STOLEN ISLAND EDITORS KATIE FULLER CORY ROBERTSON
Stolen ISland 2013
Stolen Island is the annual literary publication of the graduate program in English at The University of Maine, Orono. The editors would like to thank the faculty advisors: Gregory Howard, David Kress, and Jennifer Moxley. We would also like to thank the English Department, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate School for their support. Cover design by Aleksandra Swatek, Katie Fuller, and Cory Robertson. Front illustration, Plate XVI, Field Sparrow Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio. Thank you to Brad Beauregard, Liz Maliga and Jess Rowan for technical and design assistance, and to Sarah Cook, Rose W. Hart, Maurice Burford and Christopher Tarbell for your assistance with various Stolen Island efforts, now and in the future. The editors welcome electronic submissions of hybrid genres, images, poetry, prose, and translation. Please send all correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. CopyrightÂŠ 2013 Stolen Island. All rights revert to the authors upon publication. Around 250 copies were printed by University Printing Services (Orono, ME). Text typeset in 11 pt. Garamond. Stolen Island 5752 Neville Hall Orono, ME 04469
EDITORS’ NOTE IN 1795, JOHN MARSH received a deed granting him ownership of Marsh Island, a place also inhabited by members of the Penobscot Tribe. The deed remains documented, though the events that transpired lend themselves to the descriptor “Stolen.” Over 200 years later, a community of writers has carved out a niche on that same tract of disputed land, the eponymous “Stolen Island” on which the University of Maine is located. Established in 1995 as the Stolen Island Review, and pared down to Stolen Island last year, the journal continues to expand dialogues with communities beyond our own. And our borders are ever-expanding. The University is home to the National Poetry Foundation and the New Writing Series, which has featured many of this year’s contributors. Ultimately, though, the writers published here are bound together not by the waters of the Penobscot River, but by pages. With an eye toward navigating and blurring boundaries of both genre and geography, we wove together prose, poetry, hybrid works, and images as we compiled this issue. An unanticipated thematic design arose—one encompassing both loss and regeneration, the echoes of tradition and the future-oriented contemporary. Our thread ends on a line from the poem “Molly,” the last of Megan Kaminski’s “lost girls” series: “words are / made by hands made by soil,” and ﬁttingly so. Our literary landscape continues to change. Tucked away in a corner of New England, on a storied piece of land, this journal promises to connect us with those on other soils, other islands. Our words meet here, on these pages.
—Katie Fuller & Cory Robertson, Editors
TABLE OF CONTENTS Kristy Bowen 11 fable moon whiskey moon mermaid moon
Ariel Berry 14 Christmas Lights
Denise Bickford 20 You’ve drawn an Omen Fortuna Chris Maliga 23 Softer Jess Rowan 24 genes. land. Joseph Massey 28 The Sight Passage The Seam Amina Cain 32 “There’s an Excess”
Devin Johnston Want Enough
38 Jacob Kempfert 41 The Excursion
Jeanne Marie Beaumont 44 “With a Sling and a Stone” James Brophy 46 To-Obsession Bolero
David Bartone 48 Queen Song of the Farmer
Jeff Downey 50 Saint Cloud
Sadie Jane Fenton 52 Two Minutes of Eternity
Charles Blackstone 57 Baptism by Coffee
Jason Canniff 53 from The Story of My Baseball Cards
Cathy Eisenhower mother #1 daughter #1
Katie Lattari 71 The Atari Period
Tony Trigilio 84 from The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood) Kevin Cook 93 Untitled
Edward Desautels 94 MutilĂŠs de Guerre
Rose W. Hart 97 The Three-Legged Woman Meets Her Mate Kate Ostler
114 Dazzle Star
David Trinidad 115 from Descent of the Dolls from Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera
Jasmine Dreame Wagner 128 Business Success as Spiritual Vocation
Kevin Killian 130 Four Poems and a Story
Jessica Harris 143 All Grown Up
Dimitri Anastasopoulos Riot Dog
Aaron Pinnix 144 A Small Film. . . thereâ€™s no treasure on this map
Maurice Burford & Sarah Cook 150 Ten Cinquains Andi Olsen 154 Shakespeare in the Dark Davis Schneiderman from [SIC]
155 P. Inman 164 Opus 28 (A. Webern) misterioso (Monk)
Julian Talamantez Brolaski 167 poem for r having left new york how obvious Benjamin Friedlander 171 Dookie Bubble Franklin Bruno 175 The Investment
Page Hill Starzinger Blue Moon
Andy Graff 181 Were the Sky a Scroll
B.K. Fischer 187 Local Flora Twombly’s Leda
Emily Kohler Spotting
Jessica Holz 186 Untitled
Jason Mitchell 192 Solar Flâneur Flowers in Botticelli’s Venus
Marta Podg贸rnik the last stop
199 Elizabeth Maliga Slowly
Meghan L. Dowling 202 Grotesque: An Illustrated Essay Megan Kaminksi Selma Elena Molly Interviews Lily Hoang 216 Joanna Howard 222 Matvei Yankelevich 226
KRISTY BOWEN FABLE MOON
Ultimately, I am misnamed. Somewhere a girl twirls her hair and moves, cherry lipped through a shopping mall, sweetness aching in her molars and ﬁngertips. I write pretty bird, pear tree, perfect peach and the universe stutters. I write how to manuals on desire. How to be your own best friend. How to disappear in a room full of strangers. But I feel like it’s already been done. Scarcity is necessary. In the beginning I could not tell stars from snow. In the restaurant I looked away and said you frightened me, but how to convey the boxes ﬁlled with paper and the polaroids fading under my thumb. The joints of my ﬁnger ache and the want is complicated by bath tubs and bra straps. Gin fevered, I ﬁle it under missing evidence. File it under restraint. I am the exact same percentage of water as an anemone. You say, it is nice, but is it necessary. Consider the oldness of the universe. I ﬁle it under want.
You say only at the end does it all make some sort of sense. I dye my hair once and it’s too, too red. Wind whips me around corners and I look like a girl who has fallen in with love with ﬁre and all its distractions. It’s terrible the way things fall together like this. I put lipstick on and kiss the mirror with a greasy pout. I am dying to see how it all turns out. I wait patiently, making paper ﬂowers and looking up synonyms for ubiquitous. You bring me four kinds of strawberries and each one overpowers the other. You bring me four ﬁnches and all they do is linger at the top of the curtain rod and make a lot of racket when we ﬁght. Just because you don’t believe in it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Like gravity. Like longing. It’s terrible the way things come together like a zipper being pulled up, zipped out. You bring me four kinds of bourbon and I wind up crying on the ﬁre escape. Only at the end does it all make some sort of sense.
Over breakfast, I am ﬁlled with milk and a dozen possible disasters. But still, I love her, the girl pushing at the seams of me. Her ﬁshy ways and sinuous gaze. She loves trains and armoires, the greens seeping through every oil painting. She repeats wallﬂower, watchtower, war. She paints her toenails and packs a suitcase. Adores moving through dark spaces toward pin pricks of light. There are blues seeping through every photo and my Chinese fortune tells me “For a good cause, wrongdoing may be virtuous.” My limbs are risky with proximity. If it comes to violence, I can easily tie myself to the bedpost and pretend I had no choice.
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS THIS YEAR YOU DECIDE not to set up the tree. Instead, you take the
ornaments out back and light them on ﬁre, one by one. At ﬁrst they won’t burn, but a nice dousing of lighter ﬂuid does the trick. It starts off as just the tip of a ﬂame, a blue glow that doesn’t even smell hot. Then the ﬁre discovers the lighter ﬂuid, leaps on it like an addict, greedily sucking in more, and more, and more. The ornaments fold in on themselves, the undulating plastic writhing under the pressure of the heat and ﬂames, bulging, swelling, tinged with shadow. The ﬂames reach for you, offering to cleanse you—or condemn you, ﬂickering between the ornaments, angels of light and darkness. It takes a long time for the ﬁre to burn out, leaving a pile of unnatural shapes: disﬁgured, charred, glittering. Now you begin to feel the cold crawling up your sleeves and inside the collar of your shirt as you let the door slam shut. It’s only two days until Christmas, and cold as hell, but still no snow. Christmas used to be your favorite holiday, back when Santa was real and the nativity set was more than just a decoration. Back when Christmas meant baking cookies and making snow angels and walking around the neighborhood at night with your mittened hand inside your dad’s big warm one, admiring all the Christmas lights. Or watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and swearing every time 14
that it switched from black-and-white to color in the middle, or listening to “Carol of the Bells” ﬁfty-six times in a row, or staying up late for the candlelight Christmas Eve service. But somewhere in there, between the wafﬂes and the nativity sets and the wreaths, it all turned to shit. You can feel the blackness coming, the icy ﬁngers around your neck, tightening, grasping, unresponsive to the word no. You can’t breathe. Fall on your knees; oh hear the angel voices. You crawl to the kitchen and curl up, arms wrapped around your knees, rocking slightly, waiting for it to be over, wishing to forget. Wishing you could still believe in angels. Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born. Oh night divine. When you wake up, the ﬁrst thing you are aware of is a cockroach watching you from underneath the refrigerator. You shift slightly, the cold tile ﬂoor digging into your collarbone, and the bug skitters away. When you put the stale Pop-tarts in the toaster, you are startled by your distorted reﬂection: lips too wide, eyes mismatched, nose stretching to your chin—Kafkaesque. Your ﬁnger traces the red imprint of the tiles on your cheek—diamond, square, diamond, square. It’s Christmas Eve. ***
“Sweetie, it’s so good to see you!” Your mom encases you in a circulation-killing hug—you haven’t been back home since September. “How’s school?” Your head is twisted at an awkward angle, pressed against her chest. She still smells the same, like biscuits and ginger. “Well, well, look at you.” It’s Aunt Patty, surveying you from head to toe with her glassy eyes, just like she looks over the prize-winning Irish Setters she breeds for a living. Her husband is a taxidermist; perhaps that’s where the attraction lies. “How’s our little college Junior? I’m sure you’re doing just ﬁne.” “Fine isn’t good enough. I expect A’s for all that money I’m spending. God knows you’re too smart to be slacking off now.” Your dad punctuates his little speech with a laugh, harsh and forced, planting a claw-like hand on your shoulder. Those same hands that used to toss you in the air when you were younger until you shrieked with the thrill and the fear. The hands that picked you up and carried you into the house the time you fell off the swing set and broke your arm, hands that were stronger than fear—in their place are the wrinkled hands of an old man. Your little cousins are in the living room, banging on the piano, creating their own dissonant rendition of Jingle Bells, the notes harsh and sharp, stabbing your brain with their intensity. The voices twist around you, melding together into a cacophonic symphony, rising in pitch and volume. Someone presses a cold glass of eggnog into 16
your hand; your face twists into a smile automatically—cracked lips stretching over your teeth, your cheeks folding into hypocritical laugh lines. The eggnog slides tasteless down your throat. Smile. Say thank you. Breathe. As you enter the living room, the scent of pine needles almost overwhelms you. The tree towers in the corner, tinsel hanging in glistening clumps—tacky, artiﬁcial, multicolored lights ﬂashing a warning. Red, blue, green, yellow. Red, blue, green, yellow. You feel a tug on your sleeve. It’s your three-year-old niece, Meghan, holding up her Scooby Doo stocking. “Will you help me pwease?” You wrap your arms around her poochy tummy and lift her up so she can reach the mantle. The ﬁre darts toward you, laughing, all eyes, watching you, watching you. You squeeze Meghan tight against your chest and sink to the ﬂoor with her in your lap; even though Scooby Doo is safely hung you refuse to let go. You can hear it, starting as a low drone, far away, but coming closer, sounds bending with the Doppler effect like a siren, closer, closer. The ﬂames are in the room now, unraveling the rug, creeping across the ﬂoor to the tree. The voices continue to swell around you, a liquid mixture of disembodied sounds. The tree ignites, gleeful, shameless, ornaments contorting seductively. Choking from the smoke, you pull Meghan closer, clinging to her belief, to her innocence. Your family swarms around you, smiling, talking, free. They don’t feel the heat, can’t smell the ﬂames. 17
The shriek of a siren tears through your ears, ripping your thoughts into bite-sized pieces. Your uncle is cutting your cousin’s chicken, cubed, like a Picasso. The cat is batting at a gyrating bell hanging from the tree. The walls are shifting, bulging, pulsing. Uncle Sydney laughs too loudly at his own joke. You press your lips to the top of Meghan’s head, while the mistletoe above you turns to ash. The wallpaper curls, revealing a prayer scratched into the plaster. O come, o come, Emmanuel. The world is on ﬁre, encircling you and Meghan—you are trapped. Your family is oblivious that they are on ﬁre, unaware they are becoming a mangled mess of skin and hair and teeth, all melting together. The wreaths, the wrapping paper, the dolls and video games and books, all release into meaningless smoke and ashes. With a shriek of rage—or is it pleasure? —the ﬁre ascends to the crown of the tree, casting the angel to the hearth, where it ﬂutters, smoldering, at your feet, an angel of light cast to the earth. You reach for it, a burning coal, expecting judgment, praying for release. Grasping the pain, letting the white heat penetrate your body, deep inside the scarred places that shouldn’t have been touched. Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say: throw cares away. “Whatsa matter?” You look down at Meghan, struggling to free herself from your lap, at your hand, still clasping the angel, wrinkled and sweaty in your ﬁst. Still white. 18
“It’s nothing,” you whisper, letting her go. “Just nothing.” On Christmas morning, it doesn’t snow: it rains. It rains on the mangled Christmas ornaments behind your apartment miles away, washing away the soot and grime; it beats on the roof of your parents’ house, pa-rumpa-pum-pum, and it washes your face and hands, as you lift them toward the sky, the ﬁrst one awake, letting the cold rain quench the ﬁre, satisfying it, calming it, comforting the ﬂames, at least for a little while. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel.
YOU’VE DRAWN AN OMEN Death is a beautiful Angel, right-side up. red serpents crown her head, ﬂickering infernal ﬁre fallen star. All I see is one halo as she blood-sucks me dry.
FORTUNA Fortune, Fortune, Fortune! At some point I pulled the number 5 out of a fortune cookie like God drew Adam from his belly button a smug little ďŹ‚eck with a napoleon complex with the sense that he meant an awful lot when the plot unfolds he just makes an awfully big mess of his Navelâ€™s lint collection. Was I thirteen? then fourteen? I never outgrew the dependency on the subs ta nce of numbers. of fate.
The ﬁve of cups has never come up, and yet it does the ﬁve of cups is not my card. would rather a character the hermit and his lovethat hoary carbon-copy… the looming queen of cups. her gleaming chalice. housewives draw numbers. married to the commonplace numerical breadwinner. She who is destined to count in the kitchen the number of tumblers that have broken in her set. 22
JESS ROWAN GENES.
the earth was hovering. the darkness called an expanse under it: a dry land bearing light. the earth saw the living moving in the seas, wild & good with the air in them. a woman gave birth to years. the labor was beautiful & wicked. the creatures looked on with violence & the woman said I am just as you, righteous & clean. just as you, alive. the earth burst forth, wild on the surface & whole in depth. the creatures receded & the heavens closed the mountains to discourage ďŹ‚ying. but they could ďŹ nd no place to wait.
the earth became daughters. became daughters & after became years. became other daughters & lived to become the father of daughters & lived after & then became the daughters & so became alive in the land. toward the east a man lived among the cities. he was moving them so that they arose in the land between the plain & himself. he had parted eyes like great trees. I will make you into a severity, to live as a woman. You will be very beautiful & serious.
straw as measureless as sand, all surrounding nations with plant life growing out of the walls. birds & ďŹ sh come to listen. they heard the wars could build enemies under their feet. they build cedar & your timbers are pleased. men ďŹ‚oat them to sea in pine & wheat relations. they are in charge of the hills. they have chosen the land. they say The city smells of iron they say People should not live like birds, their heads among scraps of bread. they build a mound of ruins to drive out the walls. your fruitful daughters will attack all those around you. will gather afterward, decayed deep in caves.
they will sing the senseless spring up like grass, ears planted in old age, proclaiming There is no wickedness. an oak tree asks Are they the prophets? they come to the oak tree, walk by. they will strip bare his hiding places, his children, their lives as widows. the waters rise. they will not reach you but their breath will gather the sea into jars.
THE SIGHT of snow ruts’ gullied ﬁlth as it thaws (the slow exchange with pavement) overwhelms the want to say what ﬂoods now above it.
PASSAGE Cold, yet the page radiates with what night canâ€™t condense. Call it winter, this wracked interior no light lifts. Hail, a sudden gust, throttles the ceiling as if to describe it.
THE SEAM Sun gluts a gullâ€™s syllable lodged in fog. * Leaves and litter lashed wet against roots. knuckled at the sidewalkâ€™s edge. * Aural underbrush of insects
an ambulance bores a slit through. * Only this much room left on the page
“THERE’S AN EXCESS” THERE’S AN EXCESS. I can see it around me. My skirt seems too black, my shirt too white. It’s the same with the deep snow and the darkening sky. I read all the time now, and the characters in the books I’m reading are clear and stark, like the one who marries because she mistakes love for study and learning, or else these things are better than love, or it is the only way she knows how to get close to the subjects she wants to know about. I know that this character is a better person than me. Though the religious scholar she marries is not as talented or charitable as she had ﬁrst imagined, she remains dedicated to him regardless. I’m not religious but I want to be plain. As long as I am reading, this is true. I am austere. My husband thinks I am obsessed with myself. “You are . . . I don’t know,” he says one night after dinner. It is nine o’clock. “I must be hard to live with.” “It’s not that, but you think about yourself too much. You’re always doing self-analysis.” “I’m trying to ﬁgure something out.” There’s an excess in him. He sits in front of the ﬁreplace—very close to it—with three shirts on. Doesn’t he get hot? His energy 32
takes up so much room. It’s almost as if he lives in the house more than I do, and yet I am the one who is always at home. When we were traveling it rained constantly and he didn’t seem to mind that either. We would get out of a train and walk in a downpour for ﬁve or ten minutes to see a palace or a fort. We would look at the palace in the downpour. Now I hate palaces and I hate forts. But I can be outside for a long time in winter, the lit windows of houses guiding me along, snow under my feet to tell me I am here. I come close to knowing things; I am allowed to feel things anyone would be lucky to feel. Even this is excessive. At our house, large globes light the rooms. They are pleasing, their copper stems bending gracefully away from the wall. When my sister Maryrose comes to visit she polishes them. I tell her not to, but she insists. She is always trying to clean things. We are both probably too young to be married and our husbands too old. This is what my life has in common with literature. “I feel empty tonight.” “Don’t be sad,” Maryrose says. “Something is missing from here.” We sit in great wingback chairs, observing each other. Maryrose is wearing a harsh outﬁt, not meant for this time. Her cheekbones are visible. “You want too much.” “Maryrose, what do you see when you observe me?” 33
“Your kidneys.” “That’s not fair.” I turn around, so that my back is facing my sister. “What about now?” “I still see them, from the front or from the back. It’s what is visible in you right now, it’s very clear.” When you spend your life looking at yourself in mirrors you don’t know how to stop, when your face is wet, when you wake up in the middle of the night, when you’re having a conversation with your husband. Especially when I wash my face do I study it. When I am washing my face I listen to one song again and again, a simple one. Everything I love is in this song. And then, when I walk through the snow, Maryrose shows up beside me. She takes me to jewelry shops, and to perfumeries. “Smell this one,” she will say. “And this one.” Near us, other people are gathered around other scents. The perfumer sprays a fragrance onto a small strip of paper and Maryrose bends to breathe it in. “Mmmm,” she says. “Let me smell it,” I say. It is sweet and warm. Then the perfumer walks behind the counter. On top of the counter burns a clean beeswax candle, its shadow on the wooden ﬂoor. At home my husband says, “What is this? You’ve never worn perfume.” 34
“Now I wear it.” “It’s Maryrose. You spend too much time together.” “She’s my sister.” “I know she’s your sister.” “A sister is someone who changes you.” Maryrose, in her longsleeved shirt puffed at the shoulders. “What is a husband then?” he asks angrily. “Of course,” I say. “A husband changes you too.” I brush my hair, I wear my favorite red dress, I go to the library to look for books. The librarians are afraid of me. I don’t know why. The young ones and the old ones. When I walk next to the shelves or sit at a table with books spread around me, or even stand close to their desks, they steal glances at me constantly. I can’t understand these attentions. And when I am right in front of them they’ll hardly look at me at all. “It’s because you let them,” Maryrose says, but how could I control their eyes? It’s too much. “When you were a child,” Maryrose says, “our mother had a hard time keeping you indoors. Every time she looked out the window there you were, playing with the dirt or a leaf. Even at night you were out in the leaves.” What happened to me? A leaf is still beautiful, but it isn’t interesting. “And where were you, Maryrose?” I ask her, because I can’t remember. “Sometimes I was inside, and sometimes I wasn’t home at all. When we were younger, 35
we hardly spent time together.” My life force moves through my limbs. I can feel it. When my husband gets home he asks, “Why are you always in bed? Are you sick?” He touches my forehead and brings a book to my side. I take off my blouse and study my armpit and then my stomach. “Is this your self-analysis?” “It’s part of it.” After dinner I hurry to Maryrose’s. The cold air lifts off from the hills. In my sister’s living room I collapse into a chair next to the ﬁreplace. “There’s no vulnerability in you,” she says before I’ve even had a chance to sink in. “Of course there’s vulnerability in me. There’s everything in me.” “You don’t have a real relationship to animals.” “I want to.” Maryrose is strange. She cradles my head next to her stomach, which I’m not sure I like. Her stomach is stranger still, hard. “You’re going to have a baby.” “Do you want me to have a baby?” she asks. “No.” “But I can’t change it.” In the mirror above the ﬁreplace, we are both ﬂushed. We 36
appear so alive. Maryrose in her grey dress, and me in the red dress I wear again and again. I watch myself press my face into her stomach. Leave through the top of your head.
WANT Let the child cry awhile with a rasp that strains his throat. Let him learn what can’t be satisﬁed and break him like a colt. Beneath a blanket, let him ﬁnd some solace in himself. * I need mine cuddy! —the family word for a blanket frayed to a snarl of yarn, a mushy cud that smells of spit.
As the soporiďŹ c takes effect, eyes roll inward and night unravels the wale that day has knit. * Tilt this lacquered disk against the sun tap tap its pendulum pulls each head in turn to pivot in a slot and peck at painted ďŹ‚ecks of scratch the hollow tap of appetite 39
ENOUGH after Catullus You ask how many kisses would leave me satisﬁed? As many as the grains of silt that ﬂow from Alton south across the wide Missouri’s mouth, as many as the stars that shine through quiet August nights on tangled forms of humankind, so many kisses might leave this craving satisﬁed— more kisses than the curious could tabulate or bitter tongues malign.
THE EXCURSION ON
A DAILY WALK through the countryside we turned left when previously we had travelled straight and found ourselves at the old stone bridge, under which, our guide informed us, a child of seven years had once drowned. It had escaped from the nearby lunatic asylum—our guide used these words, “lunatic asylum”—and made it only ﬁve hundred meters before tumbling down the sudden slope into the river: we believed perhaps, being only a child, it had misjudged the distance across the open ﬁeld and, being unfamiliar with the terrain (having spent its entire seven years, our guide informed us, inside the walls of that “lunatic asylum”), reached the sudden dropoff near the bridge with little to no idea it was there, and then it fell straight down into the river. The leaves were just beginning to change; the low sky was tinged with their early color. This area of the country was known for its red soil, which was especially red that afternoon, as I recall it, and did much to complement the yellow that was creeping into the scattered trees. The stone bridge had been built over ﬁve hundred years earlier, or so the guide book informed us when we had skimmed through it together by the ﬁreplace our ﬁrst night together in that area. We had waited anxiously to see this old stone bridge, never knowing when we might stumble upon it, if at all, in our daily walks through the countryside, never knowing
exactly where it was located, if we might see it at the next turn in the road or never at all. We stood at the bridge for some time, having ﬁnally discovered it (on, of course, the whim of our guide, who often affected a pretense of moody dejection while observing distant landscapes, many of which, we were certain of it, he had seen an unhealthy number of times in the course of his occupation) after these many days past of wondering where it might be, and its comparative proximity to whichever location in the countryside we might have been hiking through at any given moment. There were large tawny beasts, oxen, we thought, in the ﬁelds nearby, but our guide assured us that they never ventured near the bridge, and that we could peruse the immediate vicinity with little threat from these beasts to our personal safety for as long as the sunlight held. While we were given permission, and while we had been overly curious of this particular landmark, to the point that we had begun expecting never to see it but to only imagine what seeing it might feel like, yet we all remained on the trail, we did not more closely investigate the bridge beyond what we could see of it from the trail, we did not step one foot into the weeds that lined the path. One of us implied that a tower of the “lunatic asylum” could be seen through the distant trees; our guide assured us this was not the case. Many times the leaves moved in such a way among the old twisted branches that this exact illusion occurred, our guide informed us, but that did not mean that any of us actually could see 42
the “lunatic asylum.” When a number more of us claimed that yes, in fact, the high walls of the “lunatic asylum” were visible through the trees in the far distance, we were informed by our guide that this unfortunate building had been demolished half a dozen or so years earlier. But the more our guide insisted we could not see the asylum, the more of us began to see the old red bricks in the space between the distant yellowing leaves. The beasts across the ﬁeld, whatever beasts they were, began lowing as the evening cooled. We all agreed that the tower was visible, to the northwest, or perhaps it was the north-northwest, and that our guide was merely attempting to deceive us. The stone bridge was certainly a sight. Even though none of us got close enough to see it in detail, we all would recommend the detour to any traveler in the vicinity. The sun fell, the distant beasts snorted in the dusk, and our guide informed us that every night the young boy could be seen, turned face down, in the river.
JEANNE MARIE BEAUMONT
“WITH A SLING AND A STONE” Boy, favored or rumored to be, your youth extinct, whole childhood off the books, apocryphal until Now he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance. The Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” “a young colossus” stoned idol, muscled contrapposto wetdream brooding like a method actor in a scene. Test Brando; cast Dean. A brookstone poised, paused in untoughened palm, alert ﬁngers of a harp-plucker, surgeon, rookie pitcher gripping for seams. Now
you’re ready. History hanging in the sling— Awaken, inner defender of lambs, smiter of lions, armor bearer. Slay the taunting brute of us all! “For this is he” Fee ﬁe foe . . . Goliath face down in his blood pond, and champ, whiz kid, you —past the big K.O.— You be Giant now.
TO-OBSESSION BOLERO I heard
that some repeating little thought, not barrage, but subtle spy that they, the thought -Russians, or whoever, send (who then gains entry with a thorough consent) which I can’t help think is sophisticated even lovelier than an army’s sieging even though in either case by the end there’s the bullet in the head that is the thought, image or idea Strawberries or Bolero or Joyce, worms eating at the brain like the world break-up of one unhinged and only satisﬁed by the sum of sand-grains and stars.
while obsessed by just the tiniest of words he started not a thousand times, writing not a thousand times, but thousands uncountable with just the hazy notion of ‘To.’ found a cure in the abstractions of foreign grammars and the vague, vague sense of reference with no need of ‘To,’ nor for verbs: to go to be to love to need, bureaucratic apparatus in the way, torn down in the great poetic gesture simply of attentive learning that is worlded and makes the world worth making.
QUEEN SONG OF THE FARMER (1) Cost varies by god on blank land. I must gather mulch���Holstein won’t make the winter, which within the mind can yet cast a Sirius above. A sign of life. My faculty is in dizzying seasons. Thanks is to the laws of nature that ﬁx themselves to the morning, when it’s morning. I am standing. Hay to make. (2) Vermont plates pull in, this much I can see from the switch. They are bringing pot and I am alone. I stand remembering my auger: blunt butting the ice crust that forms in the trough. White ground, no snow, is what day after hay’s made looks like. Seasons cross so old-timers don’t have to. Wisdom these days, voiding humor.
(3) I stand where there is no hay, thinking hay. My breath has nothing but to show itself. It is February or August. In the mind of minds no possibility is spared. The creek leading through yellow marsh, the highway in half-slumber, to one great poplar, poor man’s walnut, James Wright’s chicken-hawk dusted, as in a painting, in a limb— a tree would beam a greeny shadow. Faint wife, white house, green ghost, cool dirt. Conversation matters to survival. The woman is the rake, the man the coxcomb. I stand where there is no hay, built bliss withered. Nature nor god ﬁts handle to axe.
SAINT CLOUD The globe stops spinning so snow can rest or reset children once king of the mound. Stand-up comedy importantly challenging the fantasy of time. There are ice skaters out in the themed wallpaper of it all, frozen pond and peeling horizon. Same faces as childhood now surely new leaves turned in winterâ€™s roaring rest-assurance. The O in poetry is vocative, rather like in the beginning. Always albumen, arrowroot, an infusion of Saint Cloud: wind cut into water, water cut into bodies.
In the ďŹ rst city is the port and the second, the train station. The third gets cars warming, movements more vein than artery. I drive the newborn. For us: the smell of pine in sun or halogenâ€™s crust of snow, midnight and midday are mutable waiting for the infant inside to trail off an hour. It has gone beyond treeline, krummholz lost in kicked-ladder abandon. I want the dayâ€™s concentrate and intone the only sounds: engine, heater, highway, grapefruit rolling around the hold.
TWO MINUTES OF ETERNITY SADIE JANE FENTON
JASON CANNIFF FROM
THE STORY OF MY BASEBALL CARDS for David
Damaso Garcia, Second Base, Topps, 1986, #713. This is an “AL All Star” card. Beckett’s Baseball Monthly would have declared its value to be around twenty-ﬁve cents. He could have been worth more. Probably a no-name, like an MTV video burning out after one week. This is a close-up shot, Garcia ﬂexed toward the camera and the sun, marbled bat over his right shoulder. He is young and has smooth olive skin. The card is abnormally heavy, likely from the batch my stepfather ran through the VP-23 shop laminating machine on base. My friend who had the BMX track in his back yard said lamination destroys the value of cards. Chris Bosio, Pitcher, Seattle Mariners, Topps Stadium Club, 1993, #79. He is in a plastic sleeve, but the mold tells me moisture from the ﬂood in my mother’s West Bath house got to it, like some of the others. What is “Stadium Club” anyway? I thought I stopped collecting in 1991. The available brands multiplied, and everything became ﬂashier. Fleer Ultra was the brand to have, but I was loyal to Topps, who provided 15 cards and a stick of gum for $1.05. The gum was dull and pink and tasted like Joe Bazooka brand bubble gum. Under the wrapper was a comic, usually involving Joe and his neighborhood shenanigans. 53
Gene Nelson, Pitcher, Oakland A’s, Donruss, 1990, #540. He is in mid-pitch and looks ﬁerce. Gene is a rare name. I wonder if he knew Mean Gene Oakerland and all the wrestlers or Gene Simmons from that 70s band Kiss. Gene has an accomplished mustache and flowing hair. Orel Hershiser, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers, Fleer, 1988, #518. This was before Fleer became overly glossy. Unlike Gene, Orel is clean shaven. His nostril is ﬂared but frozen in that initial wind-up, his arm and glove compact like a chicken wing. Nice how Fleer would tell you where they are from, provide Minor League Stats in addition to Major League Stats. For example, Orel played for Clinton in 1979, had a 2.09 ERA, and a 4-0 record. Maine has a town called Clinton, though Dwayne didn’t move there with his mother until 1990 or 1991. His mother was obsessed with frogs because she met her ﬁrst or second husband at an arcade playing Frogger. She had ceramic frogs, stuffed frogs, and frog pictures on the walls. Dwayne bloomed early and had an accomplished mustache just like Gene. Later, both Dwayne and Casey would date my girlfriend Valerie, who I got to second base with before the start of seventh grade. Dwayne and Casey claimed home runs. Sometime after we made out on that thick linen couch, I visited my grandparents in Palmetto, Florida for the ﬁrst and only time. It was one of those houses on a canal with pebbles for a backyard and a screened-in pool. Religiously, “Nance” and “Lare” rose at 4am and sipped “Poppers” 54
in the lanai, all day and practically all night, always with a Benson and Hedges 100 set in the other hand. Inside, I followed the Miss USA Pageant. Sometime during that week, I discovered my body. Joe Orsulak, Right Fielder, Baltimore Orioles, Score, 1989, #247. The Score brand was more expensive than Topps. More cards, but no gum. They were a low-rent Donruss, a Sega instead of Nintendo. Score provides the necessary stats but also takes care to provide a compelling narrative. Joe, they say, was “a hustling contact hitter with good speed on the bases and in the ﬁeld.” Yet Joe Orsulak rarely batted over .300 and, in most years, was a Beckett’s “common card,” or a “chump card,” as my stepfather would say. No-name wrestlers thrown in the ring against the pros, like Ricky Steamboat or the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, were also called chumps. Melido Perez, Pitcher, Fleer, 1990, #546. This year, Fleer introduced new graphic elements on the back. For example, in the bubble graphic titled “Did you know?” it says Perez was “the leading pitcher in almost every category, including leading winner and loser.” Around that time, a lot of Dominican players starting coming into my collection. In the graphic element called “Vital Signs,” Fleer describes Perez: Walk Ratio (4.4); Strikeout Ratio (6.9); Opposing batters average (.264).
Ramon Martinez, Pitcher, Fleer, 1989, #67, and Bryan Stanley Harvey, Right Fielder, Donruss, 1990, #372. They are stuck together from the moisture and mold. I cannot see their faces but I can see their stats. Martinez played for Bradenton in 1985. I moved there earlier, before kindergarten. Bryan was a â€œSaverâ€? and would come in during the last inning, full of energy, and secure the win for his team. He did this 25 times in 1989.
BAptism By Coffee After Bridget tells trey her news, he canâ€™t stop thinking about
Bridget’s bedroom. When he gets there, he’s panting. Too much pot. Too many cigarettes. “I want to be with you,” he says at the door. “I can’t stop thinking about you.” She reaches for his hand, draws him into the room, and closes them in. “Do you want a beer?” she asks. A bottle stands open on the ﬂoor, next to a pile of fashion magazines. On top of the magazines is a stack of used loose-leaf paper. Trey can’t tell what she’s written, but there’s barely any white space left on the top sheets. She’s scribbled out dense blocks of notes, a draft of an angry letter or something. The pages are practically black. “You’re drinking?” he asks. “Don’t look so shocked.” “I just thought—you know, because.” “Oh, Trey. Now you’re sounding like a public-service announcement.” Her face crumples. “Jesus. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing here. But it’s not like—” “It’s not like this is a big deal to you.” “Of course it is. I’m freaking out.” “Well, you don’t have to,” he says. He pushes himself close to her, close enough to feel her breathing. Her skin is clammy, radiating barley and yeast, ever so slightly. She rests her head against his chest. He holds her close and kisses the top of her head. “It’s going to be 58
okay. I’m here now.” “For how long?” she asks, still leaning against him. “Five minutes? An hour? I need to know, because this affects the rest of my life.” “And mine, too.” He ends up spending the night. He fears, as he always irrationally fears, that Julianne is going to show up. They sleep in Bridget’s bed, but remain fully clothed, which helps put Trey’s mind somewhat at ease. Trey awakens when it’s still dark out. It feels like nine in the morning, but can’t be. The green LED on the VCR beams threethirty-eight. He shuts his eyes again, but Trey can’t stop thinking about Bridget being pregnant. His baby, just a handful of cells now, undeniably fermenting. Could they go run away together? This could be his chance to start his life over, away from Hyde Park, away from the Lab School, away from Joey, away from his parents, away from all of this, away from Julianne. Then Bridget ﬂips over from her back onto her stomach. She starts to snore. At ﬁrst the snores are broken up by long stretches of silence. The pauses are long enough that Trey thinks he might be able to fall back asleep, but the sounds grow louder, more aggressive, like machine gun ﬁre. In the dark, lying there, he can picture the rest of his life, can see himself twenty years into the future. The image of a used-car salesman father of three, fat, hunched, balding, depressed, married to this beautiful aural disaster freaks him out. He puts his 59
pillow over his head in an attempt to mufﬂe the sounds, but he can’t ﬁnd any quiet again. Finally he has to get out of bed. He isn’t trying particularly hard to be quiet, hoping that commotion might induce a roll into a better position, but she doesn’t rouse, not even for a second. He can’t lie back down again. He leaves her room. No parents or housekeeper or distrustful dogs to sneak past, he marches out and south. It’s freezing, pitch black, scary over here at this unpopulated hour, nary a third-shifter or crack addict anywhere to prove that civilization really does exist at some other time and is just off-duty now. He feels like a thief, with nothing to steal. He ducks into the Kimbark Plaza, uses a gnarly payphone screwed to a brick corner to page Joey. “Where are you?” Joey returns, after a ring. “Are you okay?” “Um, wandering around, and no, I’m not really okay.” “Do you want me to meet you somewhere?” he asks. “Do you need me to pick you up?” Trey thinks for a moment before answering, “No. I mean, I don’t want to go to the apartment. Do you have Julianne’s car keys?” “Yeah. They’re on the table.” In ten minutes, Joey pulls up in the Dodge. A baseball cap covers his head and he has on a faded hooded Lab gym sweatshirt. Trey fastens himself into the passenger seat. The air-conditioning is on, even though it’s cold in the dark morning. He can see his breath when he exhales. 60
“Do you want to get some coffee?” “Yeah,” Trey says. Joey drives east on Fifty-third, past the closed McDonald’s, to Dunkin’ Donuts, which, thank god, is always open. They park in a tow-zone out front. Inside it’s bright and smells like coffee and acrid sugar glaze. A Pakistani takes Joey’s order for two large coffees with cream and sugar. Trey chooses a place to sit. He drops into one of the bolted-down chairs before a two-person table, also moored to the ﬂoor. The blaze of lights makes everything look exactly how Trey feels. The east wall of the rectangular Dunkin’ Donuts is mirrored above the back of the hard plastic banquette. Despite the familiar allure of a reﬂection, Trey wishes to avoid looking at himself. This works, until his concentration wanes, causing him to snag his eyes a couple of times. Even from three feet away, his sclera are darkly bloodshot, his pupils erratic, not completely focused. Most disconcertingly, purple puffy skin, appearing bruised, frames his eyes, as if he’s been in a ﬁght. Joey sits down on the bench side with the coffee and a jelly-ﬁlled on a waxy sheet of paper he slides in front of Trey. Trey stares at the sugar crystals dusting the top of the completely unappetizing donut. He takes a bite anyway. Though he knows the steaming khaki coffee beneath the white lid will remain too hot to drink for a few more minutes at least, he takes an injudicious preliminary sip. He singes his lips and tongue almost instantly, baptism by ﬁery coffee. 61
“Jesus, I’m a fucking mess,” he spits. “What’s going on?” Joey asks. He takes the jelly donut, examines it, and has a tiny spongy bite of an uncharted region before returning it to the paper. “I don’t know how to tell you this.” “Something bad happened.” Trey’s surprised. He must know already. Did Bridget tell Julianne? “Are you going to talk to me? You’re making me crazy here.” “That’s great. That’s great, Joey, because I’m absolutely out of my fucking head.” “Is Julianne okay? She didn’t come home tonight.” “It’s Bridget.” “What happened?” Trey’s pager vibrates. He looks down and checks the number. “Speak of the devil,” he says. There’s a payphone by the door. Trey decides not to use it. Joey’s coffee is now cool enough for him to drink. Trey tries his own. Even with the little feeling left he has in his mouth, and the ﬂood of cream and sugar, he can detect the staleness of the brew. He reaches for the donut again. This time he gets more strawberry ﬁlling than he does pastry. It covers his mouth. His ﬁngers are now sticky, but there are no napkins on the table. He approaches the metal dispenser on the counter. The dour Pakistani, lips curled into 62
a sneer, hovers over the register in preemptive defense. Trey holds up the napkins he withdraws. He’s only taking two. He stands by the table and scrubs his palm with both napkins, which are now balled together. There, Trey says to Joey, one of his two best friends since third grade, “Bridget’s pregnant.” Joey chokes on the coffee he’s drinking. “Don’t ﬂip out on me,” Trey says evenly. “How do you know?” Joey asks. “She told me.” “I know this is a cliché, but—” “Of course it’s mine.” “How do you know for sure? I heard after that party when she decided to go around dressed like the Statue of Liberty naked in a sleeping bag that she hooked up with someone.” Trey shivers. “It’s mine, Joey. I know it is. I know it is because I can feel it in my ﬁngers.” Joey reaches to the adjacent table for a beaten up tinfoil ashtray. He lights a cigarette. Trey gestures for it. “So what am I supposed to do now?” “She needs to get an abortion,” Joey says. “Right,” Trey says. “But is that really right?” “Well, what’s the alternative?” Joey asks back. “Getting married?” Trey averts his eyes, looks down at his Docs. “You’re seventeen years old. Forget college and the future for 63
a second. You want to drop out of high school before your senior year and get married? To Bridget?” “That wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world.” “Yes, it would,” Joey says, too quickly. “It would. It could quite possibly be the worst idea you’ve ever had. And I’m not letting you do it.” “I think I’m in love with her.” “More than Julianne?” “Fuck you. I’m not in love with Julianne.” “You can tell yourself that. You can tell yourself that from now until you run out of words. But it doesn’t make it true.” “God, you’re right,” Trey says. Trey’s pager vibrates a second time. The relative quiet of the Dunkin’ Donuts makes the alarm sound even louder this time. It’s loud enough to cause Joey, across the table, to instinctively reach for his own beeper, which he wears on the inside of his jeans, afﬁxed to his belt, just like Trey does. “It’s Bridget again,” Trey says. “Are you going to call back?” “No. I can’t. Not right now.” “You’re going to have to talk to her eventually.” “And what am I supposed to say? ‘Sorry you’re pregnant, but I’m in love with Julianne, just like you always thought’? I need to come up with something better than that.” 64
“Yeah, better. Like ﬁve hundred bucks.” “Is that the going rate?” “You don’t know?” “It’s not like I have any experience in this department.” “No, I guess you don’t,” Joey says softly. Trey’s coffee is gone. He can see the daylight just beginning to come up outside the windows to the north. He brushes the empty Styrofoam cup aside and rubs his face with his still-sticky hands. On the drive back to Fifty-seventh Street, Trey smokes in silence and unsuccessfully ignores three more pages from Bridget. He thinks about throwing the demonic little black fucker out the window, which is rolled down, but doesn’t. Joey parks. “Do you want to get fucked up?” Trey asks. “Yes, but . . .” Joey points at the pager in Trey’s lap. “Yeah, I can’t deal with that.” “Are you sure?” Joey asks. “Please don’t leave me right now.” They go upstairs and into Joey’s room. It’s the small bedroom that Julianne had assigned her mother when they moved in. She claimed the master for herself. Trey and Joey lie down in his bed, side by side. Though each of them pushes as far to the edges as possible, there’s little distance between them in the narrow twin. “I’m scared, Joey,” Trey says. He stares at the cracked ceiling. “I’m so scared.” 65
“Me too,” Joey says, “but we’ll get through this. I’m here now.” He reaches over and drags his hand across Trey’s ﬂannel-encased torso. The rise of each protruding rib slows his hand momentarily before he moves to the next, as a languid Slinky would descend a staircase. “I really fucked up this time.” “We can ﬁx it. Every problem has a solution.” “What if the solution isn’t the right one? What if it just makes things worse? That could happen, you know.” Joey rolls over and is now facing Trey, who looks in his direction. “You need to talk to her.” “I can’t talk to her. Being around her—I might do something I regret.” “Like what, being honest?” “Worse. Like proposing or something.” Joey laughs. “You’re not that crazy.” “Why is that so crazy? That’s what people do, right?” “You want to marry Bridget so she can have the kid and you and she and it can become, what, a family?” Hearing Joey put it that way makes the proposition seem like the most absurd thing. “Maybe not exactly like that.” Trey closes his eyes. He isn’t sure if he falls asleep or not, but his brain deﬁnitely ceases to spin quite as virulently, for a time. When he’s next conscious, the sun batters the window at full blast, 66
its rays no longer encased in diffusing pre-dawn tangerine. Trey can hear people opening doors in the apartment upstairs, shufﬂing the hallway to the bathroom, talking in the living room, radio DJs and morning TV news anchors starting to cant the day’s top stories. There’s a low-pitched burp, followed by derisive cackles. Pipes shudder as hot water thrashes through the plumbing behind the walls and down into showers. He doesn’t even know what day it is. He turns to Joey, who’s staring at him. His eyes are dry and squinty, as though he hasn’t slept at all. “You vibrated,” he tells Trey. “Again?” “Couple of times.” “So, I’m going to have to do something, right?” “Yes.” “I can’t just run and hide?” “No.” “Face the music?” “You know it’s the right thing.” He reaches for the cordless phone on the nightstand and dials seven digits. They’re seven digits that, two months ago, didn’t exist. Seven digits that for a time earlier in the summer he had to read from a corner of a magazine subscription card upon which she’d ﬁrst penciled them. (The ﬁrst striking thing he observed was how they drew their fours the same way, like a slightly oblique capital A, 67
with its right leg amputated at the cross.) He still keeps the corner of the card in his wallet. But now they’re seven digits that he’s called so many times he can dial without even looking down at the buttons. He can’t remember the point in the summer he knew them well enough to do that. He sniffs his free hand, which smells, vaguely, of vanilla soap, though he can’t recall the last time he washed his hands. “Hi,” he says when Bridget answers. “It’s me.” “Where are you?” “I couldn’t sleep, so Joey and I went to have coffee.” She says nothing for a moment. “Are you coming back?” “Yes,” he says, “I am.” “Okay.” She snifﬂes. “Come back soon.” After he hangs up with Bridget, Trey thinks he hears walking in the upstairs hallway again. It’s outside Joey’s door instead. With Trey and Joey in here, there’s only one person left to walk around. Trey asks a question, which had occurred to him earlier, but only now can he ask it: “Do I tell Julianne?” Joey’s silent for what seems like an incredibly long time. “I don’t know.”
MOTHER #1 mass-produced instinct, wall of laws and the psychic text telling you to play games when you were thinking “I should play some games” you were thinking, weren’t you that wall could not contain a being placental constraint as precursor to myths of screams that denote animation the crunching is ﬁlled with evening damp salty mouth while terminal dilation of passageways terminates in half-ﬁlled-in circles there is trouble discerning brown from gold even with the legend two pens touching on the table she pulled up her family on the screen it’s like free-form chess famished with people 69
DAUGHTER #1 radically negative species. I spoke to myself all day, owned properties, linked power sources to containment. she spoke to herself all day from the small insides of this label. what was underneath was underneath nearest the entrance and above, almost airborne, as well. a desire to describe the ambient light then kill it as required-a ďŹ ltered urge to reconstruct the ambient light then burn it with a gun-these we refer to pointedly, with pelvic discomfort, as though the mall could exist among the plight of chimps, primate vagina full of sale racks, the agent kiss[ ] (from one of the spectra of moments not to be chosen here) releasing milk into its vocal info, penetrating data with several organs.
THE ATARI PERIOD I EAT THE COMPUTER chips lodged inside the open pussies of Super Nintendo game cartridges. We’ve all blown on them, up into them. To make them work. Desperate. Then turned them over and jammed them into the plastic, hinged ﬂap on the top of the Super Nintendo console, pressing hard and hoping that force in this context will be as effective as force in others. Desperate. But the parts stopped meeting properly for me several months ago. The chip inside the open pussy of the cartridge stopped meeting up with the corresponding interface inside the console and there was just nothing to do about that. It’s not a power source problem. The small red light still illuminates on the front of the console, redding me. It’s a problem with the meet. In that it’s not happening. The connection has been lost. And so nothing happens on the screen, no sounds either. I can’t see or hear anything. In the beginning of the SNES death rattles you at least get Tetris-like tessellations that square out in odd formations on the TV screen, scraps you can attempt to cobble together. But no more. I can’t see or hear a god damned thing. ///\\\
My dad smoked Pall Malls when we played bowling on the Atari. This was the ﬁrst video game system I was ever aware of in my life. And for all-time-ever since my life is all I really know about or will ever really know about. Vaguely dirty orange and periwinkle. The bowling colors glowed up onto our faces while we sat at the end of the bed in the bedroom my parents used to share, but Marta had left when I was real young—like eight months old or something. Which is so young it doesn’t even count. I don’t and didn’t ever remember her. She didn’t count, either. That youngest of times only counts or is remembered for and by people who stood next to you or held you at that time. It’s not even your time. It’s the time for people in proximity. When I got a little older, my dad would show me baby pictures of myself, and it could’ve just as easily been some other black-haired kid as me. I don’t know who that is. Or the woman holding me. He says it’s Marta. He’s says that’s me she’s holding. I don’t know. Who the hell knows. That whole time, that whole Atari time, I can only think of by the colors associated with the bowling: vaguely dirty orange and periwinkle. The living room was vaguely dirty orange. My bedroom was periwinkle. The kitchen was both colors, swirled. The bathroom was periwinkle. The home ofﬁce was vaguely dirty orange. My dad’s bedroom was both colors, cut stark up the middle. I was vaguely dirty orange. Dad was periwinkle. The Pall Mall smoke screened everything. He made me grilled cheese with Kraft singles 72
every god damned day. All I can see of that time are the orange and the periwinkle coloring our whole bodies, and all the rooms in our house, and all I can taste now are the oily Kraft singles and the tangy Five Alive that stocked our fridge, which was like Sunny Delight, but it wasn’t Sunny Delight. Clung to the tongue. Pall Mall smoke indentured in my nostrils. Marta had been a bank teller in Catskill when my dad had just started doing construction work on the Catskill Country Club. He’d always cashed his checks at Rico’s Check Cashing Place but then a branch of Chemical Bank moved into town and dad ﬁgured it was time to open up accounts of the savings and checking varieties, mostly because he saw a pretty woman with black hair go in and out of there every day like she worked there or something. She did. Marta helped him with transactions. He told me she was very pretty then. They never got married, but they were together and they had sex and they had me. Marta got pregnant by another man, a volunteer ﬁreﬁghter in Catskill named Donny Morgan only a few months after I was born. Marta and Donny left town together, but Donny returned a few years later sans Marta. No one knows where she is, I guess. Donny didn’t come back with the kid, so the kid is out there somewhere too, I guess. Or maybe died or got aborted or something. I used to think about the fact that I could have a halfsibling out there somewhere. But I don’t think about that anymore because I’m too old now and it was too long ago anyway and Marta 73
isn’t really real, either. Whenever me and dad would drive to Price Chopper to pick up Kraft singles and Five Alive when I was a kid we would have to pass the long driveway that led to Donny Morgan’s house and dad would always call the driveway the Donny Morgan Memorial Drive because if he ever met him in the open air Donny Morgan would be a dead man. I broke the Atari eventually. I was trying to hot wire it up to the microwave to see what would happen when I turned both on and put a timer on the microwave and put a cartridge in the Atari and the results were that I was without a gaming system for two years and we were without a microwave for about nine days. The microwave was crucial to me and my dad’s daily routines. The Atari was important too, but my dad was only a construction worker, so he didn’t make a lot of money. Plus, what work there was was sometimes irregular. Visiting my grandparents on Potic Mountain Road took up a big part of my consciousness then. My immigrant grandfather burned their trash in a metal garbage can and built stone walls out of found pieces of rock on the property. My immigrant grandmother buried and lodged excised car headlights into the earth for decoration. She even imbedded an old turn-knob TV into a stream bank down at the bottom of the driveway under the willow trees. She fed me Archway Dutch Cocoa cookies. My grandfather shared sips of Genesee beer with me, which my grandmother bought a case of weekly at Rite Aid. 74
My dad bought me an NES for Christmas at the end of that twoyear video game hiatus. The controllers were so rectangular, little boxes with popped-out symbologies: a plus sign, two small black pills, two red candy eyes. They were such a perfect cigarette box shape you could barely believe they operated at all. But they did. I had only two games for a long time. The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest. I beat both of them many times. I felt like I was in some future time whenever I looked at that NES console. The shades of gray, the boxiness, the red buttons on the controller that burned at you like two evil candy eyes. It dominated me and I tried my best to dominate it. It made the sagging couches in the living room seem square, concrete, gray. It made the doorknob to the closet in the living room seem like an evil red candy eye. My dad had let me hook up the system in the living room now that I was older and would not be as likely to break it. I didn’t go back into his room for a long time. Three years later I broke the NES. I tried hotwiring the NES to the VCR and broke both. It could not be helped. I’d abstained for three years, for Christ’s sake. My dad broke his back on a construction site at around this time. A small pallet of two-byfours had tipped over and pinned him underneath and he’d broken his back down toward the bottom of his spine. He didn’t become paralyzed or anything, he just had severe and chronic back pain for the rest of his life and spent some time in the hospital right after the 75
accident. And he couldn’t work. So we lived on his disability money and I think EBT. I never talked to him about it. To help out I started making him grilled cheese and pouring him Five Alive instead of the other way around. We ate these meals together and I think we’d had so much of it by this time—I was fourteen, I guess, and he was thirty-six—that our insides must have been pretty orange. Orangey livers, orangey kidneys, orangey brains, orangey intestines. The oily Kraft singles constipated us as much as the sugary Five Alive loosened us and so our bowel movements ended up being pretty regular anyway. After dinner he’d sit in the living room and watch the news and then Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. He couldn’t play baseball with me really anymore after the accident, or anything else like that besides, and I think he felt really bad about that. He smoked more Pall Malls than ever and took his pain pills and bought me a Super Nintendo to compensate. Compensation for me and for him. He let me hook the console up in my room. The SNES was the last gaming console I would ever own or would ever love. It was shades of gray and purple, and not so harsh looking as the NES. The controllers were more sensually shaped, had curves rather than corners. The small pin-point red power light on the front was like a tiny and juicy little cherry. I felt like that console. My breasts had really started to come in at that time. I dressed in lots of grays and purples. I thought of my lips and my period blood and my vagina as that pin-point red power light. I was plugged in. 76
Whatever money I scrounged up from allowance or holidays or Christmas or returnables over the next several years I invested in buying SNES games. Over time, among others, I accrued Ms. PacMan, Arcade’s Greatest Hits, Super Return of the Jedi, Super Empire Strikes Back, Tetris & Doctor Mario, Mario Paint, Frogger, Donkey Kong Kountry, Kirby’s Avalanche, Kirby Super Star, Top Gear, Jeopardy, Arcade’s Greatest Hits: Vol. 2, Jurassic Park, Battleship, and Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World. The Super Mario Bros games were my calling and forte. I felt a kinship to those little Italian plumbers. To tall Luigi in particular. I played in my room all the time by myself. I hardly went into the living room anymore. I’d get my dad’s Pall Mall smoke under the door. I graduated high school and got a job at a Stewart’s convenience store in town. I made people milkshakes and sold them their gas and rang up Freihofer’s baked goods and cigarettes. Donny Morgan came in one time during the winter, saw me, looked around the store conspicuously like it had nothing in it he thought it would have and nothing in it he wanted, then walked out. He didn’t come into the store again. I lived at home with dad and kept him in grilled cheese and Five Alive and since his disability payments and his EBT were now added to my Stewart’s paycheck, I would take him out to dinner now and again, or buy deli American cheese on special occasions, or would pick up his Pall Malls for him. When we ate out at the Greek diner in Catskill he was always shifting in the booth 77
uncomfortably because of his back, and the heavy Greek woman who owned the place would gift him with free dessert to try and make him feel better. It worked more often than not. After my shifts at Stewart’s I would come home and make dad dinner on most nights, then retreat to my room to play Mario or Tetris or Super Break Out. We had our routines. One time in the spring my dad decided to go visit his sister for two weeks. She was much older than him and was living on welfare, and had been for twenty years. So dad went out of town, down to the city to see his sister Blanche who I’d met only a few times. She rarely ever left her apartment in Brooklyn. Just for small errands up to Fifth Avenue to buy cheap wine through the liquor store’s bullet proof glass or salami at the deli or to do her laundry. She left Brooklyn less often than she even left her apartment. So during these two weeks I found that the house seemed awful empty and quiet without dad there, even though we spent most of our time in separate rooms. The air seemed oddly clear of his Pall Mall cloud. Something of the light of the setting sun reminded me of our Atari Period. Vaguely dirty orange and periwinkle. I made myself a Kraft singles grilled cheese and poured myself some Five Alive. I couldn’t remember the last time there had only been one set of this meal. By the fourth night I was antsy, and when I felt done playing the Super Nintendo for the night I decided to take a drive in my second-hand Toyota Tercel. I drove by the Catskill Country club, the Chemical Bank branch, 78
Gilfeather’s pub. Before long I found myself parked at the end of the Donny Morgan Memorial Drive. The lights were on in his small rather cruddy-looking house. I pulled my car down the gravelcrackly driveway and parked, the brakes squeaking and squealing a little. Donny arrived at his door, opened it up into the cool spring evening air. I looked at him through the window of my car as I sat there while he stood inside the threshold of his house and looked at me. We stayed like that for ﬁfteen or twenty seconds, and then I backed the car out of his driveway and drove away. I didn’t feel sad or angry or malicious or even all that curious. I had some more Five Alive when I got home. My dad called and we talked and I didn’t mention Donny Morgan. Four nights later, after my grilled cheese and Five Alive, after playing Super Nintendo for several hours, I was back at Donny Morgan’s house. I went inside this time. We sat at his yellow linoleum-topped kitchen table which stood on top of a yellowish linoleum ﬂoor with a glass of water for each of us resting on top of the yellow linoleum-topped table. The water had no ﬂavor. We were silent for a while. “Whatever your father thinks, I didn’t steal your mother away. She seduced me,” Donny told me, his face looking older than the forty years old he must have been. He had shaggy brown-blond hair, a slight paunch from beer. I just looked at him. “She got pregnant. With my kid. We ran off together to Gettysburg, P-A. She wanted to 79
go there for the history. A month before she’s due to deliver, I wake up to ﬁnd a note on the fridge that says she’s leaving me forever but thanks for being so nice over the last months. I never saw her again. I came back here. I don’t know what happened to her.” I just looked at him. He swallowed and pushed his glass of water around on the table, a few inches this way, a few inches that way. “Never found no one else. Don’t know if that kid I had with her is alive or dead, or is a boy or girl, or where they are. Or nothing. At least your dad’s got you. He knows where you are. Knows you’re alive.” A clock was ticking somewhere in the house. He looked at me now. “You look just like her. Black hair and everything. Those eyes that look like they could be evil or could be like candy to suckle in your mouth for an hour.” His eyes were a generic brown. Unremarkable. “And if it helps any—you should know your mother was happy with me. Marta didn’t love your dad anymore by the time she was with me.” He looked back down at the table, pushed the water glass an inch this way, an inch that way. “My dad calls your driveway the Donny Morgan Memorial Drive,” I said to him. “What does that mean?” “He calls it the Donny Morgan Memorial Drive because if he ever met you in the open air you’d be a dead man,” I told him. His lips and eyes hinted at a smile then nerved down into something vaguely worried, then his face settled on neutrality. “I call it that, 80
too.” I looked right at him. I left him at the daisy-yellow table and drove away, back to the orange and periwinkle house. I played some Battleship and then I played some more Battleship because I liked the idea of just tearing holes in shit and letting it sink. I had work the next day and the day after that, and I spoke to dad each day and he told me that Blanche was out of her mind and drank warm wine out of coffee mugs and when she was mad at people she wrote their names on pieces of paper, then put the pieces of paper in the freezer. In this way she put the horns on them, in this way Italian joo-joo would get them. My dad told me that she had put his name in the freezer earlier in the day because he said half-jokingly that her cooking was not as good as it had once been. He laughed at this a little but he sounded sad in his laugh. On the tenth day my dad was gone, visiting Blanche, I brought the neighbor’s dog to the groomers in town since our neighbor had to be at work all day. Then I brought the dog over to my grandparents’ place on Potic Mountain Road so she could sniff around at the headlamps and TVs stuffed into the ground and ringed with ﬂowers. My grandmother fed the dog plain Freihofer’s donuts and a small dish of tea. I returned the dog to our neighbor at around 5PM, went home, made myself some grilled cheese with deli cheese, poured myself some Five Alive, and played some Top Gear. At around 9:30PM Blanche called me to let me know my dad was dead. He was riding the F train earlier in the evening when a pack 81
of teenage boys threw ﬁre crackers down on the ﬂoor. The noise was sudden, jarring, and extremely loud in the narrow subway car. It frightened everyone. Dad had a heart attack and died there in the dirty car of the fucking F train, by himself, sitting up. My vomit was orange. I burned Pall Malls by the pack to regain the smoke-clouded ambiance of his presence. I moved the Super Nintendo into his bedroom and pressed the buttons on the controller without ever turning the TV on, eyes ﬁxed on the screen. I made two grilled cheeses every night, poured two cups of Five Alive and left his unconsumed portions sitting around on every conceivable open surface until the place was getting overrun with ants and cockroaches and mice and my grandparents ﬁnally had to call Merry Maids to clean up everything while I lived with them for a few days. Donny Morgan stopped by one time in the months that followed, to say sorry or something. I reminded him again about the open air policy that went along with the Donny Morgan Memorial Drive and he decided to leave. But after a short time I moved back into me and my dad’s house. I conquered Tetris. I destroyed Donkey Kong Kountry. I annihilated Super Return of the Jedi. The buttons on the controller began to grow loose or less responsive. I got down to burning a half pack of Pall Malls a day. I breathed in the smoke deeply and the sick smell and taste of it turned everything a vaguely dirty orange and periwinkle. I played my Super Nintendo religiously. I explored every region and 82
warp hole and button combination in Super Mario Brothers. I played two-player. I played for both Mario and Luigi. ///\\\ I’ve broken this one, too. But I didn’t hotwire it to the microwave like I did with the Atari. I didn’t hotwire it to the VCR like I did with the NES. I treated this one so well. I played it every day. I took care of the console, the cords, the controllers, the power adapter. I kept it in my room and then I moved it back to my dad’s room. We kept the Atari in there to keep it safe. It didn’t ultimately work out, but I was young and we did the best we could. Donny Morgan recently tried to have sex with me. He wanted to compare generations. Palpate the pink. Turn my red light on. I wouldn’t let him. I don’t want him. I hate him. I would kill him in the open air, but he only reveals himself in Stewart’s, or when I’m with my grandparents on Potic Mountain Road, burying headlamps in the soil. I look at the red power light on the front of my SNES console and I let it redden me. I draw the gray plastic cartridges into my pelvis while I sit on the ﬂoor. I turn the cartridges over and look into the algorithmic pussy. I force the slim chips out and I eat them. The tessellations no longer manifest in any way I can see. 83
TONY TRIGILIO FROM
THE COMPLETE DARK SHADOWS [OF MY CHILHOOD] There is a terrible secret at Collinwood. Danger is everywhere, at all times. Even the dead can still be dangerous.
I’m watching Dark Shadows in Paris, in Manal and Tal’s Belleville apartment, rain falling on the glass roof of their ofﬁce as Liz and Tal collaborate on a paper for a post-colonialism conference and Dr. Hoffman claims, like a soap-opera Faustus, that medicine is about to break the barrier between life and death— Liz and I could’ve used a dose of Dr. Hoffman’s medicine earlier this afternoon, looking for Apollinaire’s grave at Pére Lachaise, where, each time I consulted our graveyard map,
we found ourselves intruding on grieving families as we tried (and failed) to ﬁnd the ici repose resting place of the famous surrealist, forgetting this was still a cemetery, a sacred place, an esteemed ancient maze of graves in Paris where people mourn their loved ones, not a tourist walk in Hollywood, the two of us lost and shambling among the mossy chestnut trees of Pére Lachaise— we could feel them growing, bushes and branches upstarting beneath the tombs—with a map of grave plots, not a guide to movie stars’ homes,
soggy from the downpour; if only we could’ve summoned Ghost Girl, who tells Little David, the psychic child, “You know about leaves and everything, and, well, I know who’s dead and who isn’t.” ________________ Bit by spiders in the Paris studio we rented, by ﬂies at Lake Michigan the day after we returned to the States, stung by a bee the Fourth of July at David Trinidad’s— where he gave me as a birthday gift Dario Argento’s 1977 ﬁlm Suspiria (“Happy Belated Birthday! I expect to see this mentioned in Dark Shadows—don’t you love a present with strings attached!”), ﬁrst ﬁlm of Argento’s “Three Mothers” 86
trilogy, starring Joan Bennett (Mrs. Stoddard of Dark Shadows) as Madam Blanc, owner of a supernatural European dance company —bites on my arms and legs, swollen stinger wound throbbing my neck, I attract bloodsuckers and biters now that I’m immersed in the show’s abrupt shift to color videotape: Joe, in olive drab pencil pants and forest green sweater—ROTC chic, I actually prefer it to the cluttered black and green afghan slung over Sam’s antique, marbled sofa— in color Dark Shadows loses some goth, but Sam’s eyes don’t look like Rasputin’s in black-and-white, and Barnabas’s silhouette outside Maggie’s French doors feeds a little boy’s nightmares no matter what color 87
this scene happens to be ﬁlmed in. _________________ Another color videotape missing from ABC’s archive: Episode 300 murky in monochromatic kinescope, Barnabas behind a ﬂickering candelabra in fullNosferatu glare, later the vampire breaks eye-contact with the camera like a penitent child, an expression that would’ve soothed my nightmares had he stooped to express such vulnerability in them; Dr. Hoffman threatens to stop the blood treatments that would cure his vampirism if Barnabas sneaks into Vicky’s bedroom again and opens Josette’s music box (stalker alert: Burke proposes to Vicky and vows, “I’ll ask you 88
tomorrow and the next day and the day after that until you break down and say ‘yes’”) —much emotional turbulence in Collinsport the night I returned from a weekend with Liz, David T., and Jeffery Conway at Camp Chesterﬁeld, the American Spiritualist community founded in 1886, where numerologist Patricia Kennedy explained to us over lunch at Denny’s, “There’s light, medium, and deep trances, honey, and you better watch out for deep because it’ll knock you out: one time I was in a deep trance during a séance and when the lights came back on, I looked down and saw my teeth were on the ﬂoor: a woman 89
who heard her father’s voice coming out of me was skeptical because it didn’t really sound like him, but the last three years of his life he didn’t have teeth— so Spirit knocked out my teeth as a way of saying, ‘Look, it’s that guy talking’”; later, after a story about apporting a bouquet of paranormal ﬂowers out of nowhere into a séance (and repeated advice not to order Denny’s seasoned fries), Patricia, who once said I try so hard to be an ethical person because in a past life I was a religious charlatan who bilked my disciples of all their money (I entered this body, she told me, solely to atone), now warned I’m spending 90
too much time in the spirit world, not enough in the physical: well, what do you expect—I’ve been hanging around haunted Collinsport all summer with a vampire, a psychic child, and a ghost girl. _________________ “Pop, that’s called whistling in the dark,” Maggie says, and she doesn’t mean the “dark” from Vicky’s latest emo-girl episode intro: “It is a special kind of darkness the night brings to Collinwood,” she intones. Sheriff Patterson is bumbling in the dark, and Sam looks more and more like Rasputin in these episodes shot in color videotape—dark circles under his eyes the mark of an insomniac who paints all night in jacket and tie, Dark 91
Shadows’s moody artist making a plan to draw a mysterious ghost girl out from the dark (the key, Sam, is Little David, who’s played with her under the elm trees in the dark Collins tomb on Eagle Hill—but he won’t talk until he’s back from Bangor, after dark). Barnabas clutches a rare book, Ghost Girl haunts Dr. Hoffman: Collinwood comes alive after dark. A cofﬁn lid goes down on yet another character: Little David, caught in the cemetery after dark, hiding from Barnabas in an empty casket.
MUTILÉS DE GUERRE from Housebreaking the Muse IN BEMUSED ARREST HAVE I digested the idea, so often put to me since November 1918, that I am lucky indeed to have survived the war. And not infrequently the idea was put to me in precisely those words, as if the well-meaning who uttered them had all read the same manners column in the society pages or wherever such ﬂapdoodle is published. Sometimes, having sized me up and jumped to a hasty conclusion, the charming ones would add “intact.” At this I assume my reputation where ladies are concerned preceded me, a miniature cynicism that spared me a moment too much to bear. I suppose it’s natural to equate survival with fortune, but these exchanges, meant after all to be polite nothings, ever reminded me that one man’s fortune is another’s catastrophe. And really these people had no idea what “intact” means, satisﬁed by a body before them equipped with all the important organs and appendages, none of which testiﬁed to the genius of the prosthetist. “Yes,” I told them, “You don’t know how lucky I am. Having dodged the bullets and the shells, I returned to become my own prosthetic.” One of my handy poetic thrusts, it worked sufﬁciently to puzzle and repel, a riddle they might have worked out later among other company. I avoided recalling for them how, but for a dud in the barrel of an old pistol that had belonged to my grandfather, I would no longer be 94
among them; that by rights I should lie largely headless in a tomb, anything but intact. Were I to have done so, I suspect more than a few would have encouraged me to try again, eager to be rid of such a specimen who, though valiant in service to the country, now served only to demoralize folks ready to put the war at long last behind them. Many of my former comrades, even now, ten years out of the trenches, seem prepared to oblige, their stories appearing in obscure inch columns buried among the least expensive and therefore largely unread advertising. But I have the knack for snifﬁng them out, and so have confronted the deepest pathos, the most heroic surrender. Just last week I read about this: a poilu shy both legs and half a lower jaw, conﬁned to a room on the ﬁrst ﬂoor of his parents’ home, life divided between wheelchair and bed, disﬁgurement concealed behind a mask or a handkerchief knotted at the back of his neck. For several years despondent and barely willing to communicate with his family, he gave them cause for cheer when he wrote them a brave letter and requested a set of dumbbells. “I will make strong what God has left me,” he wrote. After a year rebuilding arms that had grown weak and nearly useless, this champion, seizing the opportunity when left alone in the home a mere twenty minutes, pulled himself up three ﬂights of stairs and into his parents’ bedroom where, having maneuvered a chair to the window and climbed into its seat, he threw himself through the glass and crashed on the 95
sidewalk below. “A terrible accident,” said the mother, “but my poor son is in a happier place now.” Others wind up in the Seine, or stone cold under a shrub in the Luco, an entire bottle of aspirin in their gut. The endless novelty of this leave taking animates the least-read sections of our papers of record, which is why I rarely remember the day’s headlines.
ROSE W. HART
THE THREE-LEGGED WOMAN MEETS HER MATE Chapter One of An Unnatural History of Humans in Love
IN THE MORE BOHEMIAN circles in Paris, between the years of 1879 and 1891, a young courtesan became popular among a certain group of aristocratic men, not for her twenty-inch waist, or her diminutive height (at the age of twenty one she stood only four feet three inches) but for the remarkable open secret hidden beneath her tiny taffeta skirts. When clothed, she resembled any woman of the period, except in her stature, which was that of a woman replicated in miniature; everything she did had an air of the fairylike. However, the young men that kissed her behind the curtains of their boxes at the theater and who snaked their manicured hands under her skirt found not two, but three slim little legs waiting for them. All three ankles, clad in delicate satin and buckskin slippers, were crossed; all three creamy dimpled knees pressed tightly together but gradually yielding to the ﬁrst tentative, then increasingly ardent explorations that followed. A young man who used both hands would quickly ﬁnd two sets of loins, both warm and responsive and as tiny as would be expected of such a petite lady. (Very few found her fourth leg, a sad little thing, baby-sized and twisted, that she kept tucked up inside the linings of her skirt. In 1882, she had a surgeon amputate it ﬂush with the hip, because as she said, a woman with three beautiful legs was an Exotic; 97
a woman with a deformed leg, of whatever number, was simply an object of pity.) Her name was Babette, but her lovers simply called her Bette, for her animal ferocity in bed. She was like an ocelot under her petticoats, slim and long-backed with astonishing sinew in her arms and legs. She was favored by pairs of young men who were romantic in their friendships with each other, who did everything together, and they found her to be a way that they could embrace without touching, love one another more brashly than otherwise; with Bette between them, nobody could accuse them of anything more than being simply adventurous. Bette, for her part, relished the money and attention. She had been abandoned as a child and raised by nuns. Her decision to leave and go to the city had been attended by much speculation about how such a small girl, and so hopelessly deformed, could survive on her own. But the nuns had not been aware of her double-sex, or for that matter, her boldness and her sharp business acumen, bordering on ruthless greed. The gentlemen of Paris knew better than to court Bette; she was brisk about money in a way that many of the other high-class girls were not. She asked for payment up front and in cash, and did not trade in promises or love. Once in 1882, while she was recuperating from the surgery that removed her fourth leg, a young man named Anton fell hopelessly in love with her. She was walking slightly bent from the incision and 98
not wearing her usual corsets, which led popular opinion to suspect that she’d contracted tuberculosis, and to the youngest son of a good family, the idea of a dying prostitute was incredibly romantic. He began to follow her to her usual nighttime haunts, and soon had progressed to hanging around outside her rented rooms with bouquets and medicines prescribed by his family’s physician. Bette objected violently to these advances, but he could not be dissuaded and she was too small to physically remove him from her doorstep. One night at the theater, she spotted an usher whom she had seen a few times before, a large Negro, rumored to be an African because of the large patterned scar on the back of one hand. She reached out and snatched at the sleeve of his red jacket, which was threadbare at the elbows and too small for the man. “Pardon me, Miss,” he said, in French that was, she realized, tinged distinctly with American, to the point where no one should have mistaken him for anything else. “How can I help you?” “I want to hire you,” she said. “I have a little problem in my personal life and I think you could solve it.” John Lewis had heard of the three-legged whore, as she was sometimes called by the less kind, and he was repulsed by the brashness of her request and by the rumors of the monstrosity of her body under the little taffeta gowns. He recoiled from her touch and tried on a smile. “I am ﬂattered,” he said, “But I must respectfully decline.” 99
“Don’t be a dunce, man,” she said, reaching out and striking him on the stomach with the back of her white-gloved hand. “I’ll pay you a good sum to answer the door for me on one occasion and frighten the man who stands there. That’s all I need from you.” And then she named a price so high that John Lewis was forced to overcome his revulsion and oblige her. He left impressed by her forthrightness but still shaken by the thought that he’d been touched by such a creature. The next night that Anton made an appearance, carrying a violin, Bette’s spokesman stepped out into the hallway, plucked up the instrument in skillet-sized hands, and cracked it neatly in half, destroying over 350 francs of craftsmanship, as well as the young man’s self-conﬁdence. “Mademoiselle Babette does not care for the violin,” the man said in his accented French, and Bette, listening through the door, could not help bursting into giggles. She promptly hired the man to stay on as permanent in-house security and began pronouncing his name as the French Jean-Louis. Men who called on Bette became accustomed to having the door opened by a mountain of a man in a tailored suit as extravagant as any they owned. Bette did not want for male company, and she found most of her enjoyment alone. She enjoyed dressing herself and arranging her hair for no one but her mirror, or walking along the Seine, or reading a book in a second-story teashop while she watched the street below 100
out of one catlike eye. By 1884, she was a wealthy woman, although she still lived in rented rooms for several years. Franklin Harper, Frank to most, was born in Missouri to a family of otherwise entirely normal people, although his little sister Callie had become brieﬂy famous for being possessed by the Devil. He attended school until he was ﬁfteen, where he was regarded as an average student, although paradoxically a charmer and a frequent instigator of ﬁghts. He was a nervous man whose tongue got out of his control when he was frightened; he said in interviews that his mouth and his middle leg must’ve belonged to some other man, because they were braver than the rest of him. “Somewhere,” he’d say, “There’s a bold amputee who can’t say nothing but the tamest things. I pity him, I really do.” He was a ruthlessly handsome man, although also diminutive, perhaps ﬁve and a half feet tall. Unlike Bette, who in public wore skirts that brushed the ﬂoor and who never made public mention of her disﬁgurement, Frank Harper had his suits custom-made to accommodate his third leg and made no secret at all of its presence. He had the bones of a fourth leg embedded in his torso, as he found out when he began selling his time as a medical subject in his teen years. He had quickly graduated from this job to a traveling group of medical marvels. It was working there that he ﬁrst encountered a handbill, ragged with age, pinned to a post in Arkansas. It advertised 101
an institution he had never heard of before, called The Circus of the Strange. The Circus of the Strange was not an ordinary carnival; while it had the normal clowns and freaks and animals, it specialized in acts of the most depraved and licentious nature. The Tattooed Graces were billed as “Beauties kidnapped by Cannibals and marked by their chief as his wives! See them dance the hoola-hoola!” There were also the Sapphic Sisters, a pair of young women joined at the hip who acted as one woman in all matters, and there was a catlike man with a lioness mate, and slim contortionist boys in spangled costumes. The circus traveled at night, camped on the outskirts of towns, and was generally regarded as nonexistent, except that it drew massive crowds. People would come from quite far away to see the Strangers. Frank, suspecting that there was better pay and more fun to be had outside the world of medicine, began searching for them, asking any other circus he passed if they had heard of the Strangers. Often he got spat on for his trouble, but eventually, he found them in Kansas City. In 1885, at the age of nineteen, Frank walked into the hotel where the Strange troupe was staying, rang for the owners, and proceeded to drop his three-legged trousers in the lobby, to the astonishment of the Tattooed Graces and everyone present. “That’s my act, right there,” he said. Although inside he was a barely contained ball of nerves, terriﬁed of their eyes, he kept his 102
voice cool and controlled. “You ever seen anything like that?” “Do they both work?” said Mary Lowell, the youngest of the Graces. “Do you wanna ﬁnd out?” he asked, and the owners, a man and a woman who were secretly a woman and a man, laughed outrageously and shook his hands, and Frank Harper was hired on. At ﬁrst he simply displayed himself as a sideshow, but later they found a woman small enough to suit his size and had him demonstrate his technique of switching back and forth, seemingly endlessly. He was the second most popular act, beaten only by the Sapphic Sisters, and that was mostly because they took volunteers from the audience. In 1888, the Circus of the Strange was commissioned by one of Bette’s former lovers, the American entrepreneur Monsieur Allen Oldman, to come to Paris. They were guaranteed free round-trip passage, and a prominent madam, Claudia Renard, agreed to host some of the top billed stars in her brothel, situated in the narrow streets of the Old City. The owners of the circus agreed almost instantly; they were sure that they could make enough money to make up for the lost time on the travel circuit, and it was not every day that Europe opened its doors so wide and so freely. Some of the performers grumbled about the sea travel, especially the Tattooed Graces, but they were hardly to be listened to, especially when the rest of the company was so excited. 103
When Bette heard that the Circus of the Strange was coming, at ﬁrst she paid it no mind. “These shows always think they are so shocking,” she said one day over breakfast, nibbling a piece of toast as she read the newspaper. She had subscriptions to American and English newspapers as well; she followed international politics as a spectator sport. “I see that they have tattooed women,” Jean-Louis said. He had leaned himself against the doorway between the parlor, where she took her breakfast, and the kitchen, where he supposedly took his. Over the last few years Bette had begun to talk at him about the events of the day while she ate, mostly to gather her thoughts. He was the one who had shown her the handbill; it had come tucked inside a gold-ﬂocked invitation to a private performance at a theater that had been rented out for the purpose. “And two women joined together. I’ve never seen such a thing.” “Perhaps it is strange if you have only ever been with one man or one woman,” Babette said, her delicate mouth crammed with toast. “But when you have known as many people as I have, you come to realize that inside our clothes we are all monstrous. Did I tell you where the gentleman from Vienna tried to put himself?” “You should have called me if he was giving you trouble,” JeanLouis said reproachfully. “Oh, he was no trouble,” she said. “I boxed him on the ear and told him he had two choices of place already and shouldn’t go 104
looking for a third.” Jean-Louis was reading the handbill again, and he paused at the ﬁnal line, where there was a large hand-colored illustration of a dapper man with a top hat, a cane, and three legs. “Mademoiselle Babette,” he said, his voice sounding to his own ears far away, “Have you ever heard of there being another person like yourself?” “Nonsense,” she said. “I am an original. There are no other threelegged women in this world. She must be a hoax.” She stood up abruptly and snatched the handbill from his grip with her tiny ﬁngers. She scanned the lines, and then came to the bottom of the page. “A three-legged man,” she said, slowly. She turned the words over in her mouth. “A man, who is like me. Do you suppose . . . ?” Jean-Louis felt a sinking sensation in his chest. He would not identify it for several more days, but when he did he would be surprised that he did not recognize it sooner for what it was: pure bitter jealousy. “I don’t know,” he said. “Do you want me to ask?” “Oh, no,” she said. She clapped her little hands together. “I intend to ﬁnd out for myself.” Bette was not a sentimental woman. At the age of thirty, she was still content to be unmarried and without a permanent lover. She’d never found a man who had not irritated her eventually, either with 105
constant chatter or with insistence that she be faithful. They were constantly underfoot if they stayed the night, always getting in the way of Jean-Louis’s elegant breakfast-making dance and taking up the attention that she would otherwise pay to her newspapers and her coffee. And one man could never wholly satisfy her; only in the arms of two at once did she ever approach the heights of ecstasy. But she kept the handbill close to her for the next several days. In idle moments she would take it out of her bag and unfold it, and look at the picture of the diminutive man, with his rosy cheeks, his bright eyes and his three feet tapdancing merrily in their red shoes. She began to think of what it might be like to have a life with this man. She had the ﬁrst romantic thought of her life, which was that she might ﬁnd bliss with someone whose body matched hers exactly, and whose mind was aligned to the same sort of pleasures as her own. They would understand each other perfectly, as no one else in the world possibly could. Perhaps they had been made for each other. The show was in July, shortly before the beginnings of the summer holiday when everyone evaporated from Paris. It was one of the last big gatherings of the season and so everyone from the luxurious part of the underworld was there, everyone dressed in lightweight silks and cottons because of the heat. They piled into the little theater that had been rented out, and Bette, alone in public as always, went from friend to friend, man to man, standing on her tiptoes to kiss cheeks and clasp hands. She maneuvered her way to one 106
of the seats near the front, pleading her height with an old gentleman friend who gave up his seat for her, but not before offering that she sit on his lap. She dismissed the idea with a look of utter scorn. She wanted to be alone when she ﬁrst saw the three-legged man. Bette ignored the ﬁrst several acts, which she considered trivial and silly. She had no eyes for the man with his lioness, and even ignored the pair of teenage contortionists, although normally their youthful good looks would have suited her exactly. Never even remotely interested in other women, whom she regarded as being only partial creatures, she let her eyes shut a little during the Tattooed Graces, the chorus girls and the Veiled Dancer. It was only when the drumroll began that she sat up a little straighter. “And now,” said Mrs. Henrietta Boylan, the tall and slender Mistress of the Circus, with her pronounced Adam’s apple hidden by a choker and her toast-rack chest padded out with cotton, “We present to you the most extraordinary marvel of our time, a man with three legs, two hearts, and—well, you should see for yourself!” And Bette sat up straight, and ducked all three of her legs underneath her to make herself a little taller, so that she could see better. He came out from behind the curtain dressed in a suit made especially for Paris, a blue one with red lining inside the jacket. He came out tapdancing, spinning in tight circles with his cane extended and all three feet moving with extraordinary, perfect grace. Bette had 107
feared that he was a hoax but when she saw him she knew instantly that his body, like hers, was real ďŹ‚esh and blood. No leg made of wood could execute those sharp little steps. When the miniature woman in a red dress with a blue petticoat came out onto the stage with him, also dancing, and carrying a basket of ďŹ‚owers, she rolled her eyes. But soon the two were dancing in harmony with such grace that she found herself watching them, rapt and slightly jealous. She had never quite mastered the ordinary dances, but this young American clearly had invented his own, and the woman stepped with him, her eyes never leaving his. (At home, at this time, Jean-Louis lay on his bed, fully dressed, staring at the ceiling. The tiny monster for whom he worked had grown more attractive to him with each passing year. When she had been sick the previous winter and heâ€™d been in charge of lifting her in and out of bed, he had at last seen that third leg, and ever since then, in the private corners of his mind, he had imagined parting those legs, taking both hands and plunging them into her body up to the wrist. But he had never considered before that it was anything more than the kind of idle thought men had about women, and, he suspected, that women had about men as well. He felt sick with fear now, as miserable as any dog, and he did not know what to do with himself. He got up and paced, and read, and tidied the kitchen for the fourth time that night. He brushed a 108
dab of lint off of his dark suit and tried to swallow his bile.) When the act progressed to its natural conclusion (done in a fashion intended more for show than for pleasure, but still remarkable in its choreography), Bette found that tears were welling up in her eyes, and she had to blink them away. She was better, she told herself. She would not be overruled by some midget who was only sixty-six percent the woman she was. Once the three-legged man had met her, she reasoned, to keep herself from crying, he would abandon this other woman. And all would be well. She could not bring herself to sit through the Sapphic Sisters. She excused herself, and went straight to the theater’s manager, and requested permission to speak to the three-legged man. He was delighted by her request. “Found your true love?” he asked. “Quite possibly,” she said solemnly. She let him take her by the hand as though she were a little girl, though ordinarily Bette resented such treatment. He opened the side door and pointed her down the ushers’ hall that led to the dressing rooms, and told her it was the third door on the left. “Good luck, Mademoiselle,” he said with a wink, and closed the door behind her. By the light of a few gas lamps she made her way to the third door, where she knocked. 109
“Who is it?” called a female voice, and she said, “Mademoiselle Babette Collier, to see the three-legged man. It is most important.” The miniscule woman opened the door. She started to say something, but Bette pinched her arm, dragged the girl out into the hallway, and stepped swiftly past her while the girl was still standing outside, trying to ﬁgure out what had just happened. Bette slammed the door and locked it, and then looked around the room. Frank Harper looked up from his basin, where he was scrubbing the stage makeup from his face. He stared at the tiny woman in front of him for a moment. “Monsieur?” she said, and then she said the few English words that she’d had Jean-Louis coach her in that afternoon. “Please to mee-chew.” “Enchanté,” he said absentmindedly in French, and then in English, “Who let you in here?” She didn’t know the words but she understood the tone. Silently, she lifted her skirt to show him the three silk slippers. He laughed and scratched the back of his head. “Well, I’ll be!” he said. “If that don’t beat everything . . .” Up close, Bette was struck by how young he was. He must have been barely twenty-two, and she a woman of thirty. She felt a sudden apprehension about the whole business, but she pressed on. She raised her skirt a little higher while looking directly into his eyes. He nodded slowly and said something in English that she 110
couldn’t understand, and then he crossed to the door. He let the little woman back in and rattled a few things off to her in English. She looked astonished, and then she laughed. She turned to Bette and spoke to her in French. “Frank says you are like him but you are embarrassed,” she said. “No reason to be. We’re all just people, after all.” She laughed. “I’m Mabel.” Over the next several hours, as night became morning, Mabel sat with them and translated between them in her halting grammarschool French. Bette wasn’t sure if it was the tenuous language of the girl, but she felt childish, doomed to express herself badly, and Frank wasn’t doing much better. He was not a bright man, she suspected. More than a three-legged man, she realized, he was an American, and not an expatriate but a true son of the soil. She found herself stripping all the allusions from her speech, all the turns of phrase that she would have used with her French lovers, until she was saying only the barest facts about herself. She was raised by nuns. She had many admirers—which had to be amended down to “friends,” because Mabel could not understand admirers, lovers, or perverts. For his part, Frank said mostly that Paris was beautiful, that he had two brothers and a sister, and that his sister possessed something or other that was apparently of great interest to him. She could not bring herself to believe that she could be bored by him, but the realization crept up on her gradually. 111
Finally when Mabel started to look tired, Bette thanked her and suggested she go and get some rest. The girl hemmed and hawed for a moment but then tripped off down the hall, rubbing at her eyes. And then Frank and Bette were alone. She leaned forward a little, and so did he, as though she were going to tell him a secret. When she kissed him, he recoiled and said something in English. “Don’t be silly,” she said in French, and she tried to put a hand onto his thigh, but he brushed it aside. She was suddenly embarrassed and could not help but think that it was because she was getting old, and the thought wounded her. She had always been vain and the idea that she was no longer beautiful stung her. She stood up and walked to the door, and made some noises of departure. He nodded, and she left. She had the theater’s manager call her a coach, but then changed her mind and decided to walk so that she could cry to herself alone. It was not a long walk but by the time she got home dawn had broken and her shoes were worn down. Her face was red and puffy with crying. She stopped at the landing to slap her cheeks a few times and to dab at her eyes with her handkerchief before she went into the ﬂat. Jean-Louis was in the kitchen, working on breakfast. She could see him through the open kitchen door, sliding easily back and forth between the stove and a platter on the table, piling it with thin crepes. “I’m home,” she called, more tentatively than she had expected. 112
He jumped a little, but recovered quickly and turned to her. “Breakfast is almost ready,” he said. “How was the show?” “The three-legged man is an utter hoax,” she said. “The audience didn’t notice but I can’t be fooled.” She looked at him quizzically, realizing that his suit was rumpled, as though he’d laid down in it. “Why are you so disheveled? You look like you haven’t slept all night.” “Some nights are like that,” he said. She nodded and rubbed at her eyes. She was tired, she realized, more tired than she had been in a long time. After her breakfast with Jean-Louis, she decided, she would sleep the whole day. “I’m getting too old for this, Monsieur,” she said. “Everyone seems like a hoax these days. I sometimes believe that you and I are the only real people in the world.” The words sounded silly when she said them, and she thought of retracting them. But since he was solid in a world of ephemeral men, constant in his habits and his deference, smooth in his movements and gifted in allusion and at that very moment laying before her a breakfast that she so desperately wanted after a night of humiliation— for all that, she ceded in her mind that there might be, at least in this one case, someone besides herself who could be called complete.
DAZZLE STAR KATE OSTLER
DAVID TRINIDAD FROM
DESCENT OF THE DOLLS
Descent of the Dolls is a collaboration-in-progress with Jeffery Conway and Gillian McCain. Dante’s Inferno meets the 1960s camp classic Valley of the Dolls in this psychedelic journey through the nine circles of Pop Hell. In the following scene from Canto Fifteen, poet David Trinidad converses with his Virgil-like guide Anne Sexton.
“Yoo-hoo, DT.” Anne is ﬂoating in midair to the left of my desk à la Endora, the seat of the swing concealed by the swirls of her black-and-white halter dress, the one she’s wearing on the cover of the Middlebrook bio (the more I stare at that dress, I realize there’s something Munch-esque about those swirls; you can almost make out The Scream in Anne’s cleavage). Through the mist of cigarette and fog machine smoke, I can see the strings that hold up the swing. “I had a feeling you were going to appear as soon as I sat down.” “I had to, DT. Without me to guide you, you would miss a very important aspect of this scene.” With a wave of her cigarette hand, she transports us to the restaurant. I ﬂoat next to her, on an Endora swing of my own. “This is fun,” I laugh, kicking my legs 115
back and forth. “Pay attention, DT. Look down there.” “You mean the booth with Jennifer and Tony and Kevin and Anne?” “No, child, at the adjacent booth.” “Right. The one with you and Celeste. Hey, how can you be up here and down there simultaneously?” “I haven’t time to tutor you on the nature of consciousness and reality creation, so—” “Oh, you’re like Oversoul Anne.” “Pay attention, please. If you look as closely at the booth as you did the swirls on my tits, you’ll notice that it is not Celeste, but Max.” “Yeah, I see that now.” Anne waves her cigarette hand again. “We’re not in Chasen’s anymore,” I say in astonishment, “but in someone’s drab suburban kitchen.” “That’s the breakfast room of Max’s old house in Newton. She and I are having our ﬁnal lunch together.” “You mean we’ve skipped forward in time to October 4, 1974?” “That’s right. It’s 1:30; we’ve just ﬁnished correcting the galleys of The Awful Rowing Toward God, the book I wrote in twenty days.”
“That was fast.” “Dare you see a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet on the amphetamine of the soul?” “I hear ya.” “I ate half a tuna ﬁsh sandwich and downed two double vodkas. Max walked me out to my car, the one I would die in four hours later. We hugged and parted. Max watched me pull away. I rolled down the window and called something, but Max didn’t quite catch it.” “Anne! What did you call to her?” “‘Be nice to David Trinidad!’” “She deﬁnitely didn’t catch that,” I sigh. “I know,” replies Anne, waving her cigarette hand yet again. “Why, we’re in Chicago now,” I marvel. “Being a possessed, middle-aged witch has its advantages. Do you recognize the couple down there?” “Why, it’s me and Max, the day I took her out to lunch at the Art Institute. That means we’ve jumped forward to May 27, 2004. ‘Life is perpetually unfair,’ Max is saying to me.” “What else did she say? You know you want to dish the dirt, so go right ahead.” “I don’t mind if I do. She said that Jane Kenyon
was a much better poet than Donald Hall. She said that Richard Howard was one of her least favorite poets. She was very critical of your doctor, the one who for a year and a half fucked you on his ofﬁce ﬂoor and then charged you for it. She went on about Helen Vendler. Apparently Vendler had written a snotty review of one of Max’s books. When they were later introduced—‘Maxine, do you know Helen Vendler?’—Max said, ‘Yes, to my sorrow.’ That remark cost her: Vendler thereafter fought against her, kept her out of things. Oh, and Max insisted that she was the one who coined the term ‘PoBiz,’ not you.” Anne doesn’t respond; she is preoccupied with the witch’s life, climbing the primordial climb, a dream within a dream, sitting here holding a basket of ﬁre. “She asked me to send her some of my work. Sucker that I am, I did, and promptly received a hateful, condescending email—” Anne, I realize, is completely out of it. Fake fog envelops us;
we’re stranded on our swings. “Anne, can you guarantee that when you meet your immoderate sister Max, that evil doer, on the other side, you won’t be polite? That when she arrives there will be red-hot iron shoes, in the manner of red-hot roller skates, that’ll be clamped upon her feet? First her toes will smoke and then her heels will turn black and she will fry upward like a frog. If not that, that you’ll follow her into the powder room and yank off her hag wig, try to ﬂush it down the can? ‘This is for David Trinidad.’ Anne, can you hear me? Anne?”
PEYTON PLACE: A HAIKU SOAP OPERA Season Four, 1967-1968
411 Into town comes Joe, Dr. Rossi’s hot younger bro. Well, semi-hot. 412 If Jill’s baby, as she says, is Allison’s, is Rod the father? Zzzzz. 413 Birth certiﬁcate shows it’s Rosemary’s I mean Allison’s baby.
414 This 20-inch screen isn’t big enough for two bleached blonde actresses. 415 Haiku or not, I’m only going to watch this episode one time. 416 Dorothy’s enormous bouffant ﬂip might have earned her a part in Hairspray.
417 Unless you act like theyâ€™re heavy, Joe, weâ€™ll know those boxes are empty. 418 Joe and Norm involved in car accident. Back to hospital set, stat. 419 A new regular, Tom Winter, pulls Norm and Joe from overturned car. 420 Elliot speak like Injun chief. He make PC police heap-um mad. 122
421 Am I the only one who wishes Rita had died in surgery? 422 Meet Rev. Winter’s wife Susan, alky, blonde hair teased to the rafters. 423 Jill’s overwhelmed with indifference. You see where I’m going with this? 424 Can the minister help Rita’s marriage when his own is such a mess? 123
425 Speaking of hopeless couples, Betty’s making plans to remarry Rod. 426 Wake me when Norman’s done dialing Ada on his rotary phone. 427 Rita relives her trauma on the wharf. Ugh. That means we have to too. 428 In the history of her bad hair days, this is Dorothy’s Waterloo. 124
429 Taking a powder, Eddie waves to no one as the bus pulls away. 430 Connie’s forced to give up the baby, which is, duh, Jill’s, not Allison’s. 431 Don’t know about you, but I’d rather not watch the minister undress. 432 Exit Dan, enter Tippy. In soaps the actors come and go, talking. 125
433 Fun Fact: Barbara Rush won a Golden Globe for It Came from Outer Space. 434 The reverend and his wife have shouting match in house of God. Does He hear? 435 Maloneâ€™s quit the show! oh Dorothy Malone we love your bad hair come back 436 Betty Anderson Harrington Cord Harrington. Shades of Liz Taylor! 126
437 Carsons gone. Mill sold. Heraclitus says, “All is ﬂux, nothing stays still.” 438 Okay, okay, Joe’s got a hot little body. Are you happy now?
JASMINE DREAME WAGNER
BUSINESS SUCCESS AS SPIRITUAL VOCATION It turns out, it was advertising. There was no higher calling. It turns out, some things speak truth inaccurately, like a light wash over a jpeg of my dinner on Instagram. It turns out, my childhood friend once challenged me to a game. In the game, we ran along the beach, scrawling words in the sand. It turns out, most words intact by sunset wins. It turns out, she won. It turns out, she knew the tide line better than I did. It turns out, her last remaining word was “Justice.” It turns out, our youth was digitally reformatted to stream at a faster frame rate. It turns out, a gull’s tracks can run like serifs across the sand. It turns out, like most handwritten drafts, they are unreadable but necessary. 128
It turns out, my friend is a banker now. Vice President of First Federal Bank of Boston. It turns out, I’m a poet. It turns out, the use of anaphora and spondee in “Five /Five dollar / Five dollar footlong” is immensely satisfying. It turns out, the commercials are written during the commercial breaks.
EYES ON THE PRIZE Yet I’m calling you, My gaze bangs bullets through the vernal air, but pay no attention, I’m a slumpateur, hitless, no chance of building. Eyes on the prize, yet everywhere I’m drowning with my eyes above me. The three ring shit list of my master’s heart doth ﬁre away, anent the furore of “Big Top,” Of the man they call “Big Top.” Look! Black dogs and monkeys circle the tent, one is holding a scroll in her teeth, she is the poem Lab.
EYES ON THE PRIZE The red room of pain and —now what were you saying? It was all about the heavy headdress Nature made you wear, through the sunlit streets of Stockton. Eric, tucked into the ﬂower shop, a boy, taking orders on the phone, tonight you sit on my armoire, grinning, a gargoyle, scars criss crossing your back.
EYES ON THE PRIZE Been a roller coaster rush, this dying phase, The year goes by like the brass ring that once I grabbed for, Sullen, naked, my genitals bouncing as up I tossed my hair, down on the balls of my feet, I was lucky I guess, Everything I wanted came to me and I lived till I met you, Arpad, I was a little depressed, but you caught it worse, you the chemist who turned to porn, to get out, to get off, You brushed the hair of the perfume genius so womanly, the penny drops, I click on it, I understand, love makes servants out of each other. If I could Iâ€™d mend that chemistry that caught your dick in my hole, but somehow let you down at the very NY secondâ€” February sheaf, for Arpad Miklos, in the garden of Chaldea.
EYES ON THE PRIZE If I were a horse I’d never run out of this track, I’d keep coming for more of that ﬁnish line bullshit. I’d raise my one hoof and then stumble, a dainty doe, a cod like old baby, And the jock above me would slide off my back, really polish my fur with his butt, and he’d cry, lady…. he—would—cry. Our age, bereft of nobility. How do we get shod here? Take me to that hot place and turn the anvil over your knee, bend with your mind that risky rod till it U’s you, in its vocal way, sizzling sparks, white blisters on your Gosford Parks.
EYES ON THE PRIZE IT CAN GET TEDIOUS traveling to Narnia, because of that wardrobe business, but basically we have three cats, all horrid in different ways, and we couldn’t ﬁnd one, the smallest one (Sylvia) because she’d hidden herself in the armoire, gone to sleep, and she must have been dreaming of Aslan for all of a sudden, there’s a tremendous scraping of claws against the inside of the door, and a frantic little shriek. I’ve seen horror ﬁlms with less intensity. Even Black Sabbath, with Boris Karloff possessed by the spirit of the Wurdian, banging his foists against the wooden door and shattering it—or The Leopard Man from the 1940s, the Mexican mother won’t let her daughter into the house because the leopard is slaughtering her on the doorstep, and the daughter is pounding on the door, “Mama please!” and then silence, and a trickle of blood appears at the lintel. Well Sylvia was doing her best to outfrantic them both. I opened the door, and sure enough, Narnia lay cold and ethereal on the other side, wintry as all get out, and a lion with golden eyes standing there and Sylvia playing with his great golden mane as though it were a pipe cleaner with a tag tied to one end, that used to close up loaves of sliced grocery bread. She just loves Aslan, but why drag me into it? “Where’s that awful White Witch, Aslan?” I grumbled, slipping 134
heavy boots of telmarine leather onto my bare feet. He said something, mumbled really. “I beg your pardon?” “I have either killed her or she is about to kill me,” he repeated, and that in a nutshell sums up Narnia for me. It’s pretty, yeah, and talking animals rock and all, but it’s violent! The trees were whispering behind me, “Who’s that? Is he another King from planet earth, I hate them.” “Silence, little trees,” commanded Aslan, and both trees stopped whispering and their bark curled off in shame. “If I am always bringing children to Narnia and making them kings and queens, think on why I should be forced to do so. Perhaps you trees have failed Aslan in some way known to yourselves and to me? Search your consciences. Trees have rings inside them, did you know that, Sir Kevin? Those rings tell us, not how old are the trees, but if they have been good servants to Aslan and the forest animals.” “You should move that armoire out of 1020 Minna,” I advised. “You’re never gonna trap any more children there, we haven’t had a child over since—since I don’t remember when.” I texted Dodie to ﬁnd out when. Minutes later—though years in earth time—Dodie texted back to say that Asa Watten was the last child to set foot in 1020 Minna and oh by the way she had won the Nobel Prize in 2024! “Wait,” I texted back, “here it’s still January, 2013 and I just opened the wardrobe door to get Sylvia out because she was crying.” “Well,” said Dodie. “That was so long ago that I can barely 135
remember who you’re talking about. On earth I have three audioanimatronic cats who are not neurotic, never get sick, they don’t need a litter box, and they never die.” Aslan roared. “No texting, Sir Kevin, or must I remind you why people call Narnia the nine kingdoms of death?” “Never mind, Aslan,” I replied, following him and Sylvia as they waddled through the snow on their way to kill the evil Witch who had stolen all death from planet earth to bring to her country. It was always like that, him versus her, you got tired of it. She turned his followers to stone, he breathed on them one by one and they came back to life and shot arrows at her. Enough! In the distance I thought I could see, between snow ﬂurries, a lonely wardrobe door swinging in thin air like a 1950s Magritte painting. Was it the magic door back to my writing workshop and I would see the dear good faces of Anne, Leslie, Ajit, Drew, Mari and so many more? Or had they, like Dodie, moved on mentally into the 2030s and become too big for our tiny little apartment with all the bumpy wallpaper in the front room? Were they still writing? Above me in the Narnian skies, a lone Skylife aeroplane ﬂew backwards bringing the old back to the middle age I still cherished. Was that my door? Was that my plane? Was that my country?
RIOT DOG LUTHER
LAY ON HIS parlor ﬂoor looking through the window at the gray sky (storm clouds forming). He felt worn out. Weary and resentful. A man in his forties shouldn’t feel so old. Thin, malnourished. When had he last eaten properly? When had he last exercised? No, he’d never feel young again; it was all downhill from here. “No going back,” he thought. Only his German Shepherds could reverse this thinking. They stood near him very still, practically immobile, yet looking very alive, he thought. They didn’t dwell on death; they lived very different lives than his own. Living in captivity, not freely. More like minerals or vegetables than human beings. Indeed, the dogs, posed like statues, also inspired a sense of the divine, a kind of subclass of the dead carved on steles inside the tomb of an Egyptian pharoah. As he stroked his dogs behind the ears, Luther mused on his daily walks with them, and particularly on their hunting instincts. They always sniffed and explored off the trails in Delaware Park. Sometimes they hunted inanimate things like pine cones instead of living things like rodents, or things that swam like ducks instead of things that ran like cats, or things that ﬂew like dragonﬂies instead of things that swam like frogs, and during these hunts, the dogs leaped over hedges, classes, and genres, hurdled the dead, the divine, and the
inanimate. They mixed things up so badly that Luther envied the way they lived. In other words, they marked territory and confused the pecking order. Dogs are a man’s, but not a woman’s, best friend. Luther had never honed a talent for friendship. He had difﬁculty even with small-talk, polite hellos and cheery greetings. Honesty forced him to admit that a friendship built on superﬁcial manners was a poor thing, and he had little patience for mild manners. If you delved below the surface of a man, unzipped his personal secrets and spilled his emotional state into the open, only such a friendship would be worth having. It required superabundant generosity that was very hard to come by, especially for a man in his forties. Having never been in favor of half-measures, Luther instead turned to his German Shepherds: perfect companions for a man content with living at home. They answered only to him, and though they behaved sweetly with his wife, they tolerated her the way an aunt endures a spoiled nephew of whom she secretly disapproves. An hour earlier, the dogs had been busy chasing a rabbit from the garden in the backyard. After catching a whiff of Luther coming up the walk, they stopped in their tracks, turned and quickly bounded toward the road and almost dared to jump the yard’s bamboo fence. Rarely had their master arrived home in the early afternoon. Once inside the house, Luther lay ﬂat on the ﬂoor as the dogs 138
licked his ears and tickled his neck. He lay with his arms on his chest as if he were in a casket, and oddly, the face of the little girl from next door, Suzy Pinker, ﬂashed in his mind, the look she gave him a while ago when she answered her door and found him standing there soaked from rain. What did it mean? Children dismayed him with their blank impertinent stares, their selﬁsh needs and unruly behavior, their dismissals and unrepentant pleasures. Little Suzy had stood inscrutable. She brought him low. Her unnerving stare Luther did not forgive, especially at that moment. These neighborhood children were so unlike his dogs. Housebroken yes, but they had immense difﬁculty listenting to a parent’s commands. With reckless abandon, they tore up the neighborhood and squealed high-pitch cacophonies, never once giving thought to the silence and peace others required. Properly trained dogs behaved better. His own, the pair of German Shepherds, had been clicker-trained by Luther himself. He wondered if Suzy might beneﬁt from similar conditioning. What would she require? His puppies had loved it. How would a girl learn to obey? A piece of candy, perhaps, preceded by a click on a clicker for every good deed. Positive reinforcement. Each click followed a deed at exact intervals prior to the reward. The timing had to be exact. So Luther practiced clicking in rhythm to a tennis ball he bounced with his left hand. Ball hit ground, then Luther clicked at the apex of its bounce. Again and again. He practiced clicking down 139
to the exact millisecond. In a sense, Luther was also training himself to be a master. “Heed me,” he’d say, though he never yanked their collars or forced them into the right positions. His training methods emphasized shaping the possible paths of any dog movement, not forcing them into behaviors against their natures. Over time, the German Shepherds relied on Luther’s benign approval as a necessary form of domination. He’d snap his ﬁngers or nod his head when a dog brought his slippers or ﬂicked the room’s light switch. Habits formed in this way. Above all, the dogs craved habits, as eventually the sound of the clicker became a specter that underscored the rhythm of their daily lives. Luther took pride in his well-behaved companions. Dogs behave with loyalty to a master who treats them with respect, by providing them a sense of purpose in this world. Advanced societies uphold this kind of friendship as ideal. Whereas people from primitive societies merely kick dogs for being unruly (one step better than eating the ﬂesh of dogs, Luther supposed). Recently, he watched a video of an anti-government protest halfway around the world in Greece. In the many scenes of chaos and mayhem, an unleashed dog could be seen running through clouds of tear gas and biting ferociously at the heels of blackclad armored riot police. As the troopers swung at protesters, the dog seemed to defend the balaclava-wearing anarchists. It became enraged with every swing of a baton as it ducked onto its haunches, 140
only to launch itself at the police when it found an opening. Indeed, this dog hated police, and so, Luther thought, it hated authority. It had sniffed the forces of order and did not like them. What could anyone expect from an animal that spent its life under a table at a tavern? Begging for scraps of food, begging for the kindness of strangers? What could one expect from a mutt that slept away the day? Screwed away the night? Fathered litter after litter? As its progeny roamed the streets of Athens, drawing the righteous scorn of tourists from more civilized countries who wondered why they arrived in that godforsaken place? A communal dog, the Greeks called it, as though such an animal were not worthy of time needed to teach it tricks. Everyone took care of it, they said, which meant everyone did not take care of it. No wonder the country had succumbed to economic chaos, disorder, unruliness, ungovernability. Riot dog, some called it, though the vagabonds of Athens had nicknamed it Loukaniko, or Sausage, so little did they think of it. A name that essentially hinted at the dogâ€™s eventual fate: its ďŹ‚esh ground up, mixed with parsley and pepper, stuffed into goat intestine, grilled, then consumed by anarchists. In truth, Luther ďŹ xated on the plight of dogs in Greece because he despised a people without discipline. He actually felt little sympathy for the dog itself, because so few dogs were really capable of leading the ordered life his German Shepherds enjoyed. Before 141
he had even trained his pups, he knew they were the right dogs for him. He drove to a farm outside the town of Attica where a litter of six pups awaited him. He intended to bring home only two, but he had purchased all six. As the breeder looked on, Luther soaked a string with kerosene. He placed the string in a wide circle around the litter, lit the string on ﬁre, and then squatted next to the dogs’ mother. The farmer asked no questions. He said nothing, even as the pups began to whimper and bark, even as the mother sprang from where she sat next to Luther and then hurdled over the ring of ﬁre. One by one, she snatched a pup by the back of its neck and then jumped the ﬁre once more to bring it to safety, until all six of the pups were safe and nuzzling her nipples again. Luther—assured that she had saved each pup according to its merit—picked the ﬁrst two she’d carried out of the circle of ﬁre, and drove them home.
ALL GROWN UP JESSICA HARRIS
AARON PINNIX A
SMALL FILM, A STUDY IN AFFECT, 4 AUTOBIOGRAPHCAL OCCASIONS OF DEATH AND DISFUGURATION IN 200 WORDS, IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER & WITHIN 4 SECTIONS OF MOVING PICTURES, EACH LINE BEING 1 FRAME. Cafeteria lunchroom din and shouts. Ineluctable shuddering of explosion, silence. Door opens, man, total ﬁre. Screams intermingle, ﬂailing, moving ﬂames. Students run, pushing towards courtyard. Transﬁxed I watch heat, motions. Teacher yelling Drop and Roll. An empty scene, singed smell. Exiting teacher grabs my collar. Yanked off seat, dragged outside.
Green sky above suburban sprawl. Deep earthen rumbling, vibrating panes. Tornado’s red arrival, encompassing vision. Horizontal motion, cotton ﬁeld clay Running towards ditch. Atmospheric roar. I’m slowed in wind, suction. Fall face ﬁrst to gulley. Attacking houses it moves away. From eye level, over hill. Detritus quiet remains. Fat raindrops.
Festival at night, camping masses. Three friends, drinking whiskey, chatting. Quiet in dark and summer. Five feet away Dave awakens. Proffered whiskey declines, mutters, sleeps. Hours later our pre-dawn discovery. Dave dead, beard stained white. Open eyes, vomited bile, overdosed. The others awake, get told. I watch their faces fall.
Nighttime forest walk with friends. Chatting within psilocybinâ€™s fuzzy glow. Ahead mother raccoon crosses path. Six juveniles following, swaying behinds. My dog, off leash, runs. In bushes, screaming sounds, struggle. I ďŹ nd it, back broken. Clawing with front legs, desperate. I try breaking thin neck. Strangling it, mother calls overhead.
THERE’S NO TREASURE ON THIS MAP
with aplomb bend a ﬁxed transversal an ography of ﬁssure inhabitation
a smokestack century’s enormous levity overshadowing agrorural origins constrained terrible knowledge constructing landscape
total erasure total 148
starkness an unďŹ lled hole seashore which sand when stood upon I called to self & received only fog poured forth smoke
when this body fails you whatâ€™s concluded wonder in writing
where is beauty another cold night swamp meets shore an action that began in a stilled place reaching a stilled conclusion 149
MAURICE BURFORD & SARAH COOK
Dear Cinquain, 3 warm spheres operate lines for the sake of letting two men become high tide or just something Cinquain 4 like a
movie on two radios / sending parts & ďŹ‚owers in another turned body
Cinquain 6 excite
with rabbitâ€™s heart with soil in cleft / dropped window in dustmesa / clump of clear thread Dear Cinquain, 15 liquid never turns from (shoes, touching or)* unrequited love, so, easier than / looking away, freedom
*alternate second line; please read only the second or third line, but not both, so as not to break any rules in the poemâ€™s form.
WCW Cinquain start with this body / tellescope the female surge of wall space/crinkle/insofar as light Paterson Cinquain after Anne Boyer did I want to burn down city of paterson or spend its water building an outline Lonely Cinquain if i knew how to count it would go like sister brother sister sister brother sister 152
Tower Cinquain part of a tower on a puddle / sides of water / lit polished stone / birds gone off who cares Unintentional Japan Cinquain i have never seen: the letter “v” in french, too much rain / i looked online / there’s still no books
SHAKESPEARE IN THE DARK ANDI OLSEN
[SIC] The following excerpts are from [SIC] (Jaded Ibis, 2013), the middle term of Davis Schneiderman’s DEAD/BOOKS trilogy (BLANK 2011, INK 2014). The book takes its name from the Latin abbreviation for “as written” and includes public domain works under Davis Schneiderman’s name, including everything from the prologue to The Canterbury Tales to Wikipedia pages to genetic codes. [SIC] includes images of Schneiderman taken by visual artist Andi Olsen (an example featured on facing page), an introduction for Oulipian Daniel Levin Becker, and musical accompaniment from Illegal Art sampling musicians, including Yea Big, Steinski, Oh Astro, and Girl Talk. The release will be accompanied by 25 full-text ebooks of the works used in Part I of [SIC], available for free download. The ﬁne-art edition of [SIC] will contain a pathogen that readers may deploy onto the text to become sick—sick about copyright. The following page is the “title” card for Part III, which offers works from the post-1923 copyright period.
PART 3: @ (POST-1923)
by Davis Schneiderman
The at sign @ is also commonly called the at symbol, apetail or commercial at in English—and less commonly a wide range of other terms. The fact that there is no single word in English for the symbol has prompted some writers to use the French arobase or Spanish arroba—or to coin new words such as asperand, ampersat—but none of these has achieved wide currency. Originally an accounting and commercial invoice abbreviation meaning “at the rate of” (e.g. 7 widgets @ $2 = $14), it was not included on the keyboard of the earliest commercially successful typewriters, but was on at least one 1889 model and the very successful Underwood models from the “Underwood No. 5” in 1900 onward. It is now universally included on computer keyboards. In recent years, its meaning has grown to include the sense of being “located at” or “directed at”, especially in email addresses and social media like Facebook and Twitter. 156
“THE IRISH DRAMATIC MOVEMENT” by Davis Schneiderman
I have chosen as my theme the Irish Dramatic Movement because when I remember the great honour that you have conferred upon me, I cannot forget many known and unknown persons. Perhaps the English committees would never have sent you my name if I had written no plays, no dramatic criticism, if my Iyric poetry had not a quality of speech practised upon the stage, perhaps even—though this could be no portion of their deliberate thought—if it were not in some degree the symbol of a movement. I wish to tell the Royal Academy of Sweden of the labours, triumphs, and troubles of my fellow workers.
â€œFIRST 30 TWEETSâ€? by Davis Schneiderman
just setting up my twttr just setting up my twttr RT @noah: just setting up my twttr RT @crystal: just setting up my twttr just setting up my twttr RT @tonystubblebine: just setting up my twttr RT @Adam: just setting up my twttr just setting up my twttr inviting coworkers RT @biz: getting my odeo folks on this deal just setting up my twttr RT @rabble: just setting up my twttr RT @dom: oooooooh RT @jeremy: Oh shit, I just twittered a little. 158
RT @jack: waiting for dom to update more RT @timroberts: just setting up my twttr RT @dom: waiting for Jack to update more ﬁrst oh this is going to be addictive Planning for Sprint #4 RT @biz: wishing I had another sammich RT @meredith: just setting up my twttr RT @meredith: typing my ﬁrst message following Mer RT @meredith: I’ll check back in later RT @biz: having some ﬂowery orange pekoe tea setting up my mac mini RT @jack: lunch RT @dom: free lunch RT @biz: feeling pains in my back 159
OPENING CUTSCENE OF ZERO WING (SEGA MEGA DRIVE CONSOLE) by Davis Schneiderman
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb. Operator: Main screen turn on. CATS: All your base are belong to us. CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time. Captain: Move ‘ZIG.’ Captain: For great justice.
BIBLE TRANSLATION PROJECT: GENESIS 1 by Davis Schneiderman
Boreded Ceiling Cat makinkgz Urf n stuffs 1 Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem. 2 Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz. 3 At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz.4 An Ceiling Cat sawed teh lite, to seez stuffs, An splitted teh lite from dark but taht wuz ok cuz kittehs can see in teh dark An not tripz over nethin.5 An Ceiling Cat sayed light Day An dark no Day. It were FURST!!!1 6 An Ceiling Cat sayed, im in ur waterz makin a ceiling. But he no yet make a ur. An he maded a hole in teh Ceiling.7 An Ceiling Cat doed teh skiez with waterz down An waterz up. It happen.8 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has teh ďŹ rmmint wich iz funny bibel naim 4 ceiling, so wuz teh twoth day. 9 An Ceiling Cat gotted all teh waterz in ur base, An Ceiling Cat hadz dry placez cuz kittehs DO NOT WANT get wet.10 An 161
Ceiling Cat called no waterz urth and waters oshun. Iz good. 11 An Ceiling Cat sayed, DO WANT grass! so tehr wuz seedz An stufs, An fruitzors An vegbatels. An a Corm. It happen.12 An Ceiling Cat sawed that weedz ish good, so, letz there be weedz.13 An so teh threeth day jazzhands. 14 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has lightz in the skiez for splittin day An no day.15 It happen, lights everwear, like christmass, srsly.16 An Ceiling Cat doeth two grate lightz, teh most big for day, teh other for no day.17 An Ceiling Cat screw tehm on skiez, with big nails An stuff, to lite teh Urfs.18 An tehy rulez day An night. Ceiling Cat sawed. Iz good.19 An so teh furth day w00t. 20 An Ceiling Cat sayed, waterz bring me phishes, An burds, so kittehs can eat dem. But Ceiling Cat no eated dem.21 An Ceiling Cat maed big ďŹ shies An see monstrs, which wuz like big cows, except they no mood, An other stuffs dat mooves, An Ceiling Cat sawed iz good.22 An Ceiling Cat sed O hai, make bebehs kthx. An dont worry i wont watch u secksy, i not that kynd uf kitteh.23 An so teh...ďŹ th day. Ceiling Cat taek a wile 2 cawnt. 24 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has MOAR living stuff, mooes, An creepie tings, An otehr aminals. It happen so tehre.25 An Ceiling Cat doed moar living stuff, mooes, An creepies, An otehr animuls, 162
An did not eated tehm. 26 An Ceiling Cat sayed, letz us do peeps like uz, becuz we ish teh qte, An let min p0wnz0r becuz tehy has can openers. 27 So Ceiling Cat createded teh peeps taht waz like him, can has can openers he maed tehm, min An womin wuz maeded, but he did not eated tehm. 28 An Ceiling Cat sed them O hai maek bebehs kthx, An p0wn teh waterz, no waterz An teh ďŹ rmmint, An evry stufs. 29 An Ceiling Cat sayed, Beholdt, the Urfs, I has it, An I has not eated it.30 For evry createded stufs tehre are the fuudz, to the burdies, teh creepiez, An teh mooes, so tehre. It happen. Iz good. 31 An Ceiling Cat sayed, Beholdt, teh good enouf for releaze as version 0.8a. kthxbai.
OPUS 28 (A. WEBERN) her past zero land put to lapse glacier oleo so slim fr another its asp pitch:: as lake frozens over so that my daybook a plume edge of hair in (scar as nerveâ€™s misted( typingâ€™s icicled 164
::anise between waisted elastic in book pumpkin tatter:: hued sp eak off tone snow off the faint est sound of its middle ::prose quod::frost pl aster seaďŹ‚oor erased in ::i meant all the music as whereabouts::time written down of itself
ash prose: :ledge of wilt bye of verb laxative::of owl lipid frost:: noted glued shut :: he had to leave it behind to let it recite icicle apostrophe pages at schoenberg:: while content at hair’s edge ﬁlm lanked past such plane of corner some car idle of rosais moss:: time on the maine coast tilted up across a ketchup:: each buffalo might lessen of them patterns of clear work:: whitening but left out for prepositions:: peek of hornet pore but whatever one spoke misted in endlessness brought to bear noun jellies::paragraphs in the while somebody took a nap::swims with marks shave ﬁnished::their strews upon their least the climate into time::acoustic muss 166
JULIAN TALAMANTEZ BROLASKI POEM FOR R HAVING LEFT NEW YORK
dear mozart I too want what napolean did for etruria earned or unearned and I consider u one of my dearest friends brkln is not defaced w/ memories wherr the whites displaced the jews one is kowtowing @ its edges b-rock boyking w/ a bad A was that all I could think to say of daffodils? going haywire in a golden haybasket tonite the fog is like san francisco only not so lowdown salieri wd cant themself seedily and submerge in the underdeeps to see how subway ppl live s/time one is lonely in the ďŹ rmament one has n/t but never enuf time no I cant have coffee no I dont want to lookat yr screenplay 167
& tumult the lark isâ€Śinelegant but xe is outside the city one tries not to refer to the one the subway driver split the limbs n brakes n squeaks n speeds at recordcount decibells unlike bart, which is run by robots how teary Stein lukkd crouchd like a buddha among the pansies
I just noticed there aren’t nearly so many errors in speech as in writing…one never knows how obvious one’s being. Person singing thir bloody guts out, los autobuses ‘shuttle,’ pocketcalls the impossible dream, would not could not cotton w/ that sort of thing. Old person painting thir nails pink on the subway, who knows precisely what an adolescent I am. Last glimpse of the water at Jersey…well if death will not behave! whose embrigature (natch) went bolting like a well worn cuff parcells of snout small yield of peas platonic friendship who treat therapy like gossip utter illusio of privvacy was not the roofdeck a paradise? replacing the KY hat on the drunk man?
on such a nite did young Lorenzo etc. a princez what escapd hir handlers against this fruity little score for the halycon interval owed hir all those desperate little gnats plastered to the window by the lamp a griggle left on the tree abreast the linda lou 32nd largest yacht in amerikka day-after-day w/ their gay spouses in clover w/ those creatures like bleeding cobwebs they were who shut the lid on their ďŹ ner feelings to end their days in neptuneâ€™s arms
DOOKIE BUBBLE A deadly poison used to cure syphillis, God the father is corrosive sublimate The Christian version entails suffering hell all of them do fall into realms of disbelief in Chuck Cunningham Syndrome Explains why Lilith was dropped from the syllabus “My sisters were going, ‘That’s love! That’s love! Black love!’” God pulling the earth
out of his ass, in memory of Mary Daly crude efﬂuent ﬂows evacuated manually and dumped (in Allstate’s words) due to a late payment. If God is a male, then his male member binds up their wounds with sweet kisses to raise eyebrows Bobbie Brown spit on me his love for those victimized into a state
of living death is old time religion. Monogender mating dropped a load and nearly pulled my arm off The weight of divine androgyny obtained by a process of respiration grew a pair, told god I’d be back in a second. A strong woman is a woman whose head is a digital feedback loop repeating Whitney Houston “Love That Man”
has to be sung like Lin Yu Chun on Ellen, building stations of the cross She was a colossus on rubbish tips pushed free, a pagan friend every step of the way I Will Always Love You
THE INVESTMENT Wind is caused by differences in pressure; on a peak eight miles distant, four surviving bankers are fat and happy. Sunglass lenses screenprinted with an image of the candidate afford the wearer a view through his image by means of the same technologies that wrap entire buses in ads for Shrek: The Final Chapter. A bakery case installed in an otherwise empty storefront from which knockoff Birkin Bags and boxed perfumes are sold on a short-lease basis, a form of retailing one step up from mushroom-hawking.
I loosened my grip voluntarily but some seemingly functionless extrusion of masonry stymied the motion I dreamed would be graceful. Surabaya, Durban, Valencia, Ottowa. Have I described our trajectory? Not straight down through the armature of jungle-gym scaffolds and uniform awnings, their colors ďŹ xed by council, but caroming off and around them and into some crosscurrent by which we are buoyed, however brieďŹ‚y, clutching with one hand the precious envelope bulging with proxies while the other tugs at a frosted beard.
Two pairs of eyes stare one another down on the sidewalk. Silver Mountain Water, Heat by BeyoncĂŠ, Biotherm for Women, Burberry Sport. Twisting my limbs, I will myself to land, if not in one of these double-wide matte gray Kohlcraft strollers that patrol the Business Improvement District like rogue ellipticals, passing Happy Kitchen, a nameless realtor, the former Kimâ€™s Stationery,
at least in some crushingly soft street detritus swept together and bagged by the blue-windbreakered Ready, Willing, and Able â€œvolunteerâ€? who recounts his troubled marriage on the long way round to asking for a light as if I were glowing.
PAGE HILL STARZINGER
BLUE MOON Woad— the indigo drips from our ﬁngers, converted to white reverting to insoluble blue, but still fugitive & between the emerging spirals of crystal and mud jutting from blood-red waters, silt accumulates foreign to the piece but inherent to the work— gone in ten years or one; this is, we think, what he wanted—
and somewhere between moon and sky you lean over and kiss the top of my head, unscrolling the illuminated
rice paper parchment, handing me the india ink
from soot, pine smoke, lamp oil, musk and donkey skin, waiting as if nothing lost could not be foundâ€”
WERE THE SKY A SCROLL I
HAVE A PHOTO I took of myself and Blake and Cully and Day during our ﬁrst afternoon in Charleston. I took the photo on the beach near the surf with an outstretched arm after a day spent exploring the harbor and city. I scrawled a caption in pencil on the photo’s back, and the caption reads: Me and Blake and Cully and Day, August 11th 2001. Compared to the white and empty plains of Texas, to the squared geometry of the drill and reveille of basic training—Charleston was an Arcadia, and we were its frolicking sheep. I remember ﬁrst stepping down from our civilian ﬂight to the Charleston tarmac, this world that seemed to shine with humidity and promise. That ﬁrst lungful of heavy air felt so meaningful, my ﬁrst breath in a brand new place that carried all of my hope—Charleston of the sprawling harbors and old stone roads, the stretches of highway balanced on stilts above brackish water, the sand beaches and brown oiled backs. I remember its strong cooking and mild ﬂavors, its thunderclaps and downpours, the sundried folds of moss hanging from the limbs of trees. My ﬁrst meal in the city was butter and garlic and six halved crabs. The four of us took a cab from the air base in North Charleston to Market Street downtown, the former slave market where old
women now wove baskets in the shade, and pedestrians spun racks of beads and carvings and pottery and scarves. I stepped from the cab and watched a beautiful woman in loose white pants step over the roots of a canopy tree that had buckled loose a curb of cobblestone. High above her hung a copper bell in a white steeple. A ship’s horn sounded in the harbor. There was the smell of sunlight lifting puddles from the street. We ate our meal on King Street at a restaurant with a blue eave and whole chickens roasting in the window. The four of us sat in a booth at a thick wooden table, and the waitress served us red glasses of cellar cooled beer. I ate crab. I ate coleslaw with pepper and lemon juice in it. The kitchen sizzled from behind the port of a door, and I melted into my seat. It was ﬁnally summer, almost a year since I ﬁrst sat across a metal desk from a recruiter in a strip mall, singing enlistment contracts I barely understood. Blake paid for a round of beer, and held up his glass when it came. Raise ‘em up, he said. Here’s to us. We smiled, and lifted our glasses, and each gave a toast. To fried chicken, said Cully. To being elsewhere, said Day. To sleeping on the beach, I said, touching the rim of my glass to the others. Aye Aye, to sleeping in sand, Blake said, and then drank down half of his beer. I had never seen the ocean, and I bought a disposable camera in 182
the market pavilion before we took a cab to the Isle of Palms. The man who sold it to me sat in the shade in a lawn chair behind a kiosk of beads and T-shirts and small woven roses. He sweat through his shirt, and had dark hands that looked burnished by the sun. A young girl sitting with him tried to sell me a jar of shea butter that smelled like coconut, opening the metal lid and holding the jar to my face. I declined her offer but thanked her, let her father keep the change for the camera, and walked back out into the crowded street feeling like a traveler arrived in some distant port—as if I had taken my ﬁrst few steps into a more accurate version of the life I’d imagined when I ﬁrst enlisted. The recruiter had shown me videos of men with tattoos playing volleyball on beaches. He told me about latenight matches of beer pong played in Okinawa. He told me about high and tight haircuts that never needed combing. I’ll be home, I told my parents the night I signed the papers, just as much as if I went to college. I am not afraid, I told them, and nothing is going to change. Riding in the cab I smiled to myself, the woven masts of bridges spinning past the open windows, the hot wind pushing in. The brackish marshes we crossed on the way smelled precisely the way I wanted them to, the air thick and salted and full. As the highway spilled over the crest of a bridge, the ocean rose into view, this high blue ridge like a distant hill or storm, with a thin line of rooftops and palmetto trees at its base. Pastel homes dotted the beach and its strip. Women in T-shirts and cutoff jeans watered plants on verandas. The 183
window paints of ice cream stands catalogued the specials of the day—turtle nut and strawberry, zanzimoon and praline pecan—this entire seaside life lived as casually as if the sea looming over it was as ordinary a thing as the sky itself. We left the cab and walked past a pink stone wall that marked a walkway to the beach. People sat lazily around a restaurant’s outdoor tables, talking over bottles of beer that sweat in the sun. When we reached the beach we walked the boardwalk ﬁrst, and then the pier, and then down to the sand where the hard pack meets the soft, the four of us walking closely together, still not entirely free from the deep currents of marching drill. I became conscious of this and broke away. I stood alone in a tide pool trapped by the sand, just facing patiently east as the tide came in waves to crash, and effervesce, and then suck back to sea. The water in the pool felt as warm as a bath. The sand beneath it was dimpled by waves. Burrowed crabs shot tiny plums of sand into the water, forming strings of islands driven up through the crust, unaware of anything but the business of their miniature world, of the tide that would soon come to swallow it all. I looked out at the ocean and watched a seabird fold its wings and crash in the surf. I watched the bird surface, shake the water from the feathers of its head, and then rise and ﬂy away. I held the cardboard camera to my eye and smiled as I took a picture of nothing but the sensation of the place itself. It was the perfect shot, 184
this thin blue line of horizon, an empty sea, nothing captured in the frame beside a simple and irrevocable phrase—I have ﬁnally arrived. In the photo I have of the four of us together, we all have cigarettes in our mouths, and all of us grin these huge grins. Blake is smiling with the cigarette pressed between his teeth, and Cully, massive Cully, holds both Day and me in a feigned headlock. In the frame behind us, the pier stands atop a weave of barnacled pylons, and from the pier’s deck a single ﬁsherman casts for shark, the tip of his rod slicing, surgically, this clean blue arc from the sky. I like to imagine how that ﬁsherman might have watched us from his perch on the pier, how our image might have been transposed upon a surface more opaque and knowing than a membrane of ﬁlm, or a photo kept in a drawer—these four bald kids down on the sand, their dog-tags and cigarettes, these kids playing hero, the tuck and dive of a bird, the slice and cast of a line hurled eastward into the sky above the sea.
LOCAL FLORA Sunday morning, and she believes the sea urchin spine in the pad of her toe will reabsorb on its own, the sting subside. She believes this but she pokes the skin with a safety pin, soaks it some more then ﬁllets the callous until a piece of the sliver breaks off and she manages to tweeze it. She wipes the trivial ﬂeck on her leg. Most of it’s still in there. The ubiquity of chagrin: moments like this one, stripped of all empathic force, when memory rears up to bludgeon her with her foolishness past and present, the precise sensation she had as an awkward child on the cusp of understanding why the adults laughed
when she pointed out the dildo cactus, reminding her that self-loathing inheres in bathroom shag, Epsom salts, and a vat of aloe vera. She thinks, go ahead, pretend you are not the sort of person who knows the difference between frangipani and oleander, not one to recognize sea rocket and purslane, not a girl whose botanical phase was divided from her herpetological phase by the onset of puberty. Maywort. She was always good with an index. Even the damage she is about to do to herself and someone she loves dissolves into the list she was once capable of making with a straight faceâ€”cocoplum, woolly nipple, limber caper, bugleweed,
crab pickle, bushy spurge. She hates it when an auditor traps her in her own erotic parody, a ragged piece of sea urchin still lodged in her toe, still pronged at a microscopic level and hanging on cell by cell to the spaces in her ﬂesh, the angle of each micro-scale articulated like the pitched blades of the ceiling fan, like the cluster of buds on the wild sage. Go ahead, scowl at the bougainvillea— it’s the leaves that turn red, like poinsettia, like fall. Flowers that aren’t ﬂowers.
TWOMBLY’S LEDA How haphazard god is, thrashing about in teen grafﬁti, the loopy boobs of his longing lost in the scribble-scrabble and curlicues of her pigtails, a few mustard smears, red-tinted buttercream for lips and hearts. This is an explosion evoked by an almost-dried-out magic marker. This is a joke—a drawing of a light bulb or a woman bending over, a ﬁlament or the crease of her ass. This is the paper after the frustrated boy erases it over and over, then reaches, bored, for the pink chalk—almost time for a tantrum. This is the sulfur phallus and the ampersand. This is rape, people.
His careless power. Haste, thrust, one golden moment when the coils seem like they could become something—a spring, or a ﬂank of springs, winding into a metallic system of tensile strength. But it peters out. It was a stupid idea. At least the etchings on the cave wall are now etched inside her head. That drip of white encaustic, that’s cum on her thigh. Of course it is. He wipes his ﬁlthy hands on her dress, looks around at the mess. Would someone please get in here and clean this up? The great god Jupiter draws himself one tidy window and climbs out.
SOLAR FLÂNEUR for Jeffrey Kroll
Of light and air When seen in league with Stone and spire, castIron wreath of Metro Station sign and this Little groove In steps running up From canal to bridge For bike wheels to ﬁt And be rolled up in As if transport itself Were a map, the clean Edge of fall air against Perforations of Seine Admonishment,
Do not go to it, the old Cathedral whose walls Are lined with marble Caskets creased in gold, Do not go to it, Instead seek outward Offering encased with Flavors subtle of anise Fennel lavender, rest if You can beside clear Stands of light and air Without a world to care, Inhale them as it were A history to be learned About one man or Woman that you loved.
FLOWERS IN BOTTICELLI’S VENUS
Dance down Stairwells of air Like ballerinas in The wind where Water’s edged The light in.
SPOTTING DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE blood oozing out from under your little
toenail. Wrap a band-aid around it, even though it’s not the type of bleeding that a band-aid will help. Take the strip of lamb’s wool out of your bag and lace it around your toes, tucking the end under itself to secure the whole piece. Then get out your lamb’s wool toe cover and slip all ﬁve toes into it, making sure that the side that was on top last time is now on the bottom, and the pad that was on your left foot is now going onto your right. Unroll the tights from your ankle and stretch them back around your toes. They’re split along the bottom length of your foot so they can be rolled up to the ankle, allowing for easy access to the foot. Point and ﬂex the foot several times, making sure to spin the ankle once or twice, ﬁrst clockwise and then counter. Slide the satin pointe shoe that has a squared end onto your foot. Wrap the satin ribbon around your ankle, securing at the back. Repeat this whole process for your left foot. When Mrs. Gunter asks the class to form a line in a corner of the room, and for one dancer at a time to do pique turns to the other corner, move to the back. Don’t be the last person in line; that will give away the fear you are actually experiencing. Third from the back is good. It will give you time to squelch the nerves in your stomach. Pique turns are your favorite, and you do them at home in 195
your kitchen where you spin in your socks the way you did when you were small, sunlight ﬁltering through the skylight, your arms opening with every turn to accept that light, your body feeling its own weightless strength as you lift yourself up up up into the turn, your body spinning at speeds that you can’t create in your pointe shoes, and so they are terrifying when you are doing them here. When you get to the front of the line, put your weight on your left foot, extend your right leg outward at a 45 degree angle, toes touching the ﬂoor but bearing absolutely no weight. Right arm out, steady and ﬁrm and curved into a semi-circle. Count the rhythm, and begin!: up onto the ball of your left foot, right leg extending extending reaching for its absolute farthest length, then feel the squared end of the pointe shoe on your right foot grab the dance ﬂoor, your weight shift from the ball of your left foot to the lambswool-wrapped toes of your right, your right calf muscle ﬂexing as it hurls your entire body weight onto a square approximately three inches wide. Left arm moves in from its own semi-circle to form a complete circle with the right. Find your spot. Spin! Find your spot. Spin! Find your spot. Spin! Then feel your right calf muscle give, your right ankle make an incomplete transition from ﬂexed to pointed. Feel it tremble, feel it fail as you fall back to Earth. Catch your breath. Walk the rest of the way across the room. When Mrs. Gunter asks you speciﬁcally to come to the center 196
of the room, don’t panic. Walk calmly, the squared end of your toe shoes clomping on the ground. When she says to the class that she wants them to watch your pique turns because you were the only one to execute them correctly, even if you can only do three, and even if you can only do them in one direction, don’t panic. Don’t think about how it will make the other dancers hate you. Don’t tell her you don’t know if you can do them again. And the beginning, again!: weight on the left leg, right leg extended but perfectly free-ﬂoating, your toes not actually on the ground but hovering fractions of millimeters above it. Hear the music. Count the music. Feel the music. And, go!: execute exactly one pique turn before your right ankle trembles and fails. Wait nervously, anxiously, in front of the class, trying to not show how petriﬁed you are of Mrs. Gunter’s coming appraisal. Try to make no expression at all; try to hold the muscles in your face perfectly still as she tells the class that even though it was only one turn, it was perfect and beautiful. Listen to her explain how your body made a full rotation of 360 degrees, not 320 or 330 like the rest of the class, but a full 360 degrees before attempting another turn. Listen to her explain how your right leg extended as far as it possibly could for the spot at its absolute limit of stretching and then landed on that spot, not pulling back even an inch. Listen to her describe how the ﬁngertips of the left and right hands met perfectly aligned at the center of the body without ever actually touching each other. 197
Silently be amazed at her description of your body because you had no idea you were doing any of that. You were just trying desperately not to fall, not to fail. Spend the rest of the class working harder than you ever have. Squeeze your muscles tighter, point your toes harder, hold yourself higher. At the end of the class, walk back to the dressing room, untie the satin ribbons, take off the satin shoes, roll up the tights with the split soles, take off the lambâ€™s wool toe pads, unwind the lambâ€™s wool strips, leave on the band-aid for the still-oozing-blood toenail. Put on your street shoes. Cry.
MARTA PODGĂ“RNIK THE LAST STOP translated from Polish by Aleksandra Swatek
there is nothing to worry about i am young cute and totally devoted to literary studies i do not get sick i have not inherited anything just small morning collapses from time to time sleep colors and contours permanently not capable maybe not fertile i didnâ€™t ever have happiness disillusions cruelties of this world gentle short rapes everything watched from behind a wet glass it wasnâ€™t about me i do not bother the time passes lightly here and there is peace i talk about him for hours the glass has fogged up and i think you have just stopped visiting this place i remember at least how you smell the memory of objects you may write books about someone who does not meet your expectations two toothbrushes unnecessary words the same for everyone
it wasn’t about me i have been swallowing such moments all my life and in my case all my life is a moment so before the ﬁrst wrinkle it’s hard to make generalizations the level of complication has to be deﬁning something very narrow space was cut through by a blade i believe i will wait to see everything like in the songs love has to be sweet and painful what court will believe me
MEGHAN L. DOWLING
GROTESQUE: An Illustrated Essay Abstract I stapled my ﬁnger to your Valentine. Teacher marched me down the long corridor to Nurse’s ofﬁce by the elbow, made me hold my arm at length. Thick paper dangled from the tip, pink heart soaking red. I bent my arm and ripped the staple out. Gave you the card in spite of the blood. Or because of it. I. Preliminary Remarks on the Organization of Animals Figure 1.1 Cut off the toe to save the foot. Cut off the foot to save the leg, below the knee, above the knee. Excise the skin to stop the spread. Resect the organ to save the organ. Remove the organ to save the lymph. Kill the lymph to kill the cells. Suppress, poison, cauterize, amputate, decimate, burn, ravage. Figure 1.2 It is the wrong sweater. The neck is edged in blue rufﬂes, fabric that gives me hives. She knows I don’t like plunging necklines, layers on top of breasts. Well just buy something you like then, she says over the phone. 202
You have a gift receipt? the sales girl asks. I nod. The sweater is folded into a tight square. Red welts are beginning to rise up on my palms, but I do not let it go, even as the girl attempts to hand me a credit slip. She ﬂicks the paper against the counter insistently. She is looking at me funny. I drop the sweater and take my receipt. Alone in the car, I pull the hood of my winter coat over my face and sob into the steering wheel. Figure 1.3 I say: You can’t live without it, Mom? But that isn’t what she means. You’re not sure you can live without it. You’re not sure you want to live without it. You don’t want to live without it. You do not. You do not want. You do not want to live if Figure 1.4 My mother does not behave as I do in crisis. 203
Figure 1.5 What are you willing to endure? Figure 1.6 Please answer the following questions: How many millimeters? What range of motion? What level of care? What can you live without? Can you learn to walk with a prosthetic? Can you tie your shoes with one hand? Can you operate a motorized chair with your own breath? Can you cath yourself? Can you change your own colostomy bag? Can you watch your hair collect in the drain? Can you forfeit your ability to have children? Can you inject yourself daily? Can you become accustomed to pain? Figure 1.7 Suddenly, I win the lottery: tens of millions of dollars. I swoop down and present my mother with an incredible check. Her house is paid for, and all her bills. We eat at the best restaurants and make plans to travel extensively. We pay off our relatives’ debts and send their children to college. She wants for nothing. Has access to the best possible doctors and the luxury of time and resources for her recovery. We are insulated by money. Everything is perfect. But it begins to grow back. Having the means to ﬁght doesn’t guarantee success. What she wants is to never have had it in the ﬁrst place. Our relatives criticize us for not giving enough. Every child we put through college feels entitled to more. We travel to remote 204
places; we escape. She drags one toe through the sand, nothing left to read. I bounce a tennis ball off the wall of a Polynesian hotel room. There are no good doctors. A return is inevitable. We go back to our respective homes and wait to see if she’ll die. Good news only feels like a precursor to bad. I become consumed by small tasks: a grocery list, daily showers, trip to the post ofﬁce, broken taillight and oil change, new television show, weekend in the mountains, cleaning out the hall closet, a plate of broccoli scraped into the trash. I mean to buy lottery tickets but never do. II. Structure of the Human Body Figure 2.1 A functioning brain means quality of life. Means you’re an inspiration. Means your own segment on the Today show. Means a smile-plastered caregiver in the background. Do not question this. If the body functions but the brain does not, it is a shame. It is a total loss. It is a perfect candidate for euthanasia. If the brain functions but the body does not: She is a miracle. Figure 2.2 I run until I Figure 2.3 in the bushes. Hands on my 205
stomach, probe my waist, feel where curves ebb. I want to get hard. Concrete trunk. Erect abdomen. Solid mass. A tailor’s dummy. Figure 2.4 \ I don’t want my mother to die because I didn’t imagine it this way. I don’t want my mother to die because I need. I don’t want my mother to die because everything will be different. because I should have babies ﬁrst. because I’ll be an orphan. because I couldn’t stand it. because I Figure 2.5 Microdermabrasion (noun): surgical removal of skin imperfections, especially wrinkles, by means of a vacuum containing mineral crystals; an outpatient procedure; a procedure performed at a salon or spa; an Eastern European woman who swabs the face with alcohol to dry it out, who says “close eyes an make leeps do dees;” a highpitched whining, mechanical growl slip; a scraping, pulling taut, the device like a pen or wand or an electric toothbrush; soothing wet cloths, the triumphant production of a plastic container full of dead white skin.
Aftercare instructions are explicit: I am not allowed to touch it for several days unless I have thoroughly washed my hands and, even then, only to apply a thick vitamin serum. I pat my face gently when it itches. My skin, raw and fresh. I convalesce. My husband offers me things, takes care around the house. I cannot sit on the porch with him. The sun, and the wind, too: I cannot risk exposure. I place the rocking chair near the window so that light can only reach my waist. Lap blanket and book in hand, I swan my neck, eyes closed and very still. III. Physiological Remarks Figure 3.1 Everyone is having a fucking baby. Everyone, everywhere, is fucking pregnant. All of our friends. Everyone I went to school with. Women in the park. On the sidewalk. Deciding what to order at the sandwich counter. I pretend to be happy for people as they use up all the baby names. Iâ€™ll either be the stoic childless aunt who gets wistful at everything a goddamned baby does, or have one and be a sad orphan idiot mother. 207
Figure 3.2 Wake up. Remove top and inspect body in the mirror facing the bed. Fasten bra, pull on socks, sweatshirt, and smooth hair. Bathroom. Kitchen. Full glass of water and prescription antacid pill. Wait one half-hour before eating. Breakfast is one egg, one plain piece of toast, one multivitamin, one naproxen sodium tablet, three cups of coffee. Wait two hours before running. Trail is a ﬁfteenminute walk from the house. Cross street, enter park. Music on. Enable program that records distance, time, speed, and calories. Run the full length of the trail, through side cramps, frigid or thirsty, no slacking. Do not complain. Do not disrupt the data. Do not think about a sack full of squishy organs held in suspension by sinewy bits of ﬂesh inside an abdomen, how they jostle apart with each hard step, then realign. Figure 3.3 Most people don’t know what to say when I tell them. Others respond by saying how hard it was for them when their mother passed away. But she’s not dead yet she’s not dead yet she’s not dead yet she’s not dead yet she’s not she’s not dead yet she’s not dead yet she’s not dead yet she’s not she’s Figure 3.4 Peregrine Laziosi was a wealthy young man in medieval Italy who hated the Church, gathered up a band of rabble-rousers, and assaulted St. Philip as he preached to the faithful in the square. Peregrine slapped St. Philip in front of everybody, but St. Philip 208
simply offered him the other cheek. Humbled by forgiveness, Peregrine became a monk. He decided that the best way to show his loyalty to God was to stand whenever it was normal to stand, and also stand whenever it was normal to sit. He stood for thirty years. All that standing gave him rotten leg cancer. The night before amputation, Brother Peregrine dragged himself to a cruciﬁx and prayed to God for a little while, then fell asleep. By morning his leg was healed, and St. Peregrine became the patron saint of cancer patients. Figure 3.5 What I’m trying to say is IV. Medical Practice or Treatment of Internal Diseases Figure 4.1 I forgot and paid the phone bill late. I used you as an excuse. The operator forgave the charges. If you die now I will never forgive myself. Conclusion Last trip home, I stole cigarettes every night after you went to bed. I sneaked around like high school. We had oysters for dinner three times. Narragansett Ale and cornbread. Bottles of prosecco and expensive cheeses. We named the Christmas tree ‘Alphonse’ and strung lights around the porch. The weather broke, rainy and warm. On my last night we got drunk. I smoked right in 209
front of you, but for once you didnâ€™t scold me or lecture. We linked arms, laughing, while cultures grew in a lab downtown.
SELMA This is how girls disappear walking without hesitation into darkness— sacks ﬁlled with glass bottle and feather boots lifting feet from gravel forward to song and snow drift stars pave paths through tree brush trestle the cold in soft gambrels country roads hold tight and tidy to ﬁelds moon-streaked and cloud-begotten
ELENA Tufts of hair and fur line sun-warmed wood glass buttons worn smooth and milky wool threads loose and frayed I sit in the corner cabined against cold nights and bleak noon sun I carry no I no we wrapped in lockets encased silvered I shadow the sun I bring sweeter sounds I carry paw-patter in wooden boxes I hold tight in red-buds edging the forest
MOLLY On the ďŹ‚oor of the wash I sort stones blue and green and yellow accumulate under ďŹ ngers under water clumps of mallow cling slope-side bitter milked and fat pistiled I wait where columbines grow small casting shadows in silvered light fatten belly on nettle and peony bud I await whispers from sisters that never come being further far better than evenings in that house words are made by hands made by soil
LILY HOANG Lily Hoang is the author of Parabola (Chiasmus Press, 2008), Changing (Fairy Tale Review Press, 2008), The Evolutionary Revolution (Les Figues Press, 2010), and Unﬁnished (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012), a collection of unﬁnished stories by various writers with endings written by Hoang. She teaches at New Mexico State University and can be found virtually at the literary blog HTML Giant. She was featured in the University of Maine’s New Writing Series on September 27, 2012.
CORY ROBERTSON: You began with a recording of Carol Guess reading the start of her “abandoned” story, “The Smell,” and then read the ending you wrote for it, but you also seemed to inhabit many different yet intense voices throughout your reading. How do you approach the act of reading aloud for an audience, and how does that relate to or affect the text itself? LILY HOANG: I approach the act of reading as entertainment. I aim to be an entertainer. But even more than that, I think readings can introduce a lot of students to a whole new mode of literature and writing. Quite often, after readings, students approach me and excitedly tell me that they didn’t know ﬁction could do what my ﬁction does. The act of reading to me is really about pushing boundaries and enticing the audience into falling in love with ﬁction again. In a time when ﬁction and poetry have to compete with the immediate and replete satiation that ﬁlm and television offers, I think it’s even more important to woo people into reading books. I put a lot of myself into readings—I 216
often leave exhausted and a little dizzy from the adrenaline of performance—but in that performance, I hope to do my small part in wooing people back to the romance of literature. I don’t know that reading aloud affects the text itself, but I hope that my readings add color and texture. I’ve been to a lot of readings, and more often than not, hearing an author read her work isn’t all that fulﬁlling. I hope that my readings add dimension to the written word. CR: During your visit you remarked on the importance of community in your writing life. How do you balance social and collaborative endeavors with the solitary act of writing? How do these aspects of your professional life complement or complicate one another? LH: Yeah, writing community. It’s funny, because sure, writing is a solitary act, but the whole point of it is to communicate. Otherwise, why would we write, right? I am forced to make room for the writing community, in part because of my geographic location. I don’t live in—and haven’t lived in—a large metropolitan area that might be conducive to readymade conversation about writing or art, and so I’ve learned to use the Internet. The nice thing about the Internet as a mode of social interaction is that it can be turned off, which is how I attempt to manage that mythical thing called “balance.” To me, being a part of the writing community is an integral 217
component to my professional life. I edit for two journals and a small press. I’ve edited one anthology and am in the process of editing another. I am a book reviewer, and I’m a regular contributor to a popular literary blog. Whereas these things don’t make me money, per se, they help further the dialogue about writing and art. I also teach in an M.F.A. program. All of which is to say: I try to be involved in the many different components of writing and publishing. I have to admit, it isn’t easy to balance all these things, and it’s even more difﬁcult once I add actual writing into the mix. When I’m writing, it feels impossible to focus on anything other than writing. Usually, I only write during the summers because of the rigors of teaching and my other writing-related responsibilities, but I’ve been trying hard to organize my time such that I can do it all even while teaching. It’s hasn’t worked yet, but I’ll let you know how that goes! CR: You graduated from Notre Dame’s M.F.A. program in 2006. That same year, your novel Parabola won the 2006 Chiasmus Press “Un-Doing the Novel” Contest. Your books have been steadily published since then, with Changing receiving a 2009 PEN/ Beyond Margins Award. What was your post-M.F.A. experience like, and how did you maintain momentum? LH: I got really lucky post-M.F.A. During my M.F.A., I was fortunate enough to have a really supportive and wonderful advisor, Steve Tomasula. He encouraged me to take the time to really revise the two manuscripts I’d written during the program. The summer 218
after I graduated, I worked part-time at a café and revised like mad. By late summer, I submitted both manuscripts to the Chiasmus Press Un-Doing the Novel Contest, which my novel Parabola won. I’m not really sure how that happened, but I won’t question my good luck! Afterwards, one of the screeners for the contest approached me to submit the other manuscript, Changing, to a small press where he served as a member of the editorial board. They ended up rejecting it, but another member of the editorial board, Kate Bernheimer, loved it and offered to publish it with a new press she was just starting, Fairy Tale Review. All of this happened within six months of my graduation. Whereas I don’t want to undermine the hard work I put into my writing, I really did get very lucky at the beginning. That, and I think Lidia Yuknavitch (publisher of Chiasmus Press) and Kate Bernheimer are my writing fairy godmothers. I was a huge fan of both of their books long before they published my books, which made the whole experience all the more magical. It’s been easy for me to maintain momentum, especially because I received so much positive reinforcement early on. In many ways, publication is a drug, and I am completely addicted. There’s just something magical about holding a book that you wrote. That’s how I maintain my momentum, dreaming about that magic. CR: You’ve made a lot of interesting formal choices in your writing, such as taking on the structure of the I Ching in Changing, and employing various surprising genres, like
the IQ test, in Parabola. How does form relate to content in your work, and what drives you to push the boundaries of expected characteristics of ﬁction?
LH: I wrote my ﬁrst two books, Parabola and Changing, in grad school. Because the program I went to was fairly conservative at the time (it’s changed a lot over the past few years), I worked even harder to push against expectations and boundaries. I wanted to prove to my classmates and professors that I was smart and “cutting edge.” Looking back, it was all kind of petty and foolish, and I think my ﬁrst two books are marked and marred by my youth, but I also think there’s something powerful in how brazen I was, an innocence that might be something resembling purity that is absent in every book I’ve written and published since then. With those ﬁrst two books, I really played with form in relation to content. I spent a lot of time thinking about different ways to tell a story, of ﬁnding new methods to convey narrative. It’s funny because I’ve actually become more conservative over the years. The novel I recently ﬁnished is a traditional novel, formally at least. It followed the traditional trajectory of a novel. I haven’t abandoned my experimentation though. I’m just experimenting in a different way. For instance, I’m pushing at the boundaries of narratology: the novel is written in ﬁrst person close moving, that is, a ﬁrst person narrator who attaches to various characters and appropriates their voice while still allowing her unique voice to sift in and out. I’m driven to push at the boundaries of ﬁction because the status 220
quo should always be challenged; otherwise, things are bound to stagnate. Fiction is in danger of becoming obsolete—it really can’t compete against other mediums of narrative like ﬁlm and television— and so it’s increasingly important to push ﬁction to its limits—and past those limits!—in order to maintain its urgent and relevant voice. CR: In your teaching statement on the New Mexico State University Web site, you wrote “I cannot teach students how to write a good story, because ‘goodness’ as an aesthetic is constantly evolving, but my goal in teaching in the M.F.A. program is to introduce students to new forms of ﬁction while grounding them in the canon and preparing them for the challenges that will come with being an active member of the writing community.” How has your own aesthetic come to be the way it is, and how do you foresee your work evolving in the future? LH: My aesthetic is heavily inﬂuenced by the books I read and the Internet and pop culture. When I was younger, I read mostly small press books that were very conceptual. I’ve also been strongly inﬂuenced by other disciplines, like philosophy, mathematics, science and history. For a while, I was working on a Ph.D. in Geography. I think it’s important to read and read broadly. My aesthetic is grounded in interdisciplinarity. Quite honestly, I can’t forecast where my writing will go in the future. Every book I’ve written is drastically different than the one before it. Each one has its own focus and aesthetic voice and style. The most I can hope for is that I will continue writing and that in doing so, I’ll write a narrative that moves readers. 221
JOANNA HOWARD Joanna Howard is the author of On the Winding Stair (BOA Editions, 2009), Foreign Correspondent (forthcoming from Counterpath, May 2013), and a chapbook, In the Colorless Round, with artwork by Rikki Ducornet (Noemi Press, 2006). She lives in Providence and teaches at Brown University. She was featured in the New Writing Series on November 15, 2012.
CORY ROBERTSON: The main character of your novel forthcoming from Counterpath, Foreign Correspondent, is a journalist, Johnny James, tenderly obsessed with a cage ﬁghter named Scooter. In the excerpt you read during your visit, Johnny James writes letters to Scooter, but there is a rarely-broached distance between them. Your writing also seems to inhabit furtive and focused gazes in On the Winding Stair stories “The Scent of Apples”—in which an orphan spies on her eccentric neighbor from a tower—and “The Tartan Detective.” What kinds of possibilities are opened up by these vantage points, and what draws you to them?
JOANNA HOWARD: From the vantage point, as from the parapet, the observer may take in the vulnerabilities of her object without making herself vulnerable, or so one would suppose. It rarely plays out that way in these stories. The attempt to remain at a safe distance often means a mad ﬁnal dash as the shells rain down. This is a political interest as much as a romantic one, I think. I just ﬁnished a collaborative project with Joanna Ruocco called Field Glass. It’s a series of dispatches from a speculative occupied territory where observation is a state of being: one is observed—one can only be observed—in the ﬁeld. The “Tartan Detective” comes out of similar 222
material—WWII resistance efforts. I’m really obsessed with certain subjects. CR: Your chapbook In the Colorless Round features illustrations by Rikki Ducornet, and you teach a course on graphic novels and comic art (in addition to ﬁction workshops) at Brown. How does visual art or imagery inﬂuence your ﬁction? How did you become interested in graphic novels and comic art, and how does that interest intersect with or relate to your ﬁction? JH: When I was starting school, I focused on visual arts, I think, because I was still ﬁguring out my aptitude between graphic and language arts. Ultimately it was no contest for me, language just ruled out. But I was, and am, keenly visually minded. I often draw on images I remember from scenes in ﬁlms; I think ﬁlm has inﬂuenced me more than anything else, and I’ve spent years in front of screens. The love of comics is linked to Wolverine—man, machine, animal— as much as to David B., Hergé, Jacques Tardi, or Moebius and trying to learn French like a child might ﬁrst through picture books, then bande dessinée. I’m not sure yet how this effects my ﬁction, though I do often have certain images in mind when I go to the page. CR: In an interview with Michael Kimball for The Faster Times, you brieﬂy discussed an experience (which eventually led to On the Winding Stair’s “Ghosts and Lovers: a novel in shorts”) of trying to write more conventionally. You describe “certain weirdnesses I can’t get beyond: fractured, gapped narrative, tentative, at best, cohesion through repetition and variation, emphasis on image, and character types rather than full-blown characters.” Yet John Madera of The Brooklyn Rail describes On the 223
Winding Stair as “an escalier spiraling with brocaded lyricism” and writes that your stories are “sodden with detail, saturated with color and have a lacquered brilliance mirroring the luxuriant abundance of 17th-century Dutch Golden Age painting.” Would such an effect be possible through more traditional narrative? What has allowed you to make the kind of formal choices you have?
JH: An interesting question. I don’t see why lyricism or baroque detail should necessarily impede traditional narrative in the sense of sustained progression, rising action, denouement, resolution, etc.— and I think Nabokov was good at doing all of these things at the same time in something like Pale Fire, Hilary Mantel has luxuriant abundance, and China Mieville does alright with intricate, saturated detail—I think it is really the fracture, and gapped narrative. I think of “The Tartan Detective” as a fractured version of a John Buchan novel, partly because I was working with some language from The 39 Steps. I also work frequently from collage techniques, and formal elements arise organically from the types of source material I end up using, but they do tend to arrive in pieces. CR: Your ﬁction seems to mix elements of bygone eras with present-day details. For instance, “Ghosts and Lovers” includes the line “His suit was contemporary, but in my eyes he had an untimely swashbuckling quality held in a silver swish of hair poised carefully over his forehead” (87). What leads you to create these kinds of moments, and what do you aim to reveal through them?
JH: That swashbuckling character was a marionette as much as anything, and I often have this way of seeing characters in my mind 224
as if formed in wax, or papier-mâché. I write many characters that have the threat of automata about them: this coming out of a love of E.T.A Hoffmann, I think. In terms of the bygone era, I read so much literature from the very late 19th century and very early 20th century, I’m quite taken with the types presented there-in. Stagey and cartoonish, or melodramatic, as if from silent ﬁlm, these are appealing extremities. CR: You have co-translated two works by contemporary French writers: Walls by Marcel Cohen (Black Square, 2009; translated with Brian Evenson), and Cows by Frédéric Boyer (forthcoming from Noemi Press; translated with Nick Bredie). In a 2011 interview with Rachel Cole Dalamangas of zingmagazine, you remarked, in response to a question about the “materiality of language,” that “I do believe that as writers we have chosen our medium, which is language, and should get to know it in its ﬂuidity, its elasticity.” What has your work as a translator taught you about language? JH: Translation has helped me to understand a theoretical aspect of language—that it might be regarded as exuded, or even a spiritual essence—an idea that I had been exposed to through philosophy but which I didn’t quite feel in relationship to my own writing practice. I enjoy the slippages of language in my own work, but always feel that there is a logical and mechanical process in my arrangements. But in translation, I feel more than ever, that there is something so elusive about language it deﬁes our even holding onto a conception of it. It is durational rather than spatial, measured or ﬁxed. That’s why it was fun to work on Marcel Cohen’s book Walls, which worked conceptually and formally with such notions. 225
MATVEI YANKELEVICH The poet Matvei Yankelevich visited the New Writing Series on November 29th, 2012. He sat down the following day with The Open Field Poetry Editor Joseph Manley and Stolen Island Poetry Editor Katie Fuller. Yankelevich is a co-founder of Ugly Duckling Presse, and his most recent collection of poetry, Alpha Donut, was published by United Artists Books in 2012. . .
JOSEPH MANLEY: We thought we’d start off with a really simple question... If you were the master of all time and space, how would you put together a sentence? MATVEI YANKELEVICH: If I thought about it for a few days, I might have a different answer. But it strikes me that I would not worry about writing sentences. I think that the reason—one of the reasons—for writing is the trouble of not having mastery of time and space. The rhythms of writing are always about attempting to manipulate time. And in terms of referentiality, in terms of what’s in the sentence, there’s also an attempt to manipulate or control space. In a poem particularly, space on the page is a sort of metonym for space outside the page. So I wouldn’t write sentences if I were the master of time and space. We don’t even really understand what time and space are. Maybe if one has a certain grounding in physics, one has a belief. . . in what time and space are. They’re constantly changing places in certain ways, one being reﬂected in the other because you can’t see space without time and you can’t see time without space. Without movement and so forth. And movement 226
requires time. And so all of those are constantly switching places or are in some kind of dialogue. Which is why writing is on one hand a static thing—it’s on the page—and at the same time it’s a time-based art because it gets read. KATIE FULLER: Following up on thinking about time, what do you see as the role of history in your poetry and your life, whether that be family history or political history or world history? Does that bring a certain burden to writing? MY: I write with an eye for collapsing history but not losing sight of it. Seven years ago, I wrote a chapbook called The Present Work, and one of the few times I got to read it entirely was in Orono. It was about twenty-ﬁve pages, but at the time it was the longest poem I’d ever written. (I write slowly and usually brieﬂy). Since then, I’ve been preoccupied with the history of the avant-garde—its weird echoes and overlaps that occur in different times in modernism, and in different writers, and how that overlaps with other history, which is usually the history of war or violence—some kind of violent change. Because if nothing’s really happening or changing, then it’s not really history, or looked at by history very much. It goes back to this question about time and space. I read very sporadically in different poetries and histories, which creates for me a weird world view of history as a bunch of intersections and echoes and crossreferences that aren’t really real, but they’re formed. And you ask yourself how does it all possibly connect? A lot of The Present Work 227
is my attempt to begin to deal with the so-called failure of the avantgarde or what to do now after the post-historical moment. What does it mean to make art or write poetry in the wake of both disaster and the avant-garde’s utopian attempts at changing things? The Present Work was about a kind of history but one where everything is not in order. It takes part in a modernist mode—which is to map time onto space in a particular way so that it can become spacialized and not linear. Family history and immigration also enters my writing—my family’s partaking in a small way in Russian history as part of the dissident and human rights movement. Growing up, I had a sense that in some minor way, my family had a role but it was a very unclear to me. Later it seemed that maybe all their efforts for thirtysome years did help lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. But even then you have to deal with the fact that maybe nothing necessarily that great came of it. Now there’s a regime that in certain ways resembles the old regime. Anything that’s not ﬁnancially proﬁtable is really marginalized. So what changed? Certainly it’s better in some ways. . . I think that more recently I have been thinking a lot about how the Cold War shaped certain things about cultural reception, about both scholarly and artistic understanding of the Other. I’m by no means writing historical poems but I think that my upbringing made me sensitive to politics in a particular way, but also a little disengaged in a direct way. I feel like there’s something political in 228
what I do, even in working with a small volunteer nonproﬁt press, but it’s certainly not the same kind of political statement it would have been to publish poetry in samizdat or in underground editions. In Russia, it’s a different situation. KF: Do you have a particular memory of yourself as part of a historical context? JM: Did you feel a conscious part of a historical moment? MY: Only vaguely. My grandmother who died about a year and a half ago had amazing memories and details of her childhood in Stalin’s Russia. I helped my father from a pretty young age: I organized press clippings and archives about my grandparents who were at that time (the eighties) internally exiled in Russia. The clippings were about other dissidents and prisoners of conscience. I remember putting stamps on many envelopes during letter-writing campaigns. My parents were constantly going away to meet with politicians and campaign for prisoners of conscience to be released. When I was ﬁfteen my grandfather [Andrei Sakharov] died. It was toward the end of the soviet period. There was a huge funeral. He had worked on the H-bomb, and had turned against the Soviet government. He had campaigned against nuclear testing after he saw what the testing was like, and then got involved with the human rights movement. He was considered a political ﬁgure without being a politician—an interesting position. And so that funeral deﬁnitely 229
left an impression. Things were changing very rapidly in Russia, so there was a feeling of historical importance, but at the same time you’re with all these people you’ve never seen, and that your family has never seen before. He and my grandmother Elena Bonner were very much in the forefront of the human rights movement. It certainly had its consequences for all of the people that decided to participate. They risked a lot—both for their families and their own lives. It’s weird coming from that background, into something that most people in the states don’t think of as very important: writing poetry, or publishing poetry. That experience hasn’t led me to believe what I’m doing is just as important or risky in any way, but the stands that you make are important—what one is writing, how one lives, and the community that one creates. Also, what one doesn’t do, all those things are extremely important as a background to the writing itself, to the fact of being a poet. I ﬁnd certain kinds of career poetry to be complicated. I ﬁnd poetry without stakes to be missing some of the point. They don’t have to be grand political stakes, but there have to be reasons, as Laura Riding says—the reasons of poetry. JM: Regarding the reasons for poetry, would you say that timelessness is tied up with the modernist blending of time and space? Is that a way to be political but at the same time timeless, or to have something that exists beyond just the moment yet still speaks to it? 230
MY: I guess I’ve never been a fan of timelessness. For me, the most important part of the poetic or political act is that it’s adequate to its moment. If one is then remembered for it, it’s sort of a byproduct and usually one is remembered falsely. That’s often the case with poets. They become valorized for one thing and actually their lives and thoughts were much more complicated. Poets, like everybody, make compromises and have conﬂicting ideas which make their poetry all the more interesting. Mandelstam wrote poems that made fun of Stalin. At the same time he wanted to be considered a national poet of great signiﬁcance to the Soviet state. I think the relationship of poetry to the ephemeral, to something momentary, has always been a close relationship, if you think of Sappho or Catullus or lyric poetry particularly. I’m not as keen on the epic. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with narrative, but I don’t think it interacts with time in the same way as poetry. KF: In your newer poem “Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt,” you write: “There is/ a world, tonight there is, under stars’/blue ﬁre. And in history, i.e /in what happened before.” Scale seems to play a large part in your poems. The poems often move very fast between scales of time or space. Can you say more about that play with scale? MY: Totally. Those are the dynamics that are possible in expanding the moment. That poem is longer, but I don’t think of it in the epic tradition. I’m just trying to stretch a moment. I’m not really telling a narrative...Laura Riding talks about writing poetry for 231
all the reasons at the same time, and that’s very difﬁcult. It’s the impossible thing to do. But I think that’s what poetry attains to. It’s the constant attempts to do the impossible, of trying to access a point of view that one cannot really access, or a revelation. It could be a kind of understanding of space, time, history...or even just the shape of one’s sock. . . These are impossible ambitions and part of it is to say something truthful to some degree while also being artiﬁcial. Things have to coexist, and poetry is always operating in these weird paradoxes and tensions. Laura Riding stopped writing poetry in the late 30s because she thought none of what she wanted to do could be done through poetry because poetry was too seductive. She couldn’t get away from the fact that poetry seduces the reader, and I think that’s a really brave and valid criticism, but I also think it’s interesting to try and write poetry that isn’t seductive. KF: Do you think that relates to contemporary poetry’s focus on the materiality of the text itself, or your own focus on textuality in your poems? Does the veering away from seduction go back to Williams’ “no ideas but in things” for you, or the Rimbaudian emphasis on materiality? MY: These ideas are very much in the background of my work, especially with the inﬂuence of Daniil Kharms, and his ideas about letters. I came into the French tradition a little late. I look at Mallarmé or Rimbaud and I see I’ve already been thinking about these things 232
but from another context. I have a strong stake in a kind of writing that takes this materiality into account. When writing doesn’t, it’s trying to seduce you into seeing through it and into seeing something that’s not critical. That leads to a kind of disappearance of writing. I’m interested in writing and the things that writing can do. In the past couple days, the question about philosophy and poetry has come up because of Franklin [Bruno’s] interest in and writing on Wittgenstein. Regarding poets taking on the work of philosophy, I’m not sure that’s the case. I think it happens to be that Wittgenstein and others in the analytic tradition have been working on what language is for a long time. And the Language school is also looking at language, obviously, and thinking about what it is and how it works. Certainly the Russian Formalists looked at that. It’s interesting to ﬁgure out what writing is doing that other things aren’t. Or you might call it poetry. What is poetry doing that other things aren’t? What is it that one artform can do that another form can’t? I think it’s useful to remember what William Morris said: “art is in the resistance of the material.” His message for creating a kind of labor that digniﬁes human life rather than dehumanizing the laborer goes hand in hand with an understanding of the material properties an artist deals with... I’m grappling with simplicity and materiality and not trying to make things overtly complicated, or intimidate the reader. I want to have a conversation. The idea of difﬁculty is 233
ﬁne. The Language school was really into that. But at what point is it more of a righteous stance rather than a real engagement? KF: There’s this moment in the poem from Alpha Donut called “First.” It’s a line that reads “multiple addresses/the facebook face// doesn’t scar its body/ cannot stand up to a tank// or bear the marks of/ consequent mutilation. . .” Do you see that as risky, or how do you feel about the risks of poetry in the digital age? MY: It’s risky because it’s embarrassing, or it’s vulnerable to be so direct about something like Facebook. Something about those lines is still unnerving to me. When I say them at a reading I totally stand behind them, but I think poetry isn’t supposed to say this. It’s too straightforward or aggressive or political in a way that “poetry” is supposed to avoid. And I like the way that happens in that poem because in a way I’m still confused by it. It’s like “wait, aren’t we in a poem,” and then there’s something antagonizing and direct and embarrassing about saying that for some reason. It’s like “did he really just say that?” But not the same way as when a poet reveals a secret about their sexual desires or deeds in a poem. To me, that’s not risky anymore. I’m saying, well, we can sign all the e-petitions we want but the body is still a real thing in the world, and the only politics are the politics of the body. Obviously online social media played a role in recent events in the middle east and also in the Occupy movement. It was a useful tool but in the end it’s the bodies that are there occupying space. The social media tool doesn’t stand 234
in for the body. What’s still useful about print is that it also has a body, and that means that no matter what happens with websites in the future or information dissemination, print is able to exist in more than one place at the same time in a physical form. Russian writers in the 60s or 70s—the non-conformist underground—used typewriters and carbon copies. They kept one copy at their home, they gave one to a friend who nobody knew they knew, and then kept one copy at the dacha—not that the police really needed your poems but they might be assholes and try to make some case against you or say “oh you’re writing poems so you must be mad, you’re going to go to a psychiatric hospital for a few years. Free verse! Straight to the loony bin with you!” Print has a body and it creates the simple occasion of the exchange of the book when it occurs. Often it occurs in poetry between communities of writers who are passing around a book. Were it not for the book we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And there’s something about the exchange of the printed word. In a way it’s part of the body. And you see that when you sign a book or crumple a page a little bit and it’s not perfect. It’s interesting to see how the book passes from one’s hands to another’s. KF: Going back to the “I” of the lyric mode, do you think about how to use the “I” without seeming solipsistic? Is it a hard road to tow?
MY: I feel like I’m coming to that question again and again and always too late. Right now I’m writing these long poems. One of them has an “I.” The other has a second-person address because I want to be addressing the world so I have a “you” in there. At the same time I keep wondering what the activity of writing does . What does it do—writing this really long poem? Or a short poem? What is the end effect? Because a part of you always wants to write a “good” poem that people will “like” that will say something or reveal something about the world or about your thoughts & feelings. But that’s not altogether satisfying, so I wonder what writing does. Part of me would like to think about it mystically: Kharms says that if you order the words correctly then you can take the poem off the page and throw it at a window and the window will break, and that’s an amazing materiality. That’s when the words become material to the point when they actually act like an object in the world as you mentioned with Rimbaud. But it’s interesting how [Kharms] chooses to have a collision, and have this violent image for what that materiality is, or to think about the window as being lyric. Right now I’m looking out the window at the river, and that might be some bad imagist poem about looking out a window and seeing. But the window is the way that the poet sees the world and it’s a very common trope. Kharms says that the words in the right order can break the window because then inside and outside are no longer divided. And 236
that there’s this lyric quality that no longer separates itself from the rest of the world... the mystical idea of words as spell-like—but also a materiality—that is somehow connected to this abolition of the distinction between the self and what’s outside—the breaking of that barrier which is the goal of lyric poetry—breaking a boundary rather than being self-involved. KF: In The Dictionary of Received Ideas, which was published as the last issue of The Impercipient Lecture Series (edited by Jennifer Moxley and Steve Evans) the deﬁnition for the Avant-Garde is “elitist, mention military origin of the term as though that says it all. Use interchangeably with experimental, innovative, alternative, and then add tradition.” MY: (Laughs) That’s really funny. It has almost nothing to do with what I think about when I think about the avant-garde. And I think the elitism of the avant-garde is very much connected to the British avant-garde or a Poundian avant-garde—this interest in creating an elite of the people in the forefront. Though you’d imagine the people at the forefront are the ﬁrst to die in battle, also. And their deﬁnition for bureaucracy: “All Bureaucracies are Kafka-esque.” It’s kind of amazing that they put this together. KF: At the beginning of coming into poetry, there’s often the anxiety of realizing how much there is to read. How do you decide how to go from one text to the next? 237
MY: My reading in American poetry and contemporary or modern poetry, has been really sporadic. A lot of my education started with meeting people—Julien Poirier, Filip Marinovich and Greg Ford. Together, we started 6x6. At that point I didn’t really know a lot about contemporary poetry so I learned through doing the magazine. Julien gave me a Clark Coolidge book, and told me about Bernadette Mayer. (I was naïve!) What was Language school? What was the New York school? I was trying to ﬁgure out who was reading at the Poetry Project and what they were doing. What are they reacting to? What kinds of texts were foundational for the people who seem to be writing what I thought was experimental or innovative or avant-garde? By reading submissions to 6x6, I started to read other young writers. Through those friends I met Lewis Warsh, Eddie and Anselm Berrigan, and many others. I tried to take in what I could just from readings and I still go to a lot of readings. I’m still interested in what I hear when a poet reads and how that inﬂuences my understanding of their work. I came from a long spell of writing ﬁction—a kind of ﬁction, I realized, that other ﬁction writers weren’t interested in. But poets responded well to it. I realized it was more for an audience attuned to a certain kind of use of language—one that has this material element. And I started to think I could try writing poetry again.
KF: Our friend, the poet Jeff Downey, mentioned thinking about your work as a kind of rhetorical lyricism. What do you see as the role of the argument or rhetoric? MY: To me rhetoric sounds really suspect. There’s a pejorative aspect to it and I think there’s a cultural reason for that. Part of it has to do with the modernist turn against rhetoric that you’ve seen in Pound and imagism— the idea that we’re not going to have the rhetoric, just the images. You often see this condensing in American poetry as if it’s a priori valuable to make things short. I’ve talked about bar poems in the past few days and I am interested in the short and the terse. It’s not that I don’t see the value in it but there is something strange about the abandonment of argument in early modernism, though Pound moves away from that completely in writing The Cantos and even Williams in Spring and All tries to make an argument for what he’s doing, and tries to make out the difference between poetry and prose. There are positions or ideas that I want to argue for and ones that I want to argue against. But at the same time, I don’t want that framed in a way that avoids the interaction or activity of the reader, which is what the modernists wanted to reject in Victorian poetry. Poetry’s an aesthetic object in a material way, but it also has to activate the reader and not just tell the reader what to think about images. That’s the argument against a kind of Victorian rhetorical verse. 239
There’s a way that one can mix these things. And maybe rhetorical lyricism is a term with some tension. And I like that. I like that an argument can be personal and connected to emotion and life. Conviction—conviction is very much part of one’s self. It can be deﬁned by the culture you’re in and acquiesced to, or it can be deﬁned by some kind of conviction of deciding to be a certain way or to do things a certain way— or to resist the ways that we are conditioned to be. One can engage in some kind of argument even with oneself. I think this is going on in some of my poems. I’ll say on the one hand I think this, but on the other... I’m trying not to resolve those paradoxes too much, because I think that’s where the lyrical comes in. Rhetoric has a certain goal. It can falsely do away with the paradoxes. If one is including a kind of lyrical self in the poem or writing from an acknowledgement that you can’t really get away from that “self” we can still question it and what its attitudes are and why... That’s where the lyrical brings in paradoxes, or the separation between inside and outside... Right now you hear a lot of talk about “the body” in this theory-laden way. It reminds me of how poets throw around the word “language” too easily. It sounds smart to talk about the body or language, but there is something in conviction that has to do with putting your body into it. I think that kind of argumentative aspect is possible in the lyric in such a way that it can become revealed in 240
embarrassing or suspicious, or self-destructive ways. KF: In Marjorie Perloff’s response to your The Gray Area: An Open Letter to Marjorie Perloff she writes “...you can’t very well oppose the Penguin canon by bringing up the names of what are, outside the world of small-press and chapbook publishing... wholly unknown poets.” When you or someone sits down to make a chapbook or takes agency over the process of making a book, what do you see that having to do with opposing a canon? Is canon-opposing even the goal? MY: I think that it is a small concern or a by-product. Small-press activity by-passes the issue of canonization, which is what I think Perloff gets wrong in that statement, that we have to ﬁght the penguin [laughs]. KF: “Fight the Penguin,” sounds like the name of a strange anthology. MY: Yeah. But you can’t put conceptualism or the Language school against Penguin. She and other academics helped frame the Language school in a way that the academy could understand so those people who were studying it could get academic jobs. But cultural respect isn’t necessarily what the Language school wanted. That’s not really very revolutionary. [Perloff] can’t abide by radicalism so she’s more comfortable in suggesting that there is an alternative canon. One of the important things that the avant-garde tried to do was to destroy the institutionalization of art. It was an attempt to diffuse 241
the idea that we need a canon at all. It’s about giving up authority or displacing or forgetting about that kind of authority and making it possible for everyone to be an artist. That’s the utopian avantgarde move. William Morris was thinking a similar thing. He was thinking if everyone’ s a laborer or a craftsman then everyone’s an artist in a different way. A lot of the radicalism of the avant-garde was anti-ideological but one of its key and empowering missions was to show that you could make life into art. Life didn’t have to be drudgery. The way to break away is not to set up a different institution. The Guggenheim or the MoMA aren’t opposing The Met. They’re part of the same cultural institution and they’ll invite conceptualists on board to include them in the canon or institutional art. The point of the small press and chapbook proliferation is to democratize the scene and to permit different kinds of voices to overlap. Ugly Duckling Presse is not trying to be the next Penguin. Rather it tries to form those kinds of communities that are radical in that they resist canon formation, or the whole idea of best-seller culture. There’s more dialogue to be had and I don’t think she’s wrong exactly, but her defense shows that she’s not interested in the radical gesture of the avant-garde. That gesture is to take away the institution’s power by not involving yourself with it. And that doesn’t mean being opposed to it in the way of a second canon, but rather creating a different economy—the economy of the free, 242
the trading of chapbooks, the low pressure and low economic gain situation of poetry. In the way I understand it, the small press ethos lies in resisting most models of capitalist growth, resisting institutionalization, resisting hegemonic or grand narrative culture. Otherwise itâ€™s like the Cold Warâ€”will it be the eagle or the bear who comes out on top? There are ways to continue to imagine a different future, not one where itâ€™s either conceptualism or Penguin but one with a utopian vision. And I think poetry provides the space of that possibility to imagine something else.
CONTRIBUTORS DIMITRI ANASTASOPOULOS is the author of the novels A Larger Sense of Harvey and Farm for Mutes, published by MAMMOTH books. His ﬁction has appeared in journals such as Black Warrior Review, Notre Dame Review and Willow Springs, essays in Callaloo and the Journal of Narrative Theory. Born in Greece in 1968, he now lives in Buffalo, New York and teaches ﬁction writing and contemporary literature at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. DAVID BARTONE is the author of Spring Logic (H_NGM_N), and his work has appeared in Mountain Gazette, Colorado Review, Handsome, Denver Quarterly, Rumpus, and others. He teaches at UMass Amherst.
JEANNE MARIE BEAUMONT is the author of three books of poetry: Burning of the Three Fires, Curious Conduct, and Placebo Effects. She teaches in the Stonecoast lowresidency M.F.A. Program and at The Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. ARIEL BERRY is a graduate student studying ﬁction at the University of Maine. She received second place in the 2011 Grady awards, judged by Amina Cain, for her ﬁctional story “Christmas Lights.” She resides in Old Town with her husband, three gerbils, a disabled goldﬁsh, and her turtle.
DENISE BICKFORD graduated from the University of Maine in May 2012 with a double major in English and Anthropology. Currently she works as a publishing intern at Shanti Arts Publishing in Brunswick, ME. At the end of summer 2013 she intends to adventure out west and start her M.F.A. at Boise State University.
CHARLES BLACKSTONE is the author of the novels Vintage Attraction and The Week You Weren’t Here, as well as co-editor of The Art of Friction, an anthology. He currently serves as managing editor of Bookslut, the internationally acclaimed book review site and blog. He lives in Chicago. A writer and visual artist, KRISTY BOWEN is the author of several book, chapbook and zine projects, including the forthcoming the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press, 2013) and girl show (Black Lawrence Press, 2013). She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio.
JULIAN TALAMANTEZ BROLASKI is the author of Advice for Lovers (City Lights, 2012), gowanus atropolis (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011) and co-editor of NO GENDER: Reﬂections on the Life & Work of kari edwards (Litmus Press / Belladonna Books, 2009). Julian lives in Brooklyn where xe is an editor at Litmus Press and plays country music with Juan & the Pines (reverbnation.com/juanandthepines). New work is on the blog hermofwarsaw. JAMES BROPHY currently teaches courses in English and Latin Literature at UMaine, where he received his M.A. in English last year. He received several awards in poetry during his time there, including the Grady Award and the Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize. FRANKLIN BRUNO is a writer and musician based in Jackson Heights, Queens. He is the author of The Accordion Repertoire (Edge Books) and Armed Forces, a book of music criticism in Continuum Books’ 33 1/3 series. His most recent album is The Human Hearts’ Another (Shrimper).
MAURICE BURFORD lives and writes in Bangor, ME, is most recently the author of the chapbook Rimbaud’s / Poems (Grey Book Press, 2012), and is an active participant of the internet.
AMINA CAIN is the author of I Go To Some Hollow (Les Figues Press, 2009) and the forthcoming CREATURE (Dorothy, a publishing project, 2013). She is also a curator, most notably for the literature/performance/video festivals Both Sides and The Center at the MAK Center/Schindler House in Los Angeles and When Does It or You Begin? Memory as Innovation at Links Hall in Chicago.
JASON CANNIFF grew up in the mid-coast area of Maine before coming to Orono, where he received his B.A. in English in 2011. He continued on in the Master’s Program, where he is currently ﬁnishing up his coursework and concentrations in Creative Writing and Poetry and Poetics. SARAH COOK is the author of several books about snowﬂakes. Her chapbook, a meadowed king, is newly out from dancing girl press.
KEVIN COOK currently lives in Maine with a wife and two cats. His work has appeared in Der Greif and is forthcoming in The Indian River Review. EDWARD DESAUTELS is author of the novel Flicker in the Porthole Glass (MAMMOTH books, 2002). He is currently writing a novel haunted by the ﬁgure of French Dadaist, gigolo, addict, and suicide, Jacques Rigaut.
MEGHAN L. DOWLING is a writer of prose, poetry, and other; a New England native; and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Denver.
JEFF DOWNEY’s recent poems have been published in Denver Quarterly, Cutbank, and sp ce book. He lives in Bangor and teaches at Eastern Maine Community College. CATHY EISENHOWER lives in Washington, D.C., and is the author of the poetry collections Language of the Dog-heads (chapbook—Phylum Press), clearing without reversal (Edge Books) and would with and (Roof Books). She is co-translating the selected poems of Argentine poet Diana Bellessi. Her work has recently appeared in The Recluse, Aufgabe, West Wind Review, The Brooklyn Rail and Fence.
SADIE FENTON holds an M.A. in English from the University of Maine and currently lives in central western Pennsylvania. She works as a freelance writer. Her poetry has been published in a previous issue of Stolen Island and e.g., and her ﬁction appears in Kindling. B. K. FISCHER is a poetry editor at Boston Review. She is the author of St. Rage’s Vault, winner of the 2012 Washington Prize, Mutiny Gallery, winner of the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize, and Museum Mediations, a critical study. She teaches at the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. BENJAMIN FRIEDLANDER is the author, most recently, of One Hundred Etudes (Edge Books, 2012) and Citizen Cain (Salt Press, 2011). He teaches American literature and poetics at the University of Maine. ANDY GRAFF is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He currently lives and teaches in Wisconsin.
JESSICA HARRIS is a self-taught painter, illustrator, and jeweler from Ellsworth, ME. She is the granddaughter of Maine watercolor artist John E. Harris and is currently taking jewelry/metalsmith courses at Maryland Institute College of Art. Her art has been featured at The Rock and Art Shop and in Tarratine magazine, among other places. ROSE W. HART (formerly known as Sarah Groves) is an M.A. student at the University of Maine. She is published in The Armchair Aesthete and the Susquehanna Review. She recently received the Grady Award for ﬁction, judged by Joanna Howard, for “The Three-Legged Woman Meets Her Mate.” She lives and writes in Maine and Virginia.
JESSICA HOLZ is driven to explore microscopic worlds to create artwork which challenges our perceptions of body, self, and other. She completed a project on microscopy as an art form at Lawrence University, has worked in several labs and imaging facilities, and is currently studying physics at the University of WisconsinMilwaukee. P. INMAN grew up on Long Island. Publications include: Ocker (Tuumba Press, Berkeley); Red shift (Roof, New York); vel (O Books, Oakland); ad ﬁnitum (if p then q, Manchester, U.K.); and per se (Burning Deck, Providence). written, 19762012, is forthcoming in late 2013 from if p then q. MEGAN KAMINSKI is the author of one book of poetry, Desiring Map (Coconut Books, 2012), and six chapbooks. Her poems have recently appeared in American Letters & Commentary, CutBank, Denver Quarterly, Everyday Genius, Puerto del Sol and other journals. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Kansas.
JACOB KEMPFERT is a writer of ﬁction, plays, and occasional poems. He is a cofounder of the Fictionshark movement. He currently lives and teaches in Gangneung, South Korea.
KEVIN KILLIAN is a San Francisco-based poet, playwright, novelist and critic. His books include Bedrooms Have Windows, Shy, Little Men, Arctic Summer, Argento Series, I Cry Like a Baby, Impossible Princess, Action Kylie, and two volumes of Selected Amazon Reviews. Kevin Killian’s new novel is called Spreadeagle, from Publication Studio. EMILY KOHLER holds a B.A. from Ohio University and an M.A. from the University of Maine, and is currently working on an M.F.A. in Creative Writing – Nonﬁction from West Virginia Wesleyan College. She enjoys kayaking and photography and lives in West Virginia with her two cats, Zeus and Luna. Born in 1970, DEVIN JOHNSTON spent his childhood in North Carolina and now lives in Missouri. His most recent book is Traveler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011). He works for Flood Editions, an independent publishing house, and teaches at Saint Louis University.
KATIE LATTARI is a proud alumna of the University of Maine-Orono’s program in English (B.A. ’09, M.A.’11). She is currently an M.F.A. candidate in prose at the University of Notre Dame (’13) where she recently completed her thesis manuscript, a novel entitled All of the Everything. Katie currently resides in South Bend, IN.
JOSEPH MASSEY is the author of Areas of Fog (Shearsman Books, 2009), At the Point (Shearsman Books, 2011) and To Keep Time (forthcoming from Omnidawn Publishing in the fall of 2014).
CHRIS MALIGA is a nationally-exhibited photographer currently living in Winslow, ME. He holds a B.F.A. in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, as well as an A.A. in Photography from the University of Maine at Augusta. His work can be seen at chrismaliga.com. LIZ MALIGA is a Maine-based writer, graduate student, graphic design enthusiast, and occasional iPhone photographer. Her photography has appeared at StoneCrop Gallery in Ogunquit. Her writing appears where you least expect it.
JASON MITCHELL completed a Master’s degree in English at the University of Maine in the summer of 2012. Recent poems can be found in Court Green 10, Hi Zero 15, and online at NOÖ Weekly.
ANDI OLSEN’s ongoing project, Hideous Beauty, is a Cabinet of Wonders composed of short ﬁlms, photographs, assemblages, and computer-manipulated collage texts exploring the idea of monstrosity and the generative possibilities inherent in processes of decay. Her work can be viewed at andiolsen.com.
KATE OSTLER is a Brooklyn-based artist who works in various media, including ceramics, ink drawings, and relief prints. Kate is currently earning her M.F.A. in Drawing and Painting from CUNY Brooklyn College. She shows her work in Brooklyn and Chicago, and is actively involved in union organizing and the Labor Movement.
AARON PINNIX is made of: poutine, the devil, bicycles, bourbon, Hart Crane, Frank O’Hara and other poets it would be uncouth to name, the Deep South, Montreal, baby ducks, Sugalicious, Marcuse and Maine, imminently NYC, and most of all great adoration for friends, teachers and Poetry, the raison d’être.
MARTA PODGÓRNIK was born in 1979 in Sosnowiec, Poland. She is a poet, literary critic and editor. She was awarded the prestiguous Jacek Bierezin Prize for poetry in 1996 and nominated for the “Polityka” Passport in 2001. She lives in Gliwice.
JESS ROWAN’s work has appeared in West Wind Review, Horse Less Review, Sprung Formal, etc. She lives and writes in the frost heaves of Maine, where she recently published her Dusie Kollektiv chapbook 23 MAGNOLIA. DAVIS SCHNEIDERMAN is an Author, with a capital ‘A.’ Davisschneiderman.com. PAGE HILL STARZINGER lives in New York City. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Fence, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Volt, and many other places. Her chapbook, Un-Shelter, selected by Mary Jo Bang as winner of the Noemi Contest, was published in 2009. Her ﬁrst full-length book, Vestigial, selected by Lynn Emanuel for the Barrow Street Book Prize, will appear in summer 2013.
ALEKSANDRA SWATEK comes from the land of kielbasa and pierogi. She got here, to the English graduate program at the University of Maine, because of a certain American senator called Fulbright, then fell in love with teaching. She can read Polish and often translates whatever comes into her hand into American English.
TONY TRIGILIO’s newest book is White Noise (Apostrophe Books, 2013). Recent poems are published or forthcoming in Drunken Boat, Puerto del Sol, Salt Hill, The Seattle Review, South Dakota Review, TriQuarterly Online, and 1913: a journal of forms. He directs the Creative Writing/Poetry program at Columbia College Chicago and co-edits Court Green.
DAVID TRINIDAD’s Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems was published in 2011 by Turtle Point Press. Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera is forthcoming from Turtle Point in 2013. He is also the editor of A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (Nightboat Books, 2011). Trinidad teaches poetry at Columbia College Chicago, where he co-edits the journal Court Green.
JASMINE DREAME WAGNER is the author of two chapbooks: Rewilding, winner of the 2012 Ahsahta Press Chapbook Contest and Listening for Earthquakes, ﬁrst runner-up for the 2011 Caketrain Chapbook Contest. Her poems and short stories have appeared in, among others, Blackbird, Colorado Review, Indiana Review, NANO Fiction, New American Writing, Seattle Review and Verse.