina who hail from Irmo, SC. “It made sense to bring Robert on board, so Sammy and I extended an invitation for him to join the studio, which added an extra dimension to us by bringing in his strengths as a writer.” The three men who now make up PIENSA: Art Company have executed several projects together, starting with LeHeup’s short story, The Heroes of Santa Moreno. “Sammy illustrated the sequential work, and I illustrated the wraparound cover as well as the overall design,” Dre explains. The studio’s latest project, Heavy Feather Falls, is presented in comic book form, with narrative artwork shown in separate, sequential panels, but absent the prototypical word balloons usually found in comic books. The other big difference is the verbiage. All of LeHeup’s dialogue is written as haiku, with 12 distinct, but sequential, haikus spread out over nine pages telling the story of the Japanese Battle of Sekigahara. “I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture,” LeHeup says, “and the Battle of Sekigahara is one of the most definitive in Japanese history.” To get your own copy of Heavy Feather Falls, visit your local comics store or PIENSA: Art Company’s website at www.piensaartsompany.com.
Heavy feather falls It didn’t take long for brothers Dre and Sammy into Sekigahara Lopez to realize that the with latent purpose. artistic work each of them do
is complementary to the other brother’s work. While Sammy is all about pencils and ink, for example, Dre is a master of color. Both men are graphic designers whose talents wander easily into the realms of fine art and illustration. About five years ago, the brothers decided to collect their talents under one roof. Being Spanish speakers, they wanted to honor their heritage by giving their company a Spanish name, hence the birth of, “Piensa,” which means, “Think” in Spanish. They added the words, “Art Company,” to better illustrate exactly what it is that the brothers do. They do art. About two years into their business, Sammy, who was working on a degree at USC, was introduced to local writer Robert LeHeup, who was looking for an illustrator for one of his short stories. Robert is a major league comic book aficionado, an area in which the Lopez brothers excel, so the fit was perfect. “We realized we have a lot in common as far as visions and methods of execution go,” says Dre, who is the older of the Lopez men
undefined magazine’s First Annual Photography Contest We invite you to submit your work for our first photography competition. Submissions are not limited to any theme and can be entered in either the Professional or Student/Amateur categories. Color and BW photos accepted. Enter as many times as you would like. The top winners will have their work published in undefined magazine's photo issue, January 2012
Model Release Rules A model release is required to submit any photos using models or identifiable people. The entrant certifies that he or she are fully responsible and assume all liability in obtaining and maintaining any model releases, when applicable, and that undefined magazine is not responsible for obtaining or maintaining model releases, and assumes no liability pertaining to any usage of the photograph.
General Contest Rules • By submitting a photograph, the entrant certifies the photograph is the original work of the entrant, he or she has the right to publish such a photograph, and the photograph has never been published before. All photographs must have a model release form when applicable. • Submissions may be featured in undefined magazine in print and on the web site. Entry in the contest constitutes permission for undefined magazine to use the submission for digital and print publication and for promotional purposes.
For more information, e-mail email@example.com. No calls, please. NOTE: You can enter multiple images, just upload them one at a time. Also, if you enter online, you don't need to print out a copy for entry. Please submit high resolution images, up to 25mb. You can also download an entry form with model releases and mail your submission to us at: 709 Woodrow Street, 321, Columbia, SC 29205
There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. — Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith
S H O R T S T O RY
P O E T RY
The First Place winner, The Deer Unspoken, has such a keen eye, and such a knowing awareness of the consequences of the moment, that poetry judge Susan Meyers says she was “swept up in the poem from beginning to end.” Of Second Place winner, Marsh, Meyers was impressed with how the poet let “images of the natural world build the poem's beauty and weight.” And for Third Place winner, Photo of My Mother as a Girl, Meyers noted that the winning poet used repetition and a steady focus to embrace emotion both in the present and the past. According to Meyers, “All of these poems pay close attention to language and image, rendering the emotional heft and the mystery that makes for powerful poetry.”
Susan Meyers’ book Keep and Give Away was published by the University of South Carolina Press after being selected by Terrance Hayes for the SC Poetry Book Prize. It was also the winner of the Brockman-Campbell Book Award and Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Book Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, jubilat, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. She was the First Place winner for Poetry in undefined Magazine’s First Annual Creative Writing Competition in 2010.
C T I ON
ST O RY
2 2 The Deer Unspoken
She appears, ghost of the corn, in the dim evening, almost an absence, brown velvet neck muscling the soil. I raise the rifle, place crosshairs
on her spine. She is pulsing there in fine electric signals. My heart quickens and something old opens inside me. Midwife to death, it tells me we are one thing breathing along the telescopic sight. I hold my breath and pull the trigger. We are shattered, the deer, the gun, the coming night, by rupture and silence. My closed eyes see nothing, but the skin knows the body is lying in a heap, blood and air rivering the field into blooms of bone and flesh. I take her in the dark, the empty weight stronger than gravity, rooting us to the earth. The sun will rise on a void, the powdered hoof prints, the bed of her body, my boots traveling into nowhere, the place where she was loaded and we drove away, a November mysticism as if we lifted into air or the field opened up around us, taking this harvest, this bitter cold alchemy, back to its beginnings, as if she were Persephone and I had dragged her down. P. Ivan Young
story: Kristine Hartvigsen Photography: Michaela Brown
2 2 2
CT I O N
2 Marsh They want for nothing—the blue heron the snowy egret— salt of their lives here in the marsh at sunset This is how it is if you follow the Coopers Hawk in cold winter air, sun crowning head feathers as it wings away
This is how it is, delta wind over cord grass and black rush, how it dries the outstretched wings of the cormorant, earthbound thunderbird Here in the marsh, mallards skate to landing. The Blue Winged Teal and the Green Winged Teal scatter in iridescent color in Six Mile Creek where sun sketches that last-minute trill of color, and breezes edge toward December
Fiddler crabs scuttle over pluff mud and even the White Pelican can be seen near river water on sand bars, gathering against spume This is how it is when you feel the silky cool rush of air at your cheek—to be on the wing in winter Salt of our lives here in the marsh at sunset
C T I ON
ST O RY
Photo of my Mother as a Girl For myself, with thanks to Barthes. I never recognized her except in fragments â€“ the thin line of black that made her smile (the thin black line between her two front teeth), the caught look of her stance kneeling but rising in the grass beneath a new tree, the reach of her arms, long and thin and bent before her like thin, bent wires ready to spring. But she is all in pieces there, torn bits of known mingled with the foreign, the historic, the before me. It is as if she doesn't know me, her stomach long and thin and pale white, my father absent, the sun freckling her face through unpruned branches of a young tree.
“Perfectionism will ruin your writing. … Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get.” — Anne Lamott
music “I guess the hardest thing about any writing is to not let the words get in the way of the truth. You just keep scraping them away until the truth shines.” – Marshall Chapman lives her life with no regrets. Even now, at the age of 62, Chapman has a no-holds-barred conversational style that spins and winds through unexpected avenues, revealing some harrowing personal details about both her life and family with an amazing lack of restraint. And while it is tempting to recount the remarkable story of her life and music, (12 critically acclaimed albums and two awardnominated books, with songs recorded by the likes of Conway Twitty, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Joe Cocker, and Tanya Tucker, among others), Chapman has written two absolutely spell-binding books that do the job just fine. Her first book, Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller (2003), uses 12 of Chapman’s songs as a loose framework for an engaging, meandering, and eloquent journey through Chapman’s life. The second, the recently released They Came to Nashville (2010), introduces the reader to the Moveable Feast-like cast of songwriting characters who have populated Chapman’s life in Nashville through a narrative conceit of present-day interviews, explaining why and how they came to the songwriter’s capital in the first place. Born into one of the most powerful textile families in the South Carolina pstate and raised for the easy life of a Southern belle, Chapman’s life, as one writer put it, “is a living example of
It’s hard to know where to begin the story of Marshall Chapman. On stage with Willie Nelson singing Waylon Jenning’s part in “Good Hearted Woman”? Spontaneously flying down to New Orleans on Jimmy Buffett’s private jet? How about playing pick-up basketball with young natives on the island of San Pedro? Or waking up face down and hung over in her front yard vegetable garden, wearing nothing but her underpants? There are dozens of stories to choose from and just as many songs, but somehow they all fall short of capturing this six foot tall Spartanburg native who has blazed her own path through life. The truth of the matter is, to really understand the singer/songwriter and non-fiction author, you have to hear something straight from the Tall Girl herself. Chapman talks like she writes and writes like she talks, with a wonderfully thick Southern drawl and an artist’s sense of emotion, discovery, and beauty in the world. Telling stories about Southern living and rock and roll excess that can so easily fall into the trappings of cliché, Chapman has a relentlessly honest approach and a startlingly powerful voice, both on stage and with the written word. While never really shooting into superstardom, Chapman has long been known as a songwriter’s songwriter and a powerful performer who fearlessly jumps on the stage with her heroes and
story: Kyle Petersen
writing hit songs, Goodbye… also features dalliances with drug addicts and a married Texas songwriter, stints in rehab and her brother’s harrowing death from AIDS. Similarly, in They Came to Nashville, Chapman begins with her hair on fire at a party and goes on to reveal a grumpy John Hiatt stuck on the side of the road after two flat tires, Kris Kristofferson’s shitty first apartment in Nashville, Emmylou Harris penniless, divorced, and convinced her music career was over at the age of 23, and the anxiety and ecstasy of trying to get an interview with a surprisingly enigmatic Willie Nelson while riding on his tour bus through the heart of Texas. They Came to Nashville, while not as lyrical as Chapman’s first effort, is perhaps better representative of where she is creatively. After writing Goodbye…, Chapman began to diversify her efforts, becoming a contributing editor to Garden and Gun magazine and trying her hand at writing short stories, two of which were published in anthologies. One of them, the tale of a young Arkansas songwriter and his bride heading to Nashville to make it the music business, clicked with her. She had planned to write a series of stories around a similar theme, but one day she sat down and wrote the opening line – “The night I met Billy Joe Shaver, my hair caught on fire” – and she realized she had to write a different book, one that was yet again about her real life experiences. “It’s like that Guy Clark line ‘some days you write the song, some days the song writes you,’” Chapman muses. “I really feel like both of these books wrote me more than I wrote them.” Chapman ended up successfully capturing the spirit of Nashville, with stories of her meeting songwriters followed by winding, informal and revealing interviews about each individual coming to Nashville. “I made a list of 53 songwriters and six questions, which became seven, and just went at it,” Chapman says. Fifteen songwriters made the final cut which ranged from wizened figures like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, to the new Nashville darling Miranda Lambert, to Americana figureheads like Mary Gauthier and Rodney Crowell. And, while it may seem like famous names are sprinkled in with more inconsequential ones, it soon becomes clear that Chapman is establishing the wondrously elaborate network of the songwriters’ capital, where it often seems like everybody knows everybody else. Chapman has been touring non-stop since the release of the most recent book, which came out simultaneously with her new critically acclaimed album Big Lonesome, with a strong mix of both readings and musical performances. “I bring my guitar along to the readings, and it’s usually about 80-20, depending on the venue, whether I read more or play more,” she says. Chapman had her greatest success with her band Love Slaves, but these days she tours as a solo act, accompanied only by her husband, Chris Fletcher. “Being on the road alone is a kind of hell, but being on the road with someone you love is a perverted kind of heaven,” she laughs. “As Billy Joe Shaver says, ‘I got it down to one movin’ part, and that part’s me.’” For more information about Chapman, including tour dates and purchasing information for her books and CDs, visit www.tallgirl.com.
the triumph of rock and roll over good breeding.” Chapman had all the typical experiences of the young rebel raised in the South—tomboy prepubescence, important relationships with working class African-Americans, and, perhaps most importantly, a formative and profound experience with Elvis Presley, all of which led her down a far different and more exhilarating path than her parents had planned. Chapman left South Carolina in 1967 for Vanderbilt University and, eventually, a long, wild, tumultuous life as a singer/songwriter and rock and roller. From there on out, her life has been populated with speed freak boyfriends and dive bars, stunning highs and heartbreaking lows, improbable figures like Generalissimo Snowflake and Dr. Rippy, and, above all, the miraculous circle of singer/songwriters that live in Music City. But as breathtaking as her life story is, what is most remarkable about Chapman’s recent foray into print is the astonishing deftness and skill she has shown for someone who, until a few years ago, did almost all of her “writing” scattered among notebooks and cocktail napkins, with no plans to even pen anything but songs. “I had written 30 pages [of what became Goodbye…] and thought, ‘this ain’t a song,’” Chapman recalls. Not knowing quite what to make of her little creative outpouring, Chapman faxed her friend Lee Smith, an established author, what she had produced. Smith was dumbfounded by the quality of the prose and the originality of Chapman’s narrative voice – the singer mimics her friend’s gushing in a high-pitched voice, “You have noooo idea, you have a voice, that can’t be taught!” – and became instrumental in pushing her to write a book. And while structuring the book around 12 of her songs might sound like a self-defeating, stilted or limiting way to write a book, it worked for Chapman “as a springboard to tell stories.” When describing her approach to storytelling, she quickly credits her upbringing. “That’s what Southerners do,” she says. “After dinner we just sit around telling stories to each other.” While this may sound simple, it’s an astute description of the book itself. Sure, some of the stories are about the act of writing songs or the life experiences that inspired them. But there’s also endlessly amusing and illuminating digressions, stories about specific performances or the numerous co-writers she’s worked with over the years. In a way, that’s just how stories work around a dinner table, where you never let the topic at hand get in the way of a good story. The other great strength of Chapman’s books is that she seems to bare herself emotionally with a level of sincerity and eloquence that is often so difficult to achieve. “I write myself out on a limb and, when it starts to break, I scramble back in,” is how she explains her process. When asked about overarching themes or motivations for the stories she tells, Chapman generally characterizes both the books as “about the relationship between art and life,” with her own life hopefully providing a good example. Her sincerity and willingness to open up all parts of her life, even the most unflattering, emotionally vulnerable, and psychically gut-wrenching of moments, also provides a distinct message. “I want [my readers] to know that it’s okay to be a human being,” Chapman says. “[And] the fuck-ups are just more interesting.” So in addition to the stories of nights full of stars and
2 2 2
FL ASH FICTION
If what fellow adjudicator George Singleton says is true, that writing a novel is like walking across a bridge while writing a short story is like walking across a tightrope, then writing flash fiction might best be described as balancing, like a ballerina, on one’s toes. With 500 words or less at their disposal, flash fiction writers do not have the leisure of exploring the environs of their characters or their conflicts. Every word counts. First Place winner Ivan Young, also chosen by judge Susan Meyers as the first place winner of our poetry competition, drops the reader into the middle of his protagonist’s life and, in less than 60 seconds, illuminates the struggles in his character’s soul. Concise, deliberate, exacting. For the second year, Cynthia Boiter judged the flash fiction component of our creative writing competition. She is a six-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project, A three-time winner of the Piccolo Fiction Open, a two-time fellow of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, the winner of the Irene B. Taeuber and Porter Fleming Awards, and the W. W. Norton Award for Flash Fiction, and the co-editor of undefined Magazine.
P. Ivan Young
2 Why Not Leave
C T I ON
Andy has been standing at the back door for three years now, his hand resting on the cheap wood handle. "What's for dinner, Ma?" he shouts. He can hear her whistling. He grimaces. He wants to tell her he hates her. He wants to tell her he loves her. He can smell fried onions wafting from the kitchen . . . again. Last night it was the must of boiling potatoes. He's grown thin standing there watching cars pass on the side street, the birds that build their nests in the hedge, the young couple that sometimes stands in the culde-sac and kisses. The glass is strong, almost translucent, almost. He can see his vague body like a ghost, the way, as dusk approaches, darkness gathers inside him. He can see the smudges that cover his body, prints and palms of other people's hands. He's begun thinking about what it would be like to open the door. The stories play out in the night as his body sways somewhere between sleep and wakingâ€“it is silent. Here is Andy with guitar in hand, the big record deal, the girls, the coke, the stay at Betty Ford. Here is Andy going to college, the job at the bank, the lawn that seems to stretch into nowhere. But lately, he sees himself posed by the door, the wall clock chiming behind him. His pencil legs barely support him. His face is gaunt. His mother is sitting at the table looking through him. "Memories, like the corners of my mind," she sings. "Ma! Crap . . . morbid crap." She looks up only half seeing him. She rises, walks to the sideboard and pours a tall glass of vodka. Andy watches her turn it up in one long, slow gulp. It is then that he feels the door open like a mouth, a turbulent wind gathering around him. He can feel the pull . . . He usually finds himself crying as the vision clears, as the phantom wind sets him softly back in the dark house. And when the dream is gone, he lifts his foot, the same foot placed in the same space, the halftoe shape where the carpet is worn. There next to the metal seam where door meets wall running up to the latch that is always open. His forearm muscles tense. He can feel the resistance of the sliding door, the inertia of weight and ambivalence. His eyes are closed, his jaw set. And then the tick of releasing metal stops him. "Shit," he whispers and presses forehead against the ghostly forehead in the glass, as if some part of him is disappearing and he wants nothing more than to lean in and kiss himself goodbye.
ST O RY
2 2 2 Dennis C. Hasty
2 Lincoln’s Head
“Remember the color red,” she said. “When you see the Pyramids, remind yourself that they were once covered with earthy communist ochre. When you hear about Dorian columns and pantheons of human-formed gods, recognize that they were originally vermilion. Read about the Coliseum flooded with wide-open pink Republican mouths shouting down heaven-sent cries of praise heaped upon them by the half-eaten Christians who stood drowning in the blood of those who went before them. After you’ve read Dante, know that Aristotle was both teacher and slave. Would he have been any less of an artist if he had been less of a woman?” A small amount of crusted dry saliva required dabbling. “Picture Picasso’s triangles outlined and erased. Hear my voice telling you that if someone has to explain it, then you don’t get it and you might as well just start all over again. Feel the burn, touch the fire, peer into the embers while they’re still alive.” An ice cube rounded the speaker’s mouth while her tongue toyed with the idea of crushing it. “If someone offers you carbonated sugarwater, notice that the majority of popular flavors die tainted. Eat raw meat. Imagine a raging bull chasing a flying carpet that rolls out just before the toreador meets a long overdue and gory fate. Sample some barbequed chameleon.” Kiss-stained glass shaped the teacher’s ruby-waxed lips for the last time. “Stop and smell. Go wild. Prick your fingers because you’ve learned that all flowers are not the same and that fresh-cut is never good enough if you’re really picky. Grow old and spotty. Relish the blotchy stigmata of rosacea. Develop robust hemorrhoids bursting with aromatic arrogance.” “Reflect. Expand. Disturb.” The instructor sighed, lifted her watering hole, then thought twice about it. “Think of Lincoln’s head at the finish of the play.” “Remember the color red,” she said.
2 Micael S. Stone
CAFÉ AMERICANO She reads an article on Zimbabwe's drought and famine, including personal stories like the farmer's: he walks two miles to get the sack of corn rationed by the U.N. for his family- the corn, meant to last a month, lasts two weeks because he shares it with the villagers. She reads about the two thousand AIDS deaths there. GRANDE SKIM NO FOAM LATTE. Her lover remains in her thoughts. She thinks of his difficult marriage, of his adoration of her. She envisions transplanting the poor of Zimbabwe into America, to give them choices, and she savors the knowledge that she is her lover’s choice. TALL SPICE LATTE.
He has told her the decision is hers, assured her his marriage is doomed regardless of her choice. Her husband takes a sip of his drink. He is reading the sports page – an article on the impending baseball strike. She thinks too many people want too much. GRANDE CARAMEL MACCHIATO. She believes her husband's thoughts and hers are miles apart when he says, "It's a shame, isn't it? Damn ball players can't be satisfied. Is there ever enough for them?” TALL CAFFE AMERICANO. She looks at the pretty people around her with their fancy, multi-monikered coffee drinks, hears the steady shouts of their orders by the man behind the counter. She thinks 2 – CAFÉ AMERICANO about the Chicago Times photo of Mikibo the farmer and his sack of corn. GRANDE CINNAMON SPICE MOCHA. She starts to tell her husband about the article but thinks better of it. Baseball is dominating his thoughts on this beautiful late-August Chicago morning. TALL ICED WHITE CHOCOLATE MOCHA. She thinks she is like the baseball players and also the ruling party leader in Zimbabwe who keeps his opposition from their corn rations. And maybe like those AIDS victims. She wonders if later they will all regret their choices – the ball players, the greedy party leaders, the dying Africans and she. She wonders, too, if along the way, they ever considered that they were choosing poorly, making mistakes. I want too much, she thinks. I don't need my lover. The baseball players don't need more money. The ruling party leader doesn't need to block his near-famined opposition from their corn. We don't need, but we want. GRANDE ESPRESSO CON PANNA. Perhaps the players think more money generates more power. Power over whom? The owners? The fans? The world? Controlling people's food gives the controller power over the hungry. Over Zimbabwe? Over their world? Power is intoxicating. She wonders if taking a lover has given her power. He certainly intoxicates her. She finishes the article, takes a sip of her Cafe Americano and resolves she will do better than those about whom she has read. "Pete, you ready?" she asks her husband. Together they leave the coffee house, each with a folded section of newspaper tucked safely under an arm.
“It’s important to tell he truth. … ‘The Legion of Decency’ might not like the word shit, and you might not like it much, either, but sometimes you’re just stuck with it. No kid ever ran to his mother and said that his little sister just defecated in the tub.” — Stephen King
George Singleton is a hoot
story: Cynthia Boiter
headed. I just wrote short stories for about 10 years. I already had an agent who was saying, ‘write a novel, write a novel,’ but I didn’t.” Singleton recalls finally writing a 250 page novel and when he had it nearly completed, realizing that he thought it “wasn’t very good. So I took a memorable character from that book and developed a second novel from that. When I realized I wasn’t happy with that novel, I took a memorable character from that one and wrote a 300 page novel from it,” he says. After having written for about 10 years, Singleton’s first big break came when a short story was selected for publication in Sou’wester, a literary journal based out of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. “They kept it for six months, accepted it, then nine months later they published it,” he says. “After that, any time I was rejected I just kept sending more stories out.” Before long, one of Singleton’s short stories was published in the quarterly Georgia Review, followed by the 1993 publication in Playboy Magazine of a story about a Bonanza-watching pre-bouncer at a bar called the Treehouse with an excellent vocabulary and a VCR crisis that could cost him his marriage. “That story allowed me to pay off my student loans,” says Singleton who earned an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Both stories and a dozen more were published in Singleton’s first collection, These People are Us, in 2001. Another collection, The Half Mammals of Dixie, came out in 2002, followed by Why Dogs Chase Cars in 2004; the novel, Novel, in 2005, about a man named Novel living in the fictional town of Gruel, South Carolina; then the collection, Drowning in Gruel, in 2006; and, finally, the novel, Work Shirts for Madmen, in 2007. Today, Singleton estimates that he has written between 500 and 600 short stories and seen more than 150 of them put into print. In 2009, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship which allowed him to take a semester away from his post at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, where he teaches fiction and creative non-fiction. In 2011, Singleton
eorge Singleton is not your typical, successful, Guggenheim Fellowship - winning writer with a catalog of a half dozen novels and short story collections, most of which have appeared previously in the pages of such uppity literary stalwarts as Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Kenyon Review, and Oxford American, to name a meager few. The prolific and disciplined author has every right to don an ascot or some other pretentious garb and look down his nose at the great unwashed masses of rednecks and ne’er-do-wells who inspire him. But rather than ridicule the ludicrous and common folk who surround his life in Pickens County, South Carolina, Singleton takes a closer look. He not only finds the humanity in his assemblage of lugheaded misfits – people with names like Raylou, Slam, and Blind Chuck – he honors his characters with a type of irreverent reverence that few people – much less accolade-laden writers – can pull off. And he usually wears a ball cap in the process. Born in Anaheim, California, Singleton moved to South Carolina with his ex-Merchant Marine father and mother when he was a boy. Not much of a writer as a child, though he did take a stab at humorous poetry around the age of 12, mimicking the politics-driven, silly style of Henry Gibson of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In fame, Singleton took up distance running in high school which landed him at Furman University on a track scholarship. “I wasn’t much of a scholar and didn’t even read or write much,” he says of his time as a philosophy major. But a visit to an English language book store while he was studying in France introduced the young man to the wit and irony of the postmodernist authors Donald Barthelme and John Barth. Inspired by both, as well as the gallows humor of Irish avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett, and an earlier exposure to the Theatre of the Absurd, Singleton got serious about writing anything-but-serious short stories at the age of 21. “Oh, I wrote bad poems, plays, novels,” Singleton says of his early days as a writer. “If you write a whole bunch every day, you don’t get worse,” he asserts. He also admits that it took him “forever… to get a book out, mainly because I was so hard-
returns as an adult for a class reunion – held, of course, in the Forty-Five National Guard Armory to the stale tunes of disco music – only to find that his classmates had kept their distance, not because they were repulsed by him, but only because they revered his star status. In Show-and-Tell, one of Singleton’s favorites of his own stories, a grown man recalls how, as a child and after his mother had “run off to Nashville,” he acted as the conduit for his father’s courting of Ms. Suber, the boy’s teacher and the father’s former girlfriend. The father hijacks his son’s show-and-tell selections by forcing him to take relics of his and his former sweetheart’s failed relationship in the guise of historically significant objects. An old love letter is said to have belonged to Hélöise and Peter Abelard; a silver bracelet and pearl ring were purportedly Cherokee Indian jewelry; “a locket once owned by Elmer the glue inventor, thus explaining why the thing couldn’t be opened.” While the majority of Singleton’s tales are connected to one another either by proximity to place or community associations, no two conflicts are the same. On occasion there might be a take-home message; something to be learned and gained from one of his accountings. But for the most part, the stories are there as observations and entertainment. They act as glimpses into the ridiculousness that can continue to be rural Southern life. And there doesn’t seem to be a bottom to the well from which Singleton draws his characters and their experiences. Despite a lack of respect for authority that borders on insurgence, George Singleton, the writer, is a highly regimented man. He rises several hours before the sun every morning to write, re-read his writings, and write more, and he keeps submissions in the mail all the time. “I’m not quite used to emailing my stuff, but that’s okay,” he says. When asked his advice for writers who covet his level of fame and success, his first response is, “Whatever George does, do the opposite.” But in a more somber mood he recommends writers to have an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude toward anyone who doubts them. “Don’t take rejection personally,” he says. “If you have thin skin then take some salt water baths to toughen it up.” His most resounding advice is his mantra though, and the impetus that keeps him getting up every day before dawn – that writing is not a spectator sport. “The dogs may bark,” he says, “But the caravan rolls on.”
was honored by the Fellowship of Southern Writers with the Hillsdale Award. In 2013, Dzanc will publish his next book, a collection of stories called Stray Decorum, focusing on, among other topics, stray people, stray dogs, how we stray into places, and how people stray away. According to Singleton, the word stray works in these stories on several levels. “Every story is a little bit about me. I like to write about living out in the country around people who are Old South living in the New South or New South People living in the New, New South, and the clashes that go on between them … Or about dogs,” he says, admitting that he is at his best when he is writing about mutts. Married to the clay artist Glenda Guion, Singleton says that their neighbors basically see him as “that odd guy who lives down the street,” though some do read his books. Which can be an adventure. Reading the collected works of George Singleton is a lot like traveling both in time and space to a fictional rural location somewhere near the made-up town of Forty-five, South Carolina – a town that was once called Sixty-nine, but has since changed names for obvious reasons. The area is populated by little boys and grown-up boys with names like Mendal Dawes, Bennie Frewer, or Compton Lane, as well as their well-meaning, but inept, fathers who tend to think too much, but never quite think things through. The grown-ups in Singleton’s stories seem to have a slightly above average amount of both sex and arguments, sometimes with their spouses, sometimes not, and are often on their way out of the marriages they weren’t able to save. Not everyone’s eyes focus in the same direction and heavy drinking teeters on the edge of leitmotif status in almost every tale. As in real life, almost all of the residents of Singleton’s imaginary places have something odd about them, and though written almost exclusively from the first person, Singleton’s authentic voice allows his readers an intimate insight into their oddities. A woman who dream of graves, for example, a man suffering from Tourette syndrome before its diagnosis was well known; another man who, out of spite for his future ex-wife, hand-caulks their entire house so it looks like an igloo, a dead polar bear, or a Dairy Queen treat. If Singleton’s characters aren’t children they are often adults recalling lessons learned and often ignored from their childhoods. In This Itches, Y’all, for example, the main character who, as a child starred in a South Carolina educational television-produced documentary on head lice and thought himself eternally ostracized by his louse-weary friends,
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FL ASH FICTION
On judging undefined Magazine’s Second Annual Creative Writing Competition, acclaimed short story author and novelist George Singleton says, “I chose Ways to Skin a Cat for the first place prize for a variety of reasons. First off, the voice is both demanding and apologetic, which is a feat in and of itself.” He goes on to say that, “The language of the story is inventive and intelligent. How anyone convinced me – a dog lover and, generally speaking, lawyer-distruster – to keep smiling throughout these pages is pretty much a miracle.”
Singleton also commented that the presence of a real conflict – essential to any short story – was most evident in the First Place-winning entry. Conflict, according to Singleton, is “what makes a story a story.” For more on our short story judge George Singleton, please turn to page 26.
Ways to Skin a Cat
I know what you're thinking. You're wondering why anyone should bother to skin a cat at all – troubling to select a method from the rumored myriad at our disposal – when there are so many dogs in the world that need killing and so precious little time? Scandalized? Spare me. Monday morning, the day my “crime” began, I was struggling to tune out a shrill staccato yip, and an ensuing plea of a yelp, then a deep tormented ruff, seven days and four uncracked study-aid tomes before the bar exam. First, let’s be clear: I HAVE A DOG. You could even call me a dog lover. I was one of those little girls who hoped to become a veterinarian … just before surrendering that ambition for paleontology, that unanimous career plan of American second-graders. If it hadn’t been for distractions like the stegosaurus, a flirtation with pastry chefery, and a fleeting fascination with the First Amendment, I may have become a vet. In which case I wouldn’t have googled “chocolate” and “dogs” to find out how much it would take. Because I would already know. Turns out, chocolate’s not the most efficient m.o. Antifreeze works well, and anyway, I couldn’t surrender my chocolate, as my reward was one piece per five pages learned. I went three hours Monday afternoon without a bite, owing to the symphony outside, an opus erupting to cues of passing cars, joggers, birds, squirrels, and particularly feisty air currents. So I found myself wandering from the table, littered with chocolate, caffeine and case law, and toward the garage via the kitchen. I went to grab that ground beef I meant to patty and grill last week, thinking it should make a tempting snack with some antifreeze gravy. But then I heard Dave pulling into the garage, home from study group. He stumbled in clutching the books that completed the set on the table. Dave: What are you up to? Me: Nuthin. Dave: What is it? Couldn’t concentrate again? Me: Don’t wanna talk about it. (Snuffle) Dave: What could be so bad? Were you looking at Article 9 again? Do you wanna go over priorities some more? Me: (Indistinct noise) Dave: Just remember what I said this morning and you’ll be fine, when you’ve got a mortgage versus a purchase money security interest … Me: (Noises slightly more distinct, in fact resembling string of expletives) Dave: Or not.
He backed toward the bedroom door, lest I kick him when he uttered this next: Dave: Babe I hate to ask this, but are you done with the UCC book? The guys and I are tackling Article 2 tomorrow. Like my professor said, when comparing bar exam study methods, there’s more than one way to … yes, she said it, the bromidious old bat. My way was to stay home and plow through alone, while
Dave learned by committee of four guys who divided the material and instructed one another. It proved a mistake, opting to share a set of books, which saved five hundred bucks but may have contributed to the demise of our relationship. Me: (Distinct expletives, this time. Punctuation of one shoe, half a box of stale fries, and a ketchupy plastic knife, flung at Dave) Dave: That was a first, Laurel. Goodnight, Laurel. Me: Go on. I’ll sleep on the (distinct expletive) couch. Dave: (Indistinct utterance resembling “petulant bitch”) (Slammed door) I passed a few minutes with a Law and Order rerun, and decided I was calm enough to read a few more pages. I was naïve. For outside, the orchestra was waxing, waxing, waxing to fortissimo. The rat-like Yip was the bellwether. Yip to the pedestrian, yip to the car, yip to be yipping he paced the lawn, wearing a bare line at the safety zone six inches shy of his invisible fence. Yelp joined Yip four measures in, and issued two half-note requests, roughly translated as “if you won’t play with me, at least tell me what the fuss is about.” She got no cogent reply, just another two measures of allegro yips. Yelp tried again with a howl, holding her note until Ruff was roused, and interrupted. Yelp caught her breath but started again. It was a classic opera. The Cad sings to revel in the sound of his own voice, while the Ingenue sends him peals of begging that fall on deaf ears, and the Hero issues his vain plea to the Ingenue. I sat at the window, watching the dogs, now illuminated by street lamps, motion detectors, and other popular purveyors of suburban light pollution. Our house is unfortunately situated, on a very small block with only four lots, so that each of us is on a corner, and three have dogs in their backyards. Only our sweet dog, Pawl, a quiet and elderly cocker spaniel, stays indoors. Ruff, one of those jowly behemoths, belongs to a homely middle-aged man I once caught watching me sunbathe. Yelp, a withered yellow lab, is the love child of a stoner couple who may or may not feed her. Yip is one of those toy things you put in a purse. He belongs to an equally high-strung classmate of ours, Mandy, who dotes on him when she’s not at school hyperventilating in her carrel. Yip’s person was at the top of our class, even ahead of Dave, and was approaching the bar exam like she does everything else: an opportunity for heated rivalry. She knows I study at home. I think she fed Yip caffeine to trip me up. What’s that you say, Yip? Yo quiero antifreeze? Antifreeze con carne? Si, muy bueno, senor. After three refrains, I surrendered. I checked that Dave was zonked out, and commenced molding three large meatballs. ••• Tuesday, Dave learned when a seller can cure after delivering a non-conforming good. I learned that antifreeze must have ethylene glycol in it or it will not kill a dog. Oops. I hit the books again that morning. Not so much the torts outline, but the how-to manuals we got upon adopting Pawl. I did TRY to read torts. And I had pretty much memorized the elements of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress when Yip trilled an opening note. ••• I think I should tell you what was going on in my head at this point, since so far this sounds sort of incriminating. So here’s my attempt to explain my mens rea: Monday, I realized I was down to a week to relearn three years of material, having squandered the summer with some pretty virtuoso procrastination, including long daily workouts, perfection of my Snood game, full make-up applications just in case I needed to leave the house, and constant redesigns of my dream engagement ring which I’d leave lying around and which Dave never seemed to see. I started feeling like someone had injected a chemical in me, that leeched into every cell in
my body. I figure it was adrenaline. I couldn’t get a deep breath, my hands shook, my heart raced. Dave promised it was just nerves and not fatal, and said now I know how Mandy feels every day of her life. And then he left me to meet his group. At first whatever my glands were secreting helped. I got very focused, so much so that when I booted up, I completely ignored Snood and went straight for my notes. But then the barking intruded. Attention shifted. I couldn’t get it back. And the fight-or-flight sensation came back and this time worse. I was sweaty and my stomach was vibrating and then I ran to the sink, and there went my breakfast of coffee and Ritalin. Seeing vomit reminded me of the warning a bar review instructor gave us: that once the exam has begun, at least one person is certain to vomit and/or faint. The proctors are trained to deal with this routine event. We are to ignore the commotion and continue writing. I threw up again. As I cleaned myself up, I revisited a theory I’ve developed over the years: as a species, our nerves have no sense of proportion. People who must can face the truly awful and make it through, but a minor event sets off a three-alarm reaction. Why? Is it because while modern life fails to provide the equivalent of happening upon a mountain lion while foraging, those early humans whose adrenal glands pumped the right combination of fuel to get the hell out fast got back to camp to reproduce, and those who stopped to gauge the precise gravity of the situation before choosing a course of action reached their conclusion too late? Thing is, over the last week I didn’t get the chance to return to camp, have a bite and think. Finally comprehending the quantity of time separating me from the bar exam was like seeing the mountain lion and being dragged toward it, unable to alter my trajectory and with hormones firing steadily each time I heard a woof, as every time I focused on the sound I knew that was one fewer byte of information I’d have in my arsenal to battle the beast. Ever-mounting terror. ••• Ok back to Tuesday morning, I was at the books and Yip started going. My glands were dumping chemicals into the rivers of my circulatory system so fast my mouth was dry even before Yelp joined in. My eyes actually crossed I was so mad, and before that moment was over I’d thrown my mug at them. The mug did not reach even halfway across my yard though because the closed window slowed it down some. Then, I found that book on what to do and what not to do with your puppy and looked for what not to do to do it. It said mistletoe is poisonous and so are poinsettias, so a quick Internet search and some extra shipping charges, and Wednesday would be Christmas in July! I spent the rest of the day on the bathroom floor in earplugs, fan and shower running for white noise, face down in a torts primer. ••• Wednesday Dave relearned the factors courts consider for child custody, alimony, and child support, writing “best interest of the child” twenty times so as not to forget to include the #1 consideration in family law. I learned that when you borrow your boyfriend’s credit card his parents gave him for emergencies, and don’t specify that the billing and delivery addresses are not one, the woman you hoped would be your mother-in-law calls and thanks you for the holiday plants you sent in a puzzled tone, then asks several non-sequiturial questions meant to assess your mental health. So like an amnesiac who cannot learn from experience I plopped down with a cup of coffee and the torts book damp from Tuesday’s drool. Then, the inevitable. I feel actual pain with every bark. Hammering. Hammering!!!
They ignored the outside world that morning, running back and forth along invisible lines where invisible fences meet since chain-link is forbidden in our burb, sharp turns at the corners, a marching band with wretchedly maintained instruments, sharp turns but never intersecting … that’s actually a little … sad? Yip, yip yelp ruff ruff yelp yip yip … the Ode to Joy? Despite a pang I flipped open the puppy book, and found a “don’t” that’s so easy I should have tried it first. That day, I now know, Mandy skinned the cat at her own kitchen table, getting up every halfhour for a stretch break and to gaze at Yip’s shenanigans. I guess Mandy was stretching as I read that grapes and their shriveled bodies raisins were dangerous snacks, for just one bunch of grapes can induce a toxic reaction. I had both. Which to use? There’s the pleasure of pelting the dogs, one by one grape … the raisins wouldn’t be quite as much fun to pelt, but they’d certainly take up less volume, allowing a greater concentration of toxin into the stomach. So Mandy wanted to know what I gave Yip to make him so sick. And this is where I screwed up. Mandy: I hate to bother you guys, I know you’re like me, study study 24/7! It’s just … I saw you give Mr. Sprinkles a little treat – looked like you were tossing some to all the pups. I’m sure you meant no harm, I just need to know what to tell the vet, ‘cuz he’s just puking his little heart out. (Nervous laugh) (Nervous hair-wind-around-finger) Me: Just a little hamburger. Mandy: Really? (Confused face-scrunch) I thought it was some kind of cookie. It looks like raisins, in his doo. Me: That must have been someone else. (I'm stuck because admitting to two “treats” in three days would be suspicious, as the only notice I’ve given him before was in the form of noise ordinance complaints). Dave: You didn’t give him that old stuff we had in the fridge? (He’s damp from the shower and his arrival in boxers does nothing for Miss Priss’s attitude). Me: It wasn’t too old for a dog. I figured it was better to throw the stuff in the yard for them, than to throw it away. Mandy: You mean you didn’t COOK IT first? (Hair is dropped and forgotten) Me: No Mandy, I didn’t grill for your dog. I didn’t marinate it either. Mandy: He is throwing up Laurel! You might have killed him! Mandy, hearing herself I guess, backs up a step and resumes the hair-twisting. I suddenly realize she’s wearing full makeup, the first time I’ve seen her in anything but a ponytail and a determined grimace. Finally Dave, in that tone he gets when he’s lost patience but decides humoring me is quicker, steps in. Dave: Tell you what Mandy, I’ll come out there and see if there’s any left in the yard. You can bag it up and take it to the vet’s, he can see if there’s bacteria that’s making Mr. Sprinkles sick. ••• So you know what they found. Raisins and antifreeze-soaked ground beef in the neutral zone between the invisible fences, where none of the dogs could quite reach. You’d think I’d hide evidence better after all those Law and Orders. So that’s it, my whole confession, written and signed in exactly the way I hope my clients won’t. I tried to punch it up a bit, with a cute title and moving dialogue. I have tried to retrace my steps like it was happening again, though the first time around no court psychiatrist gave me a bucket of pills so it all seems different in retrospect. With that in mind, I will note like they do in the movies that (since my mission was a failure) no dogs were (permanently) harmed in the making of this debacle.
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Cassie Promo Steele
CT I O N
At thirty-five, Mary Beth looked younger than she was by about seven years, the same number of years as the age of her son, Ben, now in second grade at Lincoln Elementary School. When Ben was younger, when Mary Beth used to stay home with him all day, she secretly thought that being around him had caused a kind of magic spell to fall over her so that she looked as young as he did as she built towers with him in his room or splashed water at him at the neighborhood pool or read stories to him for a whole hour in her bed each afternoon. The spell was broken on Ben’s first day of kindergarten, when her best friend, Naomi, who was not married and did not have children and never expected to, took Mary Beth out to lunch to celebrate. Naomi insisted on ordering a bottle of white wine, and it had been so long since Mary Beth had had anything to drink during the day that the giddiness of it allowed her to admit her secret to Naomi. Naomi stared at her, expressionless, just for a moment, perhaps considering the truth of what Mary Beth had proposed, and then laughed. “No, silly,” Naomi said. “It’s the eyebrows.” “Eyebrows?” Mary Beth had no idea what she was talking about. “Don’t you remember? Before you had Ben, you used to get your eyebrows waxed every two weeks, and then you stopped.” Mary Beth took another sip of her wine. She realized that Naomi had no idea how cruel she was being. “Women look years younger when their eyebrows are not plucked,” Naomi continued. “Like teenagers. That’s why you suddenly looked so much younger!” And the spell had been broken. On that day, Mary Beth began to age again as if according to a strange algebraic formulation, gaining three years’ appearance with each year of her son’s life spent in school. And so, on a rainy Friday afternoon in May, as she inspected her face in the rearview mirror of the car, she looked exactly nine years older than she had on that first day of kindergarten three years before. This brought her, she realized, as she caressed her right cheek, made damp from the humidity, to twenty-seven: the year she had given birth to Ben. What would she be without him? She could not imagine. The first five years had been easy as pie. This was exactly how she had described it to her husband, as he walked in from work each night and asked how her day was: “Easy as pie.” It had surprised her. She used to listen closely when women admitted how hard it was, mothering, and she had even, before getting pregnant, been able to nod in agreement when Naomi would rail on about how it would ruin your body, your mind, your spirit, make you into a lifeless ragdoll with all your energy poured into a small demonlike being. But instead it was easy as pie. Sweet, like blueberries, when he cuddled next to her in bed at dawn. Tart, like new cherries, when he got sick. Comforting, like apples, when he learned to talk, say “Mama” and “I love you” and “Don’t leave.” It got harder when he started school, she admitted to herself as the buses left the pickup area and
the long line of mothers’ cars started inching forward. What was it that made it harder? She wasn’t sure. He still ran to her every day when he saw the car after school. It was a kind of leaping. The babylove was still there. But he was more boy than baby now. More like his dad. Was that it? she wondered. The elementary school principal, who also looked younger than he was, was waving at her in the rain, his head and body completely covered in a bright yellow slicker, only the skin of his face and right hand exposed. When was the last time her husband ran to her? Or leapt? Had he ever? She tried to remember. Mary Beth waved back to the principal, so insistent he was, and then she felt stupid because she realized it was not a friendly greeting, but he was giving her a signal. She turned down the volume of the top 40 radio station before rolling down her window. “Mrs. Birch?” “Yes?” “You’re Ben’s mom?” “Yes?” “Can you come with me, please?” “Where’s Ben?” “Right now, please? My assistant will park your car.” He motioned to a young woman, a really young woman who did not just look young, in a gray trench coat behind him. Mary Beth got out of the car and followed the principal before she realized she was still holding the car keys and ran back to the car and handed them through the window to the young woman who, she noticed, was listening to the same radio station, but up loud. Louder. By the time she met the principal under the awning on the school’s brick steps, she was soaked through. She hadn’t worn a jacket, had only planned to pick up Ben and go straight home again, entering and exiting her car through the garage attached to their house. “Right this way, please,” the principal said, opening the door for Mary Beth and leading her to his office. “Principal Murphy” was printed on his door, and Mary Beth remembered that his first name was Tom. He sat her down in a light green chair in his office and sat closely next to her on a matching one. He took a deep breath in, preparing to speak, but changed his mind. “You’re soaked!” he exclaimed. “My goodness! I should have brought you a jacket! I’m so sorry!” He jumped up and opened a metal cabinet behind his desk. “Will this work?” It was a Lincoln Elementary sweatshirt, size large. Children’s size large. “I…” Mary Beth stammered. He was so incredibly attractive, now that he was out of the yellow slicker and dressed in khaki corduroys and a tight fitting light blue cotton shirt. He looked like someone she would have liked to date in high school. “Go ahead,” he smiled. “I won’t look.” And he turned toward the door of his office to pull the square shade over its window down. She did not know if he was looking, but she imagined that he was, as she pulled her sopping pink sweater over her head and shivered, even her bra damp, and then put on the sweatshirt, which was certainly too small. She pushed the sleeves, which did not even reach her wrists, up to her elbows and said, “Ready.” “Perfect,” he said smoothly, appraising her, and then they sat down as they had been before. “Now, Mrs. Birch,” he started. “Mary Beth.” “Mary Beth, of course. And please call me Tom.” “Tom.” “Mary Beth, your husband came to pick up Ben today.” She cocked her head slightly to the left.
“But they did not come home,” she answered. “No,” Tom said gently, “Your husband did not take Ben home.” Her head bobbed to the right. “Mr. Birch told me to tell you that they were leaving.” “Leaving?” “Leaving. You.” Her head straightened itself and she looked directly into Tom’s eyes, the exact same light blue as his shirt. She let her eyes wander to the fine brown hairs on his chest, peeking out near the second button, safely in its hole. “As principal these last seven years, I have to say I’ve seen a lot of things I never expected to see, but….” He was nervous, she could tell. “Mary Beth, I’m so sorry.” She kept looking at him. It was disconcerting. “If there is anything I can do…” “Hold me,” she whispered. And so he did. He reached out and put his arms around the shoulders of her tight sweatshirt, and since the blind was shut on the door window, he brought her close to him, but it was awkward in the separate chairs and so he pulled her up to standing and she put her soft cheek against the skin of his chest and felt him grow hard against her hip and then she raised her face to him and he kissed her, long, pressing one hand against the small of her back so that she could feel the whole length of him, firm against her body, and with his other hand he went under the wet hair behind her head and touched the skin of her neck with his long, warm fingers. It had been seven years that he had been a principal here, seven years since she had become a mother, and all the feelings, the discoveries and worries and pride and fear of those seven years were washed away in the rain of that kiss, as if he had never had to wear a yellow slicker in front of all those women and she had never had to listen to her husband’s silence, as if they were young again, seven years younger and ready to begin again. The thought of it filled them both with hope and they heard the other’s heart beating with the steady drum that sounded like his name as his hands moved to the front of her jeans and her head rolled back and her gaze went toward the rain on the window and she began to say out loud, “Tom, Tom, Tom.” The sounds were coming from within her and without her, both, and suddenly her son was there, outside the window of the car, yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” and it was still raining and she was still in the car and her whole body was shaking as she leaned over to unlock the passenger door for her son and he climbed in and she revved the engine and got a final friendly wave from the principal while driving away from the parking lot.
2 Lisa Annelouise Rentz Samson and Meliza
Without heat pump, air-conditioner or swamp-cooler, Meliza Humbert Baker's house was comfortable even in the summer. The surrounding trees cooled the breezes and the cement slab radiated a coolness Meliza could feel inside her thin feet-bones when she stood still. Her relatives, also aware of the comforts of the old beach house, showed up unannounced. “We thought we could stay this week,” they’d say as they placed a cake, protected by an aluminum dome, on the kitchen table. Meliza's grandmother had baked many poundcakes, establishing them as the family’s edible semaphore: let me stay at your house because it used to be mine or at least my daddy's anyway. Technically, Meliza was the only resident of the five bedroom spread. She had inherited it from her father, who had bought it from her mother's father. The house had begun as her great-grandfather’s fishing cabin with a men-only, sometimes Masons-only, policy until his grandchildren came along. It had been added onto continuously for its first fifty years, when crowds of male Humberts and Bakers still vacationed together and liked to prove themselves athletically with both footballs and hammers. Rooms had grown like burls and were connected by wooden porches like covered bridges. The screened-in porches were the dampest spots, furnished with suspect upholstery and visible quantities of bugs. Meliza’s grandmother had asked her boys for bookshelves with a pickle finish to fit below the tall porch windows, and twenty years later the books bred more silverfish than literacy. The street in front of the house, which was paved just a few years before Meliza moved in full time, lead east to the ocean, where she met her boyfriend Mike. That same day she had bought a Mike! pin (rather than the “Jimmy Carter’s Got Solar Power” smiley sun button) at the hippie store, a little shop squeezed between Georgio’s Pizza and a bathing suit boutique, Carol’s Swim and Fin. Mike! was the pin's headline, over Mike Nesmith’s grinning face. She liked the simple statement proclaiming his simple name, and she liked to say it in a squeak, not even a word: mike! They met on the sidelines of a volleyball game. When he said “Hi, I'm Mike,” she said “mike!” back at him, thrusting out the pin attached to her thin t-shirt as she said it. He nodded at her chest and said “Oh, the Monkees. Mm-hmm.” Unfamous Mike was just as trendy, and even more homespun; sometimes he tied his long draggly hair with a piece of leather. He made a sunhat for himself, and eventually one for Meliza, from sheeted Budweiser cans stitched together with twine. One afternoon, in one of Meliza’s porches, beneath the bug-stirring blades of a wobbling ceiling fan, he spent a few hours tying his wornout neckerchiefs around Meliza’s pelvis and breasts, trying to make a bikini for her. She refused to go out in the cavemanish get up. The first thing Mike liked about Meliza was that she lived alone, and in a house, rather than one of the shacks that during the season (when the town swelled from small to infra-structurally insufficient) housed groups of lifeguards or bevys of waitresses or clusters of arcade attendents. Mike liked to come over to her home to be in the different rooms: one for the food, one for the TV, one for the mammoth California king sized bed that made him feel like he took up some extra space, too. “Mellllllizaaaa,” he would call out a few times while she was in the furthest bathroom, purposefully so that, as she stalked through the length of the house, he could listen to her huffs and grumbles preceeding her through the rooms.
Aunt Greenie and Uncle Colin's sudden entrance into the house brought an end to a friendly boxing match between the two, just as Mike vaulted over the orange low-backed couch. He was confused to see Meliza accept the interruption so easily; later he asked a surreptitious, “When're they leaving?” “They're not,” she told him. “They're staying here. For the week.” The house was stocked with her extended family’s cast-offs. The towels and bedlinens, rubbed thin and raggely ended, were from the linen closets of her relatives; the prints were cartoon characters, Dick Tracy and Daffy Duck, that she and her cousins had outgrown. The dishes were either of institutional thickness taken from local diners, or remnants of sets of wedding china chosen in the ‘30s. The furniture looked like it had just collectively exhaled. Paintings of dunes and beached dingies were signed by various Humberts but rejected from their primary residences. Almost every room was crowned with tremendous bamboo fishing rods curving under their own weight. It was always Meliza’s older relatives, the ones she presumed old-fashioned and prudish, who persisted in their right to stay at the house. Her younger cousins chose to go to their friend’s beach houses, with air conditioning and pools, or took up communal living in the mountains. When they told her about the Blue Ridge, Meliza imagined herself spinning in the altitude and wearing an apron. She never suspected that long ago, before Aunt Greenie, Uncle Colin had spent a whole January in the same house, well before any kind of heating device was installed, with a woman named Letitia from Poland who was adept at keeping warm. In the wintertime, when the houses of this neighborhood were motionless as shipwrecks, Officer Clyburne practiced his keenness by spotting cats darting around corners and slinking from dumpster to dumpster. In the springtime when the locals returned, he watched them unlock their doors and signaled hello to them by flashing his palm. Every spring he expected, and got, someone and something new. Often it was some kind of vendor, sent from headquarters in Atlanta, to promote chocolate-covered frozen whips of plastic air, or a distributor of Uppity-dips, a new hair pin, from Raleigh. Officer Clyburne had patrolled the town for the past fifteen years, and was only occasionally interrupted by calls, distressful or government-mandated. Usually around Memorial Day weekend he’d have to impound a few bikes when the rush of motorcyclers became too loud. Throughout the summer he maintained an even quota of arrests by waiting for drunk teenagers to stumble across the streets in front of him. It was simple for him to keep the order because the order was low; that's what people came to the beach for. Clyburne didn’t like the looks of Mike, or the new hippie place on Main Street. For twenty years his mother had been making a springtime visit to the bathing suit shop next door for a new suit with a built-in left breast. This was not a shopping trip to be crossed; his mother made the trip alone, and Carol, the owner, knew his mother’s new size every year without missing a millimeter. The hippies didn’t even really have a legitimate storefront, their wares were squeezed into a storage space which connected the units on either side. They had filled the space with colorful lengths of fabric and soapy incense. Clyburne felt that the hippies were just kids gone temporarily wrong; sympathy stemmed from memories of sneaking off in his dad's lay-down Nash Rambler and feeling up Jennifer Bing, who’d been quite flat, and the comfort he took in his own manifestation from juvenile delinquency. But Meliza Baker, daughter of Lucas E. Baker (volunteer fireman, deacon at Tilly Baptist Church, level-headedly outspoken in the desegregation debate), should have known better. While Meliza stepped towards the beach in bare feet, the morning passed quickly for Clyburne during surveillance of the #12 pedestrian beach access point, one of the busiest and largest. After a late lunch at Hardwick's, where Mrs. Hardwick still supervised the stewing of the succotash, Clyburne decided to improve the peace by checking behind the shops. He found the hippies there, standing around as if the parking lot were as appealing as a meadow. When they saw him, they began to scamper and stuff, to conceal and obstruct. Mike got up quickly from his comfortable dent in the sand, and assumed he was the most capable. He got close enough to the driver’s side window to block Clyburne's view, and said, “Afternoon, officer,” hopefully. While the patrol car idled, Clyburne
watched Mike’s friends slink off between the buildings. On the passenger seat, Mike spotted Clyburne's leadenly shiny Colt 45. “Get in the back,” Clyburne said, and locked the door after Mike. He drove through the neighborhoods, a little faster than his usual trawling speed. Each man made his own associations with certain intersections and particular houses; Clyburne passed Meliza’s house and then went to the station. Mike wasn’t upset, until they pulled into the graveled parking spots of the station— the grinding and popping of the stones as they pulled in sounded bone painful. He tried to remember his rights, anything inalienably factual or legal that might help him. Clyburne opened the car door. He was almost solicitous as Mike clambered, long hair hanging straight down, out of the backseat. The station was a cube of air conditioning units, drink machines and uncaged fan blades. Half the cube was holding cell, half was starting point for paperwork. Clyburne opened the front door also for Mike, then shoved him between the shoulder blades as he crossed the threshold. To officers Boudrot and James inside, this had the effect of a burglar alarm. Mike looked at the three men standing around him and felt limited by the cinderblock walls. Behind him, Clyburne was stentorian: “You got to learn something.” When Mike spun around to face him, Boudrot and James scooped him into the rolling desk chair. Mike was confounded and fearful, tried to tell them to stop, but one of them— not Clyburne— grabbed his head from behind, wrenching his neck muscles. Mike gurgled out a scream, and opened his eyes to see Clyburne before him. He was holding something the size of a stout club, it was a hand tool, something with a cord, an electrified device, a cattle prod, a vibrating death inducer— an electric razor. “Got to clean you up,” Clyburne announced, and proceeded to shave Mike's head, and neck for a professional touch, while Mike’s fears of decapitation and strangulation changed into thoughts of injustice, the system, and Meliza. To do the kid one more favor, Clyburne insisted he drive Mike home, to Meliza’s. As he pulled up in front of the house, he waved hello to Colin Humbert (Clyburne once helped him haul in a five foot shark from the Cherry Grove Pier, and shot it dead as it tried to bite them, bloodying the wood around them in its thrashings), who was standing in the front yard eating figs from the sticky, widespread tree. Mike scrambled around the house before anyone could talk to him. He burst in the kitchen door, saw Meliza standing at the fridge and wanted to hide behind her. Instead they sat at the kitchen table; he told her what had happened while furiously rubbing his hands all over his head, getting used to the bristley sensation of violation. Meliza listened, concerned and trying to decide how to comfort Mike after being wronged so— barbershoppishly. Her tactic was to agree; she said “that mmakes mme mmad,” each M messy in imitation of Droopy when he had to go right the bad guy’s wrongs. She was trying to cheer up Mike, but with her relatives scattered throughout the house she couldn’t be exuberant the way she liked. “I like it better this way,” she encouraged. “Especially once these nicks heal.” She rubbed her palms over his stiff fuzz, enjoying the sensation. Meliza was in the kitchen to take account of her raw ingredients. More family was due for supper that evening, and she had a hankering for eggs. Specifically spoon bread, which was to her a salty version of custard. While Mike stared bluntedly, she resumed poking through shelves, turning around cans of beans to see the depicted shapes and colors, and moving around boxes like checkerboard pieces. She turned back to him, a sack of Eversweet corn meal in hand, and said, “Big dinner tonight. Why don't you go take a shower and get all that hair off of you.” Then she read the Eversweet promise of “Select Stoneground Corn with the Sweetness Sealed In.” While Mike showered, and laid himself down on the bed to air dry in the dulling sunlight, he listened to the outside- and inside-sounds of the house; the plumbing, the birds, Meliza’s relatives arriving, bringing with them more ingredients, appetites for each other's specialties, and the capacity to fill a house to maximum occupancy. While uncles talked about shingles in need of replacing and one significant spot of water damage, the meal was laid out on the dining room table. The spoon bread was
pushed aside by mushroomed green beans, ham crystallized with fat, biscuits bound by butter and a dripping fruit salad, all for twenty and more. Marshall (who had at one point been a shop teacher) brought a mailbox shaped like a light house, which was placed on the kitchen table with the poundcakes, lemon bars, and miniature gelatin-coconut strawberries. As everyone staked out their seats, Meliza rustled Mike from the bedroom, waking him with the scent of grapefruit on her hands and breath. “Wake up, Buzz,” she said, and after waiting for him to rub his eyes, led him to his seat. When she stepped back from his chair to walk around the table to her chair, she noted how his straight back and sharp shoulders became narrow between the hulking trapezoids of her uncles' frames. “Mike! you got your hair cut,” she heard her Aunt Lyn coo. After the revelry of plate-serving calmed, and once everyone had at least a bite of their most anticipated dish, conversation began like a just-pumped basketball bouncing around a small room. Elbows were a bit of a problem. Cary Dola, who had just dropped out of Wake Forest, told everyone that eating meat was wrong. Meliza served herself some spoon bread, making the first push into the soft brown crust. Mike was seated across from her; she could see that the talk, so casually directed, was going around him too. He looked sullen and scarred, and Meliza felt responsible. Mike was here for her, becoming a part of this long-standing house, a facet in this ritual on her sun-bleached coastline. She took small bites, feeling the metal spoon cool in her mouth. Instead of passing the brown stoneware dish down around the end of the oblong table and back up through many relatives to get to Mike, she handed the bread she had made straight across to him, her tan arm direct as an arrow.
Marjory Wentworth SC Poet Laureate is a woman of letters
praised writings on the Salvadoran Civil War. Her awardwinning work – particularly the world-famous prose poem “Colonel” – has been credited with making political issues deeply personal for people and coining the term “poetry of witness” to communicate the human costs of war and oppression. “Sometimes a poet’s job is to bear witness and give a voice to the voiceless,” Wentworth said in an online interview. “There’s something inherently redemptive about that process.” Forché, whose grandmother’s family was imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, made a powerful impression on Wentworth. With a strong devotion to human rights in common, Forché and Wentworth developed a bond of mutual respect and admiration that has endured ever since. When she was asked by the City of Charleston to compose a poem to celebrate the opening of the iconic new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River, Wentworth approached Despite Gravity from the perspective of the men from distant origins who sweated and dreamed while constructing the massive structure. “What interested me were the workers,” she says. Many were migrants, and one of them fell to his death during construction of one of the towers. “The young man who died was the same age as one of my sons.” Making those types of connections through powerful writing based on real people is critical to bringing attention to human rights abuses and to ending genocide and torture wherever it exists in the world. Over the past several years, Wentworth has been working on a non-fiction book with Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture and law professor at The American University’s Washington College of Law. An Argentinean citizen, Méndez knows firsthand the atrocities that can emerge from military dictatorships. During Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s, Méndez was imprisoned for 18 months in a detention center in Buenes Aires for defending human rights in the midst of genocide waged under Jorge Rafael Videla, who sought to eliminate any citizens who opposed his policies. As many as 20,000 citizens mysteriously “disappeared” during Videla’s reign. While detained, Méndez was subjected to beatings and torture by electric prod before being expelled in 1977 and moving to the United States as a “Prisoner of Conscience” adopted by Amnesty International. Wentworth first met Méndez while a senior at Mt. Holyoke College attending a conference at which he was a guest speaker. She was moved by his remarks, engaged him in conversation, and the two became friends, keeping in touch over the years. Titled Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights, the book is due for release September 27, 2011, from Palgrave Macmillan. “As a human story, it is redemptive. Somebody who has suffered so much for what he believes in and come out to rebuild his life like Juan has is amazing,” Wentworth says. “For me, to always be able to look at a human rights situation and evaluate what is happening provides a lot of clarity. I really don’t understand how people make decisions without that. No matter what the situation is, torture has never solved anything. It really has more to do with sadism and Nazi scare tactics. When it happens, it takes a toll on the morality of a place. It’s unnecessary and has to do with the worst in human behavior.”
hough she may never have been airlifted from a rooftop in Saigon, longtime refugee advocate and South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Heath Wentworth has known the hardships of upheaval and destruction − right down to receiving used clothing in a plastic garbage bag so she and her family would have something to put on their backs upon losing nearly everything after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. As a college student more than a decade earlier, Wentworth had completed an overseas fellowship at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva, where she became immersed in refugee issues from Somalia to Cambodia. Upon returning home, while attending graduate school by night, the Massachusetts native worked by day helping displaced refugees from around the world resettle and adjust to life in the United States. She was inspired by their personal stories of survival and perseverance. Hugo gave her just a small taste of the refugee experience. “I went from someone who had gone to graduate school in New York and been a very successful book publicist to having nothing. It is the worst thing that ever happened to me. Our house was destroyed. We lost everything we owned,” Wentworth recalls. “Thank God for friends and family who took us in. You do appreciate just having a normal life after that.” Wentworth, her film producer husband, Peter, and their two eldest sons had moved into an antebellum gate house on Sullivan’s Island just a month before Hugo’s 135 mph winds ravaged the coast. Partially unpacked boxes still sat open in some rooms before the wind and sea water − like a raging dictator’s army − rushed in. “We had never lived in a house before. It was gone in just a few hours,” she says. Many poems came out of the experience, words reflecting on the robust constitution of the Lowcountry landscape. “As we were trying to reconstruct our life, the land itself – the plants and landscape – we found to be quite resilient. It didn’t take very long for the natural world to rebound. It’s where great metaphors and symbols for strength and resurrection came from. I was just paying attention to what was around me.” As a “refugee” from Hugo, Wentworth found herself at once alienated in an unfamiliar place. Slowly, details such as temporary lodging were worked out, but it would be a full year before they could move back into their rebuilt Sullivan’s Island home. Wentworth’s third son was born just the day before they moved back in, and she found herself the overwhelmed mother of three boys under the age of 5. The challenges and introspection that followed compelled her to write, and several of her poems not only were published but also nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. A chapbook, Nightjars, followed in 1995. All the while, Wentworth worked as a book publicist for other writers, and her husband continued his work attracting independent film-makers to the area. While studying for her masters in literature and creative writing at New York University, Wentworth had the good fortune of access to world-renowned writers, including poet Carolyn Forché, a human rights advocate who focused her most
story: Kristine Hartvigsen
Currently, Méndez is encouraging the United States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which establishes a system to inspect prisons and detention centers to identify suspected abuses. To date, more than 50 countries have ratified the OPCAT but, ironically, not the United States. “There is definitely a global trend in the past 25 years against impunity,” Méndez says at a 2007 conference in California. “The international community has determined that there are some crimes that are just so egregious that they cannot go unpunished. The United States has been a major force in that favorable trend toward breaking the cycle of impunity. Accountability for abuses of the recent past is very important for transparency and confidence in institutions for settling disputes. … Ignoring human rights abuses just generates distrust that is detrimental to democracy and the rule of law.” Méndez feels that if the United States ratifies OPCAT, it will help persuade other governments to follow suit. Wentworth also sees the potential of poetry to shed light on these important issues. In a column for the Charleston Post and Courier in 2008, she reflects on the poet-as-witness approach. “For Carolyn Forché, this collective expression yields a community of poems that provide a particular type of evidence not found in history books,” Wentworth writes. “Poetry provides a human dimension to atrocity and puts a face on words such as genocide and atrocity.” An athlete in high school, Wentworth also studied modern dance as an undergraduate at Mt. Holyoke College and once aspired to choreograph and dance professionally. During her post-graduate work at NYU, she took classes at the HinesHatchett Studio. With excess energy and post-Hugo stress to work out, Wentworth became an avid runner while living on Sullivan’s Island in the 1990s. One of her favorite routes was from her house, across the Ben Sawyer Bridge, to Simmons Seafood and back, a round-trip of about 5 miles. “Of course, I observed all these things in the natural world while I was out running,” Wentworth says. “I once wondered whether I could write if I didn’t run. Running is like writing; you just have to do it.” Eventually, injuries curtailed the running, but by then, Wentworth’s deep connection to the South Carolina Lowcountry had been fully forged. Those post-Hugo years on Sullivan’s Island were both healing and idyllic for the Wentworth family. From her book-strewn writing studio, a windowed garret gave Wentworth views of the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, the ocean, and the old gray steel Cooper River bridges in the distance. New friends and neighbors filled the family’s social calendar, among them a charming, young, sun-tanned couple with four growing boys of their own. Like the Wentworths, Mark and Jenny Sanford had moved to South Carolina from New York. Being parents to all boys also provided a common bond. When he was elected governor in 2003, Mark Sanford asked Wentworth to compose a poem for his inauguration. “Rivers of Wind” flowed from her mind perfectly, like a tiny miracle. “If I’d had six months, I would not have changed a word,” she told a reporter for the Charleston Post and Courier. “It’s like being an
athlete. You practice all the time. But once in a while, you just have a really good day. You win the gold medal. I was the right person at the right time to write the poem.” The inauguration poem led to Wentworth’s lifetime appointment as the sixth Poet Laureate of South Carolina, succeeding Bennie Lee Sinclair, who had passed away in 2000. It’s an unpaid post, but some public appearances come with humble honorariums to cover expenses. Wentworth never has based her career decisions solely on compensation. She accepted the role for the sheer joy of her craft as well as the desire to teach others and promote the arts. As poet laureate, Wentworth represents the state at official events and composes poems for special observances. Other than that, the position comes with few instructions, but invitations consistently pour in to deliver speeches, commencement addresses, and remarks at community events. After a long trend in which people did not value poetry in the popular marketplace, Wentworth noticed that, after the 9/11 attacks, they started reading and writing poems again as tributes to victims and their families. People were posting poems on the Internet and on the memorials in Washington, Pennsylvania, and New York. Poetry, she notes, is appreciated most during pivotal emotional events such as disasters, funerals, holidays, and weddings. Wentworth herself found solace and healing in poetry early in life as she dealt with chronic childhood health issues that isolated her during long periods of bed rest and losing her father to cancer when she was just 14. He had instilled in Wentworth a love of literature and, especially, poetry. Writing became therapy, a tool for processing her grief and related emotions. After learning about Columbia artist Heidi Darr-Hope establishing an art program for patients at Palmetto Health’s South Carolina Cancer Center, Wentworth decided that something similar could work in Charleston as well. “I was lucky enough to have writing as an outlet when my dad was dying. Poetry is a vehicle for intense emotions,” she says, adding that people need to feel safe in expressing themselves and working through complex feelings. So Wentworth founded the “Expressions of Healing” program at Roper Hospital and teaches cancer patients through journaling and poetry. “It is a great privilege to teach those students. I learn a lot from them. There is a lot of wisdom and a lot of heart and a lot of humor,” Wentworth says. “I still am amazed that I am paid to go in and work with them. It’s like hearing a good sermon for two hours.” Two years ago, Wentworth published her first children’s book, Shackles. It holds a special place in her heart because it is inspired by a true story in which her three sons unearthed a pair of old slave shackles on the beach at Sullivan’s Island. The story reflects on the painful history of America’s slave trade. The book received the Silver Medal in the 2009 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for multicultural children’s publications. The title of Wentworth’s most recent volume of poetry, The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle, was pulled from a line in the novel Snow by Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. It celebrates the tiny, ordinary miracles that
permeate everyday life. Wentworth believes it’s her finest book of poetry to date, and it appears that critics agree. “Like snowflakes, every poem is unique. Like snow, every poem has its ordinary repetition that we have seen again and again and again. Like snow, these poems are each a little miracle, nonetheless. We have seen snow. We have never seen snow just like this. We have witnessed an ordinary miracle, and we are snowed over,” writes Zinta Aistars in The Smoking Poet, a literary e-zine. “Many of Wentworth’s poems are as if through the eyes of a wondering child, still capable of seeing magic in the world, standing at its center with great eyes, open hands and heart, observing it all in remarkable detail and with that rare and exquisite ability to share it with the rest of us, so the blind, too, may see.” In addition to fulfilling her commitments as poet laureate, Wentworth teaches creative writing full-time at the Art Institute of Charleston and at Burke High School. She also serves on the boards of the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts (LILA), the Poetry Society of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina Poetry Initiative, and the Yo Art Project. In addition, she helps run Wentworth PR, a publicity firm she opened years ago with her husband. It leaves little time to actually write new poetry or simply bask in her achievements. No, the poet laureate’s life is not the cushy ride many might imagine. With two sons in college, diminishing opportunities in South Carolina for her film producer husband, and the everyday financial burdens of mortgage, insurance and other cost-of-living obligations we all face, Wentworth feels pressure to constantly work to make ends meet. “Right now, I work 15-16 hours a day, every single day,” she says. “I would love to be able to work more just on writing. I love to teach, and I am really glad I got this job because we have health insurance now. But my goal would be to just have a life where I could spend more time writing.” Wentworth finds teaching very fulfilling, however, and draws often on the wit and insight of her mentors in the master’s program at NYU. “Studying poetry in New York City is a quintessential creative experience, and I probably didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time. The older I get and the more I write, the more grateful I am for the education I received there,” Wentworth wrote in her Post and Courier column. “I hear my teacher’s voices in my head while I am writing. Little pearls of wisdom that have stayed in my brain, despite the passage of time, rise to the surface just when I need them most.” One of the things Wentworth loves most about poetry is that, like life, there are no limits to where it can take you. Looking to the future, she says she has a “couple of novels up my sleeve” and many more new poems, if only there were more hours in a day.
fiction story: Michael Miller
The Rapture sun-bleached Nissan. “Teddy, get in the back seat,” Gene said, and the old dog grunted his disapproval but squeezed between the buckets anyway. The light turned green just as Eddie slammed the door. “Hey there, Theodore,” he said. “You doing all right, boy?” Eddie reached into the backseat and scratched the dog’s anvil-sized head. Theodore’s big tail whacked the seat in appreciation. “Where we going?” Eddie asked. “Some place real important,” Gene said as he gunned the Nissan and shifted into second. They picked up speed down Main Street, passing storefronts and parallel parking spots, both mostly empty. Gene shifted into third, and the motor hammered harder. “I don’t think we’ll make it,” Eddie said. “This thing sounds awful.” “I need to get the valves adjusted,” Gene said. “Get the valves adjusted? You need a motor transplant. When’s the last time you changed the oil?” “It’s not the oil. It burns a little oil, but it’s not the oil.” “You oughtta check it anyway.” They rolled past the last of the Main Street shops, crossed over the Interstate, and in a matter of minutes were cruising open country highway. Gene wiped the sweat from his forehead and exhaled loudly.
The 1992 Nissan Sentra sat idling at the stoplight, a slight knocking sound coming from beneath the hood. The windows were rolled down, and an undersized spare tire was attached to the left rear wheel, making the car sag a little in that direction. Gene Hawkins was soaked in sweat, his white T-shirt sticking to the driver’s side bucket. He shifted into neutral, revved the motor, and the knocking knocked faster. “Sounds like I need to get the valves adjusted, Teddy,” he said. The big junkyard dog sitting in the passenger’s seat turned and gave Gene a slobbering grin of agreement, then poked his head back out the window. Gene knew nothing about valves or how to adjust them. It was just something he’d heard the fellows at Shuler’s Amoco say while they sat around outside the office and drank Pepsi-Colas. That car needs “a valve adjustment,” “timing belt replaced,” “a new alternator.” Things like that. “Hey, Numb Nuts! Put a real wheel on that piece of junk.” Gene looked across the street and saw Eddie Todd standing on the corner. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, baggy cargo shorts, and red, high-top Chucks. His face glowed pink from the heat, and his lanky blonde hair was plastered to his head. “Come on, Ed. Get in,” Gene yelled back. “Why? Where you going?” “Just get in. Hurry up.” Eddie checked for traffic then jogged over to the gray,
“Hot, ain’t it?” Eddie said. “You don’t know the half of it,” said Gene. “I do know the half of it. It’s supposed to get up to one-ohseven today.” “It’s a hundred and forty in this car right now.” “What? It can’t be a hundred and forty,” Eddie said. “We’d be roasting.” “We are roasting, Ed. And it’s going to get worse very, very soon.” “When? This afternoon?” Eddie liked to wind Gene up. “Maybe,” Gene muttered. “What are you talking about, global warming?” “It’s not just global warming, man. It’s the end times, the planet is dying.” They passed soybean fields, long stretches of pine forest, and the occasional pickup truck going the other way. All the while Gene jabbered about droughts, deforestation, and weird carbon cycles in the ocean. Eddie just sat there looking out the windshield. “You’ve been talking to Bennie again, haven’t you?” he finally said. Bennie was Bennie Shuler, son of Lynwood Shuler, who owned the Amoco station. Bennie made 1400 on the SAT, but Lynwood wouldn’t let him go to college because of all those liberal professors. “Yeah, I’ve been talking to Bennie,” Gene said. “He’s pretty smart, but it’s not just Bennie.” He paused for a second then turned and faced Eddie, his face glistening with sweat. “Ed,” he said. “I’ve been sent a message. In a dream. It was so vivid.” “A message? From who?” “God, maybe. Mother Nature. Carl Sagan. I don’t know.” “What did this message say?” “It showed me the way, Ed. It showed me how to save us from what’s coming.” Eddie was getting a little worried. He knew Gene had been walking a fine line ever since high school graduation, but he wasn’t prepared for this. He had to admit, however, it felt hotter in the car than it did a few minutes ago. Could it really be 140 degrees?
Gene took his foot off the gas and switched on the left turn signal, although there wasn’t another car in sight. He turned onto State Highway 12 and gunned the Nissan. The centrifugal force shifted Theodore across the backseat so he stuck his head out the window behind Eddie. “You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” Eddie said. “It’s a beautiful place, Ed. You’re going to have a rapturous experience, I’m telling you.” “Rapturous?” Eddie was really worried now. They came to a long bridge over swamps and thick undergrowth. As they neared the end of the bridge, Gene suddenly stopped the car in the middle of the highway and switched off the ignition. The silence was deafening in the absence of the Nissan’s knocking motor. “Get out of the car and take your clothes off,” Gene said. “What?” Eddie said. Gene got out, slammed the door, started removing his clothes and throwing them through the open window. When he was completely naked, he opened the back door, and Teddy bounded onto the highway. “What’s going on?” Eddie shouted. He got out of the car and stood by the open door. Gene walked across the road and climbed onto the bridge railing. He put both hands around his private parts … and jumped. “Gene!” screamed Eddie, and he ran around the car to the railing. He got there just in time to see Gene’s head pop to the surface of the cool, jet-black waters of Bear Creek. “Whoooo!” Gene spluttered. Praise be to the creek! I am saved!” Theodore trotted around the end of the bridge and scampered down the bank like he’d done it a dozen times. Eddie grinned and watched the dog splash into the water and paddle out to Gene. Eddie quickly peeled off his Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, tighty-whiteys and bright-red Chucks. He climbed atop the thick concrete railing, cupped his crotch, and leaped. For the next two seconds, Eddie was weightless. Then he was saved, too.
Despite Gravity They come from France, Sweden, Mexico and Maine. Designers and engineers cradling blueprints and calculations in their arms; ironworkers wearing hard hats and steel-toed boots, sledgehammers grasped in the grip of their gloved hands. With scars and sweat drying on their skin, they come with memories of the sea and gorges sliced between mountains; rivers with forgotten names moving beneath them, time rushing overhead, and the knowledge of birds flowing in their blood. On a boat before dawn they cross the water. Starlight washes over them. The air is moist and cool. And they are silent. They are grateful for the silence. All day it stays with them, as they work at the edge of the sky. They come, because a bridge is like a dream of what is possible. It rises from the earth as if gravity was something imagined, and the forces of the universe were suspended. Workers take plywood and steel, construct a framework into the endless air, where cables holding a million pounds of iron and concrete are as elegant as strings on a harp playing the sounds of wind rising off water.
In memory of Miguel Angel Rojas Lucas, who fell to his death during construction of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina. âˆ’From Despite Gravity, ÂŠ 2007 by Marjory Heath Wentworth
Kambujan Eulogy Cambodia, 1980 Above the graves at Tonle Sap pagodas crumble and blend into earth. Water drips from the bronze genie of the sky. Four faces stare from the shadows: eight arms, each one holding carved moons, birds, children. A chipped sun in the palm of the highest upturned palm pushes though curling ferns like an offering. This is where the monks return to pray. −From The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle, © 2010 by Marjory Heath Wentworth
Dancing Barefoot in Atlanta For Juan Méndez, UN Special Envoy for the Prevention of Genocide Tonight, for many reasons, I think of my friend from Buenos Aires who survived such horrific torture that even now after all these years I cannot write about it, although he told me everything. I remember his lost shoes at a crowded party where we danced for hours only with each other. I think of his soft scarred hands, his voice quietly speaking into my ear, his small body holding onto me. And though we never fell in love and he was old enough to be my father when I think about my life’s most extraordinary moments I am dancing, barefoot in Atlanta, Georgia, in the arms of the bravest man I will ever know. And he is laughing. −From Despite Gravity, © 2007 by Marjory Heath Wentworth
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No fluff, no filler. Just the Southeast and the outstanding artists, musicians, architects, chefs, designers, painters, sculptors, craftsme...
Published on Jul 21, 2011
No fluff, no filler. Just the Southeast and the outstanding artists, musicians, architects, chefs, designers, painters, sculptors, craftsme...