The Columbia Review, Fall 2014.

Page 1

vol 96

fall 2014

issue 1



ĂŠtant donnĂŠs

Amanda Silbernagel


winter afternoon

Emily Zhang



Asnia Asim


a prophet

Alexander Pushkin translation by Michael Lavers


mouths open

Karin Barbee 10

the east beach dream

Michael Menna 15

on north pole

Alex Braslavsky 16

y o u , y o u r b o d y, a n d small information

David Moody 18


David Moody 19


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Editor’s Note The United States is loud and not in good taste. -Thomas Hart Benton


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Étant donnés Amanda Silbernagel In a deep closet locked from within and lit by a single gas lamp, I am building a bed of twigs and a landscape with a waterfall out of the materials you’ve been leaving on my doorstep for the last two decades: a lump of pigskin, a bundle of sticks, a bolt of velvet. My wartime rations, you called them. For the last two decades you’ve been leaving me, little by little, to my own devices: a withered bouquet, a shrinking wardrobe, a fistful of word-sand. Piecemeal, I rescind my commitments to the outside world. My bastard boxcar children


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roam the streets of one hundred different cities, shore up in bottles on one hundred distant coasts in one hundred strangers’ poems. In deep shame in the deep shade of a Saguaro, I am daydreaming of hydroplaning, of a threshold, of a home -wrecker’s body. A black box cracks open in the desert sun, and from it spills a naked woman you don’t recognize, even though you’ve met her hundreds of times, her pale skin covered with petals from the flowers you brought me, the pine needles you picked with your bare hands. I fall to your feet and offer up my best explanation, my fattest lamb.


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Winter Afternoon Emily Zhang There is a dead bird in the lake. A boy in the tree. People around the bird. A lake in the boy’s large milky eyes. Feathers on the bird. People in the lake. Their shoes all wet and muddy. Feathers in the leaves. Milk in the lake. The bird all wet and muddy. The boy watching the bird. The bird watching the lake. The people watching their shoes. The lake churning itself. The boy churning the bird.


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Balls Asnia Asim Someone said they heard me sing behind your voicemail, in the seconds between your crotch and the hot coffee they caught me giggle before you screamed. That is, of course, insane. It is just as balls as you thinking I’m the one sexting your girlfriend my dog’s freshly neutered scrotum; which of course I am not and neither am I the one still shredding my heart to Nina Simone; that is all just you. Good old you unribboning the heartache you surprised me with. I am but minding my own business, coaxing wings out of my mess, I could not be bothered less about you and the fake lacy cups of her new peephole bra, I’m just the messenger of your message, killing me won’t help.


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A Prophet Alexander Pushkin Tr a n s l a t e d B y M i ch a e l L ave r s Drinking the dregs of my despair, I dragged across a wilderness and met a six-winged seraph where two roads converted to a cross. Lightly as sleep, he touched my eyes, glutting them on prophesies until, insatiable, they looked like a fledgling eagle’s, spooked. He never spoke, but still my ears swelled with the shudderings of spheres, sullen mumblings of heaven, the bursting of each bud and vine, the sudden thump of brooding wings, invisible reptilian seethings underwater. Then he seized my tongue, still writhing and diseased with guile, and with a bloodstained hand he severed it and sewed a snake’s slick fork onto the root. He split open my chest, cut out my heart, then stooped to cauterize the black wound with live coal. God’s voice called me as I woke on the sand, strewn like a corpse: “Stand up Prophet; speak, and I will fill your mouth with my unbending will: hold my Word’s torch to every town, to every heart, and burn them down.” 8

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Пророк Духовной жаждою томим, В пустыне мрачной я влачился, — И шестикрылый серафим На перепутье мне явился. Перстами легкими как сон Моих зениц коснулся он. Отверзлись вещие зеницы, Как у испуганной орлицы. Моих ушей коснулся он, — И их наполнил шум и звон: И внял я неба содроганье, И горний ангелов полет, И гад морских подводный ход, И дольней лозы прозябанье. И он к устам моим приник, И вырвал грешный мой язык, И празднословный и лукавый, И жало мудрыя змеи В уста замершие мои Вложил десницею кровавой. И он мне грудь рассек мечом, И сердце трепетное вынул, И угль, пылающий огнем, Во грудь отверстую водвинул. Как труп в пустыне я лежал, И бога глас ко мне воззвал: «Восстань, пророк, и виждь, и внемли, Исполнись волею моей, И, обходя моря и земли, Глаголом жги сердца людей».


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Mouths Open Karin Barbee



’ve arranged the eyeliners, eye shadows, lip liners, and lipsticks on the bathroom countertop. I’ve brewed myself some tea. It’s 11a.m. There’s no question that he will never stop on his own. And until we break him, nothing else will change. I unbutton my pajama top. It slides down to my waist. I never knew about the centipedes that scampered around my living room in the dark of night, crawling out of the vents, or the piles of magazines and bills, or the cracks along the edge of the floorboards. I never knew the neighbor two doors down and across the street had a visitor every Monday and Wednesday from just after midnight until around 3am, the headlights of the sedan as it exited cutting across my living room wall. I never realized how much easier it is as night -to become addicted to internet shopping and discussion boards, to be drawn into local levy debates and comment threads on letters to the editor in the local paper. Waking up with Evan, staying awake with him, taught me about a world I had never known.

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I take a sip of tea and start with the black eyeliner. Above my left nipple I draw two eyes, the corners drawn up to a point. With the deep red lip liner, I draw an iris within each eye, filling them in until they are two wet cherries. And inside each iris, I draw a heavy black pupil. In my teens and early twenties, I wanted to know the night. I stayed up with friends watching movies, dancing, drinking myself sick. When I studied for finals or wrote term papers, I drank coffee and ate popcorn until I passed out at my desk. Late nights were busy then. Years later, when I met Evan’s father at a friend’s housewarming party, he complimented my t-shirt and I brought him home to my apartment. We had sex like strangers and stayed up until morning. But until Evan was born, I didn’t really know the night. Now, twenty months later I’m more awake in the night than the day. I’m accustomed to the peculiarities of the early morning. I no longer jump when I hear the raccoons scratching at the garbage cans or the drunken college students stumbling and slurring their way home. On the right breast, an inch above the nipple, I draw

two smaller eyes with tiny pupils. They are closer together. Below both sets of eyes I draw two brown nostrils. The eyeliner is waxier than the black and leaves a faint mark. I have to press hard into my swollen breasts. I hear Evan waking and small beads of milk bloom from my nipples. In the beginning, I nursed Evan ten times a day. When I wasn’t nursing, I read about nursing and talked with friends about nursing. It came easily to us. We only had a few setbacks. When he was two months old, Evan gave me thrush. We both dealt with the pain and discomfort, the cracking nipples and infection. More significant was the time when Evan stopped nursing altogether and insisted on a bottle. In a moment of weakness I allowed Jay’s mother the privilege of feeding Evan some breast milk I had expressed and frozen in case of emergency. Jay’s mother, who reminded me I’m here to help, Susan. So let me help, offered to watch Evan so Jay could take me out for a nice dinner. When we returned, Evan was sound asleep. Jay made love to me – ejaculating on my stomach – as his mother slept in the guest room down the hall. When Evan woke around 2am, he would not nurse. He 11

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cried for hours until wet with tears and sweat he fell asleep on my chest. After two days of near constant stress and screaming, I took Evan to the pediatrician. He was so dehydrated they had to push an IV into his tiny veins. The doctor was firm. I spent hours each day filling container after container with milk I had pumped from my swollen breasts. My emotions and nakedness made Jay’s mother uncomfortable, and she left for home earlier than she had planned. But a few days later, Evan started rooting around in my shirt. It was in the afternoon while Jay was still at work when Evan finally wriggled his way to my left breast and drank it dry. Back then, I never even thought about weaning. I sharpen a deep wine colored lip liner and brush the shavings in the toilet. On my right breast, I draw a wide O around my nipple. I follow the same outline again and again, darkening it each time until I have a mouth open as if to swallow or scream. Evan, I used tell people all the time, is a natural. All these months later I can still remember the ease of it. He moved swiftly to the breast, creating a perfect seal with his lips and suckling strongly. 12

At times he closed his eyes, especially when I ran my finger over his soft brown eyebrows or smoothed his forehead with my thumb. Other times, when propped on a pillow his hand on my breast, he studied my face while I watched television or read articles on the laptop. Occasionally he’d stop to laugh, break the seal, then regain himself and continue suckling. Evan can walk now, eat real food, and sing along with songs. But he still doesn’t sleep through the night and he still wants to nurse all day and night. We both sleep from 6am until just after noon. The afternoon and night are for nursing and play. The night has a rhythm. I know when feeding time is close. I can feel the fullness in my breasts but also a dull ache in my stomach. Evan fidgets and if he happens to be sleeping, tosses in his crib. Jay has adjusted his own rhythm. He goes to the bedroom by 10pm after watching some television and beer. He wakes somewhere between midnight and 3am to use the bathroom and pokes his head into the living room to check on us. I’m usually awake watching television and nursing Evan or watching him as he plays. Jay will sometimes

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speak, but usually won’t. He goes back to sleep until 6:30am when he showers, eats breakfast, and leaves for work. But none of this has to do with today. Today is about the white cardboard box in the basement, the pile of pictures inside: Me at sixteen – thin, ridiculously beautiful, holding an armful of college catalogues. Jay drinking a beer and holding a turkey leg. His shirt is filthy with dirt from backyard football. Party after party. Friends we never see. Somewhere there’s one of Jay giving thumbs-up to the camera. The last time we looked at pictures he couldn’t remember what he’d been so excited about. Probably about a game, he said. Probably about a girl, I countered. I’m moving quickly now, checking my progress in the bathroom mirror. My face is oily and pale. My hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. Lips cracked. Usually, in the cold light of day I’m just a tired woman. But today my left breast is alive and terrifying. I’m almost finished now. I’m drawing the jagged teeth -- black and red fangs in a fierce mouth that surrounds my nipple. Last Wednesday was a rare thing. For some reason both

Evan and I slept from midnight to just after 4pm. I even dreamed, and I never dream anymore. I only remember waking to pee and the thought that I had been somewhere else. And Jay, startled awake by the creak of the bathroom door, was so thrown by the fact that I crawled back in bed with him instead of into Evan’s room, he immediately pulled his boxer shorts off and slid my shirt over my head. He was hard against my leg, kissing by breasts, my stomach, sliding his fingers inside me and then scampering on me like I would disappear if he didn’t move quickly enough or hold tight to my body. He was moving too quickly, though. And I slowed him. Pressed my wet tongue in his ear and told him to calm down. And for ten minutes of slow grinding and arching of backs, it was perfect. And then Evan woke up. He’ll go to sleep, Jay told me. He needs to learn how. And so I kept my legs around Jay, my eyes on his eyes, while my mind opened the door and moved down the hall to Evan’s room. I closed my eyes and while Jay sped up, erratic and grunting, I listened to Evan crying and calling for me. Mama -- he called. I could see him pulling himself up in the dark. That night, and every day 13

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and night since, I’ve tried not to go to him. I’ve tried to pull him away. But we both back down. Evan is crying now. My breasts are spitting milk with every screech and whimper. It’s time. I am looking at my work now. My left breast is a wicked beast. A jack-o-lantern. A monster. My right breast, her eyes awake in surprise. Mouth open wide. I will go to him again this last time, so he will see what I am.


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The East Beach Dream Michael Menna When I master the movement of earth, I’ll wrench a granite disc from the western cliffs twice my height and thick enough to cram a lady into. Roll it on its side and the imperfect outline will pry dandelions and mole cubs from the dirt until it wavers and I leap to catch it mid-back—the thud of rock on flesh and the crack of fractured vertebrae ringing in synchronicity. Beneath the burden each step will land my feet on saltier soil, closer to foam that splashes my toes and shoots relief up my quivering calves. That moment I’ll collapse and begin my fossilization, inhaling toy shovels and hermit crabs and sea glass until nothing’s left but the indentations of me in the sand and the disc in me. A man can only sigh so long as he’s got air.


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On North Pole

after John Ashbery

Alex Braslavsky No one has time to come here even for bears, sad Thaw keeps people far away it’s always day and there’s no season No woods, no crowds What would your vermilion lips do here against eggshell cheeks against ancient ice against sinking pelt. They would just make a mess Like professorial lipstick on a paper And then your hands would be coffee stains Like an attempt at a sepia selfie What chiaroscuro could you bring? You’d wash out. Maybe. At North Pole it’s like how He comes by and doesn’t come by Receiver, numb wrist, howler tone Sentences unfinished Ahuh. Yeah. Okay.


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Plenty of fish could nose down there, suck at your toes, Plenty of birds could strike indigo at your hair A six-year old wants to hear Dr. Seuss in your radio voice But we are nowhere near We didn’t have time to do half the laundry this week The whites are in a hamper back at your farm We need to go back We need to hold on


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You,Your Body, and Small Information

after Dawn Raffel

David Moody And so it came for centuries, Daphne. A tree statue. And he swore she was not thick. Annoyance: the birds in the small boys and men themselves flesh with sap and unguents. Her dead as claimed Cupid. Daphne’s desire of gout with her. Daphne’s desire some speculation. Searching did Apollo in. Alas! You forsaken! Me, the snapped, finally. First you, your body, and small information. Yet whence and but: from sorrow cried off. The her, the heads, the stars. The. The. The. Her heads, stars endeavored as arthritic Pursuit slept. The Daphne trembled. The relentless Diana! Me for my undoing! Would Cupid, speak-face, struck her and point at? Merciful river, devour and the sore, waxed the waters, rose to the roots tendril by tendril, stilled and herself. The night — even that did not glow the river Sleep*. At back, woman. Her age shrank her — gone, sacked, hot again. And so and so and so. Rose wandered far, and name swipes she. Pigeons crooning? Apple snapping her aloud. She the moon and half, madly. *In stood the great god Tree.


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Phantasmagoria David Moody you wake in the grip of a strong man once before and once after he is stabbed

the bookmaker who made you thief and vendor

you wake on a podium awake on the floor

gives up altogether and becomes a horse there is no town the horses dead as their hide on your back

trust not the jerky he sells no one says should he gnaws your leather

but really they

chewing in slurps

you repeat it: slick wet sharp and then dull you are reminded 19

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you no violin, tongue no bow it is a dream of snow

and you cup your arms to confirm I’m all there (it is confirmed) to scare off the dogs— there are dogs now—

you are yourself

you scare off yourself


but still are a dog

the sharp melisma switch of your body: what has no legs still can run through scales, ballabile, corps de ballet and now I’m there and we’re all dancing the head of a horse with its fly-blown mouth on mannequin strings neighs on despite you scare no one with what you love but you do carrion insects hum even songs as they explore 20

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your skin with eggs no one sings who isn’t decaying I am your eggs I am your spine you bind yourself, freddo your strong grip: it’s cold


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Contributors A s n i a A s i m is a graduate

student at the University of Chicago. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Quiddity, Digital Americana Magazine, Booth Journal, Mobius Magazine, TYPO, Regime Books, TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, The Milo Review, The Wayfarer, Mandala Journal, and Timber Creek Review, among other journals. K a r i n W r a l e y B a r b e e is

an assistant professor of English at Siena Heights University. She lives in Tecumseh, Michigan with her husband and two children. Her work has been published in Diagram, Swerve, Fjords Review, and Natural Bridge; more work is forthcoming in Weave Magazine and Whiskey Island. A l e x B r a s l a v s k y is a

sophomore majoring in English in Columbia College. A resident of the Writers House on campus, she is a California Arts Scholar and had the privilege of participating in the Iowa Young Writers Program in 2013. She has studied poetry under Traci Gourdine, Emily Fragos, and Timothy Donnelly. In addition 22

to writing poems, she also choreographs, and is interested in the relationship between the written word and wordless media. M i c h a e l L a v e r s ’ poems

have appeared in Smartish Pace, Arts & Letters, West Branch, 32 Poems, Queen’s Quarterly and elsewhere. He completed his M.F.A. from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Utah. M i c h a e l M e n n a is a senior

at Columbia College studying English and Economics and wishing everyone read life like an extensive form game. David Antonio Moody

is production editor for Cortland Review and is a recipient of the 2014 AWP Intro Journals Award. His recent poetry appears in Spillway, Streetlight, and Artful Dodge. He currently studies at Florida State University where he performed in the Jack Haskin’s Flying High Circus. He also teaches composition at Arizona State University.

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Contributors Amanda Silbernagel

is a poet from Fargo, North Dakota. Amanda left the frozen tundra several years ago, to work on her Masters and PhD in philosophy. These days she lives with her partner in Lexington, Kentucky, where she makes a living slinging espresso shots and writing poems. Amanda’s work has been published in Rufous City Review, Requited, Fruita Pulp, The Destroyer, > kill author, Eratio, Radioactive Moat, PANK Magazine’s ‘New Writer Series,’ and elsewhere. More of Amanda’s work can be found on her website,www.amandasilbernagel. com. E m i l y Z h a n g is a student

from Maryland. Her poetry also appears in Word Riot and theNewerYork.


Diana Flanagan

Ethan Plaue

AJ Stoughton

Managing Editor Rachel Taratuta-Titus

Layout and Cover Art Ana Camila Gonzalez

Editorial Board Katie Fung Hunter Augustin Charlotte Goddu Pribyl-Huguelet Antony Qian Julia Goodman Gabrielle Reynoso Veniamin Gushchin Zachary Smalls Jacquelyn Kovarik Kal Victor Rebecca Landau Bethany Wong Channing Prend Dennis Zhou



The Columbia Review is published twice yearly by the students of Columbia College, New York, with support from the Activities Board at Columbia. This issue is sponsored in part by the Arts Initiative of Columbia University. This funding is made possible through a generous gift from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. Enquiries to: Columbia Review, Lerner Hall, 2920 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. Email: Books and media sent for possible review become the property of The Columbia Review.Visit us online at: Copyright Š 2014 by The Columbia Review. All rights reserved. Reproduction or translation of any part of this work beyond that permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the US Copyright Law without permission of the publishers is unlawful.


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