THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
the columbia review
Editor’s Note One tends to overlook the fact that all during the 30’s and acutally during the late 40’s I was a highly successful writer -L. Ron Hubbard
the columbia review
THE COLUMBIA REVIEW est. 1815
Ever y Problem, a Nail
D . E r i c Pa r k i s o n
D . E r i c Pa r k i s o n
G e o d e Ye a r
Company and Companionship
the columbia review
Every Problem, a Nail D. E r i c P a r k i s o n
The old Farmall sputters its way Through fleshy, heavy grass, My father’s curving stomach settled in his lap, his Arms tensed, turning at the cracked rubber Wheel. There are three pedals On the machine – one a clutch, one a brake, A third. Not for fuel. The yard has succumbed to its weight, leans in great bunches, fed By the septic tank. Once he had me Stab the ground for three days With exhausted bits of rebar, hammering To the right depth – Searching a grid laid out in string and wood stakes To find the buried, concrete box that splits the shit Down three lines, leaving fenny slop in the low lot. To pull the wagon, pin the ball hitch to the drawbar. To pull rotted stumps, remove the mower deck, Drag out piles of chain and find hooks.
Asymptote D. E r i c P a r k i s o n
Sometimes the holeâ€™s been dug before the birth. What to do with the shirt. Mothballs. Consignment. It can cover. Things come in advance of any of their names. Sometimes a lease is backdated, The house smolders, smoke loads the doorways. Use a stool, step up onto the couch: out there, the silvered bark of the tree breaks above the shallow roots, curls up. The tree trying to climb into its own branches Is fluked with bark, is feathered. At the nock-end Of the arrow, the earth Is the bowline, stomped taut beneath the feet Of its circling inhabitants, who one After the other lighten the burden, leap away. Loose arrow, knock a hole In the belly-flesh of heaven: scatter The ripe souls back into this mess. How the crows manage on just their one word.
the columbia review
Reservations Jared Harel
At a table for eight, I am ever one shy. Either my grandfather’s still dead, or my mother hit traffic heading back from the funeral. Our waitress has no patience for this. She’s fed us breadsticks since the beginning of time, enough refills to exhaust their faucet. You have killed a small country, the maître’ de smiles. Care for an appetizer? When the busboy bows with fresh forks to replace those rusted away, I see he’s aged into my grandfather’s face: same drowsy lips and Polish brow. Join us! I beg, seizing his shoulder, but the busboy doesn’t budge.
Memorial Plaques Aaron Anstett
Crossing the intersection, Pine and Liberty, she feared it all meant nothing. This house, he felt the saddest ever. Here I first kissed you, and that bench, quiet for once, we imagined scrutinizing glasses of water for ice skatesâ€™ inscriptions. Let statue of general on horseback stand for mood one afternoon, furious the world outlives us. There, where no patrons remember when, a fist-size meteor surprised through ceiling. That avenue, drunks teeter in doorways dusk to dawn to dusk to dawn.
the columbia review
Wire Serena Solin
We are the folding of space growing colder Sensing the thinness · the keening of salt All undulation · no marker · no leather Our father a value · a long copied string He changes a lightbulb for us in the bathroom Our place crenellated · turns over itself Lone king of the our house · dead fiber and wire The knowing of needing a new television He hears us hear the runner · goes back outside What it is to remember our father organic A hard wave of static · the dog and the morning The walking the walking · massaging a lime Our vacant urges · no safe night striding This little rooftop · struck like a cruelty More sets of cold feet than one thing can warm Visions of pacing · shrouding · incline · Viscous · regret · and the sensible child · Match containers to plastic · comb out the threads We spend ourselves hiding · a man made of tungsten Red brick maze kneading · a method for each If you can stand it · touch him · touching the ground 12
Head and Serena Solin
The first sign is the shouting—a fistful of flax seed and the sunken living room— a hope growing louder—these dreams I keep— I look at my big selfstomach—shouting— I cannot stand—I can no longer stand— steam—how raw it is to see the naked man who stands over me—and asks—and asks— turns the water off—iron, sugar—I— do you want to get out—granite whorling and the sweeter selfsame thirst—what it is —what it isn’t—real gone—knowing he will— I try to hold him up against it—us— our sinews—put him down on the floor like a warming—real voice now—saying the verb verb—verb—it is many seconds later— it is the first time—maybe it is not that long—it does not matter who you are when you are crying out for water—I— he is with me—light and motion—lying down is better—the cold grayish floor—God, I—hey, hey—lying down is better—he— I try to cover him, as if he might be seen—put him down where he might be safe— and, all the time, this shouting—and shouting—
the columbia review
Milk moustache Ethan Che
There goes Harold, who hated to dance but loved rabbits and girls from afar, there goes Annabelle anxious in the prescience and stink of water, but liked her teeth to become all gum in the thick spooky sweet of milk. Heaving there, goes Mama and a stele of a saying, that eating cucumbers and other assorted veggies will smell all your silver medals, and will save small worlds. unlike your Papa who is less a constellation than a constipation, the long way down the can. Iâ€™m big bad Boris! the Soviet garbage machine! his wet shirt reels and drools. And never have I been so beautifulâ€”his unbottled belly marvels with justice, in soprano voices. the heavy lisp of VHS makes this blather sound like the very first words of the day, meant to advance on portals whoâ€™ve never seen snow, and tune eyelashes with their powerful organs.
And we bore the nude burn of dime songs containing rubber and fearful sugarcane. With a stove of a joy for cooking this gigantic evening, you couldn’t believe that anything bad was anything at all. Reeking with the dance, goes Annabelle & ankles barely over the moon, peeping like family’s porous rabbi. the liturgies still lopsiding her head tip over and away like a nickel teacup, as Father in unholstered sacrament fell in with kissing a moustache very proud and glistening. still, after so much that could’ve been done he uses his inside voice, in those lowercase courts where milk reigns in some god’s warm mouth.
the columbia review
husk gathering Karen Auvinen
A single crack of light follows on her heels husks of sunflowers and beans lying on the porch in the afternoon sun. She doesnâ€™t listen to the man, his words slip her skin, the hull of her womb, silent as the footfall of night. She is tired of being polite, tired of every cup and plate neatly placed, but her fingers wonâ€™t let go the hem of her dress the wide wide alabaster sky crushed inside her fist, how she wants to drain the color from his face, tell him he is nothing to her now, he is nothing and she is just a shell wound around and aroundâ€” so tight it makes her teeth chatter in the late summer heat. You chose this life, he tells her, shifts in his chair, tips the bottle of beer her way smiles, admiring her smooth skin.
She wants to run from him then loose the flock in her body, unwind like parchment take her hands away from their work cut her losses now. But her fingers wonâ€™t let go the banister or the basket of beans, and he isnâ€™t really smiling at her, but the sun, the shadow of her hip beneath the dress, as he whispers to her, pulls her over him like a tent, saying, come inside.
the columbia review
503 Owen Lucas
Asleep in a bully light Of falling snow, Through the Looking Glass Propped in his lap, His face a bluish ivory, Grandfather runs Through Sternwalden und Steinwalden, Placing no faith in The communications Of rook or knave. The trees are silent About him, They gesture only: Hurried windspeech, sway. No lightbud Guide him down the hill. No frayed Candle secure him door Out to the hallway
Where he find The atrium, the exit, Path back to wake, Where he will be sat, Still, in his puddle-chair Under the standard Lamp, and rise to make A cigarette or a tea.
the columbia review
Crane Len Krisak
Self-sacrificed at 33, And deeply, deeply lost at sea, He calls to mind, for some, Our Lord. But let us not go overboard. Christ came to save menâ€™s soulsâ€”a graver Thing than metaphor, and braver Far than sinning by self-slaughter. One Father made the land, the water, And the sky; one made Life Savers. Salvation comes in many flavors.
Geode Year Serena Solin
aybe I did leave the back door open. Maybe someone opened it later. The dog poked it with her nose and found that it moved. She went out into the neighbors’ yard in the fall dark. She crossed that yard, and then the one behind it, trotted out into the street like a raised flag. The young man who did it bore her back to the address on her collar. Left her in the tarp- lined trunk of his car. Knocked on the door. Told my sister the dog was dead. Then my mother.
We had the dog less than a year, from early spring to the crackling center of autumn. She was supposed to be a solution. She was the advice of a professional, and what a treasury that turned out to be. I was not in trouble for thinking there were no sounds without histories, but for saying so. I told Mom in the car that the doctor
wasn’t going to be able to prescribe it. The trees on the highway rode roughshod over cars on their way back from the city, signifying a real new season about to arrive. I remember thoughts of snow, a small rodent looking at the backlit reflection of his own shape. We were going the opposite direction at rush hour when I said this, from Calico Rock towards Hoboken. I was whiteknuckling it in the passenger seat. My muscles were doing their salicylic acid thing: a symphony of silver nettles flowing through a vicious leg cramp. As it turned out, I was right: The doctor’s prescription had nothing to do with instances of texture I can’t unfeel, for example, the gossiping of the yardmorning birds like my girl pressing her cheek against my face if I had just shaved. I told the doctor this phrasing was an overdiligent way of putting it. He got the idea. He said he could tell I know about a lot of things because I’m good at rooting, a term he came up with for when I find things under the surface of the world. He said trustman and I believed him. His prescription was Meygen, a Golden whose purpose was to teach me accountability and to help give our home a cohesive center. 21
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He did not suggest that I return to Ede’s high school, nor any other kind of high school; he said to treat Meygen as an additional lesson on the homeschool curriculum. He was not surprised that besides the three of us there had never been a living thing permanent in our house.
For the first time in my life Mom, Ede, and I brimmed with the inertia of potential energy and brought the dog home. Early spring was like an impending solution. Meygen was small but had my mother’s cringing careful forepaws, conscious of the totems of our house already.
He threatened nothing to me, but Mom was silent all the way home, except to say it is hard for her to sit there and pretend that I know things I do not know. He was in fact the nicest doctor I ever saw, but he couldn’t fix the problem. That was what it had been all along, of course: not the things I can do, but the one thing I can’t.
She padded around so close to quietly I forgot that she was an event unto herself: only when she licked the dishes in the dishwasher could I sense, faintly, the addition to the Union of several unwieldy Midwestern territories. The biggest change was in our mudroom, where my mother installed Meygen’s crate and hung her leash, a thick strand of old man rope. She couldn’t even come up the stairs yet when we first got her, she was so little.
To fill up the space in the car I tried to explain to Mom that when I touch things with the wrong capacities—paper, really, the only thing—it feels like someone is slitting the skin between my fingers, trying to deny that I’m amphibious, creek-wading, green. I tried to tell her that the sound of turning pages is like a massacre on native soil, blood and scalps like artichoke leaves littering a buttered plate. She turned up the heat and WFUV and took the quickest route home.
I spent several days, in fact perhaps even longer, looking out the window as Mom walked her in the morning. I watched them disappear into the forest and then return, Mom taking off her windbreaker when they came back, both of them limping primitive, oh did they run together. I think at the time there was snow on the ground. On those days after breakfast I took a long time washing dishes so I could listen to Mom calling Meygen things like sweet girl and pookie, two names she does not
call me or my sister even though she loves us too, and best.
often Mom asked Ede how long she thinks Angel and I would go for and Ede, knowing Ede, said not long now.
My girl came over to meet Meygen just after, brought a bluehued mound of orca and iron quartz for the low table in our living room. After saying you’re welcome to Mom, Angel got down on the floor with the dog; laughed and scrunched up her face. Meygen lay her tongue on Angel’s knee. Angel asked her what it tasted like. Hickory smoke and acetone and girl smell.
Every so often I’m reminded any intimations conveyed from Angel to me must be expressed in the multitude of events that precede us, then and then for her I triangulate. It could never be as simple as me saying quietly how beautifully the yellow light of the living room shaded her highriding bottom lip. It crossed me then that there are no holes and shadows, just the vulnerability of looking for them in the slight chill of the two of us alone. We had learned to speak to each other, but there were lumps of granite in the vein of shalt between us: Some things I couldn’t explain to her, and some things she couldn’t know. She is the only person in the world who has ever asked me if I want to learn what they’re all trying to teach me. If the letters on the gold tag of Meygen’s collar made it worse. If paper is the sharpest or simply the most commonly encountered. I have thought often that it wouldn’t hurt so much if Angel could soften the shapes of the words for me, her cursive no more weaponlike than string.
The gift didn’t quite seem to stem Mom’s worry that Angel was at once a crevasse and a charged particle going round our household but unable to stay. A friend of Ede’s, she said to me, don’t you think a bit inappropriate. Of course, Angel had been coming in the basement window after Mom went to sleep for years. Before I thought of being in her body, or at least in those terms. She was in my arms sometimes, but I woke up a lot with her behind me, her legs around my legs, her tits against my back and then we both slept well. After we were done doing it in those early months I would say to her: my Angel, although I have on occasion used her Christian name, which is Dahlia. Every so
A little after: my sister began dating an Aryan whom I recognized 23
the columbia review
immediately as exactly who he was. I wondered if thiswasis how Ede feels about Angel: wifeship urging on, at once a separation and a syncopation. The difference was that Angel lived across the street from us since she was born. Enough time to adjust to the sounds of her voice and body so that when she spoke it was only the her-now I heard. It is hard to know someone your whole life. Rolf slept in our house several nights before Ede let him see me full-on. Not that I blame her. His cheeks were like you could see through them. Nigh to get used to. Not taller than me, but better looking and quick. Rolf knew my girl from school—they all knew each other from school. He talked to me like man, dude. Asked so few questions I knew Ede must have warned him. In his voice and the tapping of his sneakers I heard a young girl and a diary, Holland, the screaming muted in the movie version. He made me so deep down frozen the winter would melt me. Neither Angel nor I took to Meygen the way Ede and Rolf loved her. They made recordings of Meygen learning what stairs were, not knowing how valuable the videos would become. The whole scene could have seemed natural if he hadn’t been so obvious 24
in everything: a man with a sheepshead barely at manhood all the same, moving slowly through the place that had been mine, leaving lines on my sister like a racket press. Correcting her when she taught Meygen to lie down, roll over. It’s more about where you hold the treat than what you say with your voice. The two of them talking together and sometimes with Angel was a new language foaming like dishes in the sink on the holidays: familiar in every part but tedious too. Mom thought he was great the first time she met him, Meygen limp with pleasure in his arms. That night I went out and sat on the roof of our house. A heaviness. Sunday mornings were for Ede to tell me what she’d been up to. She told me about Rolf and his whiteboard paint bedroom while we did a thawed out mid-May breakfast. She wondered what those sorts of chemicals would do to my interlocking sensibilities. Maybe, she proposed from behind the kitchen counter, that’d be the answer no doctor’d thought Mom would go for. In a burst I knew the joke was not hers. To think of him penetrating her with that type of thing. I hid in the closest place I knew how: Mom’s houseplants are year-round
full throttle alive—the ones in the kitchen are taller than me, and I am the tallest thing in the house.
meal I had not eaten I was gone. A fierce sense came over me like a thick black cloth over my eyes.
With a big breath and an eyeroll Ede gusted into the chair at the kitchen table, pulling toward her what was left on the table. A hulk of a math textbook. I was as always averse to paper, but when she writes she knows to protect me from the edges with her arms. It was a subject that suited her: the petering in and out of cylindrical containers, hieroglyphics carved in a flourishing sandy tomb. When it moved her to do so, she lay out things for me: from acceleration equaling change in velocity over time, the formula for the physical displacement of a projectile, physical displacement being the important part. I always liked it but I knew it was too much work for her to keep doing.
At night my mother slept like a beast;. I did not envy Rolf and Ede the novelty of the sounds they made that spring when they thought I was sleeping. Sometimes it was when Angel was over. That night, that first night, in the grasp of a warm fear, I told her I wasn’t really in the mood.
I didn’t look at her. We didn’t speak.
Every time Ede came into the house the whole summer after, it was for the bigness of her room on the second floor and nothing else. Angel told me to hangtough and built these domesticities for me in which she wore an apron and had dinner on the table at six o’clock every night.
Mom came in, Meygen following, looking over her shoulder all the while. Ede put her hand down to stroke the dog’s head. My mother looked at me as if to ask why I was crouched like a sniper in the indoor greenery, but as was becoming more common, said nothing. Poured herself a cup of coffee. As soon as I was excused from the
I did my best to let it pass. But somewhere in my youth or childhood, an expression crawling: knowing he would blow the whistle. Knowing he would fire the gun. Knowing he would chase me for my father. Knowing the cranelike motions of his arms. Do it again when I’m home, I told her, in a voice I’d never heard before, and I’ll hit him, I swear.
In school at the kitchen table I learned about giving credit where credit is due. The doctor said I 25
the columbia review
learned well from tapes, which I already knew. I tried to tell him I like concepts I can touch but I have trouble finding them. He suggested Meygen like a watery cassette and I told him— again—that while the sounds she made were saccharine, there was no interest for me in the low broiling of administrative history. She didn’t even bark at the door. He proposed me being responsible for measuring her food out. Even the muted plastics of her tupperware were dull. Dog food raining into a low bowl. Meygen eating. Early colonies near-starving every winter: Jameston, same old.
wouldn’t come in. I felt sorry about it but with her at the end of the bed it was too hot to sleep.
Instead, Angel helped me. Arranged vocabularies of silverware for me to study, little percussive projects. She did her own work near me but only on the computer. Always make-up work with her. She joked that we were the weirdest summerschool, and coughchuckled. For every day she was there in our kitchen there were three she was gone: working all day long looking after much littler people than me.
The doctor had a lot to say about Angel. He said she’s a good thing. She knows how to read and knows about paper, although she can’t ever feel it the way I do. She said no matter what, I’m brilliant. She saw me sitting empty on my bed and she put her arms around me and I felt that they were thin. She put her head on my shoulder. She said hey hey hey. Her concern snapped my throat. In this way, we made it through the whole summer.
Outside everything baked and waved gently like sea sponges near a deep sea vent. I carried the air conditioner up to my bedroom and put my face as close as I could to it. It blocked the window, made the room seem smaller. I put a chair up against the door so Meygen 26
I wasn’t grounded but Mom wouldn’t look at me. Every night in August, she made chickpeas with oil. She talked about the unbaptized, tried to teach me about Constantinople. What is a silly empire besides the rattling of a teaset? She said to my sister that I didn’t know how to think, but all the time I thought about the crinkles in her lips and how if I could I would kiss them and how they’d unfold.
By the time Angel had gone to enough school to skip it, I’d raked leaves for every house on the block. We planned it out carefully. I did not tell Ede I was going, or where.
I didn’t lift my weights. I got up, got dressed, and went. Angel took breakfast for us from her kitchen, and her father’s car; Dahlia you’re too old for this kind of behavior, she said he’d say, and that’ll be the end of it. She was taking me away from something as much as towards it, though she could not have known as much. She played deep music in the car and although we didn’t go very fast I could feel calcite in my wrists and eardrums. As she drove she mouthed the words like a gumchewer, changing lanes wildly on the turnpike, brown hair groped at her ears. She had wanted to take me to the quarry for as long as I could remember and it would have to be far enough. I had expected the quarry to be somehow more like the concavity of an explosion on a concrete street, but it was reflective as the jagged quartz Angel had brought back for us, for my mother. While I stood at the edge of the parking lot and kicked around, Angel went inside the little observatory and dealt with the paperwork: bought a bucket for her, a smaller one for me. The shape of the quarry itself was pipe laid flat, then quartered, an evaporated semblance, raw stone. The sky one flat silver too, all sun and teeth in the air.
In the beginning I tried to arrange what she collected as best I could but after a while I stopped and followed her. I couldn’t look for rocks because to make them distinguishable to me I would have had to change them to the wavelengths of little histories. Instead, I watched the little slides of sweat in the back of her neck, morphemes to lick arbitrarily and iron with my hand into the collar of her shirt. She threw a duller quartz at me and I caught it and surprised us both. I could only ever walk there with her, for no valley, no limestone soul, makes me know the way she does.
Later that day we sat at the edge of the quarry, her feet swinging in, talking about how it so happened that we were there together. A serial chalcopyrite day, the sounds of home so far off the turnpike and well into the rolling wasteland of the interstate. I grasped the handle of her bucket, much heavier than mine. She offered to show me the most resonant sound she had been able to make: the hollowness of a geode against the sheen of her shovel. The Toyota Corolla in the parking lot was covered with dust, dustier 27
the columbia review
now that our shoes were off, even hers, pressing on the gas with these little socks she balls up at night so she can find them in a hurry in the morning. Before we got on the highway she threw a rock she didn’t want at a squirrel in the bushes and it peaked away. It was already leaning to evening and we still had the drive. I thought for a moment whether it would have been better to call my own house phone and leave a message just in case Mom came home. I didn’t think much on it. Too late to restitch myself into her body; as sorry as I am now, I so rarely have anywhere else to be. At the exact moment Meygen died I was inside Angel in the backseat of the Toyota. An empty factory parking lot. The walls of her felt hot and red. In this place I couldn’t hear anything except her ankles slimming against my ass and her voice in my ear saying I’m yours baby I’m yours. We got home not long after to find Rolf ’s car in the neighbors’ driveway. I caught him looking at me, his cheeks flushed even through the windshield. No Mom yet, no inclination of her. Angel let me out in front of our house and Rolf got out of his car too, snapping the door shut like an inspection.
You’re in trouble, he said, Ede’s gonna kill you. The dog, he said. Can’t find her. Ede came out then into the porchlight and saw me or my outline, her eyes laboring. The door, she said, first softly, then louder. I heard in her voice only the distant humming of girls in a factory about to catch fire. The fuck didn’t you close the back door? You left it wide open. Didn’t you see Mom’s note? The one on the fridge that says close the back door? You didn’t. You didn’t —Did she see it? She squinted towards Angel’s house. Did she forget too? Didn’t she remind you? I began to feel the paper folding inside me again. I could hear this, too like a timeline: could hear each individual note in Mom’s scream when she realized the door was left open and the dog was gone. Ede and Rolf got in his car to go looking, gone long but nothing. I cradled the bag of stones to my chest so close I could feel the jutting feldspar against my skin. There was nothing to do but go inside and wait for in the way of a war wife I already knew.
In the mornings after Mom ran the
same trail. I couldn’t see her from the window but I knew. Mom left Meygen’s leash on the coat rack in the mudroom. When she went out for walks she took it with her, like Meygen was coming back with her or else they were going somewhere. I watched Rolf come pick up Ede before school and drop her off again in the afternoon. As it got closer to the holidays I found that almost every night I was missing Angel’s laugh and moan and how quietly she got up to pee. Even when she was there I looked at the back of her neck and couldn’t feel it. She wrapped her legs around my waist but I sat upright. She has lots of hair, Angel, lots of it weeping on my chest. I didn’t talk to her for a long time but I didn’t want her to go. I could see the shadows of the dogs on my wall in the dark but I knew they should not stand so tall. I didn’t want to have the dreams alone so I made her stay, but quiet. I went downstairs to wash my hands, found one of Rolf ’s yellow hairs in the sink. Mom wanted me to learn a language and borrowed old tapes from the library. As Angel and Ede’s school days grew longer, extending into night, I fell asleep
with my head on the kitchen table listening to a cassette of a man speaking Japanese very slowly. I couldn’t understand everything.
The holidays have been bad for us each year; gift wrap around every single thing. My presents usually don’t come wrapped, but this year they hadn’t come at all. Christmas was a day foundering in still no one talked to me. When the snow came down, thicker this year than last, I went out into the backyard. The patch where we buried Meygen was dry and soft and I lay down on it. Snow accumulating in the yard like scalloped Moroccan rafters. No lights in the shallow forest, just the towering of our house over me. No windows illuminated. The blueblack of the planet. When I dug the hole to put Meygen in my mother watched from the kitchen window with a scarf over her mouth and nose. It doesn’t seem like grass will ever grow over it. When Ulysses S. Grant died, they draped the buildings of New York in black fabric. Angel loves that joke— who is buried in his tomb. I hoped she could see me. Whiteplains of snow erasing the road. 29
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I heard the clicking of a light in the house, saw Mom two stories above me taking her makeup off in the bathroom. She saw me through the window and I looked to her, my body sweating. She stayed where she was for a moment, then raised her hand and closed the blind. I went inside the house and sat at the kitchen table. Even in the cold the plants threw tremendous arches on the walls. I pulled the closest thing toward me: a thin paperback, thank God for paperback, the stucco of the cover invading me but pushing through it nonetheless. The letters scraping against each other like knees on concrete, getting dirt in scrapes. The sound the first page made as it ripped out was no history I’d known before: not a genocide but a hunger strike in Ireland, blindness, vying for freedom, taking nothing but water. What I would have done for water. The fibers thickened in saliva and the corner of the first page sliced my tongue as it went down. Ink blackening my mouth not the first page but the next three, pulping my throat. The pages became easier; it wasn’t long before I didn’t gag anymore. The binding too. Tearing the pages in a rustling frenzy to get it over with as quickly as possible.
It might have taken years but there would be no trace of the book on the table when I was finished. My throat cried out for water but even after it was done I did not get up. My mouth raw. My gums like woodchips. So many ways to take the world inside me, and now this one.
Company and Companionship Keith Lesmeister
called her Georgia because she was from Georgia. I don’t remember her real name, and not so sure if I ever knew. She was sent to me by an ill-advised friend who told her I was trustworthy and could help her out, which is to say, rent her a room. Georgia had a restraining order on two different men who finally came together with the common purpose of killing her, or so she informed our mutual friend who therefore told me. I had a rental house off Tenth Street, sandwiched between two well-meaning families, so the first thing I told Georgia was this: don’t invite anyone over, don’t make phone calls from this house, and don’t eat any of my cereal. She responded with a head nod. She could eat anything else except the cereal. Cereal prices were outrageous. I know you’re curious, so I’ll tell you right now: she was blond with hair combed straight back to her neckline, tan skin and brown eyes, and if you’d given her a surfboard she’d look like a
model for Outside Magazine. She was originally from here, from Iowa, which explains why she didn’t have a southern accent, but at times—more times than I care to admit—I imagined her with a deep scarlet drawl. She showed no desire to interact with me on any level. Trust me. I tried to get her to do a lot of things, none of which she obliged, talking included. Still, the company was something I needed. Even just having someone around, another body in this old-lonely house, kept my mind sharp. Kept me from plummeting. I owed our mutual friend something close to my actual life so it was never a hesitation to allow Georgia a room. She paid rent, which I didn’t ask for. One hundred dollars every four or five weeks. The house had a huge living room with tall ceilings and fir floors. It was a turn of the century Queen Anne. I had originally sublet a room from a couple who’d since split up. After they left I just stuck around and paid the landlord what I could. I don’t think he ever knew what was going on. I’d arranged a couch right in the middle of the living room, and one night I rented a movie, and 31
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Georgia and I watched it together, both of us sitting on either end of the couch. I paused in the middle of the movie. “Would you like popcorn?” I said. “I like popcorn with my movies.” Nothing, not a word. “I’m not opposed to other snacks,” I said. “I could make us some nachos or mini tacos, something easy like that.” She picked up an Us Weekly, one of her magazines, and started thumbing through. I touched her bare thigh to see what she thought of that, and she didn’t move. Just sat there rigid and seemingly content. Her skin was smooth and warm, and I felt something in myself that I hadn’t felt in a while. Just touching another human being, sexual or not, brought on some arousal of the spirit. “You know,” I said. “You remind me of someone. When I think of who, I’ll let you know.” The next weekend I brought over a friend named McDowell, a former pastor turned queer, which is to say he’d always been 32
gay but finally came out. He liked to smoke pot and snort the occasional line, but that was all. Stayed away from everything else. I liked him. He was a good listener, which was a skill he’d learned as a pastor. He told me once that he’d hated almost everyone in his congregation, and he also told me that pretty much every pastor loves the power-trip of pastoring more than God, which sounded as true of a statement as I’d ever heard from a pastor. Anyway, I invited him over one night, my first guest since Georgia moved in. I prepped McDowell for all of it, told him she doesn’t talk, etc, but also told him she was a world class knockout, and I’d planned a honeymoon for us that she wasn’t aware of, so I asked him to keep that to himself. And like any good pastor, he could keep a secret. I trusted McDowell’s judgment on just about everything more so than I trusted my own. So I asked him to help crack the code with Georgia. He brought over a bag of microwaveable pizza pockets, and that’s what I made for dinner. McDowell cut lines of candy on a paper plate and snorted both. He offered some to Georgia, and she accepted. After that, she was in a mood I’d never seen before. It
was for the better. I warmed up all six hot pockets, two for everyone in the house, but Georgia didn’t bother. After those lines, she was back on the couch with her legs tucked under so that she was sitting on her feet. She was holding that same Us Weekly. “I’m McDowell,” he said. He held out his hand. Everything was happening backwards. First the coke, then the introductions. I’d already taken two lines in the kitchen, and my mind felt clean and pure. McDowell stretched out his hand in the gentle way of pastors. She just looked at him. He offered to fork-feed her a pizza pocket, and she actually smiled. “You’d do that?” she said. What was it with women and gay men? And why hadn’t I thought of fork-feeding her? McDowell cut up the veggie pizza pocket, steam curled into the air. He blew on each piece before setting the fork into her mouth, as gentle as a Robin feeding its young. I watched with what you might call envy and disbelief. By the end of the night we were all sufficiently drunk and high, except they were on the couch, hip-to-hip, laughing and drinking
bottled beer, the fancy kind that I’d bought for an occasion such as this. I was stuck on the recliner trying to find a way into their conversation. McDowell had just finished a story about one of his ex-lovers who he had been with prior to leaving the Church, about how they did it in his church office, and how at the time he felt horrible guilt, but now he loves talking about it. Georgia kept asking him about his love life. And that’s when I thought about my own. And maybe that was my biggest downfall when I was with my wife—I seemed to put all my interest in her, neglecting my other friends and family members, and now that we weren’t together—me and my ex—I had the most difficult time meeting people. It takes forever to get to know someone, and half the people I ran around with were here one minute, gone the next. There was a lull in their conversation. “You guys wanna hit the bars?” I said. Georgia held up her St. Pauli Girl. “Do you have any more of these?” “So, no bar?” “I could use another one too,” 33
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McDowell said. Together they took up one cushion. As I walked toward the kitchen, I heard McDowell say to Georgia, “You should consider moving in with me, we’d have a ball together.” On the phone with McDowell, several days later, he suggested that in fact we might move Georgia from house to house to keep the conspirators off her back. “They’re more than likely still in the south,” I said. “But she’s from here, right?” “True,” I said. “Present her with the idea,” he said. “If she moves in, will you invite me over?” I said. “Maybe,” he said. “It’d be so nice for a little company and companionship. I’m at that point in my life where a roommate could be nice.” “You wanna sleep with her, don’t you?” I said. “You’re not supposed to want that.” 34
“Who are you to say?” he said. I could tell he was disgusted. “I don’t know anything anymore,” I said. There was a brief pause. Then, “Can you please not ask her to your home?” “You’re testing my patience,” he said. “And no, for your information, I don’t want to sleep with her. More like cuddle. We could just share the same bed. That would be okay with me.” Weeks went by and Georgia stuck around. McDowell found himself some other love interest, some other company and companionship, and our friendship faded as did his interest in Georgia. Our lives were like that. One minute it was this, the next it was that. I didn’t know anyone with a sustained interest in anything. Sometimes it all felt like a waste of time. The summer was closing quickly, and I thought it important that Georgia get outside with more frequency as not to develop a vitamin D deficiency, which was a hot topic for sunscreen companies and moms wading around the toddler pool at Daniel’s Park, the one I hung around in the
afternoons to cool off. No admission fee. “That’s a nice offer,” Georgia said. She’d been talking more since McDowell’s visit. Still, we weren’t what you’d call close. “I’ll pack us a snack and we can go to the free pool at the park.” “It’s time for me to move on,” she said. That was when I noticed a tote bag sitting at her feet which held her stuff. She was standing in the living room next to the couch. She was holding a brand new Us Weekly. The cover photo was a celeb couple that I sort of recognized. They had their arms around each other, amongst a crowd of people, smiling. They looked drunk and happy. “I feel like you just got here,” I said. “Like we’re just getting to know each other. I’d prefer if you stayed another night or two on account of those restraining orders, I hear those two guys are getting close.” “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” “Your two ex-boyfriends who joined together. It’s unfortunate, I’m really sorry you have to go
through all that.” “Is that what Suzy said?” She laughed. Suzy was our mutual friend. She used to have a meth problem. “She said it was a secret, not to tell anyone,” I said. “I haven’t told anyone. Well, just McDowell, but he’s a pastor.” “There’s no restraining order,” she said. “I just needed a place to crash for a few months.” “No restraining order?” “Is that a problem?” “I just—” “I get it,” she said. “You thought you were doing me some huge favor by protecting me.” “I thought—” “I used to work for Suzy’s current live-in boyfriend and he was a sleaze, tried to feel me up at work, and I put him in the hospital. That’s why I couldn’t stay with her.” “No shit?” “Shattered his nose, bruised his balls.” 35
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“Nice.” “This was forever ago, but you know what they say: people don’t change.” “Do you think that’s true?” I said. “Suzy and I are still friends, despite what happened,” she said, as a way to prove her point. I carried her luggage out to the curb. It was a Sunday, I think, and the neighbor kids were playing on plastic play toys in their front yards and the dads were standing nearby in khaki shorts and collared shirts, looking ready for a golf game. “Could we maybe just talk about this first,” I said. “This seems unnecessary.” She touched my elbow, and said my name three times. The cab pulled up a few seconds later. Georgia didn’t say a word, just got into the backseat and pulled away. “Well to hell with you anyway!” Walking back to the house, I waved to my neighbors. They gave me quizzical, sympathetic looks.
“Relational issues,” I said. They gave a half-hearted chuckled, raised their beers, and refocused on whatever they were discussing previously. Later, and this was the part that made me think differently of her: I was cleaning in the kitchen, rearranging things. I opened the pantry and there, inside, were three new boxes of Lucky Charms that she must’ve bought and stocked while I was out of the house. And later still, I dialed McDowell and told him the story. He sniffed into the phone. He had that nasally congestion that came instantly after a toot, a bump, a snort, and I swear, to this day, I heard a woman’s voice in the background. But why would I inquire? What would it matter anyhow? A month later I saw Suzy at the Red Frog with a guy who resembled the description Georgia gave me. I got really close to him, inspecting his nose, and sure enough, it was altered in the way broken noses have been altered. Slightly off kilter, a bulge in an unlikely place. I got close, and stared for a minute too long. “What the fuck?” he said, leaning away from me.
“What’s Georgia feel like?” “Who the fuck are you?” he said. He had a confused, scared look on his face, and that gave me a feeling of invincibility, like I had all the control. Suzy was at the other end of the bar in cut-offs and t-shirt, looking good. “Friends with Suzy,” I said. “That’s all.” “Friends, huh?” he said. He had the self-esteem of a beaten puppy. How could you hate a man like that? I felt sorry for the guy. “I’ve known her since grade school,” I said. “We were neighbors, too.” I’ve never told anyone this, but Suzy used to hold my hand while we walked past the old haunted house with the big dogs on our way to school. Every day for the entire second grade, she kept me safe. Later, in high school, I tried to fool around with her but she never liked me like that. I was hoping for another shot with her later that night. I got drunk, as did everyone in the bar, and every face there reminded me of something sad. So I drank more, and we all swayed to music
that no one listens to anymore. At some point, I whispered in Suzy’s ear that I wanted to meet her out back in five minutes. I could feel her soft brown hair against my nose. I kissed her ear lobe to suggest what I wanted from her, and as the way of tunnel-vision drunks, no one in their state noticed what had happened. We parted ways, and I slipped outside with a Winston in my mouth and the pack in my hand. The lights in the alley had been burnt out and never replaced. I found a spot behind a dumpster that would do just fine, and then Suzy came stumbling outside. I went to meet her so I could lead her back here. As she moved toward the end of the building, she tripped on a rain gutter that should’ve never been there. I caught her in just the nick of time, held her, brought her close. She laughed at her near folly, and I kept a strong hold of her, burying my face in her neck and kissing her here and there, and while this was happening, I thought of asking her about Georgia, and why she’d made up that story, but decided none of that mattered anymore because I was all-consumed by being this close to someone for the first time since I could remember, and as I continued to hold her, and feel 37
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her naval and breasts pressed against my own body, something in me must’ve loosened. My legs almost gave out, and she must’ve sensed this because she held me tighter. And for a moment, I was frozen. Couldn’t do anything, couldn’t say anything. I just melted into her, and like she’d done so many times before, she took my hands into hers, leaned in to me, and said, “You’re gonna be alright, Vincent. You’re gonna be just fine. .”
Morning Ritual Aaron Apps
“The North is one... glorious corruption of rock and language —” --L. Niedecker “¡Fiero monstruo!” --F. Goya
he day we shot the fucking goat in the face, after my father failed to build anything concrete, was a strange day where the animal died in the dirt, died in the palms of my hands, died below me in the fog of my tears, as I held it to the ground towards death, like I could, for a moment, in this world, imagine it dead inside me. A still birth. A big puddle of blood. My weak hands from my weak body that bleeds, and the hands that ended the life of an already dying thing, and its hooves that are not hands touching their own blood and red clay. Two sets of hands, or two sets and a third nonset, close together yet a distance away. My palms on the heaving of the animal’s last breaths. My palms
on the body in the clay that reaches out to hold time. The day we shot the goat my father’s hands were on tools. His Stanley Fatmax Antivibe Framing Hammer purchased from Menards for $30. And his, Harold’s, Sig Sauer M400 semiautomatic assault rifle from Walmart for $1050. And I’d say tools are horrific, generally horrific, horrific when used too fast, too blindly, like people are horrific too, are tools too, fucking tools, fucking too fast, because I only see the person who uses them, because the tools start in the very musculature of the arm, in the mechanisms that allow the muscles to tense and release with each new manipulation, like Henri Michaux, this poet-painterguy I read last year, or didn’t read but viewed, because he just makes splotches. Excessively and repeatedly. Blah. Blah. Splotch. Splotch. He violates blank paper again and again, marking black on a blank page, a tabula rasa, or whatever. Each mark deep and unstable before his solid brush. Black ink the blackest hair dye, the inky site where he becomes a tool himself at such speed. I dye myself in drag. My father inks my hands. “Shoot it again. Shoot it.” 39
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To manipulate implies a whole, but it also implies a distance. A distance between two things like the distance between two fingers touching, like the distance between the tip of the finger and the tool, like the distance between the tool and the brain of the goat. There in the dust the puddle of blood. There in the filmic reflection of blood on the day we shot the goat, there in the reflection of its sacrifice, more blood. A sacrifice in a film, no, on a film, in a landscape made of film, a film that is incoherent, a film that I assemble softly into a vortex as I touch the thing dying in front of me. The dark loop. The puddle of blood. The blood on the film all the way down. Like all things touched by tools come from film, shimmer up from the surface of the things expressing some valence of violence in the plastic and reflecting clay that only ever stills for a moment, dying into the landscape that becomes us. My favorite film? My favorite film, or the one I think about most, is Godard’s Week End. Weird film. Michelle showed me it. A real butch. She lives a couple of farms over next to the old lady with the egg farm who survives on a greenhouse full of weed, which is pretty illegal around here. She also gave me 40
the Michaux. She makes flavored goat cheese and abstract pottery in the shape of genitals, and tugs on teats every morning with big muscular arms. She smokes big joints, and has big joints, and yellow teeth, and huge hands. Sexy hands. She’s always showing me films before and after we fuck again and again. In the quiet corner of her cabin. Her favorite director is this African director SAMben, or semBEEN, or something. Just a bunch of people in huts dealing with abstract problems. Maybe he hits too close to home despite being so far away in terms of geography. I’m unsure. I did like Xala though, because someone yells “week end” abruptly in English before they start scarfing meat like cannibals at a smorgasbord. The film gets it: the world is pretty horrible and violent, bureaucrats and all the way down to the starving, doesn’t matter where you are, shit’s fucked. But Week End, Week End is the f-ing best. Rich French assholes heading into the woods to become cannibals, getting what they deserve, because there is no outside to all of the men who crack eggs on women’s assholes in their fantasies, because the traffic you drive through to get out of the shit storm of shit, of
shit in the city that penetrates out into the landscape that is already penetrated, is all dicks, is inescapable, is so inescapable that it always ruptures into violence. Patterns disgorging into patterns, the very light from the screen on the television, the very light of the sun in the field, being caught up in patterns of erotic violence, being caught in the abyss of the eyes like light from film. Like, like all of these different animals are deformed sperm and eggs with messed up chromosomes in a sea of spermicide, and even when the cells meet, they immediately split and become meat, again craving more meat, becoming again an egg to be cracked on an ass. A distance always being created between things, always creating a strange craving that simply expresses itself in patterns that carve into skin like a craving. The split that implies the whole. The animal in the world like blood is in blood in a murder scene. Like my father’s bullet craves the animal’s brain and creates patterns in it’s animal brain. A murder scene filled with tools. “Shoot it again. Shoot it.” I said. A looped cut away shot. Between the gun and the head a distance. “Shoot it again. Shoot it.” A
distance. A distance within oneself. Distance: in, a thudthud-thud... thud-thud-thud... a clock. Amidst the clock’s clicking a dragged out silence. The goat dies constantly. The animal is still bleeding like fucking toothpaste, again each morning in my mind. What does the dresser say? Clothes-clothes-clothes. Pink. Pumpkin. Purple. Chartreuse. No-no-no. In is a silence and for a moment my ear is pink and dead in an empty room like the bodies and clouds in a Will Cotton painting, some man-bullshit I saw online, like everything is framed in a horrible vision, yet silent. Naked. It all molts. It all molts like eyes in the context of the painting, in the politics of the space outside of the space. In the room: ducks run naked in the yard, in the art, and I see nothing but duck butts, like my world is instagram, like my world is the smallest and cutest parts of each thing on the body of the dying animal. A tiny brad nail. A hammer. A duck throat full of mud, again a silence. What animal has the cutest ass? What waddles? Who’s asking? My eyes dilate like a couple of butts. My father hammers away at a cold frame. Nothing
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question. Blank. Like cum. Like hello kitty. Like when he showed me his dick. Ducks run naked in the yard. A dog chews on a placenta in a patch of clover like the world is raw and horrific cotton candy, like the world causes diabetes in the heart of all of the naked bodies, even if they are skinny in their minds, in their rococo imaginations shaped by hundreds of images of naked chicks, infantilized and animalized odalisques just out of the egg that is itself coated with a thin film, that is itself positioned in relation to an ass. “Shoot it again. Shoot it.” Shoot it. Shoot it like the goat itself were a film and my voice were cuing a setup shot again. Before the gun the setup. Before the setup the scene. Sitting I could hear the hammer thud-thud-thud as Harold hammered at the cold frames near the shit pile, near all of the goat manure. Further. Father. Cold frames: empty houses for dirt and seeds he’s failing to make out of discarded barn siding and windows covered in flaking dandruff, in what is probably lead paint. The ducks scatter around him, disrupted by the loud and repetitive noises so close to their food. Disrupted and naked. Disrupted and again disrupted by the shot of the gun. All around them the goat’s body. 42
Am I inside or outside? Is the goat in my hands or is the hammer on the architecture? Who is dying? I feel the bullet against my face like a soft fan for an instant. A hammer. The object in the hand. My father sweaty on the couch. Who is object? Nothing came. Blank. I’m an object on the couch with other objects. Thick dust. What is it to be kind? What is it to be solid? Things-things-things. I holds old vintage Bushnell binoculars. My father looks across the room at the cover of How to Cook Everything. He zooms in on the book with binoculars. He hands it to me, it’s blurry. I think about red specifically. I think about cannibalism. “Shoot it. Shoot it again.” Life seems to spurt from my father’s hammering pores. He smells like salt, fragrant and wet like a ditch. Repeatedly. Naked ducks shit where they eat. A hammer. An object in the lap. I hand him back the binoculars. Squish-squish-squish. We press pulpy eye after pulpy eye to each side of the binoculars to compare their vision through the muddled
round lens apparatus that blurs wet. A hammer. Together but separately we wonder if the binoculars are broken as we fail to see the rigid volume on the counter. We repeat the action. We think about cannibalism again for the first time. In time and space, yes: I hear the gunshot at some point folding into air, bone, muscle. I am so close. I can feel a silence so close and fast it screams. â€œShoot it again. Shoot it.â€?
CO NTRIBU TO R S
Aaron Anstett’s newest collection is Insofar as
Heretofore. His poems recently appear or will in Eleven Eleven,Gargoyle, and Southern Poetry Review, among others. He lives in Colorado with his wife, Lesley, and children. A a r o n A p p s is the author of Intersex (Tarpaulin Sky
Press 2015) and Dear Herculine, winner of the 2014 Sawtooth Poetry Prize from Ahsahta Press. He is currently a doctoral student in English Literature at Brown University. His writing has appeared in numerous journals, including Pleiades, LIT, Washington Square Review, Puerto del Sol, Columbia Poetry Review, and Blackbird. Karen Auvinen is a native of the American West
where she writes about landscape and place. Her work has won two Academy of American Poets Awards and been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. She teaches film and pop culture at the University of Colorado – Boulder and writes about food and the sensual, sensate life at http://1hotkitchen.blogspot.com/. Her work has appeared most recently in Ascent, Cold Mountain Review, and Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour. Ethan Che is a freshman at Columbia College. He is
advanced for a five year old.
Jared Harel’s poems have appeared in Tin House,
American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, Shenandoah and Ecotone. He lives in Astoria, Queens and plays drums for the NYC-based rock band, The Dust Engineers.
Len Krisak’s most recent books are The Carmina of
Catullus, Carcanet Press, 2014, Afterimage, Measure Press, 2014, and Rilke: New Poems, Boydell & Brewer, 2015. His work has been published in Agni, The Antioch Review, The Sewanee Review, The Hudson Review, PN Review, Raritan, and The Southwest Review. He is the recipient of the Richard Wilbur, Robert Penn Warren, and Robert Frost Prizes, and is a four-time champion of Jeopardy. Keith Lesmeister lives in rural northeast Iowa.
His stories and essays have appeared in Tin House blog, American Short Fiction online, Meridian, Redivider, River Teeth, Harpur Palate, and elsewhere. He received his MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Owen Lucas is a British writer living in Norwalk,
Connecticut. His poetry, fiction and translations have been published in more than fifty journals in the U.S., Britain, and Canada. He is an editor-at-large at Potluck Magazine. Look for new work in upcoming issues of Plume, Sakura Review, Really System, Monarch Review, Big Lucks and Tribe. For more: owenlucaspoems.com D. Eric Parkison lives in Oakland, CA with his
wife and their dog, and teaches English literature and composition at Los Medanos College. He has poetry in ZYZZYVA and forthcoming from The Low Valley Review and the inaugural issue of American Chordota. Serena Solin is a junior in Columbia College studying
English and Creative Writing. Her work has appeared on-campus in The Eye, Columbia New Poetry, re:vision, The Blue and White, and, of course, the Review, as well as inTheNewerYork and The Atlas Review. Jordan Walters is a Columbia College Junior from
suburban New Jersey. Some more of his works are on display at Jordanwalters.com.
AJ Stoughton Julia Goodman
Dennis Zhou Kal Victor
Managing Editor Rachel Taratuta-Titus
Layout Editor Ana Camila Gonzalez
Cover Art Jordan Walters
Editorial Board Charlotte Goddu Egon Conway Gabriella Reynoso Katie Fung
Madeline Pages Rebecca Landau Sarah Pitts Veniamin Gushchin
THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
The Columbia Review is published twice yearly by the students of Columbia University, 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: email@example.com. Books and media sent for possible review become the property of The Columbia Review.Visit us online at: http://columbiareviewmag.com/. Copyright ÂŠ 2015 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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Published on May 23, 2015
The Spring 2015 issue of The Columbia Review, the nation's oldest college literary magazine. Volume 96. Issue 2. Established 1815.