the columbia review
Editorâ€™s Note What kills me is, how do these others think the eyes are sharp? by gift? bah by love of self? try it by god? ask the bean sandwich -Charles Olson
the columbia review
THE COLUMBIA REVIEW est. 1815
W i l l i e Ve r S t e e g 1 0
To t h e D y i n g O c t o p u s a t the Ne wpor t Aquarium
W i l l i e Ve r S t e e g 1 1
Allison Lee 12
R e l a t i v e Tr u t h s A b o u t the Objects of My Affection
C h r i s t o p h e r T. 1 3 Keaveney
Michael Pinkham 14
I To l d M y M o t h e r I D i d n’t Wa n t K i d s a n d She Cried
Emily Burns 15
Based on Exploring The ‘ Wild And Haunting Wo r l d O f D o l p h i n s ,’ A n Inter view With Susan C a s e y b y Te r r i G r o s s
Noa Gur-Arie 16
Megatherium, Lonely S l o t h Fa t h e r o f t h e Un i ve r s e
Noa Gur-Arie 17
PJ Sauerteig 19
H e a d Wo u n d
To n y W h e d o n 2 0
I n t h e Ti m e B e f o r e M e t h
Carrie Cook 23
O n C h a r o n’s I m p o r t
Graham Johnson 38
the columbia review
Irrigation Serena Solin
Et in Arcadia ego
Read as if to strain, avoiding the seams. Proceed cautious as the bodyâ€™s awareness of surgery. Runoff from snowpack covers the figure; interim droughts raise it to visibility. So on for years. It is proposed in the mid-2000s that extra basalt should be trucked in to undo foot & tire tracks. Entropy, traction, a front-end loader. Exploratory oil drilling. Salt-tolerant bacteria. A causeway. These mirrors at the base of a hill imitating the leaves, pliable, not constant as they appear: graphed: time & Y: a handful of string: sculpture just proximity & fiber. This, too, you can stand on, recapitulate. See what rises to the surface, what stays to darken the water.
Crematorium Stephen Devereux
Tiny white Belsen in a suburban garden, Mediterranean themed. Succulents and warm sand. Stone effect concrete. Smoke pours from his nostrils as his face rises like a piecrust to fall back on the porcelain bird of his nose, his biology, the last light to fall on his retinas, dissolve in spasms of steam up the chimney. Now his spine arches to its apogee and falls as hot snow. No one can think of this amongst the stout weepers, the line of dark cars seeping down the drive.
the columbia review
Shooting W i l l i e Ve r S t e e g
Hardly an hour past, my neighbor has already found and flown his Peace flag, sky-blue sheet, dove’s beakful of olive branch, and I wonder how hard he looked for it, or if he had to at all— instead knew exactly where it was as soon as news broke, down in the basement, finial bulb peeking out among clenched umbrellas and tangled kites. Maybe it’s always been up, and I have only noticed now on this cut-light October afternoon. Still, I can’t help picturing him shake out its blueness, flapping violent or rote, new dust rising or not.
To the Dying Octopus at the Newport Aquarium W i l l i e Ve r s t e e g
Shock-white in your tall tank as two mothers fawn and coo your circumstances, say, She laid her eggs, now her job is done, and the other: We moms know what thatâ€™s like. Flashes burst over their children beside your strung-bead eggs, your skin blanched to match the fecund pearls, whether death rattle or your habit of hiding, still: this is camouflage which whispers How unremarkable I am.
the columbia review
Auf Wiedersehen Allison Lee
When a man decides his life is over he can sleep on the floor every night and lap milk like a bobcat from a German beer stein— an authentic souvenir of the Bonn Airport— a gift from his son. He may leave his screen door unlocked. Chew a hole in it. His mouth, frothy. His eyes, glazed like roller rinks. If my father could fit in the hole he would crawl through it, onto a deck he stained every summer, dodge cedar saplings he planted, towards a lake of cool— another wrinkled face. Never thirsty.
Relative Truths About the Objects of My Affection C h r i s t o p h e r T. K e a v e n e y
Don’t be fooled by the cicadas’ practiced indifference or the surly chatter of moss being moss. Only recently have we come to abide the price paid for the false piety of summer, the green-gray smithereens of algae and frogs’ eggs prismatic in the puddle beside the mailbox, an issue that never gets any smaller.
the columbia review
Shaydon mines Michael Pinkham
Dandelions climb the grayrock pillows Tip and sway above the long run Shaydon mines Every walk to work by yellow barred cordons Eases right to crunch the wheat-lined shoulder Kettling hawks burn and lean on popping drifts Swept down from Shaydon mines for rowdy mice Late crusted snow has clung to spindled trees But low in the cracking coal we are scraped and dry Black dust has thistled into the creamy petals Slouched below pimpled grain on whistling hills The hawks have torn mice from dandelions As we trip and gray in the long run Shaydon mines
I Told My Mother I Didnâ€™t Want Kids and She Cried Emily Burns
Every few days the basil plant plays dead, like a dog, or a precocious child who extorted the meaning of suicide from a bell-bottomed babysitter. I peel apart the waxy stems clinging together. It might be love, but it also might be the best way to clamor loudly for light, leaves gasping. Getting dressed in front of an open window seems to be the cost of feeding my plant. Sun, water, wine, something with a brass section on the radio. My naked body, caught for ten minutes in the sun reflected from an upper window. He reaches to a sky I canâ€™t see.
the columbia review
Based on Exploring The ‘Wild And Haunting World Of Dolphins,’ An Interview With Susan Casey by Terri Gross Noa Gur-Arie
I knew I should have run when the small hoofed wolves came and started being dolphins, shamelessly, right in front of me. Their slickening and shortening disgusted me. I chased them all the way to the Triangle, where they came from and I came from. I can’t even swim but I chased them so fast. Anytime you’re in the wild with a beautiful animal you’re gonna feel so good. Anytime you see your first dolphin brain, you’re gonna think you’ve found your holy grail, and it’s all you’ll mouth forever. You’ll trade their teeth as currency, buy brides and cigarettes. Like a baby, I’m teethless now. Like a whale, I live and die now by my acoustic senses.
Megatherium, Lonely Sloth Father of the Universe Noa Gur-Arie
am sitting at the center of the Earth, and when I summon all of its energies into me, breathe in every pebble and droplet and crumb and grain, I can feel how things began. It began with the sloth and the strawberry patch. The strawberry patch was the womb and the earth was its fetus. Everyone that you have ever known was once a primordial strawberry, molting like a traffic light from green into red. Who sowed the strawberry field? The great lonely Pleistocene sloth sowed the strawberry patch of the universe, pulling the seeds from the great dank muddy folds of his flesh and scattering them upwards, above him, where they stuck in the soil of the firmament. Each strawberry seed stuck in the firmament above the lonely, muddy sloth, and each seed sprouted a thing, a sweet and tiny thing redder and sweeter than anything that had ever been. The sloth bit into a strawberry and saw the white star that his teeth had left. The strawberry was breath. “Oh my,” the sloth exclaimed. The next berry was larger. The sloth bit into it. It was you. “Why hello,” said the sloth.
the columbia review
And the next berry was the Amazon rainforest. And the next berry was flamingos. And the berry after that was death. And after that was robots. The juice of everything was dribbling down the slothâ€™s chin, matting his fur into sticky burgundy. He chewed on Mars. He chewed on poetry, porcelain and fire. He made the world out of strawberries. And at the end of it he lay, muddy brown sloth stomach swollen with the weight of the world, in the middle of the barren strawberry patch in the sky. Leaves and stems trailed downwards towards the new Earth like stalactites. The sloth was drenched in blood and mud and juice. He was not lonely anymore.
A Mistranslation PJ Sauerteig
series of bizarre mistranslations and cultural misunderstandings have led us to imagine the Judeo-Christian heaven as some sort of cloud realm, or sunny kingdom in the sky. However, when we look back at both the Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, we see that Heaven is actually the name of a lake on the shores of which all souls will make their eternal home. From the Book of Daniel, we can approximate that the divine lake will be the size of Zurich Lake, in Switzerland, or Lake Charlevoix, in Northern Michigan. (Coincidentally, both of these lakes were favorites of the American writer, Ernest Hemingway). The heavenly image of the lion lying down with the lamb is also misconstrued: rather, the biblical prophets intended the image of white swans and St. Bernard dogs swimming side by side in the lake, as a means to beat the summer heat. Little boys and girls jump naked from the old stone bridges, to the cheers of onlookers, who hang wreathes of hollyhock on the divers as they climb back up onto dry land. And at night, flashes of lightning in the pink, rainless sky. Above the soft lapping of the water, lights in the houses go out, as the souls say their goodnights. Goodnight Brian, goodnight Serena, goodnight my love, goodnight Mark Strand, goodnight sister, goodnight man who invented sushi – who is somehow here despite his many sins in life – goodnight gardener 1, goodnight gardener 2. In the moonlight, a single rowboat makes a slow circle around the lake. It is Bürstner at the oars, restless even in death.
the columbia review
Head Wound To n y W h e d o n
It’s noon halfway through our last century in a dimly lit reading room outside Paris and the blinds are half-drawn against the glare – though there’s no glare: at times it’s rainy, then the June day gives way to sun-swept snowbells whose reflections shimmer and wobble against the pane. A white-gloved librarian sets the duke’s daybook on a scarred oak table. The antiseptic cell should spark contemplation but doesn’t. (Your mind’s awhirl.) You’re given white gloves, a magnifying glass, and after a quick check of the timetable back to Paris, you leaf through the vellum pages, squinting at landscapes alive with carnelian reds and nectarines -- Lord, it’s all so helplessly beautiful that you lean back to anchor yourself. The Tres Riches Heures, a calendar book, was made to fit into The Duke de Berry’s ample pocket. The sky in each miniature’s a startling eggshell blue. Gilded zodiac symbols over-arch each page -- and somehow it all coheres: northern France in smoky ruins, The Hundred Years War having emptied the duke’s coffers – and so this dream of crenellated castles, streams wandering nowhere, and girls so lovely they float a few feet off the ground. An hour or two passes at the Musee Conde on the banks of the slow-moving Oise not far from where
Van Gogh shot himself. Wars were fought and lives lost here, none less precious than yours that was saved by your infantryman’s helmet. Since then you’ve been cursed by migraines, tunnel vision, but these paintings – so much detail’s been casually left out, shadows for one thing, (who back then knew where the light came from?) and the moon. Before the War, you chose life as a musician – it’s ruined you twice over – and you know what the spaces between notes mean. The ancient Chinese knew this too as did your artist mother who, when you were ten, showed you the Tres Riches Heures. She hoped you’d take up painting, but you’ve no talent: between gigs you visit the Louvre and read Proust. “How cosmopolitan!” she writes, enclosing with her note a check for next month’s rent – the poor woman knows you’re not right, you’ve got a head wound that will not heal. The Limbourgs, Herman, Paul and Johan, traveled from the Low Country to paint for Phillip the Bold, King of France, brother of the Duke who after Phillip’s death hired them to illustrate the Bible and this little book. You woke this morning in a room two floors up from yours to the ruin of hangover and took the Metro to Neuilly and another train to Chantilly where you pore page after page over the Tres Riches Heures of the Duke de Berry. You know little of Medieval History, less about the Duke who suffered, like you, from migraine and spent his patrimony on art. Nearing the end of his days he didn’t care. You turn to the month of December – a boar hunt in muddy dun colors and cinnabar reds. The dogs plunge into the boar’s haunches. A broad faced man 21
the columbia review
grapples with a tangle of dogs and holds back a bloodhound whose tongue lolls from his mouth like a red flag. The suppleness of the dogs, the way their bodies contract and ripple each finds a haunch, a loin, to gnaw on. And as for the men, they’re not worth much more to the Limbourgs than a few centimes in the hands of the poor. But they are men alive to how the leaves rattle in the wind and alert to when the dogs catch a scent and begin their feverish baying. The trees are stained in pale russets, December light streaks the forest floor, stunning you to silence. The hunters’ bellies rumble with cold porridge, their armpits exude an angry stench. Once they were held by mothers who caressed them, who asked a priest to bless them, and sent them into this world. Look how life has changed them! As you exit into late-June sunlight you think of your own mother and the gig you played the night before. Thanks to her she’s left you countless ways to see through migraine a world transformed, fish to bird, bicuspid to crab, snakes into the flaming bell of your horn. You walk back to town toward the depot, past a burnt out tank, its monster treads half-buried in mud, and you slip into a moment when time stopped and a fly floated, suspended, in midair. Your head wound’s caused your migraine and your loss of perfect pitch – a bullet to the brain will do that, the doctors joke. This café on a hillcrest above the Oise seems a nice place to stop. A girl brings your first carafe. The poplars are greening out, the hills of Picardy are burnt umber. It won’t be long till you get your vision back.
In the Time Before Meth Carrie Cook
he knows the house so intimately, like a lover who hits, like Bennie whose pupils swell before he strikes. She knows the spider webs on the porch, the stain like a heart on the concrete. That Dad parks his truck in the driveway, never the garage. That he’s gone to work now, but he’ll be home this afternoon. That Maria, in her black-skirted suit, drives Joey to school before she goes to work. They don’t keep a lock on the back gate—Christina reaches between the slats and lifts the lever; the gate is reluctant, but she pushes in. The lawn just after the gate is dry and brittle, sand and stickers. The grass pricks the sides of her feet as she scuffs through the yard, yields to a softer, weedier patch laced with dandelions. She loves dandelions. The redwood trellis is new, not that it matters. Christina slides her finger over a beam, hoping for a splinter—no luck. Flowers like artichokes grow in a pot by the sliding glass door, their thick
petals tipped with spines. She wants to slam her hand down and squeeze until the flesh bursts beneath her fingers, to feel those spikes lodge in her own skin and stay forever. Are they poisonous? Probably not. She leaves them alone. Christina grabs the patio door handle, yanks up and out. The door jumps its track, just for a second, just long enough to release the lock before slapping back into place. Bennie taught her that one. He taught her all kinds of things: separate apartments share attics, people on the second floor leave their windows open, how easy it is to break a doorknob lock by turning it the wrong way. She slides the door open, steps out of her flip-flops and into the house. It’s small and old and boring, with blue carpet as old as she is. She’s stayed in better. Shit, just last week she and Bennie stayed in a mansion off Pelandale, one with a crystal fucking chandelier dangling in the entryway. Before that was the one with the master bath sunk into the floor like a hot tub. Too bad there wasn’t any water. And then, of course, there was last night, when they stayed at her old house. Whenever she touched 23
the columbia review
the remains of her old life—the cracked bathroom window, the height marks on the kitchen entry, the stickers on Julie’s closet door—she felt transparent, phasing across the years. She and Bennie even fucked in Mom’s old room, right where her bed used to be. The carpet still carried the dents. But Christina likes this house. All the others felt like sleeping in graves. The kitchen floor tiles feel gritty, but that’s okay; she feels gritty too. It’s better this way. Like she belongs. The counters, some sort of fake wood grain, are smooth, clean, cool; she presses her swollen cheek to the breakfast bar and feels some of the heat bleed out of her. That one slap was all he got before she clocked him. Usually it doesn’t bother her; she craves the punishment sometimes. But Bennie started it this morning: you need to stop mouthing off, he said. You fucked up that deal last night, he said. What made him think he could start shit there, in her own fucking house where she once had a room with a bed that only she slept in? Doesn’t matter if everything’s gone now—it used 24
to be hers. When she closes her eyes she can still see his spit arcing through the air like water from a sprinkler. If she only she hit him in the sunshine; she would have seen rainbows. Fuck Bennie. She doesn’t need him. She’ll stay here. Christina slides open the drawer next to the sink—knives, forks and spoons, lined up in plastic partitions like soldiers—but she knew that already, before she even opened it. She knows the contents of all the drawers before she opens them. The next drawer has tubes of plastic wrap and foil; the one below that, junk: stamps and matches and nails and dice and a long pink dog collar that says “Kitty” on the tag. Clean dishes in the dishwasher and dirty ones in the sink. A white board on the refrigerator announces “Bleach, ketchup, books due Wed. Luv U!” Magnets stake photos at odd angles: here’s one of a baby in a long white gown; there’s one of a pregnant woman on a beach with the caption Merry CHRISTmas; there’s one of a man and a woman, heads together, smiling with their even white teeth. Christina tongues the hole at the
front of her mouth. Dad has a dentist appointment next Friday at four; Maria needs to remember an early meeting on Monday. Joey’s report card: three B’s, a C, and two A’s. Good for him. The magnets are homemade: round cut-outs of Joey’s school portraits from kindergarten to whatever grade he’s in now, magnified and bulging under a fat, clear stone. Christina pulls a scrap of paper from her pocket and unfolds it. On one side is the house’s address, written in faded purple ink; on the other is an old My Little Pony sticker, a unicorn with stubby, fleshy wings. Last night she sat inside the closet of her sister’s old room and picked the sticker off the door, recreated it on the page. The sticker’s torn through the middle, but it doesn’t matter. Christina slips the paper, pony side up, under one of the Joey magnets. There, perfect. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Shit: a boy’s voice behind her, just beyond the archway that connects the kitchen to the bedrooms down the hall. She wishes she had a little more time, but what the fuck—it’s not like it matters. She turns her head toward the voice and sees it: the gaping, open eye
of a handgun, darker than any dead house she’s ever stayed in. She waits for sweet adrenaline to kick in, to simultaneously cool and warm her insides, to wash up her spine and cradle the base of her skull, but she doesn’t feel it—it’s used up and she’s dull and heavy and tired. “I said, what are you doing here?” he repeats, but his voice breaks on “doing.” He aims the pistol at her, one handed, not quite straight and not quite sideways. He has no idea what he’s doing—his finger is already on the trigger. He’s more likely to shoot her on accident than on purpose. “Answer the question,” he says. He’s thirteen if he’s a day, maybe a pre-pubescent fourteen. Dark hair, dark eyes, a pimple swelling on his chin, Nike shirt. Pricey. No growth spurt yet—Christina still has a few inches on him. “I’m your sister,” she says. “We’ve met.” “No we—no you’re not. I don’t have a sister. And you’re too old anyway,” he says. “You need to leave.” He didn’t say that ten years ago. He knew, back then. He knew. 25
the columbia review
“What, are you trying to convince yourself? I’m Dad’s kid, so I guess that means I’m not too old, doesn’t it?” she sneers. “What are you even doing home, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” “I’m—that’s business.”
She has him off his game now. She takes a step forward, continues the interrogation. “Where’s Dad? When does he get home?” “I’m calling 9-1-1,” he says, “I’m warning you. Just get out.” “Don’t do that. I swear, I’m just looking for Dad. I haven’t hurt anything.” It was true. She didn’t take anything, didn’t break anything. Didn’t even mutilate any plants on the way in.
name as if she slapped him. Good. “What are you going to do, shoot me? You don’t even know how to hold a gun. And I know you don’t want to go to juvie. Besides, Dad said he left the back door unlocked and I could stay here until he got back today.” “Why did he say that? Why not just meet him later?” Joey asks. “The air conditioner’s out in my apartment. Landlord won’t fix it—I’m gonna die of heatstroke in there. He said I could stay here until he came home.” She takes another half-step forward. “Okay, I’m calling Dad then.” “Call him.”
Same as his. Same as Dad’s. “Christina Vogt,” she says.
“I’m calling him,” Joey says. He lowers the pistol but still keeps his finger on the trigger like an idiot. She could’ve taught him better; she will when this is over. He pulls a phone out of his pocket and swipes at the screen until he finds a number. Dad’s number. He lifts the phone to his ear.
He stiffens. “You could have got that from the trash.”
Christina drives her palm into his nose.
“Okay fine, whatever, Joey, don’t believe me,” Christina says, and he recoils at the sound of his
The phone tumbles to the ground, and he cups his nose in his hand—he’s forgotten the pistol.
Joey looks right, left, licks his lips. “Fine. If you’re my sister, prove it. What’s your name?”
Christina hasn’t. She grabs the gun from underneath, catching his fingers in her grip, sliding her own finger behind the trigger so he can’t depress it. She forces him backwards, into the hall. She bangs the gun against the wall, and his wrist goes limp; she wrenches it from his grasp. Blood pumps from his nose, warm and sticky and slippery, and she feels his heart reaching and pounding into her own. For an instant they are united—too close. Too close. She backs up—she has what she needs. She wipes her hand on her shorts. A tinny voice splinters from the floor. “Hello? Joey? What’s going on?” “Dad!” he cries through his hand, trying to stop the bleeding. He moves for the phone but Christina raises the pistol. Don’t be an idiot, Joey. He stops, shrinks against the wall. She looks at the phone, then nods at Joey. “Kick it over.” He taps it with his foot, and it slides across the floor; she squats and picks it up. “Hi, Dad,” she says into the receiver.
“Who is this?” “You don’t recognize me?” “Should I?” Well of course he should. See, here’s a story. Let’s say you have a dad, right, maybe one that’s skinny, maybe one with a constellation of bruises on the insides of his arms, maybe one with shaggy hair, one who took you out on Sundays for pancakes at IHOP, just you and not your little sister (she has her own dad named Norman who smells like old library books), and he drank coffee while he watched you eat a pancake as big as your head, and he made up little stories about you, where you’re a princess who fought dragons or an underwater deep-sea diver who found a bunch of octopus-people, and then, just before your seventh birthday, he stopped. He just stopped. Mom told you to forget him, that he’s an asshole and you shouldn’t waste any tears. That people just left sometimes and it wasn’t your fault. That you didn’t need him. You had your suspicions—Mom told him something (you heard her in the kitchen screaming into the phone while you and your sister made a pillow fort between your beds), 27
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or he moved to Venezuela, or he was a spy. Not that it mattered. All that mattered was he stopped coming around on Sundays, and he stopped calling you on the phone, and he stopped bringing you little notebooks filled with doodles of you as a little bird with a little bird family. But wouldn’t you expect him, even if he hadn’t seen you in years, to be able to recognize you, recognize the little girl eating pancakes as big as her head? Of course you would. Dads are supposed to recognize their daughters at all stages of life, as if time is compacted into a ball and Christina is simultaneously seven, seventeen, and twenty-seven. “Yes—yes you should,” Christina says; how can he not? “Well, I don’t know who you are, or why you’re calling me from Joey’s phone,” he says. Pause. “Did Ron send you? Is this some sort of joke?” “No, I—it’s me, Dad. Christina,” she says. He pauses again, says: “Susan’s kid?” “Yeah,” she says, and this is it; finally, the moment of recognition. It played out
differently in her head, but now they’re back on track. Here’s where he says: Christina, how’ve you been? I’ve missed you. I saw you in Santa Cruz, working the Casino Arcade—did you see me? No, wait. He’ll be less specific, because he didn’t keep track of her all these years. He’ll say something general, like: what have you been up to? And here’s where she’ll say: why? Not that it matters. But she’ll get to ask. And he’ll wrap those wounds with his words, and she’ll accept them all. But he doesn’t get the chance to say that, because Joey interrupts. “Dad,” Joey yells, high and shrieky, panic bubbling like a pot of boiling water, “she’s got your—” Christina levels the pistol at the boy’s chest, right at that big fucking Nike emblem in the center. Swoosh. He shuts up. Good boy. “What are you doing with Joey’s phone?” “He said I could come over.” “Are you—are you at my house?” he says. “Yeah. Joey says—”
“Bullshit. He didn’t sound like he invited you. What do you want?” Pancakes. “Just to talk,” she says. “It’d be a shame, you know, if Joey—” “Don’t you fucking hurt my son. I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Christina pokes at the red square on the screen that says “end,” and she tightens her grip on the phone, which feels slick and grimy now. She slides it into her pocket. Don’t you fucking hurt my son. Does the sun shine out his son’s ass? She doesn’t see it; there’s no fucking beams of light she can see, no rainbows here. He’s just a dark kid with dark hair and blood that freely flows down his lips and chin, pooling onto his dark t-shirt like a wet, glittering bib. He begins to whimper. “Shut up,” Christina growls. “Shut the fuck up.” But he doesn’t. He snivels and hiccups and holds his bleeding nose. “Damn it, let me think!” God, her head hurts. It’s wearing off; she feels the crash coming, itchy and nauseous. Meth isn’t what it looks like on the outside. Sure,
they told her all about the skinpicking and weight loss and loose teeth. The lie was what they didn’t tell her. They didn’t tell her about the concentration, the energy, how the world starts to sparkle and glow. They didn’t tell her about its chemical flavor: sweet, sharp, like clean laundry. They didn’t tell her about the confidence, how suddenly she no longer felt inferior, no longer gnawed on what other people said, no longer worried their phrases over and over in search of betrayal or slight. They didn’t tell her because they want to keep it for themselves. They didn’t tell her because they already have all that, just like Joey does, just like his son. A dark stain blooms on Joey’s jeans, spreading like open fingers—this crying piss-child is her replacement? He slides across the wall, and she grips the pistol two-handed, what Bennie calls a Weaver stance. The sights are bright white, and she lines them up, stares at those three cold dots until Joey becomes a blur. “Quit moving. I see you—don’t think I don’t see you,” she says. God, her head. He goes quiet, still. 29
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Three little dots all in a row. They blur slightly, growing into each other at right-angles. She blinks, and they snap back. Think. Think. She can fix this. “We know each other, Joey,” she says. “We were friends once. We made a Lego fort together.” He draws a ragged breath in response. Does he not remember? It’s so clear to her, like a Polaroid— how does he not remember? “Say it,” she says. “Fucking say it.” He’ll remember if he says it. The blurry Joey lump quivers past her sights. “We—we—made a Lego fort,” he whispers. “When you were three. Say it.” “When I—when I—” “When you were three!” Christina yells. The dots dance in front of her. “I was three,” he says, shrinking down against the wall. In the time before meth, she sold magazines door-to-door. She liked the job, liked being Tia, a high school senior raising money for the class trip to Disneyland 30
(that’s what she would have been, after all), liked it better when she convinced the marks to pay cash, which she pocketed because Jason wouldn’t pay her unless she gave him a blowjob. When she rang the doorbell, Dad answered. She knew it was him—she never forgot a face. Sure, he wasn’t skinny anymore, and the scabs and bruises on his arms had receded to a freckling of white dots, and his hair was short and clean, graying even, but her eyes, her own gray-green eyes, stared back at her. She smiled her Tia smile and said, “Hi, how are you this evening?” but she meant, “Please see me.” “No thank you,” he said, and the door began to close, to shut her out, again. “Wait,” she said, glancing behind her, searching for her driver— he wasn’t anywhere in sight. “Help me. I took this job selling magazines, and they don’t pay us. I haven’t eaten anything all day. They don’t let us call anyone. Please help me.” Jason would be pissed—oh fucking well—it was time for her to move on anyway. He searched her for the lie, but he didn’t see it, or maybe he did and
he just didn’t say it, but the result was the same: she became just another one of a million blond girls, sticky with mascara and fake tanner, yet another name that ended in an “a”: Jessica, Melissa, Tia, Christina. “Okay,” he said, a hint of an edge in his voice, a secret, sharp edge just for her, and that’s when she knew she fucked up. She glanced past him and into the living room—Maria and Joey sat together on the couch, watching. He’d never claim her now, never say, hey, I know who you are— not with them watching. She should have slept in his truck and waited until morning when he went to work; he’d recognize her if he was alone. God damn it. He opened the door wider, and she slipped in; he showed her the phone. Christina didn’t have anyone to call, but Tia did, so she dialed POPCORN and said the things she was supposed to say while the phone crooned the time at her: at the tone, the time will be seven-seventeen and twenty seconds. Beep. Dad wanted to know if he should call the police, did she want to press charges? No. She just wanted to go home.
Maria smiled awkwardly—did she want a granola bar or maybe two? Sure. Joey asked if she wanted to see his room. She glanced at Maria, who told Joey to stop with the questions. Yes, she did want to see his room, but she was still Tia, and Tia didn’t have permission to wander the halls of the house, to lovingly finger the white tile she knew covered the bathroom counter, to find the spare room, to curl up on the bed with the grannysquare blanket that should have been hers. Instead, she sat on the living room carpet and Joey dragged a bucket of Legos between them and pushed it over, spilling the blocks across the floor. He told her about Pokémon and his preschool teacher and how his plastic dragons needed a fort. She asked if he had any brothers or sisters, and he hesitated before he said no. There was knowledge in that pause; somehow he sensed she was his sister. Joey made her feel welcome, like she could come home. Like it was supposed to be. For that, she searched for all the
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red bits to place in a pile at Joey’s feet: an offering. He stacked them haphazardly, not caring if they overlapped or left gaps or stuck out at odd angles. It has to be red, he said. For the dragon. Yes, she said. The dragon’s coming. Maybe it’s already here. “What color was the fort, Joey?” Christina asks. Her arms ache from holding the pistol, and the sights burrow into her skull, into the place behind her eyes, where the headache creeps. “I—I don’t know,” he says. Liar. He knows. He has to know. He’s still holding his nose; it’s still bleeding—is it broken? He’s just scared, but she won’t hurt him. How can he think that? She will never hurt him; that’s her brother, after all. She just has to reassure him, just has to let him know. “It’s okay, Joey,” she says. “Just tell me what color the fort was, and we’ll go sit and watch TV or something. Play a game.” “Okay. Okay,” he says, but it’s not okay. It’s not okay. “The color, just say the color.” “I—it was blue. The fort.”
“No. Wrong,” she says and the dots of the sight blur and wiggle again. “It was not blue.” Her finger wraps the trigger, tightens, but the trigger pull is long and heavy and she is tired, so tired. The pistol remains silent. “It was not fucking blue.” The sights are a line now, stretching across the dark, Joeyshaped spot on the wall. Her hands shake. How does no one remember? How is that okay that he doesn’t remember, that Dad doesn’t remember, that no one seems to fucking remember? How hard is it to remember? She does. She remembers. So here’s a story. Imagine you found out that your Dad was not a spy, and did not move to Venezuela, but actually lived less than a mile from where you grew up. Imagine you found out by putting his name in Yahoo! during ninth grade computer lab. That you wrote the address in purple ink in a library book, that you tore out the page and folded it up and it felt like a weight in your pocket. That you hid the address in a hole behind the loose baseboard in your room so no one would find it. He lived less than a mile away and never
came to visit; no, not even once. Imagine that. Was it something you did? Were you so grotesque that he couldn’t be seen with you? You looked in the mirror, went over every inch of your skin, but couldn’t find anything physically wrong. Not even a pimple—not like Jenna who had to take Accutane. And not like your sister, whose face was paralyzed so she slobbered like your old boxer and had to go to speech therapy five days a week. But then again, old frozen-face Julie Droolie spent one weekend a month and every other Thanksgiving with Norman. Norman didn’t leave her. Even your old boyfriend Dane, who belonged to you, who said he loved you, went with Julie instead. So it must have been your inside that pushed Dad away, that pushed everyone away: that thing in your brain you couldn’t control. That you can’t control. That thing that threatens to burn everything, just burn it all down. There’s no wound like a burn—a cut feels better once it’s bandaged, a bruise you can ignore, but a burn—a burn just keeps screaming. She must have burned him. She must have, or he wouldn’t have left her.
She wrote letters, you know. Dear Dad, they started. That was the easy part. But then she had trouble—what would she say after that? Dear Dad, this is your daughter, Christina. No shit. Of course it was his daughter, that’s why she addressed him as Dad. Try again. Dear Dad, I got suspended last week. I brought a knife to school. Sure, that would convince him to love her, behavioral problems. Start over. Dear Dad. I came over to your house and sat in your backyard last Fourth of July. I hid in the corner by the gate and watched you and Joey and Maria light sparklers. No. No. All wrong— everything was all wrong. What story would even matter? And what was he going to write back, anyway? Dear Christina, I gave your mother money for an abortion. Dear Christina, I never wanted you. Dear Christina, I wanted you once, but I was wrong. So, so wrong. In the time before meth, she crept up into the metal flying saucer on the Lakewood Elementary playground and set fire to each one of her letters. How long could she hold them while they burned? She unfolded each one, started the flame at the bottom, 33
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watched it eat the paper, her words that would never make a difference. She let them flutter to the ground when the fire began to lick at her, singeing her fingertips. Afterward, she sucked on the blisters. Joey makes a strangled noise. “Shut up,” she says. How did she get here, her finger tensed on the trigger like it has a mind of its own? Her head hurts. Her skin hurts. Her arms hurt from holding the gun. Just let go, that’s all she has to do, but her fingers are so stiff, unresponsive. She wants to lie down in the spare bedroom, the one that she can make into her own. The last of the crystal is melting away, no longer filling the gaps, leaving holes and jagged edges to rub against the roots of her flesh, like her body is chewing a light bulb. She needs weed or beer—something—but there’s nothing; she has nothing. The phone buzzes in her pocket. She transfers the pistol to her right hand and pulls the phone out with her left. Dad, it says when she glances down, away from the sights, from Joey. She swipes her thumb across the screen. “What?”
“I called the police,” he says. “I’m warning you now. So you can get out. Just leave.” Where would she go if not here? Back to Bennie, who alternates between carpet surfing like a fucking tweaker and thinking he’s some sort of badass? Or before that, walking, walking, walking up and down 9th Street, McHenry, Crows Landing? Trading a little fun for a night at the Modesto Inn? Sleeping at the park until the police poke her awake? Her skin slips away, melting off like a sweaty ice cube, revealing her sparking, shorting vulnerability: a live, thrumming wire that never stays completely sealed. “Joey doesn’t want me to leave.” He’d made her feel welcome, in the time before meth. “Let me talk to him.” “He’s busy,” she says. “Come on. Let me talk to my kid.” My kid. His pathetic fucking kid, shrinking against the wall, speared in place by a pistol like a note on a dartboard.
She lowers the gun and turns back toward the refrigerator, toward the pictures and the magnets and the notes. He’ll run off now, she knows, and she’s right—the door down the hall slams. Good. That just means he won’t interrupt again. Cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder, she pulls off one of the Joey magnets. Probably his second-grade photo. The picture of the baby in the gown slides to the floor as she stares at Joey’s toothless grin, the way his eyebrows just barely meet in the middle, the ruddy pinkness splashed over his nose. So cute in his awkward stage. “Are you still there?” “Dad,” Christina says. “I am your kid.” “No,” he says. “Listen, you obviously want something. Money? Are you coming after me for child support?” “No.” “Then what?” To belong somewhere. Anywhere. A new start, a fresh one, with a family who doesn’t know who she is, so she can form the lies together into a truth; a new mold she can pour herself into. She will
become liquid one last time and stretch into all the cracks and finally harden into a person. Like she’s supposed to. “I don’t know.” She presses the side of her finger into her teeth and tears at the cuticle. “Christina, come on. You need to let Joey go,” he says. There it is, finally—her name on his lips. But it sounds like doors shutting her out, the locks twisting closed. Again. She fucked it all up. Again. “I wouldn’t hurt him,” she says. “He’s my brother.” “No, he isn’t.” “But, Daddy –” “No. Listen to me. Susan— your mom—she had me take a paternity test,” he says, his voice gentle, with just the hint of an edge, just for her. “I’m sorry.” A paternity test. “The police are almost there. I’m giving you a chance to get away,” he says. “Listen, Christina. I know you’ll do the right thing.” He took a test.
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Then why does he have her eyes? “Fuck you!” she screams. She throws the phone against the wall, but it doesn’t shatter like she wants it to; it just bounces off and skitters across the kitchen floor. What did she think, that she could stay here? No. This house will be her tomb. She will burn this God-damned dump like it deserves. Christina shoves the pistol into the back of her shorts. The metal is cool against her skin, and the sandpapery grip scratches at the small of her back. Soothing. She still knows this house, she still knows where to find them, how to undo it. Undo it all. She turns toward the bank of drawers next to the sink and yanks open the junk drawer. She grabs the matchbook and opens it—three left. Plenty. In the distance she hears sirens. Of course, there are always sirens in Modesto, every day, every hour, but these sirens are special. They’re the only things that belong to her now. She snatches the report card and the appointment reminder from the refrigerator; one of the Joey magnets goes flying and
cracks against the countertop. Her hand hovers over the scrap of paper with the reconstructed sticker, and she grabs that too, along with the photos: the toothy couple, the religious beach bitch, the baby who fell to the floor. All of it goes. She kneels on the carpet in the hallway and sets the pictures against each other on the floor like she’s building a house of cards. An offering, a home for the dragons. Photos burn blue, she’s pretty sure. Maybe Joey was right after all. Her sirens are louder now, so loud they could only be right outside. Joey’s report card cuts into her palm as she balls it up, but the appointment slip doesn’t offer any resistance at all. She pushes them into the house of photos. Has she done this before? It feels familiar. So here’s a story. Let’s say you left someone and never came back. Let’s say you even had your reasons. Everyone has their reasons. Let’s even say there was a paternity test involved, one that said you weren’t the father—an obvious lie, but still, let’s just say that. What do you think happens to the person you left? Do you think they just grow up fine—
better without you, right? But that’s just a lie you tell yourself, to make it easy to forget. Because you want to forget. Maybe you want to fall deeper onto your needle. Maybe you want to start over with a new family. But you know what? The ones you left— they don’t forget. What do you think happens when they find you again? The sirens are right outside, shrieking and whining and pulsing with her headache. Lights filter through the curtains and splash on the carpet, red and blue, red and blue. Boots on the porch, stomping on the stain like a heart on the concrete. Boots on the patio, trampling the backyard with the stickers and dandelions and the pot of sharp flowers. Gloved hands banging on the door. They’re everywhere, shouting and banging, wanting in. “Joey,” she calls, “someone’s at the door.” There’s no answer. That’s okay. They’ll come in soon, and then she’ll leave. She’ll do the right thing. Just like Dad wanted her to. But not yet.
the address and the sticker into a slender cone, holds it between her lips like a cigarette while she strikes a match. It hisses to life, and she places the narrow end of the cone into the flame. She never should have kept this paper. Should have burned it with the letters, in the time before meth. Should have never gone looking for it last night. It blackens and smokes, and the glowing edges creep toward her fingers, steady and calm. The smoke is noxious, heady; she breathes it in. Glowing ash drops onto the carpet and winks out, leaving black spots like mouse shit. The cone’s burned down to a stub now, and the fire and heat are close. So close, so comforting. Christina thrusts it inside her offering. The photos catch first, where they meet at the top, blazing bright before they fall in on themselves. A creeping hole starts in the middle of the toothy couple and she blows on it gently. Grow. Spread. Burn it all down. She waits for the blue flame, but it only burns orange and yellow, orange and yellow.
She rolls the slip of paper with
the columbia review
On Charon's Import Graham Johnson
n the taxi, an FM radio frequency announces that times are changing: cable ratings have been “plummeting fast” with a 17% decrease last quarter alone, and surveys show a steady uptick in service cancellations. If the forecast is correct, within ten years’ time the television will become more relic than requisite. I am travelling north, and soon by train, eventually to arrive at Poughkeepsie, New York. Since it’s 2014, it’s the year in which a Billboard-topping three-and-ahalf million records are sold off a Polaroid record cover and a set of eighties-styled photoshoots. Of course, the cosmic (or more accurately, temporal) joke is that if it had actually been 1989, such sales numbers would’ve barely constituted an event. Twenty-fourteen is a big year for me personally because it’s the year I finally tell my friend — who does lines of coke on Friday nights, then fights through the hangover at Divest Prison
protests the next morning — what a hypocrite he is, that he prefers the easy way out of leading with his vocal cords rather than his sinuses. (Actually, it’s the year in which I fully register the ramifications of purchasing hard drugs, with their gut-lurching cartel origins, then reproach those who haven’t thought it through fully themselves.) I suppose, though, that this story is about neither myself nor the ethics of trafficked stimulants. *
Perhaps, looking back, what was most shocking about 2014 was that in ten years time it would already become 2024. I’m at a friend’s apartment on Broome, the Lower East Side. A cursive, red-lettered neon sign hangs over a shelf of hardbound books, its quaintly old-fashioned glow casting shadow upon their soft, deckled pages. He pours me a glass of aged pinot noir; I do not usually drink wine. He has gotten involved in New York’s wine scene, and he tells me proudly how he’ll skip meals and cut cab usage to save money for a rare vintage. He is tall in
stature but slouches an almost surreal distance towards the ground, somehow contracting and collapsing his spinal cord in an impossible way and so we are at even shoulder height though his wingspan could wrap around me many times over. He has money in the family but has had some issues with his father so that is not likely how he is getting the funds for this cozy and well-located flat so I ask: Devin, how are you paying for this? “Do you remember the shop I started. That sells old televisions and VHS tapes. It’s taken right the fuck off, I can’t believe it, actually, I can — I called it, I’m telling you.” He stops. “In fact, it’s doing so well that I’ve been keeping it open til midnights on weekends. I have an employee there right now.” So we gulp and drain the wine — because Devin enjoys being drunk off a vintage as much as (or more than) he loves talking about it — and trample down the stairs, throwing coats over our shoulders as we head down and out towards Alphabet City.
The shop is well-customered despite it being a little after ten. Its lights are bright fluorescent, harsh and industrial rather than cozy. All along the white shelves, which rise up like cliffs from the purpleish-gray carpet, are dozens and dozens, decades and decades, of television sets. Some have fake, plastic wood designs, elegant dark mahogany faked by HIPS polystyrene or campy thermoplastics. Some have long, wiry antennas, sticking out up top like floppy rabbit ears all bent in half this way and that — I could never figure out whether bent antennas were broken or came that way. Some are thinner (plasmas maybe but I do not know my retro televisions despite growing up with them) and jet-black, shiny and thin and mounted rather than matte. Some come with attached DVD and VHS slots, red dots for recording and black triangles to navigate forward and back. Some are turned on and snowy and some are clearer and some are grainy and yet others are shut off entirely and sit black and comatose on the wall. (“Decoration,” Devin says. “They want them for the aesthetic even though they’re not functional. The working ones I keep switched on all the
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time to show customers they still run.”) Past a big mass of piled televisions on a plastic prop-up table, in the back left corner, there is a small, four-foot by six-foot metal shelf with DVDs. Devin tells me: Every since the cassette craze started tapering out, the VHS sales are stagnating too. CDs and DVDs though are coming back in a big way. They’ve got a sleek, space-age appeal, the whole laser-disk shine and elegant minimalism. I’m buying up Blu-Rays now while nobody wants them — I can get them in bulk for fifty, seventy-five cents apiece and I really think they’ll go somewhere. There is news on the feed that night when I get home. The last private company funding colonization attempts on Mars has gone bankrupt. The stream has a few clips of historically significant space-race milestones, which it broadcasts at the end, and the red world of Mars it shows seems so sacred, so far away and beautiful and untouched. The years there are long and stretched, slowed to a comfortable tide and I can almost imagine to myself the deep, midnight hue of its abandoned sky, as sun blends into foreign dusk.
On September 7 of 2013, a small handful of record stores in the United Kingdom and the United States celebrated the first annual Cassette Store Day. The official press release read: “No longer the inadequate, younger sibling of vinyl, the humbled cassette has been making a resurgence of late, proving that cassette tapes are not just for those of us who remember buying Nirvana’s Nevermind with birthday money or making lovingly compiled mixtapes for the object of our teenage affections. International Cassette Store Day 2013 is a celebration of a physical product that is accessible, fun, cheap, and still going strong in the turbulent modern musical climate.” I own three hundred tapes. They are cassettes. When I have people over they will say things like, “I haven’t seen one of these in forever” and, “Where did you find these?” but in a few years, once Urban Outfitters starts selling them out of wooden vending machines for $9.99ea — $7.99 in 2014 dollars — I’ll become increasingly aware of others’
increasingly insouciant reactions, and will accordingly allocate the cassettes less and less prominent a space in my apartment with each successive annum. The tapes have been carefully collected and curated. They’ve been pulled from attics and basements and cardboard boxes, of parents and grandparents and uncles and also of friends’ parents and grandparents and uncles and also of friends’ friends. They have been purchased at prices of $0.25 to $5.00, from thrift stores and record stores and a handful of shows. They have been stacked and packed, moved from one set of crates to another set of crates and driven across the country in the back of a Toyota pickup. Now they are piled one-fifty high in twin tall cases made for me at a wood-working shop. The bitrate of an mp3 file — the standard digital file today — is the indication in kilobytes per second (kbps) of how “compressed” or abridged the original audio file has been in order to create a smaller file size and save storage space on computers, data disks, mp3 players, etc. All mp3s are, by nature of the format, compressed from the original
music source, but their degree of compression varies in important ways. If compressed at a high bitrate (320kbps being the highest possible within the format, i.e. the one with the least amount of data abridging), then the compressed file is virtually indistinguishable to the human ear from the original, uncompressed track. Most midto-high quality mp3s run the gamut from 256 to 320kbps, the kinds of rips you’ll typically find in five-star-rated torrents and Trojan-free .zip files. By comparison, the sound quality of an analog cassette tape is about comparable to 32 to 160kbps in digital format, depending on the quality/wear-and-tear of the cassette as well as the quality of cassette heads upon which the tape was recorded. From any sort of qualitative, technical, or technological perspective, tapes are a vastly inferior medium, especially when considering their short lifespans, the ease with which they warp in warm cars, and the interminable rite of rewinding tape spools eaten by a deck. It is the day before Thanksgiving — they day after arriving in Poughkeepsie, and a year-twomonths past inaugural Cassette
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Day — and my brother, who listens solely to The Beatles, the Dead, Hendrix/Zeppelin/ Barrett, Earth Wind & Fire, hopes to see nearby Woodstock. We drive to Ulster County. Though yesterday it was seventytwo fahrenheit in the city — the peak of an unwonted (though much desired) warmth wave far too late in November — it is currently snowing and the drive is through a cottonball flurry. The retinas, and the area behind the retinas, of my eyes have begun to ache by the time we arrive: as the pellets and chunks of falling snow whiz down and towards the automobile’s windshield, it is as if they are flying straight into my gaze, my nervous system not yet fully evolved to process that divine human creation: the windshield. Rent-your-guestroom services are so popular that even my aging parents use them, and we end up at a little two-story place called the White Dove, a bright magenta establishment whose funkiness seems straight out of sixties bohemian idealism. Snowdrifts drag down at the edges of the roof, and the house’s garishly saturated exterior stands
in stark contrast with the graying branches of pine trees and the modesty of dirt — as if fighting some rebellion against a winter armageddon, but really, down below the pallid blanket of sleet, the buds of spring are already setting root to turn the word into rich splendor. At the nearby Sports & Camping store, a cashier wearing a woolknit beatnik cap recommends we go to dinner at a restaurant housed in a building Bob Dylan had recorded at half a century earlier. My father, who has seen Dylan life just few months earlier, replies: “Dylan’s a has-been and can barely barre chords anymore.” The cashier says, “don’t say that around here. They’re — we’re reverent.” Though he might also have said, “He’s — we’re — relevant.” Dylan’s a classic, the cashier says. Dylan is the classic. *
What is classic and what is nostalgic? Susan Sontag, here’s an outline for you. Classic is what is still utilitarian, but has been around for a while.
Nostalgia usually defies utilitarianism, and is felt for things that were around a while ago but disappeared somewhere in the meantime. Classic things do not really disappear, or if they do/have, they’ve since been reappeared for a while now. Classic also often lacks temporal grounding, unattached from any certain time (even transcending time). Nostalgia is linked inherently to a specific decade, an era or a childhood, a year or a scene, a particular moment in time. An assortment of things that are classic: Coca-Cola Ticonderoga pencils Cheerios Acoustic guitars Bomber jackets Levis Black and white photography Wooden furniture Greco-Roman architecture Toga parties (at my college, at least, both classic and campy) An assortment of things that are nostalgic:
Polaroids Record players Typewriters Neon purple jackets Disposable cameras Neon yellow leg warmers Banjos One-speed cruisers Super 8s Fiddles (not violins) *
There was that man I had met at a dinner party so long ago, and forgotten not long after; his name, I think, Bobby. He was a writer with an interest in history, and he had talked to me about his endless project — Edweard Muybridge and early photography. He said that when it came to the past, there was a trove of patterns just waiting to be discovered, assembled. The transcontinental railroad and how it had both physically and figuratively sought to unify a nation torn apart by the Civil War. That’s a story, he’d said, a story just waiting to be found. Find the right details, manifestations of their times — or else upend the narrative entirely. There exists something solid and tangible in retrospect, a narrative to either sustain or dispel. Harder to do
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that with the present — too much a plethora of narratives, too much anxiety and confusion and chaos in the moment. He’d come back later in the night as if he’d since thought something up, some way to refine or explain his earlier remarks. He’d said: Consider… consider the blind man’s room, all neatly arranged around him. When he rises from his bed in the morning, knows exactly where everything is with precision. The world as a whole is an incomprehensible and disorganized place, but he can take from it the objects he chooses — those which feel soft or smooth in the grooves of his hands — and take them in and place them just where he wants them, so that they create a space in the dark which is comfortable and familiar and which is home. *
The really interesting question I guess is if there will ever be a gathering ground for bittersweet sentimentalists in the future, a reference point of a reference point of a time. It’s like all the Polaroid photos that got taken in the late 2000s and early 2010s: this next generation isn’t
interested in them — they’re busy romanticizing the digital photography and pixelated phone pics of the early millennium, back before all the cameras started shooting exclusively in three dimensions and Aug. Reality really took off. Well. Maybe here’s more essay for you, Sontag: One one hand, nostalgia is of the utmost importance and the utmost productivity. It calls for a re-evaluation of blind adherence to progress. It calls attention to those things which progress has left behind. It calls for recycling and it calls for things beyond that which human nature typically demands — the cheap, the fast, the small, the convenient, the efficient, the easy. On the other hand, it leads to settling and backtracking. It pushes against the groundbreakers and idea-men and soil plowers. And perhaps it erases culture too, or our sense of time itself. How strange, as my friend Robert Blake says with a blue smile, that some things can be neither black nor white, cut nor dry, chopped nor stirred. *
Or maybe this utilitarianism, even with the full seriousness of Osiris
on his golden scales, misses the point. Devin’s shop, the way it’s laid out, seems in memory a little warmer and less fluorescent, no longer a plastic-machine sprawl but more personal, intimate, cozy. Like his red neon sign, how an ionized, low-pressure gas, packaged and mass-shipped inside hard glass tubes, can become shimmering, flickering oases of light on darkened windows and empty streets. In the early eighties, a composer named William Basinki captured tape loops from an easy listening station — short snippets lasting for a few seconds at most — and stored them away for decades, long forgotten. When he finally stumbled across them again, he decided to preserve the loops before they aged and deteriorated, and hooked them up to an audio interface to digitize. After leaving for an hour, he returned to realize that as the loops were recording, the magnetic tape was slowly beginning to peel away and disintegrate, so that with each successive loop the melody was slowly decaying, fading into nothing. The loops are beautiful, hypnotically repeating a single
five-second phrase into silence. Much of their beauty comes from this fading, fleeting, ephemeral quality. And every time any cassette at all, any time in the world, is slipped into a deck and the sideways triangle indicating “play” is hit, the tape itself is pushed one cycle closer to disintegration, if not as dramatically as Basinki’s. Perhaps it’s this slow unraveling, the shared mortality between man and machine, that is what gives the cassettes in my collection that longing, yearning quality which takes me back to them, even if only in private. And so, when, in any age or era, I press play on my collection and the mechanics fly into their slots, I see in my mind’s eye the white page and deckled left edge and then fuzzily, blurrily, appears a passage by a man long loved: I believe in love’s possibility, in its presence on the earth; as I believe I can approach the altar on any morning of any day which may be the last and receive the touch that does not for me say: There is no death; but does say: In this instant I recognize, with you, that you must die. And I believe I can do
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this in an ordinary kitchen with an ordinary woman and five eggs. The woman sets the table. She and I and the kitchen have become extraordinary: we are not simply eating; we are pausing in the march to perform an act together; we are in love; and the meal offered and received is a sacrament which says: I know you will die; I am sharing food with you; it is all I can do, and it is everything.
CO NTRIBU TO R S
E m i l y B u r n s is a junior in Columbia College majoring
in English and concentrating in Art History and French. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Quarto Magazine, and has previously written a column for the Columbia Spectator on contemporary literature and writing. She would like to use this mildly public forum to announce that she does actually say “to-mah-toe” and would like to stop answering scandalized questions on the matter. Carrie Cook retired from the military in 2008 and began
studying creative writing at Kansas State University shortly thereafter, with a slight detour for a degree in fashion design. Originally from California, she currently enjoys mountain living with her husband and three dogs. Her work has appeared in The New South and Touchstone. Stephen Devereux is a poet, essayist, script writer and
short story writer. He has had his work published in many of the major magazines and journals in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, the USA and Australia. He has won or been short-listed for several prizes including runnerup for the Ted Hughes Poetry Prize, winner, Ware Poets Sonnet Prize and was short-listed for the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Play writing Competition. He lives in Liverpool. Noa Gur-Arie is a first-year student at Barnard College
of Columbia University, prospectively majoring in Comparative Literature in Russian and Arabic. She is a member of the editorial board of Columbia’s 4x4 Magazine. Her work has also appeared in The Postscript Journal, Imagine Magazine, Polyphony HS, and Scholastic’s Best Teen Writing 2014. Graham Johnson is a third-year at Columbia College
majoring in American Studies.
Christopher T. Keaveney teaches Japanese language
and East Asian culture at Linfield College in Oregon and is the author of three books about Sino-Japanese cultural relations. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming
in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Minetta Review, Stolen Island, Tule Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, and elsewhere. Allison Lee has been a meeting planner, a copy editor, a
greenhouse worker, a baker of bread, and a New York City dog walker. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fiction Southeast, The Madison Review, Cheap Pop, Gargoyle Magazine, The Texas Review, and others. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Michael Pinkham is a junior in Columbia College
studying Computer Science. He wants to help computers learn to close read. PJ Sauer teig graduated from Columbia in May; he
studied Creative Writing and Psychology, and served as The Columbia Review’s Executive Editor. “A Mistranslation” is his second piece to appear in the Review; it was originally written for his fourth album, “The Ascension of Slow Dakota.” After graduation, Sauerteig moved back to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he currently resides. Serena Solin was born and raised in the tristate area. She
likes things close to the ground: caves, crystals, long car rides, dachshunds, root vegetables, etc.
Willie VerSteeg is a poet from San Diego, now living in
Columbus, OH with his wife and two sons. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Jabberwock Review, The Southern Humanities Review, The Kenyon Review, BOAAT Journal, Tar River Poetry, Briar Cliff Review and elsewhere. He serves as Poetry Editor of The Journal. Tony Whedon’s essays and poetry have appeared in
Harper’s, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and over a hundred other publications. He is the author of four poetry collections, Things to Pray to in Vermont, The Falkland Quartet, The Tres Riches Heures, and, forthcoming, The Hatcheck Girl, as well as a collection of nonfiction, A Language Dark Enough: Essays on Exile.
Julia Goodman AJ Stoughton Dennis Zhou
Managing Editor Rachel Taratuta-Titus
Layout Editor Clare Jamieson
Editorial Board Katie Fung Charlotte Goddu Veniamin Gushchin Andrew Hauser Graham Johnson Devika Kapadia
Safwan Khatib Rebecca Landau Sophia Marina Gowan MoĂŻse Sarah Pitts Kal Victor
THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
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